I had the opportunity to interview Tab, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi! I’m Tab Kimpton, I’m a queer anthology editor/publisher and webcomic artist, who started back in 2009 with Khaos Komix, an LGBT+ slice of life comic about eight teenagers. I’ve crowdfunded a book every year for the last 9 years, the most recent being the Anthology Nectar: Trans Femme & Non Binary Erotic Comics.
Outside of comics I’m a cosplayer, pole dance instructor, house renovator, and spend any time I have left over throwing ridiculously themed parties and making food to match.
When did you know you were first interested in making stories, and what drew you specifically to comics?
Some of the first bits of queer media I read were webcomics, and I got into drawing stories because I guess I wanted my friends to be gayer (haha). I feel very privileged to be part of that early 2000s webcomic movement where anyone with a scanner was making stories. It’s a time that’s very nostalgic for me now. (Though now I actually have more queer friends so I have to find other fantasies to write about.)
Among your most famous comics is your Khaos Komix series and Minority Monsters, a collection of stories and vignettes about various members of the LGBTQ+ community? What inspired the two projects, and what have you thought of public reception to them since then?
Khaos Komix is a coming of age story that was written while I was coming of age, and really helped me explore my own self a bit during that time; whereas Minority Monsters is a silly pun-filled series of gag-strips and info about gender and sexuality that plays with my love of Mythology.
monsters came about because I drew a shirt design of “Sir Fabulous the Third, The Bisexual Unicorn” for a comic con, sold out of most of them, and then started thinking “What other mythical monster would live in a land of LGBTQIA creatures? An Alphabet Soup Land if you will…?”
Both of those are intended to be quite approachable and have a general idea of LGBTQ+ topics while attempting to be entertaining at the same time. Educating people without patronising them is a fine line to walk, especially as our understanding of these things is constantly evolving. Khaos Komix has some absolute cringe stuff in it, and Minority Monsters already has phrasing I’d like to change even though it’s only a few years old.
What does creating diverse stories mean to you as a queer creator?
I think it’s about trying to make stories that people see themselves in, but also training readers in empathy and connection in people they don’t see themselves in. It’s something that feels like we can always do more, but as a single person I am limited. It’s one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed producing anthologies these past few years, as you get some beautiful and genuine stories from world views that get limited time in mainstream publishing.
As an aspec reader, your webcomic, Shades of A, was one of the first stories I got to see centering an asexual character (which I’m so thankful for!) What inspired the story, and what made you interested in representing asexuality?
To be blunt, readers were asking for it! That’s an interesting thing about webcomics- I’m super tuned into reader demands (which can be good or bad depending…). However I try not to see stories as a check box of minorities I can get through, so the challenge was how to do it well, how to make it a bit messy, how to explore stuff people haven’t touched on before, and how to make it entertaining enough that people will actually read it.
It was around the time 50 Shades of Grey was at its most popular, and I like a lot of people were super frustrated about how kink was represented in media. “An Asexual walks into a kink club” sounds like the set up of a joke, but in it was the glimmer of a story about subverting expectations, figuring out compromises with partners without sacrificing your own boundaries, and laughing at characters being awkward when things don’t go to plan.
Out of personal curiosity (no spoilers to those who haven’t read the book), was the ending to Shades of A something you had planned or did it naturally evolve that way?
I’m a nonlinear writer- I tend to get ideas for little scenes or sections that feel particularly juicy, write those all down, attempt to put them in some semblance of order, and then figure out what scenes can connect the dots. This way is possible when you work with more character driven stories, I do not recommend this for writing a murder mystery.
I learnt early on in my failed teenage attempts at comics that it’s very useful to write a full script, or at least an outline, so you know where you’re going before you start drawing and can pepper in all the little details which will add to everything later.
I adore solid, satisfying endings in the media I consume. I think there’s a lot of pressure to keep a webcomic that fans like going for a long time, but I’m more about leaving people wanting more than letting them get sick of you.
How would you describe your writing/illustrating process? What are some of your favorite/ most frustrating parts of both?
Since running anthologies behind the scenes as an editor, I’ve switched my process over from doing a single page from start to finish in one go, to sketching an entire chapter out at a time, then inking, then colouring, then lettering etc. This gives you a chance to fix things that need moving as early as possible and has really helped keep my work a bit more consistent (inside the chapter at least).
The hardest part is the first stage of Thumbnailing (figuring out what panels go where making sure there’s room for the text), as it’s the blank page. My favourite part is also thumbnailling, as I love creating interesting layouts, especially in one shot short stories where I can do something more involved that I know I couldn’t keep up on a full length webcomic.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
I can tell you the question I don’t want to be asked: How do you identify?
I’m in a ‘between labels’ stage of my life right now and really feeling the pressure to say something easy to consume and understand in a twitter bio. But this stuff is complicated, the ‘true self’ is ever evolving, and while labels are good for finding people like you, if they don’t give you joy don’t box yourself into them. I think we’ve been simplifying things down to make them easier to explain for too long, when it’s actually allies who should be explaining to us why they made the world so weird and rigid in the first place.
What advice would you give for aspiring creators?
Whatever work you’re drawing, find a way to make it fun to do the ‘boring’ stuff, because more often than not the boring stuff is most of the project. It’s nice to focus on the end goal of a book or the comic being finished, but spice up the process with podcasts, music, whatever keeps it enjoyable, or you’ll find getting to work on it will become harder and harder.
Also if you aren’t actually enjoying a story, quitting is still an option. A few years ago I started what would be a 300 page epic, but 50 pages in I was miserable and updates were coming few and far between. I changed projects and have been slamming it out ever since.
I feel like I shouldn’t advise webcomic artists to quit and start a new comic, but seriously if you aren’t enjoying a story find something you’d prefer to draw instead. If you work for yourself and hate your job, have a talk with the boss and figure out what needs to change.
Are there any other projects you are working on at the moment and at liberty to speak about?
We’re about to announce artists shortly for Nether Realms: Sci Fi Non Binary Erotic Comics which I’m working on with my co-editor Neon Caster. Behind the scenes most stories are on the pencils stage, and we’ll be waiting until the book is pretty much all done before launching the kickstarter this summer.
Sci fi has always been at the forefront of exploring gender as a medium so when choosing the theme for this book it was an obvious choice. We did an open call last Autumn to get the widest range of creators we could, asking for stories that either centered a non-binary character, or does something cool with gender.
I’ve mainly worked in fantasy and slice of life comics but this anthology I’m chucking myself in at the deep end by doing a Time Traveller Mecha story with co-artist Luce Northstar.
Finally, what are some LGBTQIA+ books/authors you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
I’d like to recommend some of my favourites from people I’ve worked with in previous anthologies, in no particular order: Niki Smith’s The Deep Dark Blue which takes the ‘girl disguises self as knight’ trope and flips it on its head. Alex Assan’s Shaderunners which is a crime noir webcomic about a greyscale world where prohibition banned colour instead of alcohol. Jade Sarson’s Cafe Suada – the energy in Jade’s work is such an inspiration for my own panelling. Also anything from Quindrie press, which is run by our anthology letterer Eve Greenwood so the polish on them is impeccable.
Nez is the webcomic creator of Friends With Benefits and Timeless Eclipse. He is based in New Zealand with an academic background in Animation Storyboarding. His story and art styles vary greatly from humorous and light-hearted, to dark and gritty moments. He works full-time during the day and turns into an elusive creator at night. When taking a break from comic making, he enjoys gaming and reading.
I had the opportunity to interview Nez, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi, and thanks for having me here! I’m a webcomic artist mostly known for Friends With Benefits, a story about an asexual genderfluid person looking for love. It’s a 4-panel slice-of-life webcomic that I posted for fun without any major plans only for it to blow up into what it currently is.
What drew you to storytelling, particularly to the medium of comics? Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?
I’ve always loved stories as a kid, and I would read and draw almost all the time. Eventually, I started writing fanfiction as a teen and began writing original stories later on. I wanted to share my stories with everyone else, so what better way to do it than comics?
I grew up with Japanese mangas and anime. Neon Genesis Evangelion (Yoshiyuki Sadamoto) and Fullmetal Alchemist (Hiromu Arakawa) are my biggest inspirations and the first ones that sparked me. In one of Fullmetal Alchemist’s behind-the-scenes book, the author showed how the comic was made and as a teen, that was mind-blowing. This was a time when I didn’t have much access to the internet and artist network, so learning about that was a big deal. Aside from mangas, my favourite writer of all time is Stephen King.
As a webcomic artist and illustrator, you are known for your webcomic Friends With Benefits, a story centering a gender-fluid and asexual lead character. As a acespec person myself, I’m curious to hear what was the inspiration for this story?
So, the idea for Friends With Benefits happened during a time when I was figuring out my own orientation and expression. You just haven’t found the right person, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. I’m sure a lot of acespec people have heard that in some form. It was a frustrating time and I created FWB to let out my thoughts through fictional characters. Some aspects of the story stem from personal experiences, some are not. Some are words that I wish someone had said to me. There are scenes that are raw and uncomfortable for people, but I wanted to write it as they are without covering them up because these experiences do happen. For example, Eri’s loneliness and desperation for love.
In a sense, FWB is a comic to express my experiences but rather than an autobiographical comic, I turned it into a creative fiction with its own cast of characters. At first, I wrote the story for myself without any expectations, but the positive reception from so many readers surprised me more than anyone else. The simplistic art style and the title itself is chosen for ironic purposes to contrast the story subject.
What are some of your favorite parts of the general creative process? What do you find to be some of the most frustrating/difficult?
My favourite part would be the initial idea development followed by storyboards. I have a lot of rough ideas and I enjoy building the characters, the world, and tying the plot together. This part has the most freedom because there are no limits but yourself. You’re free to make the most realistic or absurd story as you like. My second favourite part is the storyboards and layout process. I enjoy playing with camera works to layout the panels for effective visual storytelling.
