Interview with Illustrator Keezy Young

Keezy Young (they/she) is a queer comic artist and illustrator from the Pacific Northwest, currently in Seattle, WA. Today, Keezy writes, draws, and designs their own young adult comics. Their stories are cute, eerie, and often dark, but almost always hopeful at their core. Their work is character-focused, and they use action, romance, and mystery to explore LGBTQIA characters and themes, since those are the stories they always looked for growing up, but could rarely find.

I had the opportunity to interview Keezy, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi, I’m Keezy! I’m a queer comic artist and writer from the Pacific Northwest who loves telling stories about eerie, creepy stuff in a loving and hopeful way. My first graphic novel was Taproot, originally published in 2017 (and re-released in July 2022!), and I’m currently working on Hello Sunshine, which comes out with Little, Brown in 2025. I also do short comics and artbooks between my big projects!

As a graphic novelist, what drew you to storytelling through comics, and why specifically Fantasy?

I’ve been drawing for my whole life, ever since I was running up and down the stairs and using crayons on the walls. I came to writing a lot later, but I was always having ideas that I couldn’t quite manifest through a single illustration, so when I found picture books and comics, I was immediately drawn (ha!) to them. 

And I always loved fantasy, too. I like being able to explore an idea through a different lens than usual, whether it’s me coming up with the idea or somebody else. It gets me thinking about the world in new ways.

As an artist, one of the comics you are best known for is your comic, Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost? Could you tell us what inspired the story? And would you say you have any particular experience or connection with gardening/nature itself?

I grew up in the forest and spent a lot of time with my mom in her garden, so I’ve always felt connected to the world that way. And when I was a kid, I felt ostracized and unloved by the world because I was queer, like my childhood was taken from me in a way, so I wanted to write something for myself in the past–putting those two things together, my happy memories of gardening, and queer love, was really cathartic for me. 

And like most of us, I’ve lost people. One of my very earliest experiences of death was my neighbor, a reclusive older man who I only really saw once. I was maybe 6, and had tripped and dropped my pea seedlings on the way home from the bus stop, was crying with scraped knees, and he came out to help me pick them up and put them back in my cup and make sure I was okay. He was kind and gentle, and that memory will always stick with me, even though it was a small thing. He died of suicide a couple of years later, but I will never forget that day, because it’s had ripple effects throughout my life. So I don’t necessarily want to say I’ve been inspired by death, but both his life and death, and those of all the friends who I’ve lost since then, have been with me for a very long time, and Taproot was partly a way of making peace with those losses. 

What are some of your favorite parts about this story?

I think it’s easy to only want to see life in nature and growing things, but death is just as important, and nothing ever truly ends with death, it just changes. I think Hamal using his necromancy to make things grow could be seen as a good guy thing to do, but it’s still upsetting the balance, because death is a part of life that you can’t deny or get rid of. 

I also really like drawing plants.

As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

I try to find inspiration from everywhere, but music is a big one for me. I love wandering around listening to music and daydreaming, and it’s where a lot of my ideas come from. Of course, I also gather a lot of inspiration from other people’s creativity, as I think most of us do!

What are some of your favorite elements of writing/drawing? What do you consider some of the most challenging?

One of my favorite elements is when I’m coming up with ideas, losing myself in a different world with different characters, exploring my own feelings and experiences through someone else’s eyes. I also love finally getting to put those ideas on paper and see the things I love come to life so I can share them with others.

My biggest challenge is perfectionism. When I lose sight of what I want and believe in, and start worrying only about what other people want to see, or what other people will think of my work, that’s when things start to get really jammed up. I’ve gotten better at shoving those feelings away over time, but I still struggle with it sometimes!

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)? 

A lot of people ask about my identity as a queer comic creator, and why I tell LGBTQ stories–there’s nothing wrong with this of course, but I would love to be asked about other aspects of my life and storytelling more often! It might be kind of simplistic, but one question I’m surprised I’ve never been asked is “why do you never draw cloudy, rainy days”: the answer is that I grew up in western Washington and we’ve got plenty of those as is haha. 

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring creatives?

Imperfect is better than unfinished! (Or alternatively, ‘shitty is better than incomplete!’) The most important thing about your story is not how perfect it is, it’s that your story deserves to be told. Give people a chance to love it, and they will, no matter how amateur or unrefined you think it is. 

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

I’m currently working on a new graphic novel called Hello Sunshine (Little, Brown 2025) about a group of teenagers trying to find their missing friend. As time goes on, they realize something strange and supernatural is going on. It’s a story about mental illness and family, both found and blood, and most importantly, love of all kinds. And of course it still has queer characters and plenty of hijinks!

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Trung Le Nguyen’s The Magic Fish is fantastic, and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Mariko Tamaki is one of my favorites.

Interview with Marvel’s Voices : Pride (2022) #1 Editor Sarah Brunstad

Greetings and Happy Pride all! For this installment of the Geeks OUT! Queer Creator spotlight, I had the opportunity to speak with Marvel Editor, Sarah Brunstad. Sarah has worked on a plethora of titles for Marvel including, Aliens, X-Men, Captain Marvel, Black Widow and a number of the Marvel Pride Anthologies.

I spoke with Sarah about this year’s much anticipated, Marvel Voices: Pride issue, queer representation in mainstream comics and the awesomeness of working with all queer creators on Marvel’s queer characters.

Chris Allo: It’s that time of year for the Marvel’s Voices: Pride edition number 2! For the uninitiated can you just give us a little rundown on the Marvel’s Voices brand?

Angélique Roché

Sarah Brunstad: Marvel’s Voices came out of the podcast created and run by Angélique Roché, with the intention of uplifting and highlighting marginalized creators and creators. Angélique worked with former Marvel editor Chris Robinson to build the very first anthology, and the rest is history!

CA: I know you work on many books at Marvel (X-Men, Aliens,Marvel Voices, etc.) How did you come to be the editor on the various Marvel’s Voices books?

SB: I was an associate editor at the time, working very closely with senior editor Wil Moss. When the first anthology was so successful, Marvel decided to do more, and Wil and I had a strong interest in bringing in new, diverse talent. And we’re both crazy people who kind of love building complicated anthologies. So we got the opportunity to do Marvel’s Voices: Legacy, and then I pitched an Indigenous Voices issue that was really near to my own heart. After that, I got to continue editing the line as someone who’s just very passionate about what Voices is trying to do.

Marvel Voices Pride 2022 Variant Cover/Art by Stephen Byrne

CA: Can you give us a little bit of a run down on the characters and creators for this year’s installment?

SB: We have 7 awesome stories this year, and we introduce a ton of new characters. Charlie Jane Anders with artists Ro Stein and Ted Brandt introduced Escapade, a new trans mutant who will go on to star in an upcoming arc of New Mutants. Grace Freud and Scott B. Henderson created a whole gang of new young mutants, a tight group with hilarious rapport. Andrew Wheeler and Brittney Williams—one of my personal favorite artists—did a great Hercules and Noh-Varr story. Chris Cantwell and Kei Zama leaned into some beautiful punk queer history with a wild Moondragon/Guardians of the Galaxy story. Alyssa Wong and Stephen Byrne made an absolutely perfect pairing for the return of the much-beloved Young Avengers. Ira Madison III and Lorenzo Susi brought Pride to Asgard in a super cute Runa the Valkyrie story. And Danny Lore and Lucas Werneck got to do something really special—revisiting Venomm and Taku from Don McGregor’s Jungle Action run and establishing their relationship as a couple on the page for the first time, as Don had always hoped and intended.

Valkyrie(Luna) Art by Lorenzo Susi

CA: What were you looking for in terms of pitches/stories for this book? Was there a set of characters Marvel wanted to spotlight or did that just come as part and parcel with what the creators wanted to do?

