It’s a fine line that which divides nature and a zone of comfort; so fine it’s sometimes too easy to confuse one with the other, or think them to be interchangeable terms. But the differences are there, however subtle. For one, a zone of comfort is often a treacherous foe against personal growth. It may even render you numb before coming adversities and leave you unprepared to resist them. Am I being obnoxiously specific yet? Well I can take it up a notch. A zone of comfort can also blind you, delude you into mistaking someone’s nature. Make you see a foe as a friend when the tide is calm.
But when the tide grows restless, leaving that zone of comfort is quite the rude awakening. Hope you like those, lovelies.
“Not when we were so close…”
The “Jetsam Holiday” arc has been a lovely time so far, comparatively speaking. For every dark development unfolding within or without Hazel’s immediate (and extended) family, there has been lots of sunshine and fucking. And of course, there has been plenty of wholesome entertainment for the whole family to enjoy also. If the image of Hazel waging sea war against Petrichor and Ghüs while atop Sir Robot’s shoulders isn’t heartwarming, her wishing Sir Robot didn’t have to leave absolutely is. And furthermore, Sir Robot even reciprocates it.
Old foes may turn dear friends in time – just like my dad used to say… not really, but let’s pretend he did.
In the meantime, Marko and Upsher have a thoughtful conversation while frying fishies. Beyond the perennial dynamic of the journey, one of Saga‘s thematic signatures is the encounter between worldviews. Sometimes this occurs through future Hazel’s introspection, and sometimes through calm moments like this. By learning of how Upsher and Doff learned about the fugitives and their daughter, Marko finally realises something we’d long known by now. There is no action that goes without consequence in this galaxy. Whether it’s some nameless mook who becomes a villain’s motive for revenge, or a grunt left behind who’s see too much.
Their conversation migrates then to the topic of accountability when it comes to one of the most traditional roles in war: killing. Having been a soldier, Marko has obviously taken on a very active role. But Upsher isn’t entirely clean either, despite never taking a life himself. Being a journalist, his business is all about information, but its reception always risks a response, which sometimes involves violence. This is, Marko argues, the reason he will be sticking to writing fiction. Nevertheless, Upsher’s response is a banquet for thought, and I’ll quote:
“Putting new ideas into another person’s head is an agggressive act, and aggressive acts have consequences. Face it, you can be a writer or a pacifist, but you can’t be both.” The written word, to communicate or to inspire, is necessarily a political act. We’ll take this morsel with us home to mull it over, as something else comes up, demanding all heads and hands. Alana enters the scene with the news: Squire is missing. The young Robot has followed through with his plan to leave.
Cut to Ianthe, wandering the wilderness of Jetsam, and adding a touch of danger to Squire’s stunt. Her concern over The Will, now free, angry and deadly, reaches a high point upon seeing a note pinned against a tree with a knife. Menacing even when written in cursive. The note proper says they’re even; him having killed her fiancé, and she having skinned his dog. I’d hardly call it even myself – Ianthe is still in debt, but I digress. We’d be delusional to think this warning would dissuade Ianthe – too proud a villain to heed common sense.
Meanwhile, the grownups at the beach camp find Squire’s farewell note, charmingly written in crayon. His message and how he addresses himself as Princeling make his intentions clear. Sir Robot’s son intends to return to the Robot Kingdom; maybe his ways of chivalry had an unexpected, unintended side effect on the kid. Overtaken by shame, Sir Robot insists on handling this himself, then declaring this to be his fault. He then reveals the ugly incident of hurting Squire last issue, earning Alana’s anger and Hazel’s disbelief. Before Alana can unleash a (well-deserved) fist upon Sir Robot’s face, Marko walks in full-clad in armour, bearing… mushrooms.
Ah, but these mushrooms are special mushrooms. They don’t grace soups with supreme delight or allow you to summon Frank Zappa in Bloodborne (which I’ve been playing a lot of lately). These mushrooms function as flares bright enough to see in daylight or when penetrating deep in the forest. Hazel demands to come with, but her mum won’t allow it for good reason. Upsher offers to stay with Hazel, as he’s also confident his partner Doff has already found Squire.
If only he knew…
The pinky oath between Alana and Hazel marks the beginning of the search.
The scene then changes to Squire/Princeling’s point of view. He has definitely taken a shine to Hazel’s Ponk Konk, who now accompanies him as a friend to “talk with”. And it’s just as well: Squire is terrified. He roams what appears to be an abandoned amusement park, which is a creepy setting in any galaxy. According to a conversation he overheard between the grownups, the magical ingredients for the “body swap” are transported through pipes that run through these unsettling parts. Therefore, his course to take appears obvious, quite unlike the strange creatures following his movements, concealed in the overgrowth.
The worm-like creatures lunge forward, ensnaring Squire to be devoured by a nightmarish mouth spreading wide across the grass. Amidst the horror of the moment, he drops Ponk Konk, possibly into the maws of this hideous creature. Someone makes the save in the nick of time with a few well-aimed shots, however. Thankful, Squire hugs his unlikely saviour: Ianthe. Could it be he has managed to survive one beast only to end up in the maws of another?