The most frustrating part would be how much I must compromise because of time constraints. I create webcomics on the side and in the current market, the expectations for indie creators are kind of insane. You have to post consistently and frequently, and your art and writing have to be top-notch too, and you have to be seen on social media. You’re basically an entire production and marketing team squished into one body. People say to ignore these standards and just do what you want at your own pace, but I believe that I must at least acknowledge this and take part in it until I reach a point where my work can speak for itself. Where is this point? I can’t answer that because this point of success is different for everyone.
As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?
Specifically for FWB, I drew inspirations from Wonder Cat Kyuu-Chan (Sasami Nitori) and of course, my own experiences. But as a general inspiration, mangas, books, movies, games, and strange ‘what-if’ scenarios I come up with in response to something that happened in real life or fiction. What if the sun turns black one day? What if the hero fails in their journey? What if?
Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?
I like antiheroes and villain main characters.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
Q: “Why did you make Eri, the main character of FWB, flawed and unlikable at the start?” A: Because queer people are not flawless. Just because a character is queer doesn’t mean they are the perfect hero. Queer characters can make mistakes, be evil, be kind of a douche. Perfect is boring, embrace the character struggle.
Are there any projects you are currently working on and at liberty to talk about?
Yes. I’m in the process of self-publishing the physical print of Friends With Benefits Vol 1. All the pages will be redrawn and I’m estimating it to be 3 volumes long. The webcomic sequel of FWB will be posted by (I’m assuming) the time this interview is published. Titled Friends With Solitude.
What advice might you have to give to aspiring creatives, particularly those who might want to work on their own webcomics someday?
‘Just start’ is good advice, but it’s not the only advice. Learn the basics of drawing and writing. It’s important to have a good foundation in anatomy, perspective, storytelling, etc. no matter what style you are going for. Start small, build on it. Keep going. Learning is continuous.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/ comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Happy fall, ya’ll In this installment of the queer creator spotlight I had the opportunity to interview creator, journalist and YouTuber, Kat Calamia. A bi-woman of many talents. She’s the editor, creator, and one of the writers for Bi Visibility: A Bisexual Anthology. She’s also writer/creator for the superhero drama, Like Father, Like Daughter, and the psychological martial arts thriller, They Call Her…The Dancer. She’s also the co-creator for WebToon’s fantastic queer romance, Slice of Life.
Aside from being a talented creator/writer, Kat Calamia has been working in the comic book industry as a critic for over a decade on Comic Uno, her YouTube channel. She’s been writing for various websites including IGN, Fandom, TV guide and for Newsarama since 2017. She currently writes for DC Comics’ DC Universe. A graduate of MaryMount Manhattan, Kat wasted no time pursuing her passion and love of comics!
Chris Allo: When did your interest in comics begin? What was the “thing” that got you into comics?
Kat Calamia: It was a who – my Dad got me into comic books when I was young. He used to collect Silver Age DC comics. So instead of Sleeping Beauty, Superman was my bedtime story. When I started watching more superhero content like Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man (2002), and X-Men Evolution, this helped me venture into getting my own back issues, which then led to me forming my own pull list. I’ve been going to the comic book store every Wednesday since 8th grade – I’m 27 now.
CA: How has being LGBTQ informed your work? What is it about being bi that you put into your work? Or that compels you to want to share with the world?
Kat: Our experiences shape our writing. I grew up in New York – that informs my work. I have a twin – that informs my work. I’m bi – that informs my work. And so on and so forth.
I enjoy consuming and writing queer stories. I’m humbled that I’m able to contribute to the many wonderful queer stories out there, and showcase what authentic LGBTQ stories look like.
CA: You’re very prolific on Kickstarter. What attracted you to the KS platform? Is that where you primarily publish your work?
Kat: The list is long, but first and foremost it’s the most useful tool to garner an audience and fund your books as an indie creator, and that’s why it’s the primary space that I publish my work. I love the people who work at Kickstarter, I love my fellow creators that post their projects on there, and I love the backers! The platform is all about community, just like comic books themselves.
CA: In order for a Kickstarter campaign to be successful, you need an audience, a community. How do you go about building that audience from your experience?
Kat: The short answer is that Kickstarter is a community and you should utilize that community to its fullest, and just like any other business – presentation is important. The other answer is that I actually do Kickstarter consulting that helps with that very topic. So if this is something you need help with, hit me up on twitter @ComicUno!
CA: What are the projects you are most proud of right now?
Kat: Of course, I’m proud of every project that I put out there, but if I had to choose one it would be Slice of Life. I write this with my business partner, Phil Falco, and we’re having a blast posting it on WEBTOON. It’s a different experience posting your work online and getting feedback in real time about your writing. We’re really happy with the character work there and our exploration of the LGBTQ and high school experience.
CA: Here’s a lighter question. Who is your favorite existing queer character and why?
Kat: That’s a hard one because there are so many I love, but if I had to choose only one I would say Runaways’ Karolina Dean. She was the first character I ever saw in comics where we actually got to see her coming out journey. As a closeted bi, I was actually a little scared to read it because I related to it so much, but there was something that gravitated me to continue at the time.
Brian K Vaughan gave her room to explore what it meant to be a lesbian. If you read Runaways #1, its obvious that Vaughan was planning to tell a queer story with her from the beginning, but it was never rushed. And then Rainbow Rowell picked up those pieces and told a wonderful queer love story with Karolina and Nico.
CA: What lesson or advice would you give to aspiring creators? What do you wish you knew then that you know now when it comes to being a working creator in today’s industry?
Kat: WRITE! I see a lot of up-and-coming creators wanting to be writers without writing a script. Practice makes perfect. Start small. Don’t write your 100-issue epic just yet. Start with a short in an anthology, a one-shot, or if you want to aim big – a mini-series.
CA: Being bi-sexual has long been pigeon holed as being a choice primarily in a sexual context.In the “Bi-Visibility” Anthology you all dispel that notion and shine a much more authentic and complex lens on what it mean to be “bi.” I really enjoyed “LGBT” RPG, “A Most Unusual Trajectory” and “The Bi Card”. I thought that your story “Will I Regret It” was particularly poignant and touching. What was the goal with the anthology?
Kat: For sure, we wanted to showcase the many different bisexual experiences through different genres and perspectives. There’s an unlimited amount of bisexual stories that we can tell! And we purposely made this an all-ages book so kids and teens could also read the anthology.
CA: Your WEBTOON ongoing? “Slice of Life” with Phil Falco and artist Valeris Peri is fantastic! How did the story materialize for you? Why did you choose to put it out on the Webtoons platform?
Kat: Phil and I had worked together on a crossover one shot between our two books Haunting and Like Father, Like Daughter, were we had superheroes and the supernatural collide in a fun Scooby Doo styled one-shot. We had so much fun with that project that we wanted to work together on more books.
We both really love WEBTOON and the sheer possibility of tempting those readers to also pick up traditional comics. There, Slice of Life was born as a Webtoon that would also have a printed edition through Kickstarter. As for the story, Phil and I both wanted to create a queer narrative and Phil had an idea of an anime character coming to life. We had a few meetings and the concept about Cheerleader falling in love with anime character was born! The rest is history.
CA: How did you decide on Valeria as the artist? Was she familiar with the way a story is told on WEBTOON?
Kat: We actually found her on Pinterest when we were scouring the web to find an artist for the book, and her fan art caught our eyes. We contacted her, and she was game. I believe this is the first WEBTOON she has worked on, but the more technical scrolling aspect of the comic is actually done by our letterer and fellow WEBTOON creator, Garth Matthams (Witch Creek Road).
CA: Aside from being a talented writer you’re also a journalist. You’ve written for many different websites with a focus on comic book content. Did you go into journalism specifically for that or did you have other journalistic aspirations?
Kat: I have a journalism minor as part of a Communication Degree from college so I’ve also taken a lot of classes about more classic journalism, but I always enjoyed entertainment journalism – specifically comic book journalism.
CA: You also have a successful Youtube channel, Comic Uno, where you talk comics and give reviews. How did that come about? What is it about that forum that propels you to continue to create content there?
Kat: I’ve been working on Comic Uno since high school actually (which was 10 years ago, I feel old haha). I’ve always just loved the medium of YouTube and talking about comic books on a weekly basis. It’s my zen place!
CA: Must be great to have your passion place also, be your place of Zen!
Can you give us a sneak peak/link to. your next project?
Kat: As I write this, we’re closing off submissions for our next anthology – Hairology. A comic book all about hair. I’m super excited for everyone to see what we have cooking up with that, and I hope people find stories to relate to. That will launch on Kickstarter in early 2023.
CA: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Kat!
Jennifer Dugan is an avid YA and comic writer that strives to create the stories that she wishes she had growing up. Her debut novel Hot Dog Girl was released April 30, 2019 from Penguin/Putnam. She is also the author of Verona Comics and the forthcoming novel Some Girls Do. Her latest book, Coven, a queer, paranormal YA graphic novel was released this past September.
I had the opportunity to interview Jennifer, 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’m an author from Upstate New York and am about to release my fourth young adult novel, Melt With You. I’m also launching first graphic novel this year, Coven—although I have also written and kickstarted indie comics in the past. I share my house with two cats, a dog, and many, many tropical plants.
When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to young adult fiction?
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I used to create little stories and comics and hand them out for holiday and birthday presents—in hindsight, I should probably apologize to my brother for that. I’m sure he would have rather had a toy or money, even if he was a good sport about it.
I love young adult fiction. I think I’m drawn to it because there are so many big events, and big feelings, that surround that time of your life. It gives writers a lot of latitude to play. I also think that young adult fiction is really trying to open its doors to more diverse story telling. There is a long way to go, that is undeniable, but it wasn’t too far in the past that I was told by someone in the industry that “queer girls don’t sell,” and now my books are just two of many coming out this year.
What can you tell us about your upcoming books, Melt with You and Coven? Where did the inspiration for these stories come from?
Melt With You is a young adult novel coming out May 17. It is a contemporary rom com that follows two ex-best friends, who had a falling out after a one-night hook up. Now, they’re on a road trip in their parents’ romance themed ice cream truck.