SB: I definitely went in with the intention of bringing more trans rep to the Marvel Universe, and was beyond thrilled when Charlie Jane agreed to it—it’s something I’ve wanted to do with her in particular for a long time. For Danny and Lucas’ story, that was something Angélique and I had talked about lot, this idea of bringing a previously coded character out of the closet, so to speak. Venomm and Taku were a perfect fit. And I knew I wanted a Young Avengers story in here, because we got a chance to spotlight Hulkling and Wiccan in big ways last year but the team itself hadn’t been together for a long time, and as the most queer-heavy team in Marvel history, I really wanted to reunite them. I was so excited Alyssa was in for that. But for the rest, I left things really open and just tried to have fun and spread joy.

CA: Obviously, it’s a really good thing to give queer creators the opportunity to tell more authentic and genuine stories through the queer characters inhabiting the Marvel Universe. What other aspirations does Marvel have for putting the book out annually?

Wiccan & Hulkling Art by Stephen Byrne/Marvel

SB: Well, we’re playing a slow game. Every year that we create new queer characters, our world gets bigger and more diverse, and eventually those characters will be as beloved as, say, Rogue and Gambit. And we are celebrating the sheer diversity of talent in comics in an explicit way for the first time. I’m extremely proud that so many of the people who got their start in a Voices comic have gone on to do more work for Marvel—Rebecca Roanhorse, David Cutler, Chris Allen, Maria Wolf, Eleonora Carlini (through the semi-related Women of Marvel anthologies)—I could keep going, seriously, we have made such a huge impact in just a couple of years. Our talent pool looks way different now. That’s the major outcome for me, personally.

CA: You’ve stated elsewhere that you didn’t read comics as a kid, so now that you’ve read, worked on and created quite a fantastic resume in comics, what is it about the medium that you love and why is it such a seemingly important art form in the LGBTQI+community?

Marvel Boy and Hercules art by Brittney L. Williams and Villarubia/MarVEL

SB: I love comics because they’re WEIRD. They’ve existed on the fridges of the publishing and artistic community for a long time. It’s only been 14 years since that first Marvel Studios Iron Man film, and it’s hard to remember now that before that, basically no one knew who Iron Man was. So there’s traditionally been a ton of freedom to do strange, creatively fulfilling things in comics that you couldn’t do anywhere else. We like to say that we have an unlimited budget in comics—you can crash cars, wreck whole planets, in a single page. That’s wild and so exciting. And even though it’s hard, I love the fast pace too, and the feeling that a creative team is a really tight-knit group, always in conversation, always holding each other’s hands. Making a comic is truly a labor of love. I think queer people have always made comics in our own little corners, but I’m really happy to see us taking the mainstream now too.

CA: As a queer person working in the industry, what are some of the things that have happened to help queer visibility that you are happy with and what are some things that you feel still need to come to pass?

SB: Well, we still need more characters and creators on the mainstream, big budget books. In some ways that work has just begun. But also, I’m very inspired by this younger generation of writers and artists coming up who don’t feel any need to hide themselves, who can put their pronouns in their bio and make queer themes a major part of their work without that nasty voice in the back of their head going “but is this marketable.” I’m not saying that doesn’t ever happen anymore, but there’s just a tremendous amount of freedom out there, and I think more people making comics than ever before.

CA: Won’t ask you to play favorites here, but what is something you’re excited for the fans to see coming out of this year’s Marvel’s Voices: Pride issue?

“Escapade’ Art by RO STIEN & TED BRANDT and BonVillian/Marvel

SB: Heh. I mean, yes, ALL of it! But I guess I have to say Escapade’s introduction is a big thrill—I am so thrilled for what we’re going to do with her in New Mutants. Which, by the way, I’m pretty sure this current run now represents the longest ever run on a Marvel series by trans creators (possibly also beating DC!). Vita Ayala has been writing it since issue #14, issue #29 is guest-written by Danny Lore, and #31-33 will be guest-written by Charlie Jane until Vita returns with #30. It’s a big deal, and we’re all very proud.

CA: Can you give us maybe a favorite sequence from one of the stories this year?

SB: Oof! So many! But okay—there’s a splash page in Chris Cantwell and Kei Zama’s story that I LOVE. It’s grimy and intense and so so good. You’ll know it when you see it. Kei and I had a lot of fun brainstorming the Easter Eggs embedded on that page.

CA: As an editor, what is some helpful advice you can offer to aspiring editors, writers and artists that hope to make a career in comics?

SB: Make friends with other people who are coming up. That could be through social media, whatever, or the more traditional way of going to conventions. Ask lots of questions when you get to talk to pros. Read everything. Draw/write every day. Artists—please, please have a professional portfolio that goes beyond your Instagram. And don’t be precious about your work, especially writers! Comics is a collaborative medium, and a considerable part of your job is just being good to your fellow creators. Breaking into comics is pretty hard, but that’s true of any creative industry, and I truly believe that those who put in the sweat eventually get the payoff. (Except, you know, the payoff is a small check and an immense feeling of self-satisfaction—nobody’s here to get rich, haha).

CA: Thanks so much, Sarah. Looking forward to this year’s addition as well as the next entry into the Marvel’s Voices initiative! Here is a rundown of the creators and stories in this years Marvel’s Voices: Pride Edition

es Marvel Voices Pride 2022 Cover Olivier Coipel/Mar vel

YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO MARVEL’S VOICES: PRIDE (2022) #1!

New York, NY— May 12, 2022 — On June 22, Marvel Comics will celebrate Pride Month with a new giant-sized one-shot spotlighting LGBTQIA+ creators and characters! A queer-centered anthology brought together by an amazing lineup of writers and artists from all walks of life, MARVEL’S VOICES: PRIDE #1 will feature eight extraordinary adventures, an introduction by Vice President of Television at Bad Robot Productions Alex Phillips, and more!

From uplifting to thrilling, this diverse collection of stories take place all throughout the Marvel Universe and celebrate the themes and joy of Pride Month. And today, fans can get a first look at each one!

·       In last year’s MARVEL’S VOICES: PRIDE, Steve Orlando and Luciano Vecchio introduced the dreamy mutant hero SOMNUS,  who now stars in the ongoing X-Men series MARAUDERS! New York Times-bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders and artist duo and Eisner-nominated cartoonists Ro Stein and Ted Brandt continues this tradition with the debut of ESCAPADE! Readers will meet this all-new trans mutant super hero in a 20-page adventure that will introduce her career as a super thief and set the stage for her exciting future.

·       Valkyrie Rúna puts on the first ever Asgard Pride celebration in television writer and podcaster Ira Madison III and artist Lorenzo Susi Marvel Comics debut.

·       Shuster and Eisner-winning writer Andrew Wheeler makes his Marvel debut alongside PATSY WALKER artist Brittney L. Williams in an action-packed story about Marvel’s newest power couple-Hercules and Marvel Boy!

·       Rev up your engines for a heart-bending story across space and time in a Moondragon story by IRON MAN scribe and lauded TV showrunner Christopher Cantwell and artist Kei Zama.

·       Nebula, World Fantasy, and Locus-award winner Alyssa Wong and fan-favorite artist Stephen Byrne reunite the Young Avengers in a story guaranteed to please fans new and old! Byrne will also depict the team in one of the issue’s variant covers!

·       Comedy writer Grace Freud (Rick and Morty, the Eric Andre Show) brings her talents to Marvel with a story about the power of responsibility featuring the Marvel Universe’s favorite gay ginger, D-Man! She’s joined by Eisner-nominated artist Scott B. Henderson in his first work for Marvel!

·       And writer Danny Lore and artist Lucas Werneck revisit the legacy of Taku and Venom, two Black Panther characters long left in the closet, in a tale of love and redemption!

Check out all five stunning MARVEL’S VOICES: PRIDE #1 covers and interior artwork from each story now and celebrate Pride with Marvel Comics on June 22! For more information including a word from this year’s creators, visit Marvel.com.

