melanie-gillman

Hey, remember that time I drew a whole graphic novel about swing-dancing lesbian vampires?  As part of my master’s thesis, no less?

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately asking where to find Smbitten (the book I drew before As the Crow Flies.)  It’s been out of print and off-and-on various websites for a while now, making it a tough li'l book to track down in its entirety.  I’m happy to announce, though, it’s now available as a pdf for anybody who wants to read it!

What you’ll get: all 105 full-color pages, plus a fancy new cover I drew for it, as a readable pdf.

What you’ll pay: whatever you want!  This is an older work of mine, and I decided I wanted to keep it accessible to as many folks as possible.  So: if you’re a person of few means and just want to read it, awesome!  You can download it for free.  Alternately, if you have means to spare and want to donate a couple bucks to my colored pencil fund as a thank you, also awesome!  The amount you enter is entirely up to you.

Here’s the Gumroad link!  Happy reading, you queer babes you!

Q+A: Melanie Gillman

Linework NW is at its heart a gathering of remarkable creators, editors, illustrators, cartoonists, and publishers who represent some of the best work that is being produced in these mediums today.

Each day from now until the show we are going to be highlighting the amazing creators of Linework NW in a series of short interviews. Today’s Q+A, conducted by Kinoko Evans, will be spotlighting cartoonist Melanie Gillman.

Did you draw today?
I did!  I drew little dapper frogs in suits on the backs of a bunch of postcards to send to my patreon backers.

What do you like most about creating comics?
I love the inventiveness of comics – there’s a million different ways to make a comic, and we’ve hardly scratched the surface of that as a community.  I love being able to challenge myself to try new things, and being surrounded by a whole network of other people doing the exact same thing.  The small-press comics community right now is full of wonderful people, who are all creating astoundingly good work and pushing the comics medium in new, unexplored directions – I’m just happy y'all let me hang out with you!

Do you read comics? Anything you’re excited about?
Right this minute, the comic I’m most excited about is Swim Thru Fire, a digital comic collaboration between Annie Mok and Sophia Foster-Dimino. Mok’s storytelling has a quiet, intuitive, restrained feel to it I adore, and Dimino’s art is always flat-out gorgeous.  I love the way the two work together.  http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/hazlitt/comix/swim-thru-fire-pt-2


You burn through a lot of colored pencils in your process. What kinds of tricks have you figured out for yourself in your process? What type of sharpener do you recomend?
The sad truth: all hand-held sharpeners are junk.  The blades all wear out and start snapping off my pencil leads after a few weeks of heavy use, no matter brand I buy.  I have a fancy electric sharpener that lives on my desk, and that’s great when I’m home, but not so much anywhere else!  As for colored pencils themselves, the only thing I can say is: don’t buy Prismacolors.  I mean it.  I feel so strongly about the fact that you shouldn’t buy Prismacolors, I even drew a comic about it: http://pigeonbits.tumblr.com/post/66689831066/heres-a-short-little-review-comic-i-did-about

What is your drawing station like?
I work mostly out of the house, so it tends to be mostly coffee shops and libraries!  If I can find a place with good tea, empty tables, and lots of windows/good light, that’s all I need.  Denver is blessedly temperate for most of the year, too, so I like to draw outside whenever I can, too.  

Is there anything new you are planning for Linework NW?
I’ll have copies of my newest minicomic, Toxoplasmosis, which is my first foray into the criminally-underappreciated genre of Cat Horror.  The story is grimy and weird and I got to draw a ton of animal skulls, so I love it.

My cartoonist pal Melanie Gillman as Charon, ferryman to the Underworld. This was done for Denver Drink & Draw’s “draw other members as characters from mythology” sketch challenge.

The idea for this came from Melanie’s penchant for picking up coins from off the ground. And now, from off your eyes.

Whit's Thursday Review: Hazel Newlevant's 'If This Be Sin' and Melanie Gillman's 'As the Crow Flies' #1

I met both Hazel and Melanie at SPX this year. Hazel came up to my table to introduce herself, as we only knew each other through Tumblr. Melanie was my table neighbor. I am writing about their pieces together because I found that they share many thematic qualities in their respective pieces If This Be Sin and As the Crow Flies #1. I offer two individual summaries below, but also wanted to take a more nontraditional approach, discussing their commonalities.