It has all my favorite tropes, including second chance romance, forced proximity, not to mention so, so many ice cream puns. I’m not sure exactly when the idea came in my head, but I had been interested in setting a story in an ice cream truck ever since seeing the video for BLACKPINK & Selena Gomez’s song Ice Cream.
Coven is my young adult graphic novel debut coming out September 6. It is a supernatural, queer, coming of age story about witches, although it is very grounded in its contemporary setting. It tells the story of a teen witch named Emsy who has to leave her California surfer girl life behind when her family decides to return to safety of their coven in Upstate NY after the murder of a coven mate. Emsy has to learn to master and even appreciate her powers… and maybe solve the murder while she’s at it.
This one was actually inspired be a little frog I encountered in real life! It was sitting in a pond near my house that was overgrown with moss and dead branches—it was early fall, and it all felt so wonderfully creepy. I sat on the edge of the pond and watched him for a while, soaking up the spookiness, and as I did a whole scene spun out before me in my head. I quickly went home and plotted the rest of the book. That original scene, and little frog, actually made it to the final draft, so everyone will get to “meet” him when they read.
How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite (or most frustrating) parts of writing?
Generally, I wait for a scene to pop into my head—like it did when I was watching the frog that day. From there, I start thinking about the people involved in the scene—who are they, what do they like and dislike, which one is the main character (or two, if I’m writing dual POV.) Once I’ve established my main character, I need to find their favorite song, or a song that I think would really resonate with them. That’s one of the main ways I get to know them before drafting. From there, I build an entire playlist for them and start the work of outlining and drafting.
My favorite part is the very early daydreaming stage, when you’re first creating the characters and thinking about the story. It almost feels like dating. I have no clue at first if the idea will stick around to turn into something real… or if it’s just going to ghost me. Either way, it’s still fun. There’s no pressure or deadlines, it’s one of the few times that a story truly is just yours.
I also really love doing developmental edits. By then, I have a pretty firm grasp of my characters, the bones of the story are all there, and I’m just refining. It feels like I get to write fanfic of my own work, and I can’t get enough.
Did you draw on any specific sources of inspiration while writing, i.e. books, movies, music, etc.? Where do you draw inspiration or creativity in general?
In general, I draw inspiration from the world around me. Something as small as seeing a frog in a pond, if it hits at just the right moment, can lead to a new book sitting on in a bookstore someday. With that in mind, I try to approach the world in a very open way and soak up experiences to use as fuel for my work.
Music plays a huge role in my process, as I previously mentioned, but so do movies and other media. When I’m developing a character, I’m constantly thinking about how they would react to a movie or a song, or how they would be interpreting the world. I get to experience as myself, but also a little bonus bit through the character I’m crafting.
Books though, I read just for me. I’m really big on taking time to “refill the well” and for me that often means binge reading a variety of books and comics. I need books like I need air, and I don’t want to be deliberately and consciously thinking of my own craft as I do.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Finish your draft! I know it seems like common sense, but so many people get hung up on endlessly revising openings and early chapters—or are constantly chasing new ideas—that they don’t ever finish! You learn a lot from finishing a draft, even if you don’t ever decide to do anything with it.
Besides being a writer, what are some things you would want your readers to know about you?
I’m an absolute dork, and not necessarily in a cool way. In more of a dress your cat in sweaters and daydream about a beautiful plant you absolutely don’t need because you already have over eighty in your home kind of way. (Yes, eighty!)
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to thatquestion)?
I like to do book giveaways on my Instagram (@JL_Dugan) and I always have people answer a question for their entry. I recently did a giveaway for advanced reader copies of both Melt With You and Coven. Wanting to combine the themes of each, I asked readers to tell me what type of ice cream their favorite supernatural creature would eat for a treat. The answers were super fun, and I was a little jealous that I’d never been asked that… so I’m delighted to use this space to answer now. My favorite supernatural creature is undoubtedly a werewolf (sorry, witches!) and I feel like they might eat vanilla ice cream with Lucky Charms on top. It’s unclear if werewolves are impacted by chocolate the way dogs and regular wolves are, so I’m thinking they would want to avoid it to be safe. And who wouldn’t love a sugary cereal on top of their ice cream after a long night of chasing bunnies and/or biting people?
Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?
I have a couple unannounced projects that I am very excited to share more about soon. One of them is a bit different from what people usually expect from me, and I cannot wait to get it out there!
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Lewis Hancox is a writer, illustrator, and filmmaker from North West UK. Mainly known for his online characters British Mum and Prinny Queen, he’s built a committed following and regularly produces viral comedy videos. He has been featured in the Channel 4 series My Transsexual Summer and co-created an ongoing film project about trans people called My Genderation. You can find him on Instagram and TikTok at @lewishancoxfilms, on Twitter at @LewisHancox, and on YouTube at Lewis Hancox. As a longtime fan of cartoons and comics, he’s proud to have created Welcome to St. Hell, his first graphic memoir.
I had the opportunity to interview Lewis which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Thank you for having me! Hi, I’m Lewis Hancox, I’m a comedy creator and author-illustrator of Welcome to St Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure. I grew up in a small, working-class town in North England, which definitely shaped my humorous take on life. I’ve always loved to entertain, so I started making comedy sketches where I play various characters (I’m mostly known as being “British Mum”). The videos unexpectedly went viral which led to an online following! I’m also a filmmaker and co-founded “My Genderation,” an ongoing film project celebrating trans lives.
What can you tell us about your upcoming memoir, Welcome to St. Hell? What inspired you to write this book?
Welcome to St. Hell is my memoir in graphic novel form, all about my life as a trans teenage misfit, growing up in the early noughties. In the first lockdown I was drawing a lot to pass the time and was suddenly inspired to draw my story! I realized the real lack of trans guy representation out there, and just trans stories in general that are told with humour and heart, in a totally non-political way. This isn’t just a transition tale, though. It’s a journey of self-discovery, whilst trying to fit in at a hellish high school, navigate family and friend dramas, cringey crushes and feeling like the only “fridge” (which meant you’d never snogged anyone). Anyone who is or has ever been an awkward teen will relate! And that’s what it’s all about for me, normalizing the trans experience and incidentally educating through entertainment.
How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to the medium?
I’ve been drawing since I could clutch a pen. I remember watching all the Hanna-Barbera cartoons and reading comics like Calvin and Hobbes and dreaming that I could one day be a cartoonist! No matter what career path I’ve focused on, I’ve always been doodling away in my own time. I think I’m a very visual person, so telling stories through images comes more naturally to me than words.
How would you describe your creative process?
As a chronic self-doubter and perfectionist, I tried my best to let go and just have fun illustrating this book. The drawings don’t have to be perfect, in fact the imperfections bring the personality! I draw using my iPad and Apple Pencil, which gives me so much freedom (there would be a huge heap of scrunched up paper in the bin if I drew with an actual pen and paper!) With this book I didn’t overly plan it, I let the memories and ideas flow at their own rate and then sort of stitched the story together afterwards. A lot of the memories I’d buried deep, so I’d be drawing one scene and something important would suddenly resurface that I’d forgotten entirely! It was actually a genuinely therapeutic process for me, to revisit it all with a more positive outlook.
As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?
I read a lot of graphic novels that are routed in reality but with a surreal twist. I loved the Scott Pilgrim series, that was when I realized comics don’t all have to be about superheroes—they can be about real human things like a character’s love life! I also take inspiration from film and TV, as I kinda see drawing a comic like creating a storyboard for a film. I’m a big fan of Edgar Wright films, they all have that cartoonish vibe. I’d also say just life in general is my inspiration! I like to write about the little, relatable things.
What would you say are some of your favorite craft elements to work on? What are some of the hardest?
This is a hard question because drawing in general is my meditation, I honestly enjoy every part. I like getting playful with perspectives, timings and expressions. I love when I get a really clear vision for a scene in my head, and seeing it come to life on the page. Obviously, I get creative block though, as everyone does. That is super frustrating, and the self-doubt massively kicks in! Sometimes I find structuring the story hard, especially if I’ve got all these clear ideas for scenes but I’m unsure how to make them flow from one to the next. I’m still learning!
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
Something I often think about – if I could click my fingers and be born again NOT trans, would I? There have been times I would’ve said absolutely, yes, please let me be a cisgender man. But, actually, being trans has given me so many unique experiences. I’ve learned to turn the hard times into humour and art, which has brought me amazing opportunities. This journey has ultimately led to me achieving my childhood dream as a comic artist! I’m at peace now with the fact that I’m just a guy like any other, but with a different perspective of life.
Are there any other projects or ideas you’re sitting on and at liberty to speak about?
I can’t say much about this but Welcome to St. Hell definitely won’t be my last graphic novel! I’m also working on some exciting ideas with the My Genderation team, delving more into feature length fictional films. And I’ll be continuing to create my online comedy for as long as people are enjoying that!
What advice might you have to give to aspiring writers?
I would say just never ever give up! I’ve had countless scripts and ideas be rejected in the media world, but, similar to the knock backs in my transition, I just kept going! It still feels unbelievable to me now that I have a book being published with Scholastic. For me, writing about what I know has come the most naturally, so definitely take inspiration from real life (even if that’s in a more subtle way).
What LGBTQIA+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Shelbyville, KY — October 3, 2022 — CEX Publishing is proud to announce the introduction of the next great superhero: SERENO! Written and drawn by Argentinean artist Luciano Vecchio, the superstar talent known for his work on Ironheart, Champions, Wiccan & Hulkling, Edge of the Spider-Verse, and Iceman for Marvel Comics and DC Pride, Teen Justice, and Super Sons for DC Comics. SERENO #1 marks the first time the series has been translated into English for an American audience.
SERENO #1 introduces readers to the city of New Teia, where magic and science intertwine by night, and its guardian SERENO! SERENO, the Mystic Master of Light, must defend New Teia from an evil conspiracy set on transforming the city. SERENO must battle an avatar of Paranoia, a shepherd of Nightmares, and a Cult of Hate all while resisting his attraction to the super cat burglar Rufián.