MARVEL’S VOICES: PRIDE (2022) #1

Introduction by ALEX PHILLIPS

Cover by NICK ROBLES

Variant Cover by AMY REEDER
Variant Cover by JEN BARTEL
Variant Cover by STEPHEN BYRNE
Variant Cover by OLIVIER COIPEL

Story A  – Escapade in “Permanent Sleepover”

Written by CHARLIE JANE ANDERS

Art by RO STIEN & TED BRANDT

Colors by TAMRA BONVILLAIN

Story B – Valkyrie(Rúna) in “Over the Rainbow”

Written by IRA MADISON III

Art by LORENZO SUSI

Colors by RACHELLE ROSENBERG

Story C – Hercules and Marvel Boy in “Ancient & Modern”

Written by ANDREW WHEELER

Art by BRITTNEY L. WILLIAMS

Colors by JOSÉ VILLARRUBIA 

Story D – Moondragon in “Stay Outta My Mind Turf, Jack”

Written by CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL

Art by KEI ZAMA

Colors by RICO RENZI

Story E – The Young Avengers in “All My Exes in the Nexus”

Written by ALYSSA WONG

Art by STEPHEN BYRNE

Story F – D-Man in “LGBT-D”

Written by GRACE FREUD

Art by SCOTT B. HENDERSON

Inks by LEE TOWNSEND

Colors by BRITTANY PEER

Story G – Taku and Venomm in “Perfectly Scene”

Written by DANNY LORE

Art by LUCAS WERNECK

Colors by MICHAEL WIGGAM

Interview with writer Rex Ogle

With the graphic novel “Blink” from Tapas Media to “The Supernatural Society” from Harper Collings, Rex has written dozens of books and graphic novels for the YA audience! In his very candid and critically acclaimed memoir, “Free Lunch“, he talks about the rigors of high school, growing up poor in an environment with incidents of domestic abuse. Tackling topics of abuse, eviction and mental illness, Rex is as transparent and as authentic as very few writers dare to be.

Chris Allo: So tell us a little bit about yourself.  Your pronouns of course and your initial foray into Geekdom. When/how was that passion ignited? I always loving hearing the queer comic geek’s perspective.

Rex Ogle:  I go by he/him/his.  My inspiration always came from reading.  I devoured everything I could get my hands on, and was reading a lot of adult content when I was way too young.  But given my home life, I had a maturity that allowed me into those worlds.  I also started writing at an early age.  I knew straight away I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, I just didn’t know how.  So I started writing every day, and building a practice of spending at least an hour creating something.  From there, I worked my way up 5 or 6 hours of writing every day.  It’s not always easy, but there’s no feeling quite like finishing a piece.

CA: You worked as an intern at Marvel, then editor at DC comics and onto editing for Scholastic and Little Brown Young Readers.  How was that journey?

RO: I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I was scared of being a starving artist.  So after college, I packed a duffle bag and four hundred dollars, and told myself, “You’re going to NYC to work in publishing.  Make it happen.  I got a lot of nos but I kept at it until I got that first yes.  I enjoyed my time as an editor, but found it difficult to often be the only queer on staff.  So it’s been really rewarding to see that change in recent years.  

CA: What were your takeaways from editing comics versus prose?

RO: Editing was fantastic, because I got to learn about the inside of the industry. It gave me valuable insight into how books get made.  Some of it is talent, but a lot is also timing and luck.  It helped me realize that rejections didn’t mean my writing was bad, it just meant the timing or editorial champion wasn’t right.  As for comic versus prose, I love them both so much.  They’re so different.  With prose, I get to control nearly every aspect of the story.  With a comic or graphic novel, I’m on a team, which takes some of the pressure off me.  That’s probably why I write both.

CA: Can you tell us some of the projects you’re most proud of from each of those positions?  

RO: I’m really proud of Free Lunch, my (prose) memoir about growing up dealing with poverty and domestic violence.  And I’m not just proud of it because it was my first book (under my own name), but because I truly believe it’s an important story to be told because so many kids are living with similar experiences.  I’m also in love with The Supernatural Society, my recent (prose) middle grade fantasy novel, because it’s very much a love letter to the Universal monster movies I grew up obsessed with.  As for graphic novels, Swan Lake: Quest for the Kingdom, comes out in early April, and it’s been years in the making.  It’s a fast-paced and fun fantasy adventure about friendship and inner strength.  As for comics, I’m ready to write more.  Traditional book publishing is great, but it can take a while, so it’s nice to have the immediacy of a monthly comics.  So yeah, essentially, I’m really proud of every project that I work on.  LOL.    

CA: You’ve written a number of fantastic books and graphic novels. The upcoming, Abuela, Don’t Forget Me, the raw book, Punching Bag, the graphic novels, Blink and Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, to name a few.  Did you always want to write comics or prose?  And what was the moment you decided to do it and then take the steps you took to make the project manifest?

RO: As a young writer, I was always writing prose.  But that was mainly because I had no idea how to write a comic.  Then I interned at Marvel and got to read actual scripts, and thought, “Oh, I can do this.”  From that moment on, I found myself jumping between prose and sequential storytelling, because I loved both styles so much.  I decided pretty early on that I was going to be a write, come hell or high water.  But it took a lot longer than I anticipated.  I wish I could have started getting published in my 20’s, but it just wasn’t in the cards.  Now that I’m doing full-time, the projects are snowballing, one leading into the other, and it’s so exciting.  I can’t wait to see all my books come out.    

CA: You’re very open about your life: growing up poor, struggling with hunger and domestic violence as a kid.  A lot of LGBTQI youth can relate.  What was the impetus for telling your story, so real, transparent, and powerful, by the way? Did you struggle with deciding what you would talk about or did you always know you were going to be completely forthcoming and honest?

RO: I’ve always practiced 100% honesty and life, but I’ve always gravitated towards fiction.  BUT after years of rejection, I knew I was doing something wrong.  Then one day, an editor gave me the advice to try and write a true story about my life, so that I could learn to dig my heels into the emotional core of a narrative.  It turned out that’s what was missing from my storytelling.  And as I wrote it, I knew I needed to be as honest as possible with my reader.  I think that’s what readers–especially young readers–appreciate most.  

CA: You also wrote the OGN Blink with art by the incredible Eduardo Francisco. What are the challenges or the things you like about writing prose and writing for an artist on an OGN?

RO: Prose is wonderful, because I’m in complete control.  Though, with an editor’s eye contributing.  But otherwise, it’s just me (and the cover artist).  That’s freeing.  But with an OGN it’s a partnership, which staves off the completely loneliness and fear of writing alone.  So I try to jump back and forth between the two styles to keep a nice balance.  

CA: In recent years comics have become more inclusive of LGBTQI and brown characters.  Obviously, not enough but things are changing.  As a creator on that front, what are some of the things queer folks can do to help facilitate more inclusivity or even exposure to queer folks and lifestyles?

RO:  I think a lot of folks are supporting queer creators, which is a beautiful thing.  The biggest problem I’ve found is discoverability.  Luckily, both bookstores and librarians are getting better about curating LGBTQIA+ sections for those readers. It’s no longer something to be ashamed about–at least in most places.  And I couldn’t be happier that we live in a time where people of color are getting their due.  It’s been centuries of mostly white males telling stories, so it’s really awesome to see the switch.  There should be room for people of all kinds to tell stories, which is one of the reasons I talk about being half-Mexican myself.  

CA: Who are some of your queer heroes in the comic world both real and fictional and why?

“Nimona”

RO: ND Stephenson, who created Nimona, is just amazing.  She went on to queerify the new She-Ra and it’s such a fun TV watch.  I’m also a massive fan of Mariko Tamaki, Molly Ostertag, and Kevin Panetta for the graphic novels they’ve contributed to the world of young readers literature.  As for fictional characters, I’m definitely obsessed with the X-Men (and have been since I was kid), which are more queer than ever.  But I also have to give a shout out to Midnighter over at DC for being someone who defies stereotypes.     

MIdnighter/DC Comics

CA: What words of guidance would you impart to up-and-coming queer creators who want to work in the mainstream world of comics, graphic novels and prose?