Newlevant’s short mini was her SVA thesis project. The project’s theme was “Kings and Queens” and as such she decided to profile Harlem Renaissance Drag King and pianist, Gladys Bentley. I had never heard of Bentley before and assumed the piece was fiction until I read Newlevant’s interview with The Examiner (she was recently awarded this year’s Prism Comics Queer Press Grant). Bentley is a talented piano player who dresses as as man in her personal and professional life. Although she starts off performing in small venues, she eventually becomes an entertainer at ‘The Madhouse’, a spirited speakeasy (remember, this is Prohibition Era). One night she decides to amp up her signature tune “Sweet Georgia Brown” with sexually suggestive lyrics. As the police bust up the extravaganza, Bentley flees. Flash to years down the line and Bentley is now living as a straight woman, supposedly cured by hormones. Performing as a female in her seasoned days, she croons with poise but also detachment. It’s only when she walks into her dressing room after a performance one night, that we see her sadness in one gaze.

Gillman’s piece is the first installment of her serialized graphic novel, which can also be read online. Charlotte “Charlie” Lamonte is a black teen whose parents drop her off at Girls’ Outdoor Adventure Backpacking Camp, a Christian program located in the rural rolling hills. Recognizing that she is the only black person participating in the camp, she expresses worry to her parents that she won’t belong. She decides to go though, arriving late to the orientation. It’s from here that her alienation begins. The comic ends with an awkward group photo and prep to leave for a hike, or rather THE hike.

So yeah, these are the summaries. But they do the comics little justice. Summaries tell you what HAPPENED, but not what they’re ABOUT. In my comparison of the comics, I’d like to address gender expression/identity, sexual orientation, aggression/micro-aggression, race, religion, and art. I know, a lot, but I’ll try to keep each relatively succinct.

Gender Expression/Identity

Issues of gender expression and are more identifiable in If this Be Sin, as Gladys Bentley physically expresses herself as a man. In terms of gender IDENTITY though, things are more vague. Examining Bentley’s childhood, where she prefers to identify as male, it’s possible to conclude that Bentley may have been transgendered, something that was not really accepted or discussed during that era. In Gillman’s piece, Charlotte identifies as “Charlie”. I’m not sure if this is just a nickname or if it suggests that she might be questioning her gender identity as well. Time will tell. 

Sexual Orientation

Both stories deal with sexual orientation. Bentley, in the years before she is “cured”, identifies as a lesbian. With Charlie it is less clear, although it is implied through her developing crush on the director’s daughter. I look forward to seeing how Gillman tackles Charlie’s emerging sexuality throughout the work.

Race

Although Bentley is black, her race isn’t discussed in the mini. It’s different for Charlie though. From the beginning, she realizes it’s a numbers game. She’s the only black participant and as such  anticipates that she will feel alienated. She also feels marginalized by language. In one example, when she walks into orientation late, a counselor remarks “I was about to send the dogs out after you!”, with no knowledge of the historically racist implications of this. Later in the orientation, Bee, the director, uses the term “whitening our souls” (more on this later). This is when the mental freak out occurs for Charlie as she questions and then realizes that she is the only one who is aware that there is something very wrong with this terminology.

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I’m impressed with Gillman’s ability to capture Charlie’s growing estrangement from her environment. I found myself nodding. Because I’ve been there.

Religion

The concept of 'sin’, as defined through Christianity in these cases, haunts both protagonists. Newlevant portrays this nicely in her portrayal of church-going women leering at Bentley as she walks down the street.

In Charlie’s case, Bee stresses to the girls that the ultimate goal of their hiking expedition is purification and redemption as they wipe away the “dirt” that their souls have accumulated through sin, doubt and temptation. This is the “whitening” that she refers to. I’m looking forward to seeing how this concept of “dirt” manifests in the story and what purification and redemption entail.

Aggression/Micro-aggression

Constant discrimination and marginalization chip away at you. Gladys understands the fluidity of her identities and lives them authentically but eventually societal disapproval and discrimination lead her to a place where she feels she has to change who she is. Charlie experiences micro-aggressions due to her name choice as well as her race. I first learned of the term micro-aggression from a psychology PhD intern at my job. According to micro-aggressions.com, a site that she works for, “Micro-aggressions are the subtle ways in which body and verbal language convey oppressive ideology about power or privilege against marginalized identities”. Charlie experiences this in the way she is looked at by another student for her name choice and the language she encounters, even though it can be argued that much of this language is spoken out of ignorance and underexposure.

Art

Last but certainly not least, both Newlevant and Gillman create beautiful visual worlds that support the aforementioned themes. Newlevant’s watercolor and linework is elegant, the color palette has a vintage twist, and the composition is successfully varied and compelling to follow. But Indeed, it is the gaze that lets us into Gladys’ heart and the essence of the story. Her gaze of attraction to other women, her gaze of resignation as she looks at her breasts in the mirror, but also her facial animation as she puts on her suit and bow tie. A gaze of pure enjoyment when performing, fear when running from the police, detachment as a “new woman”, and ultimately pure sadness.