“SERENO holds a great importance for me, it is the work that made me find my own voice as an author beyond merely drawing for other’s stories,” Vecchio said. “This is my answer not just to who MY Superhero is as a queer creator, but also to what the Superhero narrative genre as a whole and as Modern Myth means for me, and what I mean for it in turn.”
SERENO is a three-issue limited series with a double-sized first issue. Attendees of New York Comic Con will have the opportunity to get an advanced look at SERENO as Vecchio will be appearing at the show, where he will have copies of a special Ashcan version of issue 1 printed specifically for the show.
“I was already familiar with Luciano’s incredible work, but little did I know that his most beautiful and moving project had only been seen outside of the USA. SERENO blew me away with its fresh superhero character and a mind-bending world all wrapped up in a personal and intimate story.” Andy Schmidt, Publisher of CEX Publishing. “It’s like the best Spider-Man stories but with a refreshing new world and higher stakes. I can’t wait for audiences to read it!”
The SERENO #1 Ashcan is available exclusively at Luciano Vecchio’s table at NYCC (Table C4 in Artist Alley). Copies of this limited edition are priced at $10. New York Comic Con takes place October 6-9, 2022, for more information including how to buy tickets, visit newyorkcomiccon.com.
Luciano will be appearing as a guest on the following NYCC panels this week:
SERENO #1 will feature five covers from Luciano Vecchio and Argentinean digital painter Agustina Manso(Tactile Entertainment, Wacom, Celsys/Graphixly, Dogitia) and will be included as part of the November 2022 Diamond and Lunar Distribution catalogs, for more information, visit cexpublishing.com.
Hope you check it out!
CEX PUBLISHING IS PROUD TO INTRODUCE SERENO FROM LUCIANO VECCHIO
Blue Delliquanti lives in Minneapolis with a woman, a dog, and a cat. Since 2012, Blue has drawn and serialized the Prism Award-winning science fiction comic O Human Star at ohumanstar.com. Blue is also the co-creator of the graphic novel Meal (with Soleil Ho), published through Iron Circus Comics, and The ‘Stan (with David Axe and Kevin Knodell), published through Dead Reckoning. They love cooking, riding on trains, and reading exciting updates about robots and outer space. You can find them online at @bluedelliquanti.
I had the opportunity to once again interview Blue, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a comic artist and writer based out of Minneapolis. From 2012 to 2020 I published an online comic called O Human Star, about an inventor who wakes up in a robot body 16 years after their untimely death (and I’ve been rerunning it at one page per day for the last year and a half). My other well-known work is a graphic novel named Meal – it’s more of a realistic restaurant romance, but it’s just as gay. I also teach comic classes at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
What can you tell us about your latest graphic novel, Across a Field of Starlight? And what can readers expect from the characters?
Across a Field of Starlight is a young adult space opera that just came out from Random House Graphic. It’s about two teenagers from two very different spacefaring societies who had a chance encounter as kids, and who keep in touch surreptitiously as the galaxy around them gears up for a devastating war. Both Fassen and Lu are nonbinary, but the paths their lives take are very different – Fassen’s training to be a soldier in a scrappy militaristic rebel force, and Lu is doing scientific research for a reclusive, peaceful space commune. It turns out that can make a huge difference in your concept of who you are and what you deserve!
Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
I’m personally very interested in the concept of utopia and post-scarcity societies, and how science fiction authors explore them. My favorite prose authors in that genre are Ursula K. Le Guin and Iain M. Banks, if that tells you anything. I also love the spectacle and visuals of the space operas we get in film and comics, but I’m often frustrated by the ideological stances put forward by the creators, or the lack of consideration for what it would be like to be queer in these worlds – or how queerness affects the world. That’s what I set out to try and explore. Visually it was also an opportunity to explore an aesthetic I love very much when it comes to space stuff – the beat-up, brightly colored, 1970s look. That was a big departure from what I had done for O Human Star.
How did you get into comics and storytelling in the first place?
I got majorly interested in comics when I was in middle school. Originally I had thought about going into the field of animation, but as I learned about the amount of teamwork that goes into producing even the smallest bit of animation – and as I pored through everything I could find at my local comic store – I realized that with comics I could create entire worlds and stories on my own. It’s still a lot of effort, since as a comic artist you are simultaneously a writer, a director, a camera operator, a costume designer, and performing a bunch of other creative tasks. But the medium fascinated me. And funnily enough, it’s given me a chance to get closer to my childhood career aspirations, which were all based around outer space.
How would you describe the process of making a comic book?
My work is very character driven, so I will often sketch out characters, explore their potential, and get to know them way before I ever start writing their story. From there, I write an outline that lets me see the entire shape of the story and figure out the conflict and what I want the story to say as a whole. From there, it really depends on if this is a webcomic like OHS, where I’m serializing it page by page online, or if this is a graphic novel for a publisher like AAFOS. For OHS I was entirely on my own time, and I would draw a page completely before moving on to the next one – thumbnail, pencils, inks, colors, and lettering. I would do every step over the course of a week, queue the page on the site, and start all over again. It can’t work like that for graphic novels, which has benefits and drawbacks. I would be working from a complete script and would complete a create step for the entire comic at once, such as pencilling the whole thing or coloring the whole thing. Naturally that also meant I could work on page 52 immediately after page 237 if I wanted, and I think that helps my artwork look more consistent. But once I send my files off to the publisher it’s still another nine months or so before anyone reads it, so I miss that instant feedback I’d get from doing a webcomic.
What are some of your favorite parts of writing/drawing comics? What do you find are the most difficult?
I would say I really enjoy thumbnailing – the small initial sketches where I figure out how to make panels fit on a page and what gives them the most impact. The inking stage can also be relaxing, because by that point I’ve already done the stages that take most of the brain power and I can throw on a movie or audiobook in the background as I put the final lines over my pencils. Coloring is still the biggest challenge for me – I’m really proud of how my colors turned out in AAFOS, but they took so much work to get right!
What’s (another) question no one has asked you yet or that you wish was asked?
Hmm… I guess “what am I reading right now?” I always like hearing about what authors are reading for pleasure or reference or what have you. Right now I happen to be reading a nonfiction book about what childhood might have been like in the Paleolithic – Growing Up In The Ice Age by April Nowell. I’m alternating that with the manga Golden Kamuy by Satoru Noda, which… I’ve never read anything that attempts what it’s attempting. I can’t help but admire how outrageous, absurdly violent, and unironically homoerotic it is. It’s a blast.
What advice might you have to give to aspiring graphic novelists (both writers and artists)?
Just start drawing and creating your own stories – challenge yourself to draw a short, complete comic so that you get experience planning out and structuring a story beginning to end. Try developing hobbies other than just drawing – it’s a labor-intensive and isolating job sometimes, so find something that lets you socialize and think about things that aren’t just comics. Your other interests can also influence your creative work in ways that will surprise you!
Are there any new projects you are currently working on or project ideas you are currentlynursing and are at liberty to speak about?
I’m currently working on a new comic that I plan to debut in the ShortBox Comics Fair this fall. It’ll be quite different from Across A Field of Starlight in that it’s contemporary fiction and very much for adults, but I’m pretty excited to share it with everyone.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
So many great queer comics of all genres are being made right now, especially by people I know! I would recommend the works of Otava Heikkilä and Pseudonym Jones – they have such distinct voices and they’re really exploring what the medium of comics can do. Recent releases I recommend include Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens and Displacement by Kiku Hughes, which I think both accomplish that thing I mentioned earlier of exploring the impact of queerness on particular subjects or topics, albeit in very different ways! It really goes to show that there is no LGBTQ+ “genre” – more of a lens you can view everything through.
When she was a child, Megan commandeered scrap paper and markers to create family “newspapers.” She learned to read at age 3 by reading out loud from the T.V. Guide. When a relative wasn’t convinced, she was handed pages from the New York Times to read. Her family is still trying to figure out where she gets her writing ability from.
Megan is a 2002 graduate of the University of Alabama, where she was a member of the Million Dollar Band and served on staff at the Crimson White. Upon graduation, she embarked on a newspaper career that took her from Alabama to the border of Tennessee and Virginia, up to Maine, across the country to Arizona and back east to Pennsylvania.
Megan is a journalist for PennLive.com/The Patriot-News, where she is a data reporter, podcast producer, and social media manager. She lives in (the real) Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, with her imported British husband, her cats and many books – and has yet to find any malicious clanks lurking in her house.
Isabelle Melançon is a French-Canadian artist born in 1985. She grew up in a family of book and comic-lovers. She reads manga, European comics and American comics and has been drawing ever since she could lift a pencil. She used to want to be a dragon-riding knight, then envisioned a career change as a fantasy writer at the age of 10.
Since then, Isabelle has been drawing her way through school, which included doodling on lockers, and graduated from the University of Ottawa with a visual arts and administration double-major. Isabelle has a few published graphic novels and art exhibits under her belt. Namesake is her first long-term project.
Isabelle’s drawing style is heavily influenced by American and Japanese animation, as well as older Victorian and French illustration work, creating a fluid yet detailed mix.
She is madly in love with fairy tales and literature and enjoys playing with the classics in her comic and written works.
I had the opportunity to interview both Isa and Meg, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?
Isa: I’m Isabelle, I have been working on the webcomic Namesake for over a decade with Megan! We both take care of the writing, and do the art. I also work on other webcomic projects such as the comedy webcomic Crow Time, and an upcoming comic called Trinket, which is a magical girl story, with artist Inês Bravo. I work as an editor and in artist management, mainly at the webcomic focused publishers Hiveworks & Slipshine. I drink a lot of tea, have two cats, and identify as bi, genderfluid and ace!
Meg: I’m Megan, and I have been working with Isa on Namesake for over a decade! Like Isa said, we both do the writing and Isa does the art. I do the lettering and book design, as well as maintain the business end of our partnership. Outside of the comics I do with Isa, I do lettering for other comics as well. I am a journalist for PennLive.com/The Patriot-News, where I handle social media, podcast producing, and data reporting. I run Hivemill, the store for Hiveworks, as well as do book design for Hiveworks. Like Isa, I also have two cats. I identify as she/her and demisexual.