RO:  1.) Get comfortable with rejection.  It’s going to be hard to break into comics, but once you do, it’s going to be so worth it–especially when you hold the final product in your hand.  2.) Create the stories you would want to read.  Don’t try to create for others.  Make something you enjoy.  And 3.) Your art is never going to be perfect.  But it can be done.  So stop mulling over every little sentence and every panel of art.  Just keep moving forward.

CA: What got you into comics?  Who were some of your favorite heroes growing up?

RO: My middle school best friend got me into comics.  I had dabbled in Batman, but it was his introduction to me of the X-Men that made me fall in love.  I soon graduated to New Mutants, where I met Magik, aka Illyana Rasputin, who to this day remains my favorite character.  She’s dark and powerful and survived so much tragedy in her youth, and so she reminds me of me, battling every day to make a happier life for myself.  

CA: Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming projects Four Eyes, Northranger, and Abuela, Don’t Forget Me?

Norton Young Readers

RO: Northranger is my love letter to Jane Austen, as I’m taking her gothic novel Northanger Abbey and updating it with a queer protagonist who falls in love with a cowboy who may or may not be a killer.  It’s a graphic novel, and I’m so stoked for it to come out.  Four Eyes is another memoir, but this time a Disney-version graphic novel of my life, meaning I’m dropping the violence to focus on an almost-universal experience of getting glasses and dealing with the onset of puberty.  And Abuela, Don’t Forget Me is my first foray into writing a novel in-verse.  It started out as a project for my grandmother who is suffering from dementia.  I was writing all of my memories of her down in short verses, so that she could read them with ease and hopefully remember happier times.  But soon I had a book on my hand, and I thought how great would it be to get this published as an homage to supportive grandmothers everywhere.  

CA: Really wonderful, Rex! Thank you so much for your time and the truly fantastic work you’ve been putting out into the world.

For more about Rex and his work check out his website, rexogle.com

Interview with Creator Laura Gao

Laura Gao is a 25-year-old queer artist, author, and bread lover. Originally from Wuhan, China, Gao immigrated to a small town in Texas when she was four. Gao’s art career began by doodling on Pokémon cards and has since blossomed to be featured on NPR, the MOCA in NYC, and most notably, her parents’ fridge. Her debut graphic memoir, MESSY ROOTS, was published on March 8, 2022 with HarperCollins.

Gao graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018. She worked at Twitter as a Product Manager until 2020, when her webcomic, “The Wuhan I Know“, went viral on Twitter and ignited her art career. She swears on Jack Dorsey’s beard she did not pull any strings to go viral, and wishes people would stop asking her for tips. Besides drawing and complaining about early-onset back pain, Gao enjoys living nomadically and biking around the world, designing apps for nonprofits, bakery-hunting, and watching SNL. Laura’s pronouns are she/her and they/them.

I had the opportunity to interview Laura, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thank you for having me! I am a queer artist and author of the upcoming graphic memoir, Messy Roots. I was born in Wuhan, China and then immigrated to a small town in Texas where I grew up. I’ve been drawing ever since I was a toddler doodling (and probably slobbering) on Pokemon cards, but I didn’t start pursuing it professionally until 2020 when a comic of mine went viral and got me a book deal. 

What can you tell us about your debut graphic novel, Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Messy Roots is about my self-discovery journey as a queer, Chinese American teenager stuck between cultures, homes, and expectations of “who I should be” instead of “who I want to be”. It explores my differing experiences between Wuhan, where I was born and visited later on, Texas, where I grew up and experienced the most amount of racism and homophobia, and college and San Francisco, where I had to reckon with and love my entire identity.

Messy Roots started out as a viral comic I created called, The Wuhan I Know, which highlighted the beautiful things I loved about my hometown and shared my own experience with racism growing up and at the start of the pandemic. When the comic unexpectedly went viral, I received countless heartwarming notes from people around the world! The one that struck me the most was from an Asian-American mother whose daughters had read and were inspired by the comic, asking if I was planning on writing more. 

And that’s how this book began.

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to the medium?

I didn’t start drawing comics until after graduating college, although I’ve been reading them for as long as I could remember how to read. The most impactful graphic memoir I read, Spinning by Tillie Walden, was pivotal in helping me understand my own LGBTQ identity despite growing up in a conservative place like Walden did. After graduating college, I worked a standard corporate job but kept up drawing after work as a creative outlet. I’ve always loved telling stories, and had taken animation classes in college where I learned my favorite part was the storyboarding, so comics became a natural medium for me to explore.

For Messy Roots, I wanted to magically transport the reader into my shoes as they undergo the same identity-seeking journey I did. From squirming in embarrassment as the entire school mocks the Asian mathlete, to staring in awe at the beautiful Wuhan skyline reflected on the Yangtze river the first time I went back to my hometown, to my internal battle with identity portrayed by the white rabbit from Chinese candies and folklore. Comics enable me to marry my storytelling with my art to give readers the full, immersive experience.

As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

Makoto Shinkai’s works, Weathering With You and Your Name. Tillie Walden. Anime and manga I grew up on, like Yotsuba, Naruto, and Haikyuu. Comedy TV, like SNL, Parks and Recreation, and Sex Education.

In light of the pandemic and this being a memoir, this story seems like a highly intimate and potent project for you. Could you discuss some of the craft elements you utilized when trying to depict the personal?

Talking about personal and sometimes traumatic events is incredibly hard, especially when sharing with millions of strangers! However, in the same way I often cope with bad memories through humor, I balance out the heavier scenes with comedic ones throughout the book. It lets the reader take in all the Big Feelings while also allowing them a break before the next Big Feeling. 

I also depicted some intangible feelings through motifs, such as the dream-like scenes with the white rabbit from Chinese candies and folklore that symbolize my internal battle with my Asian American identity, and the moon being hidden by clouds as signs of my closeted feelings.

What are some things you would want readers to take away from Messy Roots?

I hope readers understand that everyone’s search for identity and home is different and complex. And that’s okay!

I just wrote a whole memoir about it, and every day I’m learning new things about myself. However, by letting your voice shine above the doubts, you’ll realize the right people and places will naturally gravitate towards you. No matter how messy your roots are.

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring creators?

Post terrible work! 

Yes, you heard right. The quicker you get over your perfectionism, the faster you’ll finish projects, get feedback, improve, and overcome imposter syndrome or “artist stage fright”. I give myself a deadline for when I must post the art, finished or not. Even if it has mistakes, after I post, I realize 99% of people never even notice. Ultimately my goal is to tell a story; I don’t need to be perfect to be impactful. 

When I look at “The Wuhan I Know” I see plenty of ways I could’ve improved it, and I’m sure I’ll feel the same about my book when it comes out, but if I kept the comic in my drafts trying to get it perfect, I’d never have published it and gotten the book deal to give me my dream career. 

Besides your work as an artist what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I lived nomadically last year, splitting my time between Taiwan and Europe, and would love to continue exploring the world while drawing and hunting for the best bread. I also build websites and apps for various nonprofits. My bucket list includes biking every major long-distance trail in the world, and starting a media company that only creates queer joy content.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?

What’s your favorite queer ship? Korrasami hands down.

Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?

I’m currently working on my second book, which will be a queer rom-com about astrology throwing a group of teens’ lives into a hot mess! 

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Any book by Tillie Walden, She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal, Flamer by Mike Curato, and Stone Fruit by Lee Lai.

Interview with Graphic Novelist Jessi Zabarsky

Jessi Zabarsky lives in Chicago with her cat and forty three plants. She was raised in the woods and will one day return there. Her first graphic novel, Witchlight, was published by Random House Graphic in 2020. You can find her online at @jessizabarsky.

I had the opportunity to talk with Jessi, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your latest book, Coming Back?

Hi, I’m Jessi! I make comics with a lot of plants, magic, food, and big difficult feelings in them. Coming Back is about two young women, Preet and Valissa, who love each other very much but still have trouble navigating each other’s desires and beliefs. A threat appears in their isolated community, and soon afterward they each have to depart on separate journeys, both of which strike at the heart of their respective anxieties.