Elsewhere, Sir Robot spots a strange jellyfish-like ship while searching for his son. The Will gets the drop on the former Prince, skewering his arm-cannon with his spear. Sir Robot doesn’t quite recognise his attacker, but The Will him well enough; not as the disgraced noble, but as the killer of his former love, Spider woman extraordinaire, The Stalk. A vengeful intent is clearly approaching. And though Sir Robot frets over being interrupted from his search and disarmed, he keeps his cool to talk with the reinstated Freelancer.
The Will is back on the job to catch the fugitives, but not before killing Sir Robot. Knowing that an ordinary, desperate plea won’t do the job, Sir Robot presents another possibility as a bargaining chip to secure his and his son’s safety: to surrender Hazel to The Will.
Seems old foes turn into friends dear when the tide is calm… otherwise, they’re only placated foes, only for so long. Treacherous asshole.
Saga Issue #52 Credits
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
All images are courtesy of Image Comics
Creator Corner: Interview with Artist and Graphic Novelist Rhea Ewing
Most of my interviews for Creator Corner have highlighted authors, which makes sense given my love of books. But when I was at WisCon in May, I went to the Artist Alley and fell instantly in love. With a painting called “Justified Bodies”:
When a friend of mine mentioned I might want to interview Rhea Ewing for this series, I was delighted to discover that they were the artist behind painting I had fallen in love with. I was even more delighted when we actually met to talk about their art, being an independent content creator, and their upcoming project Fine: a comic about gender, a graphic novel about, well, gender. We talked for almost 45 minutes, but trust me, you’ll want to hear everything they have to say.
Gretchen: How long have you been pursuing your art and what got you into the visual arts in the first place?
Rhea: This is a little embarrassing, but I first started trying to get better at drawing when I was in fourth or fifth grade because I wanted to be the coolest kid in class, and I could draw wolves better than anybody. So I was that kid. Then I realized, “drawing is pretty fun, let’s keep doing it.”
Over time, I got to this point in my art where I had a lot of passion for what you could do with all different kinds of art and storytelling. And that you could make connections between all of these different ideas and people’s real, lived experiences day to day. I wanted to be able to play with those connections and I still relish in that challenge.
So, in my freshman year of college, I decided to change my major and pursue art full time. Up until that time I had been interested in pursuing a degree in the sciences—explains a lot of my interests in my art, right?
G: With all the options out there for telling stories, especially personal stories like interviews, what made you settle on a graphic novel format for Fine: a comic about gender?
R: The first graphic novel that I read that made me think comics could do some cool stuff was Blankets by Craig Thompson. I was in high school when I read it and realized you could talk about all these complex, internal things and you can make them external and present them in a format other people can understand. Shortly after that I read Persopolis by Marjane Strapati and that was another big influence on my work. Persepolis and works like it made it clear to me how comics could make someone else’s world understandable and relatable to the reader. I have also always liked that with comics you can talk about complex ideas in a relatively concise format. You have the images to support the words and vice versa.
So, I wanted to do a comic to talk about a thing that seems complicated and weird and that I don’t understand, so let’s go with gender. I don’t really know what the hell that is, let’s do it! When I first started the project, I was a senior at UW Madison and figured it was a project I could do over the summer.
G: *snorts with laughter*
R: Yeah, right? I was naïve. I thought I’d interview maybe a dozen or two dozen people, make a little zine about what gender is. When I started doing that, I encountered all of these blocks. There were a lot of things I encountered that were very intriguing. Like, I was talking with transgender folks, cisgender folks, and people who don’t identify with either of those labels; there was a lot that people were giving me that was really fascinating and went beyond comments like “I’m transgender” or “gender is something that I think about a lot.” There were a lot of interesting things people said about how they think about their gender, or ways they would get struggle a little bit with what people expected based on the gender they identified as that didn’t work for them. Again, this was both cisgender and transgender folks saying things like this.
I wanted to talk about the complexities of gender more and I realized there were a lot of perspectives I was missing. The blocks that I mentioned were in getting to those perspectives. There are a lot of, if you want to frame it generously , a lot of unintentional divides in the trans community between transmasculine and transfeminine folks or between white folks and people of color. So as someone who was assigned female at birth, very white, and living in Madison—a city with a lot of unresolved racial disparities and problems—plus, at the time I didn’t have the language to describe myself. That’s part of why I was interested in this whole project. So, I was just like, “what is gender, even?”
But if you’re a trans woman and/or a trans person of color, you see this white, assigned female at birth person coming to you saying “what is gender, even?” that’s really scary! And that’s scary because in the past there have been people approaching those questions apparently in good faith who have used them to do a lot of harm to the trans community, to the most vulnerable among us.
I kept encountering these blocks, so I realized that in order to do justice to this topic, I needed to have a better sense of the demographics of the people I was talking to. I also needed to work a lot harder to reach some of those voices. That’s how you turn a summer-long project into a seven year adventure and a little zine into a graphic novel!