How did your webcomic, Namesake, come to be? Where did the inspiration for the project come from?
Isa: I think it came from a very aspirational place. At the time, webcomics that were huge fantasy epics were starting to pop up, like Gunnerkrigg Court, The Meek and Girl Genius. Megan and I were bathed in the light of incredibly creative fandoms on the platform where we met – Livejournal. I was always drawing very loose pencil comics inspired by fandoms we liked, and scraps of adventurous ideas we both longed to see in media. At some point, Megan was like, yeah, you should be drawing this. And my reply was basically, ok, but I’m taking you with me. Essentially, it was the idea that we could make something we felt was overlooked and unique at the time, a comic serial built around women in fantasy, and we didn’t need to wait for a large publisher to notice us, we could just dive in and make our world. We were both complete newbies at making comics professionally and to the English comic community. Me, especially, since I was still mastering English as a language.
This happened, as stated above, quite a while ago. When we met stuff like Patreon and Kickstarter, tools that are now considered essential to webcomics, didn’t exist yet.
Since then, there’s been a huge boom in comics both online and offline. Print publishers are making way more graphic novels than ever before, collective publishers such as Hiveworks came to be, and platforms such as Webtoons and Tapas were introduced to the English market. I have an abundance of favorite comics and authors online now, our dream of an abundance of unique comics came true. It’s nice to see this happening, after doing Namesake for so long. We went from this mindset of “we need to do this because it doesn’t exist” to “we are part of a massive collective of (queer) creators” and that’s a unique experience.
Meg: The comic content itself came from a love of fairy tales, such as the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. The earliest form of Namesake is a fandom parody comic that ran on Livejournal.
How did the two come to know each other and work together creatively? How would you describe the collaboration process?
Isa: We met in fandoms, like many people do online. Collaborating came easily. I’m very flexible by nature and Megan was already used to collaborating with people professionally, being a journalist. The flow of how we collaborate is very much a conversation and even happens in the form of a discord chat nowadays. Usually we do a chapter outline, then I pencil the comic in sequences of 4 pages, which I then share with Megan, and we discuss them!
Meg: It is an unusual process, but one that has worked well for us. One of my favorite stories about that is when we worked on the Womanthology anthology. It was the first one we did together, and we had a proper editor. We worked in our normal process of discussing pages over Isa’s sketches. And the editor wanted to see an actual script, despite us having completed sketches with dialogue. So, I wound up writing a Marvel-style script based on our sketched pages just to make the editor happy.
Isa is so great at coming up with the overall plot, and I am our details person.
Who are some of your favorite characters to draw/write?
Isa: There’s a lot of characters that are fun to draw because they are very appealing, design wise. But I think my favorite to draw right now (and write) is probably the lead, Emma. I’m just a sucker for strong hero energy. I love how she moves on a page; I love how she thinks, I love to draw her monster forms when she changes, it’s all great.
I also really like drawing animals and weird creatures right now, a lot.
Meg: I have always felt close to Elaine, and I really enjoy writing for her. I also really, really love writing for Jack. His sense of humor and optimism is fantastic, and my favorite romance in the series is actually the one between Jack and Penta. I also enjoy writing Warrick in peak snarky mode, as well as Agha and Hercilia from the Oz arc. We’ll be seeing those two again soon, which is great, because I really love writing those two.
Considering Namesake is based on several fairytales and classic children’s book stories, what would you say are some of your personal favorites?
Isa: My all-time favorites are Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid, Diamonds and Toads, and Prunella, to toss an obscure one in. I plan to tackle all of these in individual comics one day. I do think Cinderella is my number one because it’s so simple, efficient, and emotional. There are versions of Cinderella in every country dating far back. For as long as we’ve had jerks and classes, we’ve had Cinderella stories.
Meg: My favorite fairy tale is Thumbelina, and I was thrilled when we got to visit her world in Namesake. I have always enjoyed stories of little people wandering around a larger human world, like Thumbelina and the Borrowers. I blame watching way too much of the Smurfs when I was a child! My other favorite fairy tales are The Wild Swans, Momotaro from Japan, The Red Shoes, and The Emperor’s New Clothes. Lots of Andersen in there, because that’s what I grew up reading. My mom passed down her copy of Andersen’s fairy tales to me.
As an artist/ writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and sources of inspiration?
Isa: There are a few comics I always re-read when I feel stuck. Namely, the manga Gunnm (translated and adapted into Battle Angel Alita for USA audiences), the 70’s comic Elfquest, Sandman, the works of Clamp and Rumiko Takashi as a whole, Full Metal Alchemist, Berserk, Please save my Earth, and Sailor Moon. I don’t think they’ve all aged gracefully, but they still bring me a lot, emotionally, as inspirations. The Italian comic Sky Doll had a big influence on how I draw when I discovered it as a young artist, as does the work of webcomic artists Petra Erika Nordlund and Emily Carroll.
I’m focusing my response on what inspires me when I’m feeling stuck because, I’ll be honest, my inspiration list is long and updated daily with new favorites. I consume comics and novels obsessively. Right now, in the newbie category, Ascendance of a Bookworm is a big one, as well as the webcomic Obelisk and the Korean webtoon I Dream of Health, Wealth, and a Long Life. The manga series Kusuriya no Hitorigoto and Sousou no Frieren currently live on my desk and the recently printed webcomic Hooky book two is something I’m excitedly waiting for. I’m probably as much of a comic reader as I am a creator.
Meg: My love of history directly comes from being given a set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series when I was a child. I was heavily influenced regarding storytelling structures by J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5, and I still love re-watching this series. I find something new to appreciate, even 25 years after I first watched it. My biggest influence in writing dialogue is the In Death mystery series by J.D. Robb. I love the huge cast of still-growing characters and the banter they have with each other.
Rumiko Takahashi was the first manga artist I read, and her work got me into comics as a whole. If I need inspiration for writing, I actually turn to my favorite romance novel writers these days. Tessa Dare, Lisa Kleypas, Cat Sebastian, Courtney Milan and Eva Leigh all write lovely, witty dialogue.
Why did you find yourself exploring/reconstructing the specific stories you do and why do you think as writers and readers we keep getting drawn to fairytales when making new stories?
Isa: Fairy tales are the building blocks of story and symbolism. Fairy tales and folk tales are an international story type that has existed forever. It’s so much the building blocks of story that the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales exists. If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically an ancient TV tropes composed by Finnish folklorists.
Fairy tales have a rich imagery and a power that is undeniable. People have built media empires on the back of fairy tales. Peter Pan as a play has kept a children’s hospital financed for decades. Everyone remembers the illustrations of the first folklore picture book they have held. Loving fairy tales to a point where you work with them is just accepting that you’re enthralled by a fairy queen. That’s just your life now. However, I don’t think fairy tales should be used in modern stories without thinking about them critically, learning about their origin and using them in a transformative way.
There’s always this underlying idea of beauty and riches tied to goodness in fairy tales which is complete rubbish when taken as is. Andersen wrote objectively queer fairy tales, but a lot of interpretations ignore that. There’s also a bucketload of patriarchy and outdated representation in a lot of fairy tales that you must make sure to shed. Peter Dinklage recently expressed concern regarding the representation of little people in Snow White and a lot of people pushed back, seeing it as him messing with the classics. But if you have imagination, removing what is rotten in your inspiration is a fun challenge. Fairy tales are good to use, fun to research, and an amazing way to create a world that feels magical but real, because deep down we all know the fairy tale rules. But they aren’t perfect. Using them without reflection is not ideal.
Meg: I have always been a fan of the “what if?” plot? What if you took a single element and just tweaked it slightly? How does this change the universe? I really love alternate reality stories. An example of this in Namesake is right at the very beginning with Charles Dodgson and Alice Liddell. After Dodgson died, his family decided it was in their best interest to censor his diaries. So they cut a lot out, including the pages in the diary discussing the split with the Liddell family. It’s led to so much speculation. I decided it was perfect for Namesake. In our story, the cut pages deal with Alice’s first Wonderland trip.
You’ve both been working on Namesake since 2010, so over a decade now! Do you see the story coming to a close anytime soon?
Isa: We are in the final arc of the story, which is the fun adventure one. I did have to slow down production to accommodate health concerns, so we’ll probably still be at it for a while. Namesake did get called a “classic older webcomic” on tiktok so I assume that’s my cue to take however many years I need to finish.
Meg: We have been working on it for so long that it’s hard to imagine not working on it. No matter how busy I’ve gotten, working on Namesake has been a comfort to me.
Considering all the changes (both in art style and narrative) this comic has gone through since its inception, how do you feel yourselves have changed creatively or personally since then?
Isa: Well, we both grew from young adults to being in our late 30’s to 40’s, so I’d say we’ve changed a lot, across the board. Our approach to Namesake itself has not changed much – the themes we had initially are still themes we care about greatly, and the fairy tale adventure inspiration keeps the story timeless. We have gotten better at telling the story – our touch is more subtle, our approach to characters gentler. Scenes are more balanced, and our goals have oriented towards including more joy. I would say the main change is general improvements as storytellers and more happiness making our work than ever.
Meg: I agree with Isa. We especially wanted to write a healthy relationship being at the core of our center romance in the series. Really, both center romances. I know personally that I have gained a lot of self-confidence doing this series.
What are some of your favorite elements of the webcomic/graphic novel medium? What craft elements/techniques stand out to you the most?
Isa: I really like designing a page (and inking it). I still work traditionally so page design is fun to do. I like to think my paneling is pretty good.
Meg: I learned how to do lettering and book design when I worked as a newspaper designer, and I always loved that work. I really enjoy the process of book design and lettering panels. There is something magical about fonts and how using the right one can determine the entire mood of your work.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?