What drew you to comics? Were there any comics or artists you believe who inspired you and/or influenced your own personal style?

I’ve read comics from a pretty early age, but I think reading the first volume of Ranma ½ was when it clicked for me that comics were something that I could make, too. Takahashi’s work in general is a big influence on me, plus Miyazaki movies, the Nausicaa manga, and YA fantasy authors like Diana Wynne Jones and Tamora Pierce. I also have a deep love for picture books, especially ones with lots of little fiddly bits to look at in the illustrations.

What would you say are some of your favorite craft elements to work on? What are some of the hardest?

Writing is really fun and inking is so satisfying to me. Thumbnails are the hardest! There’s so much to keep in your head at once, it takes a ton of focus and mental effort. Good thumbnails also make penciling easier, so I have to try extra hard at them. 

In addition to your latest book, Coming Back, your debut graphic novel, Witchlight, is also known for its beautiful queer characters. What does representation on the page (queer or otherwise) meant to you as an artist and reader?

I mostly want to reflect all the different kinds of people I see around me, it just feels natural. I also get bored of drawing the same type of person over and over very quickly! I love fantasy and sci fi, and when I started Witchlight, I wasn’t seeing a lot of comics with queer characters in those settings. I want to make and read the kinds of fantastical stories with rich worlds that I love, with different types of people as the leads. I want so many varieties of queer stories that it stops feeling like its own genre. I want fantasy that happens to feature queer people, and for that to feel completely unremarkable.

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the process? 

The process varies person to person and project to project, but generally I start with a script, then do thumbnails, then page layouts and pencils on paper, and inks directly on top of the pencils. Then I scan the pages into my computer, do digital cleanup and fixes, lettering, and finally, color. With a publisher, they’ll want the front cover figured out earlier in the process, so that gets worked in around halfway or a bit later. It’s a long road and requires a lot of different skills!

What advice would you give to aspiring creatives who would want to create their own comics, whether as artists, writers, or both?

Start making comics. Use whatever paper you have on hand and whatever you have to draw with (I made my very first comics in lined notebooks with regular pencils). Start with something low pressure, like a gag comic or journal comics. It can help to give yourself constraints, like the same panel structure every time, at first. Read lots of comics formats- newspaper strips, webcomics, manga, superhero comics, YA comics- check your library, most now have at least one comics section, if not several. Read critically- what do you like/dislike and why? Where do you get confused and what would you do to fix the problem? What works really smoothly? What stands out?

If you’ve already been making comics for a while, find tricks and shortcuts where you can. Making comics takes a lot of time and effort and you are one finite person! Remember that people read comics very quickly and no one will notice if every panel isn’t perfect. Work hard but make sure you’ll also be able to work for a long time! Do your stretches!!

Are there any other project ideas you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I’ve got secrets in the works but for now you can check my social media (IG @hug_box, Twitter @jessizabarsky) for weekly journal comics where I draw myself as a small rabbit.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

‘Hey, Jessi, why do you draw the moon as full in nearly every instance regardless of the time that’s passed in the story?’

Thank you for noticing, it’s because circles are a great design element and I love the moon and she deserves it.

Finally, what queer books/comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I really love the Hakumei & Mikochi manga! It’s plausibly deniable in its queerness, but it centers two tiny “roommates” who live in the base of a tree and cook, shop, eat, and explore together (they’re wives). There are also several other female characters who definitely don’t have crushes on each other. 

For more direct queerness, I’ve been really enjoying the book series that begins with A Memory Called Empire, a space opera about colonialism and selfhood. And an all-time favorite of mine, Ursula Le Guin’s short stories are really excellent for imagining different ways of thinking about sex, gender, and relationships!

Transgender Day Of Visibility 2022

March 31st marks the 14th annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. Founded by Michigan based trans activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker, Transgender Day of Visibility serves as a day of celebration to give transgender people proper recognition. LGBT organizations including GLSEN and the LGBT Foundation provide additional information and how to get involved.

In an effort to highlight the achievements of trans people, Geeks OUT would like to highlight multiple interviews of trans authors and artists that were conducted by our own Michele Kirichanskaya we’ve linked to below.

Interview with Crystal Frasier and Val Wise
Interview with Ryka Aoki
Interview with Author Ash Van Otterloo
Interview with Author H. E. Edgmon
Interview with Author Aiden Thomas

A QUICK & EASY GUIDE TO ASEXUALITY Interview with Molly Muldoon & Will Hernandez

Molly Muldoon is a former scholar and bookseller, current librarian and writer, and always demisexual fan fiction enthusiast. Her works include The Cardboard Kingdom, Dead Weight: Murder at Camp Bloom, and the forthcoming The Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast. Although she’s spent the past ten years globetrotting, she currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with her ridiculous cat, Jamie McKitten.

Will Hernandez is a lifelong artist and a first-time published comic creator/ co-author. Though a passionate storyteller and draftsman, Will is also on an endless journey of discovery, looking to learn more about the world and, in turn, themself. Through ups and downs, they’ve discovered themself to be on the asexual spectrum, growing ever more curious of the role sexuality and gender play in society, and fond of the culture it creates.

I had the opportunity to interview Molly and Will about their new graphic novel, A Quick & Easy Guide To Asexuality, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?

M: Hello! I’m Molly Muldoon and I’m a demisexual writer and librarian currently based in Portland, Oregon. I have a very good bad cat named Jamie McKitten and spend a good part of my week working at a public library. I’ve also spent most of the past 15 years living all around the world and I’m getting itchy feet again so a new adventure may be on the horizon.

W: HeYYYY, I’m Will! But I’m also going by Billie too. I’m a freelance artist in California and am getting a jump start in comics with the writing of this book!

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you both to the medium?

M: Friends being into comics is what got me into comics. I had to move home unexpectedly in 2011 and my only friend still in my hometown had become a comic artist. She introduced me to her friends and all of the sudden, everyone I knew made comics! Reading has been my thing ever since I was a little girl so of course I devoured all the comics I got ahold of and that, as they say, was that.

W: As an artist, I’ve been drawing all my life really n mostly taught myself (because I’ve always sucked at paying attention in art classes TwT). And as far as comics go it’s always been an underlying form of communication for me. Whenever I struggled to put things into just words, a little comic could usually help get my points across.

Molly Muldoon

What was the inspiration for A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality, and how did the two of you come together to work on this project about asexuality?

M: After reading the brilliant My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, I sent a pitch for a memoir about growing up ace to Oni. After talks back and forth with editorial, this morphed into a new Quick and Easy Guide. Knowing I needed an awesome partner for this, I actually found Will after he posted some work on the Asexual Artists website and sent their info along to Ari, my then-editor, who reached out. 

W: I personally, was reached out to on Twitter one day, was told that OniPress was looking for a comic artist to draw up a little ace book, saw it as an opportunity to put out some good info and begin my journey in punished work n dived right in! 

I have to give credit to Molly for most of the writing though, I’m personally not the best at creative writing n’ putting things into a script format to work on for comics. I mostly added my own anecdotes and some input, along with the artwork. 

As individuals who both identify on the Asexual spectrum, would you say you’ve seen any media that you felt you related to or represented by in this way? If not, did A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality feel like a response to that?

M: Off the top of my head, I can’t say I can think of anything that feels like great representation. Todd in Bojack Horseman definitely comes close but still wasn’t quite on the ball for me. Honestly, I feel like I’ve seen the best representation in fanfiction. In fact, reading fanfiction is what taught me what demisexuality was and gave me the vocabulary to start learning about myself. The fact that it would have been so easy for me to keep missing the words I needed, though, is a big reason why I’m glad this book exists: as a jumping off point.

W: Honestly, I feel that this book is sorta a response to that, personally at least. There aren’t many characters in media that I’ve seen represented as such aside from a handful, and I think it would be nice to see more out there.

What can readers expect from A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality?