Gillman works in colored pencils, which must have been quite a daunting task. It’s worth the effort though, because the soft, light colors express the beauty of the outdoors, while also contrasting the heavier verbal content. And it’s the dialogue that really impressed me. It’s realistic, thoughtful, and nuanced.

So where does that leave us?

Aside from enjoying these works, I decided to review them because they made me think of the current landscape of my job, where I work with many LGBTQ students. I work at an art college as a health educator/office manager of a counseling center (yes, this is the preferred term to administrative assistant) where students and campus life staff are proactive in ensuring that students understand how to use preferred pronouns when referring to or speaking with transgendered students and addressing people by their CHOSEN names, even if they differ from their LEGAL names. Unfortunately, in many other schools and in the outside world in generally this is often not the case. And we know that that this is not without consequences (ie. vulnerability of these populations to hate crimes, mental health difficulties, and elevated suicide rates). I’m not trying to be a downer, but this is a reality, and one that can’t be overlooked.

These two pieces made me sad, because, well, injustice makes me sad. But it’s from this sadness that I realize the importance of these pieces. These stories, real or imagined, give a voice to people who have traditionally been silenced.

-Whit

*Five minutes after I finished writing this a student came into my office and mentioned that it was Trans Day of Remembrance. Interesting timing, huh?

What I Read This Week: Oops Edition

Hey there! It’s Sunday night, and I totally forgot to update with articles! Hooooooh boy, I am sorry. I only have two things for you, but really that’s the most you’d be willing to look at on a Sunday night, right?

First off, you have to check out The Otherside Anthology! It is, in the creator’s own words, “a black and white comic anthology debuting in the spring of 2016. Stories in The Other Side will be everything from spooky to funny, sweet to melancholy, but all of them will be about queer paranormal romance! We’re showcasing stories that explore love, spectres, and underrepresented identities.” One of the founders of this project is Melanie Gillman, the super rad human whose webcomic As The Crow Flies I reviewed on Transgender Day of Remembrance. The Otherside Anthology is gonna be really really cool, so I recommend you read the FAQ, follow the tumblr and keep up with what’s going on.

The other thing I wanted to share is something that has been shared widely on social media this week - or at least on my social media channels - Amandla Stenberg’s video about black women’s hair and cultural appropriation. It was so cool to see the Hunger Games star’s high school project go viral not only because she’s a young, black girl who is killing it with her honesty and activism, but also because it is a high school project. Teens, if you’re out there, check this out and be inspired. I know you’re not all famous actors, but you can do stuff like this, too!

There will be one more novel review this month, but I’m working on another article so no promises on when I’ll get it to you. Stay cool, kiddos. 

Wednesday Webcomic: As The Crow Flies

Webcomic Review 2: As The Crow Flies

As the Crow Flies is a queer coming-of-age comic written by Melanie Gillman that usually updates twice a week around Mondays and Fridays.

This nearly 200 page comic follows Charlie, a queer teenager who has found herself on an introspective journey through the wilderness with a group of white Christian women.

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Webcomic Reviews #2 & #3: O Human Star and As the Crow Flies

Hey lovely readers! Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), a day that some of you may be familiar with and some are not. If you’ve already heard of TDoR, feel free to skip the next paragraph. Also, this post gets a big TRIGGER WARNING (TW) for discussion of physical violence against transgender folks.

TDoR is a day on which we remember transgender people who were killed because of anti-transgender hate crimes and prejudice. On this day, some hold or attend candlelight vigils to remember people they’ve lost. Others attend documentary screenings or meetings that are meant to raise awareness about the violence that transgender folks face. This graphic from TSER outlines why it is so urgent and important that we raise awareness about this violence and prejudice:

(Source: http://transstudent.org/transvisibility)

Today, I watched this speech that CeCe McDonald, a transgender activist, gave at the Socialism 2014 Conference. CeCe’s name might be familiar to you as her case received a fair amount of attention, and she outlines the violence she faced in the speech. At one point (around 32:35) she explains that many people don’t view transgender people as people. We need transgender characters on TV, in movies, in comics and in other literature because, as CeCe points out, society strips transgender people of their humanity. 

With all of this in mind, today I’m going to recommend two webcomics featuring transgender and genderfluid characters that y’all should read! I’ve got a lot of books on my list that feature trans* characters, so consider this the first many reviews of this kind.

