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.
ROAR Comics is thrilled to present Care Bears comics, written by Georgia Ball (My Little Pony, Scooby Doo) and illustrated by Melanie Gillman (As The Crow Flies)! These are the first new Care Bears comics in 25 years. The Care Bears series will start as digital-first comics that will later be collected into print editions.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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?
Some sketches from Linework NW, the amazing comics and illustration festival I volunteered at this weekend! I got some mad swag, sang karaoke, handed out business cards (!!!), saw an awesome panel on fundraising for artists, and generally had a super bitchin time. Also Liz Prince and Melanie Gillman signed my sketchbook!!! A comic about this weekend is to come, nerds
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:
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.
I cannot say enough good stuff about Linework NW this year. I keep posting about it because it really made me feel this swell of hope and promise for my comics career! I met so many cool creators. What an awesome show.