M; This is really Asexuality 101. It’s quick and easy, after all! We try to cover all the basics, to give a real idea of what it’s like to be ace if you’re not and to validate other aces. I tried to write the book I would have wanted to read when I was younger, something that would have helped me, and hopefully we’ve managed that, with some jokes and anecdotes added in.

W: Well, it’s in the name: A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality! I think it’ll make a great introduction to the topic. It won’t answer every question for sure, but it’ll definitely give you a grasp on the overall feeling a lot of aces have.

Will Hernandez

As a writer, how would you describe your background/ introduction to writing? What would you say are your favorite and (trickiest) parts of the creating process?

M: I’ve always been a big reader, which is the most helpful thing to be if you want to write. Writing was always a hobby for me (I wrote a lot of fanfiction in college) but when I started hanging around other creators, I just kind of fell back into it. When it comes to my favorite part of writing, it would have to be working with a great collaborator. I can’t draw to save my life so to work with a great team to bring it all together is the best. Anyone who’s done a group project before knows, though, it can also be very tricky! That’s why, when you’ve got a good team, there’s nothing you can’t do. 

As an artist, how would you describe your background/ introduction to illustration? What would you say are your favorite and (trickiest) parts of the creating process?

W: mM, I’ve mostly taught myself what I know, mostly through personal research online and in libraries growing up. This comic was very much a first trial run of my skills and, tho it was a struggle, since a lot of it took place back in 2020 and I had a lot of family issues going on, I learned a great deal to further streamline my process down the road! As far as most difficult in the process, I’d have to say the initial ideas for what to portray on each panel were the toughest, especially since I didn’t plan as early as I should have to begin with. But time management has been on the list of progress points I’ve been cultivating so. 

How would you describe your creative collaboration together on this book?

M: I loved working with Will. Will is such a great partner, always eager and excited about the book with such a positive attitude, it was like getting sunshine via email. I also knew I could trust them with pretty much anything, leaving whole pages as ‘Will’s thoughts here’ and they always delivered! It’s nice to know your partner’s got your back and you’re both super excited about it.

W: I think it was pretty fun! Great to share input on Molly’s work n for her and my editor to provide input on mine! Always nice to work on projects with such great people!

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring creators?

M: The two best things you can do, as an aspiring creator and just as a person, I guess, is to work on your own projects and make friends. Make your comic! Write your script! Draw adorable fan art! Just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll only get better at it. And while you’re doing that, make friends with other people doing the same thing. Comics is all about teamwork and people want to work with their friends. Share each other’s work. Make silly jokes. Talk about shows you like. Work on things together and pull each other up. 

W: Ok, so the number 1 tip I have for anyone coming fresh into the field, is to alwaYS plan your designs and layouts early! Environments, character designs, thumbnails, storyboards, if you’re in a case where you’re doing all the art yourself, it’s good to be doing that alongside your writer/ co- writer working on the script. Learning to partly be your own manager is a challenge, but it’s well worth the reward when your work finally gets out!

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?

M: Ooooo, that’s hard! I’m not entirely sure how to phrase this as a question but something I wish more people would ask about as beginning comics writers is how to write for your artist. I was friends with comics artists for years before I began writing my own comics and part of the reason it took me so long is that I was terrified I’d become one of the writers they complained about! As a writer, only a couple of people are going to read your script and the main person is your artist, your partner. So talk to them about what works best for them! I’ve worked with artists that like each panel incredibly detailed, saying who is standing next to who and who’s sitting and who’s crossing and all that info. I’ve also worked with artists who say “Yeah, that’s my job. Let me do it.” So I always want to convey how important it is to adapt your style to your partner. See what they need from you and work the way that’s best for them. 

W: HMMMmmmm… None that really come to mind honestly…

Are there any other projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?

M: There’s nothing I can chat about yet, unfortunately, but I have a couple of things in early stages that hopefully I’ll get to share more about soon!

W: Currently, I’m just in the market for more creative gigs. Hopefully more comic related stuff cuz, now I have a good deal of foreknowledge to know what I’m jumping into. Aside from that, I’m mostly working on updating my portfolio a little.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

M: Oh, I want to recommend so many! I’m a big reader and I feel like 99% of what I talk to people about is books they should read. For comics, my soul has belonged to Heartstopper by Alice Oseman for quite some time. Book four just came out! Run, don’t walk! As for novels, the first that popped into my head is A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske. It’s the first in a trilogy about Edwardian magical politics and murder mysteries and I’m already eagerly awaiting book two. But everyone should seek me out on the internet and talk books with me!

W: I haven’t read too many as of lately, but one good one I really love is “My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness”. It’s such a nice lil manga series!

Interview With Illustrator Ariel Slamet Ries

Ariel Slamet Ries is an eggplant fanatic and longtime lover of dogs in snoods from Melbourne, Australia. They studied animation for four years before throwing away the prestige and money to pursue comics. They’re still waiting to see how that will turn out.

I had the opportunity to interview Ariel, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to GeeksOUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thanks for having me!

I’m Ariel Slamet Ries, a comic artist and illustrator based on Wurundjeri land in Australia. I’m just an eggplant who likes to tell stories about people in fantastical worlds. I also spend a lot of time thinking about weird animals. 

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to the medium?

I’ve probably been into comics since I sprung from the womb. My family had a small collection of comics—Calvin and Hobbes, some old Matt Groening—but I was rarely allowed to buy them for myself. My parents were both journalists at the time, so I think they considered comics junk food reading. 

Because of that, part of the appeal of comics to me was the forbidden fruit aspect. In my search for a taste of that elusive comics flesh I stumbled across webcomics. They were free and accessible, so I read as many as I could get my hands on. 

It was inevitable then that I got into making comics. I was already passionate about drawing from a young age, and took to creative writing in school. Combining the two somehow always seemed like the natural progression. I had dabbled with making comics in high school, but nothing stuck until I started Witchy during a break after my first year of university. 

How would you describe your comic, Witchy? What was the inspiration for this project and how did it come to be?

Witchy is set in the witch kingdom Hyalin, wherein everyone’s magical ability is determined by the length of their hair. If your hair is too long, you’re deemed a danger to the state and executed by witch burning. 

The story follows Nyneve, who is haunted by the burning of her father and the threat the Witch Guard poses to her own life. When conscription rolls around, Nyneve chooses to defy the institution complicit in her father’s death and commits a selfish act of heresy. 

Hair is a central part of the story because I was drawn to its ubiquity—most people have hair and so can easily imagine themselves in the story world. In the Witchy universe, the capacity to grow long hair is also something you’re born with—I wanted to use that to interrogate how power and wealth works in the real world; what kinds of strength we value, and who gets to wield that power based on the traits they were born with.

How did it come to be? Well, it had been something I’d been planning since high school, and then I started it in university, and then instead of having a life in university I spent all my free time making a webcomic. (don’t worry, I’m joking at least 50% here.)

Since your story is clearly set in a fantastic world, what draws you in to speculative fiction, and witches in particular? Did any real-world or magic based systems inspire you while creating your own universe?

First and foremost, I think magic is fun! Also, writing speculative fiction is all I can do—it’s just how my brain is wired. I find it more difficult to set something in the real world because there are so many elements that you have to get “right.” In a fantastical setting I’m able to examine reality and humanity through a different approach, and maybe that’ll lead to an interesting insight?

I actually don’t think I’m interested in witches explicitly—I wanted there to be magical people in this world, and I thought it would be fun to play with the more traditionally feminine image we have of witches.

The most significant influence to the magic system are the real world animistic religions that are practised traditionally all throughout Asia–the idea of a spirit, of godliness, being inherent in all things. They’re belief systems that are rooted in practicality–pay close attention and love to the rhythms of the natural world, you will be rewarded with food, medicine, and security. I’m just adding a magical twist to that. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters and/or themes featured in your books?

Pretty much all the characters in Witchy fall into one or more categories of the LGBTQ+ umbrella. I’m not particularly interested in writing about cis-straight characters; those aren’t the people I’m spending most of my time with, and there’s enough people out there doing that already.

