Tagged: Lawrence Gullo

Joe Corallo: Caitlin R. Kiernan and the Rising Stars

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img_0085Last week I interviewed Rachel Pollack in this space. In my introduction I mentioned that only two trans women have written for DC before. That’s somewhat true, and somewhat not true. It would be true to say that only one trans woman had written for DC, and it would also be true to say that number is three. Rachel Pollack is the only one who has written for DC proper. The late Maddie Blaustein wrote for Milestone Comics, for which DC had (and has) the publishing and distribution rights. Rachel had created a trans character for comics. Today, I’d like to talk about Caitlin R. Kiernan.

In 1996, prior to becoming an accomplished and award-winning author, Caitlin R. Kiernan was an award-nominated author of short stories shopping around a novel. She was fronting a band called Death’s Little Sister, in reference to the character Delirium from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. In that year of 1996 she would be approached by the very same Neil Gaiman to write for The Dreaming, a Sandman spinoff, for DC’s Vertigo imprint. Caitlin R. Kiernan would go on to say yes, becoming the second and last trans woman to write for the Vertigo imprint.

For those of you keeping track at home, that means Neil Gaiman has played a crucial role in hiring 100% of the trans writing talent that has freelanced at Vertigo. If we add Maddie Blaustein to the mix, that’s still a sizeable 66.6%. Either way, not too shabby.

caitlin_r-_kiernan_by_kyle_cassidy2I don’t mean any of that to sound like a knock against Neil either. Quite the opposite. It’s great knowing that trans and queer representation was important to Neil at a time where the majority of Americans felt that it wasn’t even okay that we exist at all. It makes me more sympathetic towards his handling of the character of Wanda in Sandman as well considering the time that story had come out. You can see some of what Neil has to say on Wanda towards the end of this fairly recent article here.

Now back to Caitlin R. Kiernan, she would go on to write thirty-five issues, over half of The Dreaming. Working with people at Vertigo including Neil himself, she crafted stories in the dreaming with many characters we already know, like the Corinthian, as well as her own creations like Echo.

On earth Echo had been a male transvestite, but upon entering the dreaming she became a woman. Unlike Rachel Pollack’s Coagula and Maddie Blaustein’s Marisa Rahm, Echo isn’t trans in the same way. It’s through a sort of magic that Echo goes from being a male transvestite to becoming a woman in The Dreaming. That’s not to diminish the importance of Caitlin R. Kiernan’s contributions to comics or to imply that it makes Echo’s stories inherently less important than Coagula’s or Marisa Rahm’s, but Echo’s story and her journey as a character is certainly different, and it’s a story that does fit well into The Dreaming.

img_0084After The Dreaming ended with issue #60, Caitlin R. Kiernan would leave comics for the next decade before returning to the medium at Dark Horse, most notably with Alabaster: Wolves. Unlike Kiernan’s peers at DC Comics, she’s had six of her issues of The Dreaming collected in The Dreaming: Through The Gates of Horn & Ivory. This of course is just a fraction of her work on the title, and three of the issues in the collection are written by other writers. Any readers getting a chance to meet Echo in this collection will be disappointed to find that the rest of her journey remains uncollected.

While yes, many other comics at DC have not been collected (I’m still waiting for volume three of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s The Spectre) the fact that the only three trans women that have written at one DC imprint or another have had nearly zero success at getting their comics collected and in print beyond their initial release is troubling.

If DC Comics is going to talk about the importance of diversity, push characters like Supergirl, Cyborg, Wonder Woman, Midnighter, and the new Superman, then I see no reason why they wouldn’t want to celebrate how they were ahead of the curve decades ago. They’ve solely been working up to this by reprinting Tony Isabella’s Black Lightning, but reprinting the works of Rachel Pollack, Maddie Blaustein, and Caitlin R. Kiernan is an important part of that. Reprinting Milestone Comics instead of sitting on them is important.

img_008320That’s not to say this is just a DC Comics problem. Trans representation at other comics publishers is lacking as well. We’ve seen Sophie Campbell and Tamra Bonvillain getting more recognition for their contributions to comics, and that’s a step in the right direction. We’re seeing Mags Visaggio becoming a rising star with her comic Kim and Kim over at Black Mask Studios. However, we are not seeing enough trans and queer representation overall.

Hopefully we’ll see more trans writers telling their stories in comics. Not only people like Caitlin R. Kiernan or Rachel Pollack, but people like Sophie Campbell who have gotten greater name recognition as of late, rising stars like Mags Visaggio, Lawrence Gullo and Fyodor Pavlov, and the countless others out there around the world. Some of whom I’ve heard of and some I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing their work yet.

And maybe Marvel could hire one of them to write a story… as they’ve yet to do.

Joe Corallo: Bash Back Kickstart!

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Lately I’ve found myself backing more comic related Kickstarters. From a successful campaign by Drew Ford reprinting Joe Lansdale and Sam Glanzman’s Red Range to Michael Sarrao’s new graphic novel SID: Special Intergalactic Detective that was just successfully funded. The latest Kickstarter I’m backing is Fyodor Pavlov, Lawrence Gullo, and Kelsey Hercs Bash Back.

I’ve written about Fyodor Pavlov here before. Bash Back is a comic project he’s co-created that he, Lawrence, and Kelsey have been posting new pages of on Tumblr since March of 2015 with frequent updates, often weekly, through April of this year finishing up Issue 0. They are currently on hiatus working on the next issue, promoting their Kickstarter to print physical copies, and getting ready for Flame Con.

Back Back is a queer mafia story set in contemporary New York City. The story follows a young trans man, Bastion, who gets saved from being bashed by a young queer man, Angelo, that gives Bastion a card for the New Oxford Youth Shelter. From there, Bastion meets Stephen, the older man that maintains this sanctuary for queer youths. From there, we meet an ambitious cast of characters through the eyes of young Bastion, with minor narrative shifts to further develop the world and its threats.