Isa: I’m not sure! People ask me questions all the time, as an editor. I never really think about un-asked questions. I suppose I’d love there to be more discussion about working traditionally in contemporary comics. It’s getting rarer, especially with traditional paper comics adapting poorly to scroll-down comic formats. I’m not the type of person who has disdain for digital art and tools. Digital comics are gorgeous, and digital tools are very useful and I use them myself often. But I do think we are losing something important if nobody inks comics traditionally. It would be nice to have more tutorials and general attention for them. Inking challenges are a big help to that, I love those!
Meg: I love that you asked this, because I ask it myself as a journalist! I can’t really think of anything off the top of my head.
Are there any other projects you are working on or thinking about that you can discuss?
Isa: I’d just like to encourage folks to follow me on Instagram to read my short Crow Time comics, and to follow Inês for future Trinket news! We do have other comics in the works – we really want to draw an adaptation of Carmilla. But due to health issues I’m mainly focused on Namesake, Crow Time, and Trinket for now!
Meg: What she said! Right now, my main focus is supporting Isa.
What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?
Isa: Always take at least one day off per week, even if someone is on fire. No matter where you are in the industry; print, studio, webcomic, webtoon, successful or beginner, you’re always in a situation where it’s easy to accept overwork as part of your life, especially if it’s being pushed on you by success or deadlines. A lot of people expect that when you reach a certain level of success, you can relax. But there’s a pressure to perform that comes with success, even tiny success, and this idea that if you don’t capitalize on it fast enough, you’ll lose it. There’s never a stage where you “make it” hard enough that you can relax. There are always more deadlines and demands. Take your rest when you need it, not when you earn it. This is the hardest thing to do as an artist – I’m not even successful at it, at all. But the consequences of overwork are numerous, so even if you fail, you should always try to incorporate rest time in your work week.
Meg: Turn off any sort of anonymous commenting, whether it be on Tumblr, in the comments section of your comic, or any other social media. There are so many people trolling out there because they know they upset you. They are specifically looking for a response from you, and it rewards them when you grant it. Don’t let them get to you. Don’t be afraid to block or mute someone. Heavily curate your experience. My Twitter feed is largely romance novels, comic artists, and cats. Your mental well-being is so important. Have a safe support team that you can vent to. Don’t be afraid to get off social media entirely. It all plays into what Isa said as well about taking time off. That especially includes social media.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Isa: Ooh, Yoru to Umi is superb, I wish more people would read it! It’s only available in French, I’m afraid. The webcomic Kiss it Goodbye by Ticcy is adorable and will be in print soon as well! These are the two I’m into right now! I like cute ones!
In this installment of the Queer Creator spotlight I spoke with Steve Orlando about his career and his various works and what it was like to work on the iconic landmark issue of Wonder Woman #750!
Orlando began pursuing his dream of writing comics at the tender age of 12 when he attended his first San Diego Comic Con. Steve pounded the convention floor, as it were, where he met his mentors Steven Seagle and Joe Kelly who happened to be writing X-Men at the time and the rest is modern history.
Chris Allo:What made you want to work in the comics industry?
Steve Orlando: It’s not a lie, in my case, because I started breaking in when I was 12 years old, but I always kind of had my eye on this. It was always something I wanted to do, whether it was writing, or editing, or being part of a visual art team. That didn’t really come into play until I was a little older. Going back to when I was young, even when I was about three or four, my father sold sports memorabilia, and I was not a fan of sports. So I would always be collecting all these non-sports cards at baseball card and baseball memorabilia shows.
And that gave me a strong fascination with superheroes, because they all looked incredible! You know, you’re a kid and here are all these brightly colored costumes and all these things. I was also going through, like, Garbage Pail Kids and things like that, but that’s a little less viable these days. There was a lot of Alf. A lot of fucking Alf cards as well. That’s going to date my childhood. But what stuck with me, I think, was the vibrancy of the worlds. Especially because I came in from both trading card collecting, and also back issues at flea markets while my dad was out collecting things.
I think that’s why I have such an appreciation of “deep cut” characters and concepts, if you’re talking about the lore outside of like the Big 2. You don’t know any of the characters as a kid, and when you’re that young, you don’t even really know who Superman and Batman are. They all seem just as important, right? That’s why I love Big Sir just as much as I love Wonder Woman, or loving – take your pick at Marvel – Slapstick, or Quasar, as much as I like Storm or Captain America.
So it all came from following my dad around really early on, but when they made Superman permanently electric and blue in the early 1990s, because he was never going back, they made an article in the Syracuse Standard – I’m from upstate New York – it really made it a time to get in. Because here you are in a ground floor moment, when Superman’s powers are changing forever. In that article as well, there were interviews with the folks who were putting it together. Of course Dan Jurgens, but I can’t remember who else was involved. Probably Stuart Immonen and Tom Grummet. And more, because at that time Superman was essentially a weekly book. I was fascinated with the creative process, and that made me think “hey, maybe this is something I want to do.”
I gravitated more towards the visual side when I was younger, and I still like visual art, but it quickly became apparent to me that the speed of my ideas, and what was going to be most interesting to me in a visual sense, was going to be writing. So I started hustling and doing it! You know, my friend? Some kids do can drives to get themselves, I don’t know what normal kids are into, a shiny new bike? But what I wanted was a plane ticket to San Diego Comic Con. So that’s what I did.
Allo: Good for you.
Orlando: At 12 I met Steve Seagle and Joe Kelly, who were writing X-Men at the time, and they started mentoring me on this whole business. It took almost 20 years, but that’s how it all began.
Allo: I read this before about you, but you kind of just hit the convention floor and pounding the pavement and approaching companies and editors?
Orlando: Yeah, I mean I don’t have any shame. And also, the narrative at the time was like “oh, you know Jim Shooter was writing the Legion of Super-Heroes when he was, what, 14 or 15? And it was Paul Levitz who only worked for one company his whole life, and it was DC Comics, kid! And he got in when he was 17!” So I was like, “shit, I’ve gotta get moving! If I’m going to be the next Jim Shooter, with no concept of what that entails, I need to get my ass in gear!” I tend to still be someone who doesn’t really sell fame. So I began approaching Seagle and Kelly. They kind of looked identical in the 90s, so it was easy to find them.
And that was also when Crossgen was starting to get going. I was following them almost monthly, I really loved those books. And because not as many people knew them at the time, they were really easy to talk to. I always talk about people like Seagle and Kelly, but I should really talk about people like Tony Bedard, and Barb Kesel, who also took a lot of time to kind of show me the ropes really early on. To this day I always remember to bring my balloons, and that’s because Barb Kesel told me that anybody who doesn’t do it is an unprofessional fool, and I’m not going to argue with that woman, so I always remember my balloons!
Allo: I worked with Tony Bedard when I was with Marvel. He’s a really good guy, and a really good writer. So you did a creator-owned first?
Orlando: Yes, that’s true by numerous tokens. My first published work was in 2008, in the Eisner-nominated Outlaw Territory anthology through Image. I had two shorts that I made with my co-creator on that, an amazing hearing-impaired artist named Tyler Niccum. He actually has a book out that you can buy right now actually, about his life as a deaf hitchhiker. We worked together in 2008 and even that was through networking, actually. He was like “shit, I need someone to work with. Let’s make it Steve.” So we did that, and then I also worked with Celal Koc, a European artist, for Outlaw Territory volume 3. And if I’m mixing up which volumes I’m in, come and slap me in the face, because I did that a long time ago.
Allo: (laughs) Okay.
Orlando: And then in 2012 I had already been networking with DC for over a decade. So I got the opportunity to do a story there in the Strange Adventures anthology, about centaurs taking space peyote and hallucinating gladiatorial combat.
Allo: (laughs) Very topical!
Orlando: I know, all the time, right? That’s how bisexuals decide. We take our straight half and make it fight our gay half, and whoever wins, you know, gets to choose where the dick goes. Anyway, so I did that, and that was with DC, with editors Will Dennis and Mark Doyle. The funny thing is this was around the same time Tom King broke out with an anthology called Time Warp. This was years before we would meet, but it was the same round of early Vertigo short stories. That was around 2014, when I did Undertow, and I also appeared in the “yellow” issue of the CMYK anthology, with future friend and collaborator Gerard Way. So my past was really prologue in a lot of ways. I didn’t know it at the time.
So we did Undertow at image, and a lot of my friends and peers at DC were following my work and said “look, this is somebody reliable who can be trusted with work.” So thanks to the success of the Burnside Batgirl repackaging, I got an opportunity to pitch whatever I might do in a similar mode. Which ended up being Midnighter.
Allo: Which is awesome!
Orlando: It is funny when you think about it. I was in an anthology with Gerard, who ended up being a good friend and collaborator. And I was friends with Tom. He and I both had these poorly selling but well-regarded books at DC at the time.
Allo: I wouldn’t blame yourself. A lot of it has to do with marketing. DC was pushing out so many books at the time. It’s like, “what do I buy this month?”
Orlando: Not Midnighter and Omega Men, I’ll tell you that much! But that was in 2015. We’re both doing fine.
Allo: Would you consider Midnighter your breakout hit?
Orlando: Oh, very much so. I’d consider that my “Freebird,” actually. I’ve gone on to put out stuff that I’m much more proud of. But any creator evolves over the course of seven, eight years. At this point it’s been long enough that I can go back and… unquestionably it showed folks who I was at DC, and I made a huge fan out of Dan DiDio. I got signed as an exclusive probably about a year after Midnighter launched.
Allo: So being at DC, you got to write Midnighter, and then Midnighter and Apollo. You went on to write Supergirl, and then Wonder Woman… obviously Wonder Woman is a heavy hitter. What was that like for you?