That’s kind of the point of Witchy—I don’t have any grand illusions about the power of my work, I just want to create stories where us queers get to do the things that the straights get to do. Telling an action/adventure story like all the shonen manga i loved reading as a teen, but that centred on a lesbian protagonist, was a major part of my initial drive to create Witchy. 

As an artist/ writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and sources of inspiration?

Hmm, Ursula K. Le Guin and Satoshi Kon come to mind as artists whose works I admire deeply, but who didn’t sacrifice kindness and patience in their personal philosophies. They stick in my mind because of the way they resisted the grind mindset that is so prevalent in creative industries–when I think of how evocative and powerful their works are, I try to remember this and bring it into my own practice. 

I’m also hugely inspired by my friends! I’ve somehow stumbled across a supportive international community of comic and art-making friends that are frankly incredibly smart and talented, without whom I think I’d feel very adrift in the world. 

What are some of your favorite elements of craft when it comes to comics?

I pay a lot of attention to page layout and composition. Coupled with good writing (which, in comics, is paradoxically as much about image choice and acting as the dialogue, in my opinion) I think you can get away with everything else looking pretty rough. There’s a reason ONE—the creator of One Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100— is so popular; despite the naivete of his draftsmanship there’s a real understanding of these fundamentals. 

Creating a page with a good flow for the reader can take a bit of work, but when I’m reading comics there’s nothing more off-putting than a page that’s hard to parse.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?

“Have you learnt any cool facts about eels lately?”

Why yes I have! Thank you for asking. We don’t really know how freshwater eels reproduce in the wild. We’ve been able to make them reproduce in captivity but we haven’t observed them mating or spawning or whatever, out there in the ocean. I just think that’s neat. 

Are there any other projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?

Absolutely! I’m currently taking a hiatus from Witchy (I’ll be back! I promise!)  to work full time on my graphic novel Strange Bedfellows, a queer sci fi romance about Oberon, a boy who’s recovering from a very public “breakdown,” then develops the ability to conjure his dreams in real life—including a facsimile of his high school crush, Kon.

It’s a story that’s been floating around in my head for a long time, so I’m really excited to finally be working  on it. It has a lot of my favourite things in it, so I’m putting everything I’ve got into every stage of the process. We’re about wrapped with the writing now, and I’m so stoked to start drawing!

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Take care of your mental and physical health above all else. Going through a bad burnout is so much more of a sacrifice than getting enough sleep every night! Don’t buy into grind culture and work at your own pace—you’ve got time.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Here’s a few of my recent favourites:

Our Dreams at Dusk — a gorgeously drawn coming of age manga about a troubled gay student who discovers an eccentric queer community group in his small town. 

Beetle and the Hollowbones — this ones for readers looking for LGBTQ+ stories they can share with their kids: A super fun romp through a monstrous world as a goblin, a skeleton and a ghost try to save their local mall. 

Mamo — A young witch returns to her small town in the wake of her grandmother’s death and meets a girl whose family is besieged by a poltergeist in the attic. Beautiful art, captivating story.

Interview With Illustrator Kristina Luu

Kristina Luu, she/they, is a queer Vietnamese Canadian comic artist and illustrator from Vancouver, BC. She loves making colourful worlds and stories full of diverse characters and little moments of magic and joy. The first volume of the BESTIES graphic novels series written by Kayla Miller and Jeffrey Canino is available now. She’s also the creator of “Intercosmic“, an all-ages space fantasy webcomic published through Hiveworks.

I had the opportunity to interview Kristina, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT and congratulations on your new book, BESTIES: Work It Out. Could you tell us a little about yourself and the project?

Hello! Thank you for having me here. It’s a real honour and pleasure. I’m Kristina Luu, a queer Vietnamese cartoonist based in Canada! My pronouns are she/they, with no preference for either.

BESTIES: Work It Out is my official published comics debut and I couldn’t be more excited and proud of it. It’s a Middle-Grade graphic novel written by the incredible duo Kayla Miller and Jeffrey Canino. I had the honour of illustrating the adventures of Beth and Chanda – a pair of best friends who have a knack for fashion, big dreams, and mayhem. The book is all about learning what it means to be responsible for your actions and behaviour. 

How did you get into illustration? What drew you to becoming an artist?

I’ve loved drawing cartoons ever since I was a young kid! I used to draw on piles and piles of printer paper and on the walls. My parents did not like that particularly. I also used to spend hours watching animated films and shows every night and the love of animation and cartoons never left me honestly. 

I’ve always loved how artists can turn something vague, mundane, or even empty into something. With a single drawing, you’ve made a whole fantastical world I can dive right into and spark my imagination. At the same time, I loved how art was a way of communicating too. It’s a voice, or a story, or an idea, put on paper or canvas! It’s the closest thing to turning your imagination into reality and the appeal of it has never left me since. 

Were there any artists or books growing up that inspired or influenced your style?

For me, the biggest inspiration was actually Adventure Time. I watched a lot of it during my middle school years and would draw fan art all the time trying to imitate the style and designs of the show. I was honestly obsessed with it and had my own fan characters, t-shirts, merch – you name it! As a teen, I read Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet and Tony Diterlizzi’s Wondla series and was utterly obsessed with both of those too. So much of my earlier art draws inspiration from them, as well as some classic Disney films as well. I only got into manga and anime much later in life, but that also completely shifted how I drew in my college years.

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe it? 

I think it’s fair to say that creating graphic novels is a lengthier and more complex process than most people expect. It seems quite simple at first glance, but then you realize each page is a piece of artwork in itself! Each panel is a drawing, and that’s not even mentioning the writing and planning that goes beforehand too. Comics aren’t just “drawing what happens”. When you think about “who says what in each panel” or “what page layout works best for this story”, you realize there’s a lot of thought and care that goes into drawing a page. And gosh, can you imagine how many hours it takes to make just one page? Think of that but times 100 now!  It takes a lot of time and effort to make comics, so it’s truly a labour of love.

What are some of your favorite things about making comics? 

Comics are a fusion of art and writing – two of my favourite creative outlets! I love how versatile and honest comics feel and how it allows creators to share their own unique and independent voice. You usually don’t see that kind of thing through more “mainstream” media, like a TV show or something that has a massive creative team behind it. Until recently, webcomics and indie comics were one of the only places I could find really honest and nuanced representations of LGBT+ people for a long time because they were made by other queer people who just wanted to share their own voice. Comics are also so accessible for audiences and creators alike. Almost anyone can make one, and it’s so easy to just put them on the internet for people to read. It’s a medium that allows for some truly unique creator-driven storytelling and human connection, and that is what I love most.

When you’re not drawing, what do you enjoy doing or consuming in your free time?

I love writing! I suppose that goes hand-in-hand with drawing when you’re a comic artist. I have absolutely no intention to publish a written novel, but I still love writing in my spare time all the same.

As for hobbies, I play a lot of video games and read lots of novels. I’m a big fan of fantasy RPGs of any kind. As for reading, I tend to read mostly Middle-grade, Young Adult, and Adult Science-Fiction/Fantasy and LGBT+ stories. I try to read almost every night. It helps calm my brain down after a long day.

When my head isn’t staring at a screen or in a book somehow, I also really love delving into craft hobbies and outdoor activities too. I’m a big fan of hiking, biking, camping, and just recently picked up bouldering. It’s been so nice to have an active outlet when I spend so much of my days in my own head or in front of a screen.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

I wish more people would ask me what I like drawing most. While I do love beautiful scenery and fuzzy animals, for me, it’s always been people. I don’t necessarily mean character design or portraits. I really just enjoy drawing characters emoting and interacting! Particularly, dancing. While drawing action can be fun, I just love how much emotion there is in dancing. It’s an act of pure joy and self-expression. 

The world is filled with so many people and they are all so much more interesting beyond the way they look! You can tell so much about a pair of characters just from how they interact. Are they lovers, family, archenemies, best friends? We all express so much with just our faces and body language. I’ll always find it intriguing.

What advice would you have to give for other aspiring artists?