This comic is easily one of the most authentic looks into the queer experience and the dark places that the mind can go. It’s a story about overpowering our oppressors using the same violence and hate used against us. It’s about taking our rightful place back from those who took our place from us with fear and disdain in their hearts. Ultimately, it’s about pride.

The only way a comic like this can reach this level of authenticity is by having a creative team behind it that reflects the characters in it. All three of the creative talents behind this comic are queer and cover both trans and cis representation. That combined with all their unique life experiences and deep, rich understanding of queer history really shines through. I’m hardly the only person to notice all this as well, as Bash Back has been praised by all sorts of queer comics professionals from rising star Steve Orlando to veteran gay cartoonist Howard Cruse.

Though the Kickstarter for Bash Back is going very well and has a couple of weeks left, it still needs more help crossing the finish line. If you want to see more queer comics succeed, you need to strongly consider backing this project. We’re seeing more and more queer comics succeeding on Kickstarter. The more these projects succeed and the more money they bring in will be noticed by publishers. If we prove that audiences for these projects exist, more publishers will take the risk and publish projects like Bash Back.

We are already seeing the effects of a changing mindset and a better understanding of queer audiences over the past few years, as DC Comics has increased Batwoman’s profile, created a series for Midnighter and will soon be debuting a series for Midnighter and Apollo, which I believe will be a first in terms of a superhero duo book with gay male leads. It’s important to note that DC Comics has queer talent like James Tynion IV and Steve Orlando working with these queer characters.

Marvel has been increasing queer presence as well with Iceman being out and Wiccan and Hulkling becoming more prominent in the Avengers. Even smaller publishers are taking risks with queer leads like Kevin Keller at Archie Comics and Kim and Kim at Black Mask Studios created by trans writer Mags Visaggio.

So please, if this is an issue you care about, back it and share it. If you know anyone who might care about this, share it with them. Let’s help Fyodor, Lawrence, and Kelsey succeed in a big way because if they succeed, we succeed.

Joe Corallo: Fyodor Pavlov, Artist Extraordinary

Fyodor Pavlov

Last Thursday, Fyodor Pavlov, a person I’m honored to call a friend, had the opening reception for his exhibition at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.Titled Carpe Noctem: Eros to Thanatos, the exhibition celebrates the interlocking themes of queer desire, sex, myth and death. The opening reception featured not only wine and cheese, but music and burlesque performances. It was an evening of celebrating queer art in many forms, and something that the comic book industry should be aware of.

Fyodor is a queer artist, a Russian immigrant, and a New Yorker. His art has been commissioned both privately and commercially. Additionally, he works on comics including Baritarian Boy co-created with his partner Lawrence Gullo and Bash Back, his current web comic co-created both his partner and with writer Kelsey Hercs.

Bash Back is a queer mafia story. Here’s the quick pitch as taken from their page, “Thousands of of years of bloodshed, torment and ridicule. Now it is time to take what is ours. Retribution.” Sounds pretty tense, doesn’t it? Bash Back is a uniquely queer creation delving into a queer power fantasy; a subgenre that is scarcely seen or heard of in just about every entertainment medium, particularly as well thought out and diverse as this story. Their work on Bash Back speaks much better than I ever could on it, so please check it out here.

Lawrence and Fyodor, in addition to both being accomplished artists, produce and direct Dr. Sketchy’s for New York, the flagship of the Dr. Sketchy’s empire.

I could continue going about Fyodor’s many impressive artistic accomplishments, but it might be easier if you just check out his website here. The point is, the LGBTQ community has incredibly talented people in it like Fyodor Pavlov, and the comic industry should be aware of him and others like him, because they need him.

Mainstream comics have become more or less stale. The same stories happening to the same characters in an endless loop that recycles itself faster and faster. I own or have read more #1 issues of comics from the big two currently than I ever thought I would have when I was in grade school. Part of solving this problem is diversity. Just having people with different life experiences and points of views to tap into alone can help make fresh and new stories for a general audience.

Even beyond the mainstream, many of the smaller publishers get stuck telling similar stories as well. Over at Image, the incredible success of Saga has opened the floodgates for science fiction driven stories – over there. Some of the other smaller publishers putting out more autobiographical books still put out a great deal of graphic memoirs from predominantly straight white men coming of age. Not that they aren’t great reads, like Jeffrey Brown’s Clumsy, but we are still lacking in terms of LGBTQ stories.

Yes, we do get some. The big two have a couple of books with LGBTQ leads, smaller publishers seem to have more representation, but not a great deal more. Certainly not when it comes to characters leading books and pushing plots forward, and certainly not to the extent of that Fyodor, Lawrence, and Kelsey have gone in Bash Back. Comic companies need to be keeping an eye out for people like them for their very livelihoods. To stay relevant in a rapidly changing age.

One company that might be trying this is Aftershock Comics. A new publisher that already has some grade A talent attached, they released a comic last week by Marguerite Bennett titled Insexts. It’s a Victorian era lesbian body horror tale. I can’t imagine a major publisher taking a risk on this, or thinking that there is even much of an audience for this. However, from seeing the kind of stories that people like Fyodor put out and make available online, and the positive reactions they receive, I can say that it is very likely that this is exactly the kind of story that can sell right now. Fellow ComicMix columnist Molly Jackson feels this could be the book that blows up for Aftershock and helps to make them a major player in the field.

The comic industry is changing. The audiences are changing. The demands are changing. If the industry is as smart as I hope it is, they’ll see incredibly talented artists like Fyodor and try to snatch them up and help them navigate this brave new world. Not because these artists need the comic industry, but because the industry has never needed them to tell their stories more.