Orlando: It was fascinating to work on a character and see… you know she’s one of the Trinity, but I think her character is easily the most complex. She has a lot of oppositional forces in her life, and she’s in one of the greatest corners of the DC Universe, and she’s also an agent of peace, which is something we tried to wrestle with throughout all my two-and-a-half runs. But I loved building parts of that world. It’s something I’d love to come back to, but sometimes I feel that I’ve said what I’ve said. I had wanted for years to do Martian Manhunter, and I was lucky enough to do a 12-issue series. I think it’s my best. It’s the best work I’ve ever done, and easily my best DC work. I worked with one of my favorite people ever, Riley Rossmo. The editors I worked with, Chris Conroy and Dave Wielgosz. I felt that I said exactly what I needed to say. It was unadulterated. I don’t know if I ever need to write J’on again, even though he is my favorite DC character. But with Diana, it’s like the more the world gets shittier and more hateful, there’s always more to say with Wonder Woman. It was an honor to be part of that, but of course there’s always stuff on the drawing board that couldn’t get done. That said, Conrad and Cloonan are doing a great job, along with of course Stephanie and Vita, who are doing stuff that I wish I could have done when I was there. So I’m really excited right now.
Allo: In recent years, comics have become more inclusive of LGBTQ+, black and brown characters. Obviously not enough, but things are changing. As a creator on that front, what are some things creators can do to help facilitate more exclusivity and even exposure to queer folks and lifestyles within comics?
Orlando: The thing is, my answer is not going to be sexy. One thing they can do is buy the books. And they can pre-order the books and not buy them in trade and not buy them in digital. I’m going to be honest because I just said that, and it sucks. But that’s also the reality right now. And people come to Orlando for reality when the reality is shitty. The reality is that right now for the publishers, their customers are retailers, and the retailers’ customers are readers. For better or worse, the industry is in need of a ballistic overhaul. But we’re not there yet. So right now, the best we could do is… the language of the Big 2 publishers is preorder numbers. It’s not ideal by any means, and I’m speaking euphemistically when I say “ideal.”
I remember when my friend David Walker was on Nighthawk… he’s a good friend of mine, and that was with Ramon Villalobos. That book was canceled shortly after it came out. And I don’t fault the publishers either, because the markets are so tight that they’re going to do what they have to do. There’s not really a villain here, or maybe there are so many villains that nobody is a villain. But that happens because preorder numbers weren’t high.
There are many other problems in the world, but if the question is how you can support more inclusive content, for better or worse, support the places that are supplying it. For the Big 2, that means you have to preorder and support the periodical editions. That said… the world doesn’t stop and start with the Big 2. There are other publishers with different metrics, like book market numbers and they expect books with a longer tail. Support books that you are interested in, but if the question is how you can support books at big publishers, the answer is preorders.
Allo: Talking about the landscape of comics, obviously right now there are more publishers. Of course smaller than Marvel and DC, but there’s definitely a lot more publishers and a lot more content out there. How exciting is that for you as a writer? Do you approach other companies? Does the new world of comics, with the amount of publishers right now… is that a good thing?
Orlando: More competition is always a good thing. More options for creators is always a good thing, because at the end of the day… if this wasn’t comics, say you were a farrier, the first job that comes to mind because I’m an idiot. Say you were a cobbler, and other jobs that don’t exist right now. The point is, if you have any type of office job, as we all know, it’s not a guarantee that you’re going to remain in that office. And if you work freelance, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to work out. If you work in comics, you’re probably working in 10 different offices in a given month. You know, sometimes you need to refresh yourself. You need to revitalize. A pitch that you might have at one company may be a nonstarter. That might be because of the people you pitch it to, and it might be because of what they publish. But it might be gold somewhere else. And that doesn’t mean, because one person turned down the idea, that it was bad. It just wasn’t a good fit for that company.
The more companies we have that are trying to do different things and push out different kinds of comics, the better. Unquestionably. RIP the companies that tried along the way and failed, like Speakeasy and Crossgen, which I referenced before. I referenced those before because I love Crossgen books and I love Rocketo, which Speakeasy published. Frank Espinosa, amazing. Not only are those different places to work, but each company brings in a slightly different kind of creator, and they’re gonna know how to best hone their ideas and get them out there.
The onus is on us as creators to not just cold pitch things, but… something that I might pitch to Aftershock, who I have a great relationship with – and honestly, they’re kind of my ride-or-die because they supported creators intensely during the pandemic – a book that would be a good fit there maybe wouldn’t be a good fit for Vault, who are also doing great work. And vice versa. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve got to know which brands you’re going to. The problem is now there’s more brands than ever. Which means there are more homes than ever for unique stories.
Allo: You worked at the Big 2, you worked at smaller publishers, you worked creator-owned… what are the benefits of work for hire versus creator owned? What do you enjoy the most? What things about those experiences do you like or not like?
Orlando: I think the best situation is to have your feet in both pools. There is unquestionably something exciting and invigorating about being part of what is really a gigantic, decades-long ongoing story. Listen, I was the lead writer of the 750th issue of Wonder Woman. Nobody else can claim that, it was just me.
Allo: It was great, by the way!
Orlando: If I make it to 100 years old, I will still be the writer of Wonder Woman 750, and it will still be an amazing thing. And yeah, that’s a responsibility. It’s an honor, it’s exciting, and there’s no question there. I’m in the X-Men office now, and that’s an honor. I would argue it’s the biggest renaissance the mutants got in at least a decade. Not that there wasn’t incredible work in the interim there. To act like it’s not an honor and a privilege… anyone who says otherwise is complete horseshit. So those are exciting moments.
At the same time, you can’t take those things with you. So you also wanna be working on originals where you are not part of an 80 year tapestry. You are thread one on that tapestry. And it’s not that it isn’t exciting, it’s just a totally different thing. The way that I think you stay fresh for either one of those is by doing the other. Like, if I spend a month in the work for hire mind, I get that hunger to work on originals, and vice versa. And it’s not really like I just spend on a month on one or the other. Let’s be real, I do both every day, seven days a week. That’s what it takes to be a creator. A freelance creator, at least. But I think one fuels the other. And I think there’s a certain amount of freedom when you know there’s not going to be any sort of S & P person telling you can’t do this.
But that can also become a negative, because the reality is that you can’t say that with 50, 60, 80 year old franchises. There’s always going to be S&P on a huge character that’s also on lunchboxes, backpacks, or whatever else. To expect otherwise is folly. I expect to have different hurdles at different companies. I think that’s part of the game. Again, I’m not negging myself when I say to myself that more people are reading Wonder Woman or the X-Men, than a book like Loaded Bible: Blood of my Blood, a book in which Jesus was makes out with Dracula and wants to fuck with him. That’s just a fact. There are freedoms and restrictions that come with both of those scenarios.
Allo: You’ve been doing some really great stuff at Marvel. Last year you did the Darkhold with Wanda. You’re working on Marauders now. Not to compare DC to Marvel, but what have been the good experiences from working at each company? What do they do differently that’s great for writers? What could they do better?
Orlando: A lot of times as creators we talk about… I think there is a fundamental difference between, at least the classic characters at Marvel and DC. And I think it’s a product of when the characters were born. What we love to say, when we’re fingering our assholes as it were, is that DC is the world as we wish it was, and Marvel is the world as it is. But, you know, that is flowery fucking bullshit. The reality is that DC characters tend to be much more mythological and aspirational, and Marvel… not to say they were built around Spider-Man, because they did acquire Timely and other characters, but their trademark characters are mostly people you could meet on the street. That’s why Peter Parker was so revolutionary. He could shoot webs, but he’s also just like you. He can’t make rent, and he can’t get the girl, and the old Parker luck, and…
Allo: And he’s late for school.
Orlando: And Batman… look, I love Batman, but he does not have the old Parker luck. He has the old Tony Stark billions. Again, the general DC character is more mythological, and the general Marvel character is more… I don’t want to say more street level, but more humanistic and relatable. There are exceptions to both rules. Batman is more like a Marvel character, and Thor is more like a DC character. So they stand out in a world that contrasts them. And then of course there are characters like Captain America and the Destroyer, the original Vision, Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch… they were all created in World War 2, and the way that they function was more like a DC character. But they’re a rarity, and I think that makes them special at Marvel. And Captain America, by the way, was fighting the Nazis before we were! That’s always going to be one of the coolest fucking things. Not like I was fucking around then, but still.
Allo: Of course. Obviously this is a visual medium, so can you name some great artists that you’ve worked with? And maybe some great artists who you’d like to work with?
Orlando: Great artists that I’ve worked with… I’ve never worked with a bad artist!
Allo: Well, the standouts. I know you love all artists, but who really brought your work to life?
Orlando: I would love to say I love them all equally, but I would be lying (laughs). Well I’ve already said that I love to work with Riley Rossmo, who’s at a few different companies right now which bums me out, but stay tuned because I might get the band back together for something really quick. Riley and I hit it off from moment one. We worked together on “Night of the Monster Men,” and we worked together with Roge Antonio. And Andy MacDonald – Andy actually has a book with me coming soon, so keep an eye out.
But Riley and I, we just got each other. We’ve always loved the same kind of stuff. And he’s someone who always wants to be challenged, which is good because I’m a bastard when it comes to writing challenging scripts. We loved working on “Night of the Monster Men,” he was the first name that came up when DC offered me Batman/The Shadow, and I’m probably one of the biggest Shadow fans at DC. I’m probably one of the biggest Shadow fans around. He is my favorite character.
Orlando: Yeah. I’m frequently asked who my favorite Marvel and DC characters are, and there’s different answers for that, but my favorite character is The Shadow. So it could only be Riley, and it led to an incredible visual reinvention of that whole world. Sure enough, as soon as we got the final pen stroke of that book, we began lobbying DiDio, who’s one of my strongest supporters, for Martian Manhunter. Once again, I’m a kid in a candy store. I would work with Riley in a second, and not just because he’s one of the nicest Canadians in comics, but that certainly helps.
But he’s not the only one. I want to point out that I loved working with ACO and Hugo Petrus during my Midnighterand Apollo run. Fernando Blanco… Ryan Sook on The Unexpected. I’m going to lightly fluff him here and say Ryan Sook was like, in Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy!” But he’s just the kindest guy. Of course his work was off the chain. His work was incredible, but always so humble for someone I consider a giant. And funny story, he actually drew a portrait of me for my alumni review at my college. So I’m gracious, I’m not lying. I don’t know that I’ve ever worked with Joelle Jones, but I love Joelle Jones. I’ve met her a lot at summits and stuff like that. Maybe I got a cover or something like that, but she’s incredible. I’m probably forgetting countless people at DC.