O Human Star is a super cool, sci fi webcomic full of robots and mysteries and adorable teen drama! The world of this webcomic is one in which AI (artificial intelligence) is real, and androids live alongside humans like it’s no big deal. The inventor responsible for this world, Alastair Sterling, died suddenly before he was able to see his creations come to fruition. However, 16 years after his death, Alastair wakes up in a robotic body that is identical to his now-gone human body, and has no idea how he got there! His old research partner/lover Brendan has taken over Alastair’s work, and has a teenaged daughter who is an AI/transgender woman named Sulla. Also, Sulla has a crush on a genderqueer (or possibly agender?) kid named Ty! 

Guys, this webcomic has everything. There are robots, cute, quirky teens, a murder mystery, adorable gay couples – everything you’ve ever wanted is here! Plus, O Human Star does this lovely thing that is so often missing from visual mediums like TV/movies/comics: the cast, minor characters included, is actually racially diverse. I play this game with cartoons and movies where I look for women and people of color in the background. Is a frame in a Batman cartoon suddenly flooded with police officers? Are they all white dudes? Often, the answer is yes, they’re all white dudes! But sometimes, very excitingly, the answer is no! The world we’re seeing is actually diverse! If you check out O Human Star’s cast page, you’ll see immediately that there are a variety of races and genders presented in the comic, which is lovely.

Other lovely things about this comic are, first, the ROBOTS which are super cool! There are sort of more stereotypical looking robots with metal and ball joints and stuff, AI that look like humans, and also humans with neat prostheses! Seriously, I cannot tell you enough how super freaking sweet the sci fi elements of this comic are.

The second thing I’ve gotta point out before we move on to the next comic is that the art is fantastic! There are flashbacks, and Blue Delliquanti (the author/artist) artfully changes the coloring to let us know that we’re in the past. Also, everyone has really cute noses and there are neat, futuristic cityscapes, like in this page. So much good. If you hit up the archives you can catch up pretty quick, I highly recommend reading it right right now!

All righty, on to the next comic: As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman. (A quick note: Gillman uses they/them, or gender netural pronouns. If you’re unfamiliar with gender netural pronouns click this link and educate yourself: https://apps.carleton.edu/student/orgs/saga/pronouns/) They have an MFA from the Center for Cartoon studies, so if anyone out there wants to be a cartoonist guess what? You can go to school for that! They also use colored pencils for the comic, and the results are staggeringly gorgeous.

I actually started reading this comic because a friend of mine knows Melanie Gillman and recommended I check out As the Crow Flies. This means that I’m one degree away from the author, not that that really means anything? But I think it’s cool. Anyway, this comic is about a 13-year-old girl named Charlie whose parents send her to a Christian youth backpacking camp. In addition to being the only black girl in a sea of white faces, Charlie seems to be struggling with her sexuality, and when she meets someone who is transgender she realizes she’s got some stuff to learn about gender.

There are a million reasons to love this comic. Aside from Gillman’s beautiful art, the comic’s protagonists are young teens which automatically makes it appealing. I feel like a lot of young adult literature gives us the voices of older teens, but doesn’t give the 13 and 14 year olds enough credit. Charlie and her friend Sydney are both cool, smart kids who question their environment and want to speak up about injustice when they see it. They’re complicated, well-written characters whose stories you will be eager to follow!

 Another thing I really like about this comic is that it’s full of lots of awkward moments. It can be frustrating – boring, even! – to read a story where the characters just breeze through their experiences like it’s nothing. Gillman’s characters are human. They stumble, they need help, they want answers that they can’t get, and they learn. Charlie often feels very alone, and Gillman emphasizes the stress of her isolation by drawing these beautiful, expansive landscapes. Basically, get ready to feel some feelings.

The #1 reason why both these comics are worth honoring on Transgender Day of Remembrance is that both include trans* characters who are very real and very human. Returning to what CeCe McDonald says in her speech, our media lacks transgender characters who are present not just to be a trans* body, but to be a real, human character. As I continue to read more novels and comics that feature transgender characters, I hope I can give you more positive examples of transgender visibility in literature.

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As the Crow Flies is one of my favorite webcomics. It’s beautifully hand-drawn with colored pencils, and it’s telling a very sweet story about young girls from diverse backgrounds. The creator made a Patreon page somewhat recently, but it hasn’t received as much support as I think it deserves. The comic is free online, so please go check it out, and if you like it as much as I do, consider contributing a bit of money to keep it going! Pledging just $2/month gives you access to bonus content including a 16-part series of “Nonbinary Comics” about the creator’s thoughts and experiences concerning gender, as well as a 20-page ghost story and an ACTF supplementary/background story.