YOU are more valuable than your art. 

I’ve always been a huge advocate for taking care of yourself first and foremost as an artist: body and mind. I’m not just talking about making art. I also mean how you think about making art. Art can and should be fun but you should never compromise your wellbeing for the sake of art. The idea of the “tortured creative artist” is so harmful! You will always be able to make better art when you are healthy and happy. Don’t hurt your back by drawing 24/7. Get up and take care of your body. Don’t let “not being good enough” hold you back from drawing. That’s not good for your brain. Surround yourself with good friends who elevate you. Your peers are NOT your competition, but your support system. Learn how to be kind to both your body and mind, and it’ll carry you a long long way as an artist.

Are there other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to discuss?

Absolutely! I’m currently developing my own original graphic novel. There isn’t much to show for it yet, but I’m hoping to make my author/illustrator debut some time in the future so stay tuned! I’m also still working on Intercosmic, my all-ages space fantasy webcomic. It’s been on hiatus this year, but there are plans to return to working on it next year and I’m very excited for it! I’ve also got a few smaller independent comics in the works that I’m making mostly for myself, such as journal comics and experimental short stories. With my upcoming projects, I’m hoping to explore more topics such as queer identity as person of colour and the complexities of Asian diaspora and generational divides.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics would you commend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Oh, where do I even begin!

For LGBT+ comics and manga, I absolutely love Nimona by Noelle Stevensen, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani, Beetle and the Hollowbones by Aliza Lane, and of course My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi.

As for novels, I read mostly fiction and fantasy. Personally, I really enjoyed Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Happy reading, everyone!

Interview with Illustrator Victoria Grace Elliott

Victoria Grace Elliott is the creator of the webcomic Balderdash! or, a tale of two witches. Yummy: a History of Desserts is her debut graphic novel. She’s a queer Southern illustrator & comic artist living in Austin, Texas.

I had the opportunity to interview Victoria, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thank you! I’m Victoria Grace Elliott, a comic artist living in Austin, Texas. I’m the author of Yummy: A History of Desserts and its follow-up, Yummy: A History of Tasty Experiments! And hopefully many other comics down the line.

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to the medium?

I’ve always been a storyteller at heart, and I’ve always loved drawing. There’s a lot of ways that can manifest, but comics felt like the most natural conclusion to me since I was pretty young. I gravitated toward any comics I could find, even if they weren’t really in my age range, like a lot of the manga that came out in the 80s and 90s, haha. 

How would you describe your creative background/ artistic education? And how did you develop your gorgeous style?!

My family is very into art and movies and writing and music, so that was really the backbone of my education! As an art teacher, my mom had all kinds of art materials, and she was big into the crafting that was popular in the 90s. I feel like between her painting, crafts, and decorating, I picked up a lot about color in particular. And as a movie buff family, I was watching all kinds of stuff, which, like the manga, may have been a little over my head, but inspired me nonetheless.

Since my family was such a rich environment for it, this all really encouraged me to take my art seriously, even if just as a hobby. I went to college for Linguistics at the University of Texas, but eventually I found my way into the Radio-TV-Film department, where I learned a lot about media analysis and saw even more kinds of movies and television. Soon after, I joined the comics staff at our student newspaper, The Daily Texan, where a lot of other people from all kinds of departments–art, English, you name it–wanted to hone in on their comics skills. This is really where my comics education flourished. I feel as though our styles of art and storytelling all bounced off each other and our influences.

So yeah, it’s always been a lot of self-teaching and community-teaching for me! It’s hard to describe since it’s such an organic process, but it’s like: Oh, this person is drawing this way, I want my art to look like theirs. At other times, it’s the opposite: I want my art to be distinct from theirs in this way. As time goes on, you naturally come into your own style.

Where did the inspiration for your latest book, Yummy: A History of Desserts come from?

Truthfully, the inspiration came from Gina who started the Random House Graphic imprint herself! I was interested in pitching to RHG, but had so many ideas I didn’t know where to start. In a huge stroke of luck, my agent, Steven Salpeter, had a meeting with her and picked her brain about the kinds of work she’d be interested to see, the key one being a comic about food history!

As I mentioned before, I studied at UT, and I wrote a lot of research papers. As time went on, it had kind of evolved into writing essays about comics and comics as essays. In other words, I felt so prepared for this! I loved synthesizing stuff like that, testing the limits of what a comic could be. After some workshopping, I came up with the pitch for A History of Desserts, featuring three narrator food sprites and a chapter format!

What would you say are some of your favorite desserts (and are any featured in Yummy)?

Of the desserts featured in Yummy, I love mochi ice cream, egg tarts and drop cookies! Those are some of my all-time favorites! I also really love custard-filled sweets, mousse, and light yellow cake with fresh fruit and whipped cream. Sadly, those didn’t make the cut, but they’re truly my go-tos.

As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

I have always been inspired by my peers, online and in person, and the many artists I find there. For comics, I’d say my biggest influences have been from manga. For Yummy specifically, I’ve pulled from the manga artists of CLAMP and the cute illustrations from Summikko Gurashi and Sanrio. But I’ve also pulled a lot of humor from peers like ggdg, Zack Morrison, and a bit of style from Choo! 

What are some of your favorite parts of the illustration/ creative writing process? What do you feel are some of the most challenging or frustrating?

My favorite parts and hardest parts kind of go together, honestly! I’d say the most challenging part of Yummy was the visual research, both in tracking it down and adapting it to the cute style of the book. However, that’s also the most fun part, too! It takes a lot of time to find, say, a glass dish that will look good in the book from possibly the right time and region for a certain historical cake. But it’s fun to adapt it to my style. Sometimes I have to re-research dishware or patterns or photos, change them from before, draw and redraw. But in the end, it’s always worth it. It adds so much character drawing from real history and objects.

As a queer creative who has previously worked on other queer projects, such as your webcomic, balderdash! or, a tale of two witches, may I ask what creating queer representation means to you personally?

I feel a lot of nebulous ways about what queer representation means to me these days, honestly! I think when I was younger, like in my balderdash! days, I needed so much more labeled representation as I figured myself out and started exploring those sides of myself as a young adult. As an older person who has more fully embraced the nuances of my sexuality and gender, I feel as though I can see it everywhere, like I’m cheating the system to get the most out of it for myself, haha. I think it’s always very important to have the people behind the works be the ones whose representation matters most–queer authors making whatever work they want to– but I also think there’s a wonderful power in empathic readings, where you can maybe see parts of yourself in something that maybe was never meant for you. As a queer creative, that can be converted into soil for your own stories and projects, or even just love for yourself and who you are.

Approaching work like that, I think it’s a lot easier to pick up on, say, the genderqueer vibes some of the sprites of Yummy give off, or some cute flirting I’ve drawn in. That’s all very purposeful, but also very subtle on my part, and I think my presence as the author should speak enough as it is.

As of now, are you currently working on any ideas or projects that you are at liberty to speak about?

Right now, I’m finishing up Yummy: A History of Tasty Experiments! This is a follow-up book that focuses on a lot more unusual food, from cheese to soda to packaged foods! I wanted to explore our relationship to really, really old foods like pickles and cheese to much younger foods, like SPAM and boxed macaroni and cheese. How did these foods become common? And how did we make them before?

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Make work for yourself first and foremost. Even if it’s an assignment, or even if it’s a commission, find a way to make it satisfying and fun for yourself. There will be times when that’s really, really hard, but I think that’s a key way of tending to your creativity. And take breaks! Long ones! Sleep a lot!

Finally, what LGBTQ books/comics (or comics in general) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

For other LBGTQ comics around the same age range as Yummy, I’d recommend a few incredible works from Random House Graphic: Reimena Yee’s Séance Tea Party, Trung Le Ngyuen’s The Magic Fish, and Jessi Zabarsky’s Witchlight. They’ve all got upcoming books as well. I know Yee’s next work is My Aunt is a Monster, which looks wonderful, and Zabarsky’s Coming Back is coming out later in January!