Allo: It’s okay!
Orlando: Oh, and of course, beginning to work with Ivan Reis on Justice League of America. And getting a Kevin Nowlan cover, are you fucking kidding me? Who am I, what’s going on? On the Shadow/Batman crossover.
Allo: That was incredible.
Orlando: Getting a Frank Quitely cover to Milk Wars… I could go on! Oh, and RIP by the way, getting a John Paul Leon cover for Midnighter. Just the nicest guy, and gave me the cover for a very gracious price for someone who, again, I consider one of the greatest artists in the history of the industry.
Orlando: That was great. It’s a small thing, but Brittany Holzier and I campaigning for Ramona Fradon to be a part of Wonder Woman 750. Something I’m incredibly proud of. Something that was mostly Brittany’s work, but she and I came together and I’m incredibly proud of it. Easily the most historic living female comic artist. There are no words that could be heaped upon her that would be undeserving.
And at Marvel, they lined up a murderer’s row for me. Cian Tormey on Darkhold… everyone I worked with on Curse of the Man Thing… Andrea Riccardo… Francesco Mobli… they’ve all gone on to do incredible work at Marvel. Eleonora Carlini on Marauders… the energy she brings is incredible. It’s a revelation. Folks who haven’t checked out the book really don’t know what’s coming.
Allo: Any tidbits about… well of course my favorite character is Psylocke, so any big plans for Psylocke on the Marauders?
Orlando: Well, before I answer that, why don’t you explain more, because I think a lot of folks who are Psylocke fans… I have an answer for you, but I wanna hear you turn the tables. I’m always fascinated about why people like Psylocke. I think we both know that the person in the body that we once believed to be Psylocke is not the same character. As she always should have been, the actual Japanese woman is back in the Japanese body. When you say it’s your favorite character, do you mean Qanon, who appeared in roughly three issues before disappearing for roughly 30 years, or do you mean Betsy Braddock?
Allo: I mean, it’s funny because I loved Betsy when she was introduced, and when she was introduced in New Mutants and took on Sabretooth, I fell in love with Betsy. And then the evolution happened, and the visual of Kwannon was something I loved too. Those are kind of my favorites. I follow Captain Britain, and I follow Marauders because I follow Kwannon wherever Kwannon goes.
Orlando: I’m just always interested. Psylocke is a war captain, and you’re going to see her… I don’t want to spoil too much, but she’s going to step up in a leadership role more and more over time. You kind of see that evolution as she’s more confident in herself and can do a lot more now that the correct mind is in the correct body, so to speak. You’ve already seen that in Marauders #1, but it’ll become text, not subtext, by the time the year’s over.
Allo:Awesome, that’s exciting. They’re both really great characters.
Orlando: And look, she goes to fucking space if she wants!
Allo: Your book Party And Prey touches on the “Party and Play” gay subculture. Which is known as the “PNP” crystal myth fueled sex scene. It’s known to be a bit scary filled with predators, extortion, suicide and addiction. What was your interest in this and what was the impetus for the story?
Orlando: In regards to PARTY AND PREY, since I co-wrote the book I tend to not do solo Qs for it. BUT I think a lot of what you’ve asked is answered by the text piece my co-writer and I included in the book? We try to let the work speak for itself on things we’ve done together, and intended that to be our statement on the content.
Allo: Any advice for up and coming queer creators, or creators in general, that you wish you had when you were starting out?
Orlando: Look, comics is a challenging business. There are less spots at Marvel and DC… it’s easier to play for the Yankees or Red Sox. Know that it is a challenge, but know that it can and will happen if you don’t give up. I like to tell my story because it’s a story of almost 20 fucking years. I know someone can buy a pie for someone in a diner and get a book the next week, but that is not my story. And there’s nothing wrong with that story either. There’s no one way to break into the comics industry, just as there’s no one way to break into the comics or any other entertainment industry.
The thing is, make your books and hone your craft. It’s easier than ever. When I was a kid we didn’t have crowdfunding, and we barely had the internet. Now all those things exist. It’s easier to connect with likeminded creators whether they are established or aspiring. And make content! Make the content, and make it short. Almost everyone, myself included, is guilty of saying “this is my Dune, or this is my Lord of the Rings. My first book will be 100 issues long, and everyone will see!”
No one will see, because no publisher will take a risk on the faith of an unproven talent. Make eight page stories, make 10 page stories, which, by the way, are harder to tell than a 100 issue story. And find peers or editors or creators who you respect and you think have your best interests at heart and get critiqued. Get ready to hear some things that you’re not necessarily excited about, but that’s why I say make sure to find creators who you respect and have your interests at heart. Even if they’re things you don’t want to hear, they’re probably things you need to hear.
Look, I was mentored by one of the most lovably gruff people in comics. When I met Steve Seagle, he told me “here’s what’s unprofessional about your work, kid. Either I’ll see you next year or I won’t.” It doesn’t have to be that harsh, but you have to find folks whose critique you respect, and you have to get ready to take it. If you do that, it could be a long process, it might be a short process. And maybe you won’t get there. But use the resources that are out there, like crowdfunding. It’s easier than ever to tell your story unadulterated. You don’t have to be like me sneaking in in 2008. You can do your book with 38 dicks like Euphoria, and it can get funded, as long as you’re speaking your truth. Don’t be deterred by speed bumps and things like that. You can get there. And also, know that before they got in, every creator you know probably quit trying to make comics a thousand times. God knows I quit many times, and the only reason I didn’t is that I’m extremely stubborn. That’s what you take to heart. I would call Steve Seagle and he would be like “this isn’t fair, I want to quit!” And he’d be like “no you don’t.” And that’s when I’d be like “fuck you, old man! I’m never going to quit!” Even though he was probably the same age that I am now.
Allo: Thanks so much, Steve for a great interview!
For more info on Steve Orlando and to see a list of his works check out his Twitter and Instagram.
Harmony Becker was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the illustrator of George Takei’s graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy. She currently lives in Mexico City. Their first solo graphic novel, Himawari House, was published in Fall 2021 by First Second.
I had the opportunity to interview Harmony, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi! Thank you so much for having me. My name is Harmony Becker, I’m a graphic novelist and artist from Ohio, currently living in Mexico City. I grew up in a multicultural family, which has strongly influenced the direction and themes of my work. I love learning languages, dancing, and music.
How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to the medium?
I started reading comics as a kid, browsing the aisles of the library looking to see myself reflected. There was something so irresistibly charming about the sparkly eyes and round, appealing designs of shoujo manga that got me completely addicted.
As a cartoonist, you are well-known for your work illustrating They Called Us Enemy, a graphic novel co-created with George Takei. What was it like working on this project, as well as collaborating with such a famous Japanese-American LGBTQ+ icon like Takei?
It was intense! It was my first professional comics job, I didn’t even have a university degree and had just spent the last five or so years waitressing and drawing on the side, and to come from that to suddenly being next to George Takei on stage in front of thousands of people was a very extreme change.
I wasn’t involved in the script writing process at all, so I didn’t actually interact much with George besides during our feedback sessions when I would show him the progress I had made. That being said, he’s a very passionate and warm person, and I was always impressed by his presence when we did events together in person.
As a person from a multilingual home, I was touched by the way you played with language in your most recent work, Himawari House. What inspired this project and how did you navigate showcasing all the languages in Himawari House (including dialects, accents, and syntax) when creating dialogue between the characters and between the reader and the page?
I wanted to do a longform comic, and I wanted to start right away without having to do a lot of research beforehand, so I brainstormed about what I knew a lot about and could write about for a long time. I landed on the language learning experience, since that’s something that has greatly influenced my life.
I knew that I wanted to have every language show up on the page. Reading manga in English I always used to try to translate it back to the original in my head, and I suppose I must have imagined that there are other readers like me who would appreciate having them both side by side like that. There is always a lot that gets lost in translation, and while the English subtitles increase throughout the book as the characters become more fluent, I also wanted to have the option of the readers themselves to potentially have that same experience–to be able to learn the languages in the book and eventually get to the point that they understood what the characters are saying even without the subtitles.
I got a lot of help with the languages, I think there were maybe up to ten different people who were editing and checking the dialogue. I really owe a lot to those editors and my friends who I roped into helping me!
As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?
My number one inspiration has always been Studio Ghibli. Beyond the artistic level, I think throughout my life I’ve been very strongly influenced by the philosophy behind their movies–the tension between nature and humans, the ambivalence or total lack of antagonistic characters, that sort of thing. The work that inspired Himawari House the most strongly, however, was definitely Honey and Clover by Umino Chica. It taught me to romanticize my own life and see the humor and beauty in what sometimes seemed to be the most pathetic things about myself. These days I’ve been reading a lot of Igarashi Daisuke–Children of the Sea, Witches, Little Forest. There’s a very grounded spirituality that he explores, this sort of reverence and terror before how much we don’t know. I love that so much.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
I suppose I’ll ask myself: What would you be doing with your life if you weren’t an artist?
I would love to be some kind of naturalist, to do work with nature or animals. I think it’s the most urgent and necessary type of work, to restore our relationship with the natural world and to work to preserve it.
Are there any projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?
I have a couple of comic projects in the works that haven’t been announced yet, but other than that, I’ve been working on the very early stages of a movie script. I’ve also been doing a lot of painting lately.
What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?
Pay attention to the world around you, and to yourself. Don’t wait for someone else’s approval to make work, or even your own approval. You learn by making work that you don’t like. Make time to play, to make work without putting a lot of pressure on the result.
Finally, what books/comics (LGBTQ+ or otherwise) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Witches by Igarashi Daisuke was my favorite read this year. For people who liked Himawari House, I would recommend Satoko and Nada, it explores similar themes of cross-cultural friendship and discovery. Harukaze no Etranger and Dokyuusei are two really lovely LGBTQ+ comics that I enjoyed.