Joe Corallo: No World – The Scott Lobdell Interview

A few weeks ago, it was announced that Aspen Comics would be launching a new crossover series titled No World by Scott Lobdell and drawn by Jordan Gunderson. Shortly after that, we learned that a new trans character was being created for the series. I had a lot of questions and wrote about that here last week. Scott read it and offered me the opportunity to interview him about No World and this new trans character. Here’s that interview.

Joe Corallo: You’ve written at Aspen Comics for a number of years now. How did No World come to be? Was this something you thought should be happening, or did Aspen approach you with an idea and you ran with it?

Scott Lobdell: It was 100% Aspen! They have been making overtures over the last few years towards stitching their different sub-genres together – so they could paint a more vivid landscape on a broader canvas – and so a team book seems like a natural extension of that endeavor.

I think there was some concern that crossing streams might dilute some of the uniqueness of each of the characters/worlds – but you just have to look at a Justice League to marvel at, say, the dynamic of a street vigilante teaming with an alien powerhouse from a dead world to see that mixing characters and genres can benefit everyone.

JC: In your over 25 years writing comics you’ve tackled LGBT characters including Northstar and even creating characters like Bunker, a gay hispanic superhero, at DC Comics. What made you decide on creating a black trans woman for this comic, and how much of a say in it did Aspen have?

SL: I felt if Aspen was giving me the marching orders to explore their world, that their world (and ours) had a lot of different people in it – and that like most comic book or sci-fi worlds (Star Trek, Star Wars, etc) black trans women were woefully under represented.

The same way that DC allowed me to use the relaunch of Teen Titans to create a brand-new character in Bunker, Aspen was very supportive of the idea of using No World to do the same.

They didn’t blink at the idea of introducing a trans woman. Even when I said I didn’t want it to be what I feel is often the “typical” scenario where we meet a trans character and are “shocked” to discover they are trans!

It feels, to me, that the most acceptable way to have a trans character introduced in a comic or television show is with the “This girl is just like me – wait! What? She’s trans?! That really upends my expectations about human sexuality and what I’ve always considered normative behavior!” trope. While I am sure that happens a lot in real life, I think it only scratches the surface of the trans experience. I wanted to go deeper.

I wanted to introduce a character that wasn’t there to “shock” us with the revelation she is trans, but rather someone who is very clearly trans and isn’t concerned at all with your feelings on the matter.

The only caveat they had was “Don’t use her as a punchline.” Which was great because it had never occurred to me to do that so it meant we were all on the same page.

JC: Since you brought up punchlines I wanted to address that on your Twitter page you used the hashtag #passingisforfootballs. While some people seemed to appreciate it while others voiced concern about a cis man using a hashtag like that saying things that included, “That’s a gross joke at the expense of marginalized people.” Readers can view that thread here. How do you respond to that?

SL: Well for starters, that was the character’s perspective on passing or not passing. She has no interest in being defined by what other people think of as “beautiful” or “feminine” or “sexy”… she is 100% comfortable in her own skin.

Second, there is a difference between humor and mocking. She uses her sense of humor to indicate how interested she is in other people’s notion of “passing” – which is zero interest. She’s not mocking people for whom passing might be a goal or a desire, she is simply bluntly expressing her own feelings on the matter as they relate to her.

And third, that line was given to me by a trans friend who was elated as I explained the character to her – it was her off the cuff reaction to the character and I loved it so I went with it.

While it might make some people feel better to draw a line in the sand and set themselves up as the judge for expressions or all things trans, I am comfortable depending on my close friends for their personal feelings on the matter.

JC: On Twitter you had used the hashtags for non-binary and gender non-conforming in reference to this new character. Is this how the new character identifies, is the character’s preferred pronouns they/them/themselves rather than she/her/herself and how did you come about to making that decision?

SL: Currently she uses female pronouns but identifies as gender non-conforming because she doesn’t care about living up to gendered expectations of womanhood or transwomanhood. That’s not to say she couldn’t start using gender neutral pronouns in the future. She doesn’t care to be defined by or conform to other people’s version of beauty or of being a woman.

JC: Many readers within the LGBT community are cautious about people outside the community doing stories that specifically involve transitioning with trans characters. It’s been mentioned that this new character is a former NFL player. Does that mean we’ll be seeing a transition story, flashbacks to before the character was out while they were playing football, and use of this character’s deadname? If so, can you go into detail about why that’s an important aspect of the story and needs to be told.

SL: This isn’t a transition story. When we meet her she has transitioned – and because the public has always known her as a world famous athlete before she transitioned (not unlike Caitlyn Jenner) – her past is as much of her story as her present.

She doesn’t have a dead name. Three of my closest trans friends have the same names before and after their transition, and that is part of the experience that I’m drawing from.

I don’t perceive flashbacks as being part of the series at all – but that’s because it is an action adventure story with a lot of forward momentum. But if I write the character again in the future, I can’t imagine I would shy away from stories about her past.

Like two of my close friends, I have lots of memories of our lives before their transitions. Hanging out at the county fair, having lunch after a meeting at Disney – those things happened before they changed their pronouns and their gender presentation. I think it would be odd if, in my head, I tried to have different memories because of who they are now. Or if I tried to erase those memories altogether.

JC: Who are some of the trans characters in comics and other media that have inspired you? Who are some of the trans people in your own life who have made you want to tell stories about trans characters in your comics?

SL: No other trans characters inspired me. I can’t think of any non-trans characters in comics or media that have inspired me. Real life is inspirational – comics, movies? Not so much.

As far as trans people I know in my own life…

There is Shakina Nayfack, a brilliant and beautiful actress/director who is currently lighting up the small screen on Hulu’s Difficult People. (Shakina is actually a consultant on No World.) Christian Beranek, a comic book writer and publisher who does the wildly popular web-series Validation.

Then there is trading card artist without peer, Rhiannon Owens. Emmanuelle, Aryn, Gia … many more. Some people I’ve known for years and IM with every day, others I only knew in passing but they left an impression.

The reason I want to tell a story involving a trans woman is the exact same reason I want to tell a story involving a cisgender male who dresses up like a bat to avenge his murdered parents, or a gay Mexican teenager who can create psionic bricks and direct them with his mind. Simply put, I want to write and read comics where everyone can be included.

Now, realistically, not every gradation of person can be in every issue of every story – but if I have the opportunity to introduce a trans woman of color into the comic book industry, you can sure as hell bet I’m going to! #includeeveryone.

JC: I understand this is a team book. Can you tell us a bit about how that will play out and how big of a role this new character have in it?

SL: While she doesn’t appear until the second issue, she immediately establishes herself as an important ass-kicking member of the group. What’s more, she has a lot of resources afforded her by her former NFL career and lots of connections that the other members of the team just don’t possess.

When you consider Dellec is essentially a ghost, Miya is an ancient warrior hiding in plain sight and Executive Assistant Iris is an assassin, it leaves it up to our character to be the public face of the team’s efforts to save the world.

While I haven’t written her introduction yet (on this week’s schedule) I don’t see any of her teammates being much interested in her gender.

JC: Some sources, including myself at ComicMix, have cited Suzie Su (a villain) as a previous example of you creating a trans character. I understand that she was never meant to encompass the entire trans community, but with there being limited positive portrayals of trans characters in all media let alone comics, some members of the LGBT may be cautious after seeing Suzie Su. I’d like to give you the opportunity to talk about that character and address people’s caution.

SL: I welcome people being as cautious as they want to be. Who doesn’t like a little caution in their lives? Heck, it is why we wear seat belts!

When I say #includeeveryone, I mean that all kinds of people should be represented in all kinds of roles in comics. Heroes, villains, sidekicks, roommates.

My friend and colleague Gail Simone introduced a trans roommate for Barbara Gordon in Batgirl – and it took several issues for the character to reveal she was trans and even one of the World’s Greatest Detectives was surprised. Suzie Su was introduced, was only ever referenced as a woman, and if I hadn’t identified her as trans in interviews no one would ever have known she was trans.

(Someone at a convention once argued that Suzie can’t possibly be trans because Jason would have called her a “he” and not a “she”! I felt that was a misunderstanding of the character: Red Hood respects pronouns.)

For trans people that get excited about seeing trans roommates represented there is Alysia Yeoh.

For trans people who get excited about seeing trans international crime lord who can go toe to toe with Red Hood and don’t. ever. stop. there is Suzie Su.

JC: Who would you say are some of the trans creators in comics whom you admire? What are some of your favorite comics by trans creators you’d recommend to people?

SL: Christian Baronek and I go way back – to her days when she was an executive at Disney and doing such creator owned books like Dracula vs. King Arthur and Silent Devils. She currently writes a really fun, really sweet, really poignant and often insightful web series called Validation. I wrote about it here.

Also, the lovely and talented and (I’ll say it!) vivacious Rhiannon from RhiannnonDrewIt always amazes me… both with her art (she draws all those trading cards in those exact dimensions! The details!) and how funny and sweet she is whenever I see her at conventions across the country.

There are probably lots of other trans creators I follow, but I don’t genuinely inquire about people’s gender… so unless someone made it a point to inform me of their status I would have no way of knowing.

JC: Anything else you feel people should know about this new character and your new comic No World?

SL: I would say that if you come into the series with a particular agenda that you should probably be prepared to be woefully disappointed and often offended.

No two trans women I know are very much alike in terms of their experiences, their sense of humor, the people they date, the decisions they’ve made about their transitions, their relationships with their families, their decisions to self-identity or let their sexuality speak for itself and on and on.

Anyone who expects Aloysius Thicke to conform to your specific version of a trans woman or to represent your personal feelings about how a trans woman should act or feel should probably not read this series.

Anyone who wants to get to know Thicke, root for her, follow her adventures – hop on!

JC: Thank you for your time, Scott! No World #1 hits the stores April 27th.