G: What surprised you most in the process of creating Fine: a comic about gender? Has working on it changed your own perspective on gender and if so, how?
R: Oh yeah. There’s a lot that has surprised me. Right from the get go encountering all of the blocks and divisions, or people using terms I didn’t know. Up until that point, I had been that person who considered themselves an ‘LGBTQ ally.’ I grew up in a small town in Kentucky and ‘for some reason’ I was really protective of and wanted to hang out with the queer kids, I didn’t know why! I cared about them really intensely.
And one of the things I had encountered was that sometimes you dip your toe into online spaces or you go into a group where people have a very encoded and advanced language they’re using to talk about all these nuances. I didn’t have any idea, and I felt like I needed to have everything about myself figured out before I could go into those spaces. “This is exactly who I am, here’s my list of labels, let me hang out with you.” On top of that, just being kind of a shy, introverted person, too. That uncertainty of exactly how to define things combined with, like, this fear of rejection. Feeling weird about straight cis people is one thing, but if you go to this space that’s supposed to be safe for you and get the feeling that you’re not ‘gay enough’ or ‘trans enough’—I had a lot of anxiety about that.
That’s where I was coming from going into this. Then, I encounter all these blocks and it’s more complicated than I thought even from my perspective. And the more I talked to folks all over the Midwest, I realized that there wasn’t this single, unified language people were using to talk about gender. It varied a lot by region. There were some communities where butch and femme were really common ways to talk about an aspect of someone’s experience with gender. There were other places where the response to that language was “that doesn’t make sense” or even “why would you even say that?” So it wasn’t just that I was this person who couldn’t figure out how to describe myself, these are words and languages that are shifting and really contextual depending upon how old you are, where you are, race, all sorts of things.
G: There’s cultural upbringing, too; if you’re an immigrant or come from a family of recent immigrants, country of origin, all those cultural and religious layers as well.
R: Right. I’m glad you brought that up because I interviewed a couple of folks who identify as two-spirit, and for them, the cultural aspect of who they were was inseparable from their gender identity.
G: That makes a lot of sense.
R: I learned a lot. A few years into it, I hit a point where I couldn’t even care anymore if someone thought I was using the wrong words for myself because I realized that maybe someone always would. That’s the nature of how diverse our communities are. So, I came out as bisexual and genderqueer? Nonbinary? Agender? I still don’t really have a word that I feel like, “this is the word!” but I have a constellation of words that I can say, “it’s somewhere in that direction.”
It’s also taken me from a point of, “I don’t understand gender and I don’t relate to it at all, why do we even need it,” to “okay, I don’t know what’s going on with my gender, but I clearly have some kind of feeling about it and other people clearly have a firm gender identity and relate to this system in a certain way.” My genders just kind of like dark matter. I can’t see it or detect it through the general background noise of the universe, but the effect that it has on me still affects me a lot. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a gender but that means that I’m thinking about it constantly and have built my career around it.
G: I love that metaphor of dark matter; I haven’t heard it before.
R: Yeah, I’m working with the Arts + Physics project right now that pairs artists, writers, and physicists together with high school students and you all complete a project together by the end of it. Anyway, I have the pleasure of working with physicist Dr. Kim Paladino . Kim studies dark matter so I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Hmmm, there’s a thing that has immense effects that we can’t figure out, you say?
G: We know it’s there, but we don’t really know how to define it, hmmmm.
R: We study it indirectly and then we figure out more and more…Did that answer your question?
G: Yes, absolutely. Moving on, what do you hope that audiences reading Fine: a comic about gender work walk away with?
R: Okay, so. A really common question for creative folks is “who is your audience?” I try to picture several different audience members in my mind when I’m working on the book. One is the queer kid who has or hasn’t figured themselves out yet in rural America, because I was that kid. When I was in high school, I read books, comics, and things like that about queer experiences. I read a lot of the webcomic Liliane Bi-Dyke, and there were times when my parents were reading over my shoulder and asked if I was queer, from a place of wanting to be really supportive. I told them, ‘nah, I don’t know.’ Basically, when I eventually came out, no one was surprised.
Anyway, I think of that experience, of not even having the language to start conceptualizing this and having a community that isn’t large enough or safe enough to talk with people. People who need a way to explore those things—for those people, Fine is an invitation: “It’s okay to look into this stuff, to talk about it. And if you feel weird about it, you’re definitely not alone.”
Then, I think about folks who are in a more similar space to where I am now. Maybe they’ve put some thought into gender. I see this temptation to distill it into a catchy phrase like “gender is between your ears” or to use diagrams with different spectrums of experience. I think that’s so temping for people because you want to be able to explain things concisely. In fact, when I first started the project, I wanted to make a model like that, too. Then, I realized through talking to so many different people that I couldn’t do that. There were so many different experiences and ways to talk about it.
Ideally, for folks who are at this level I want them to see that this is complicated and that’s beautiful. I’m not going to tell someone they’re describing their gender wrong; rather, they’re using a different language than I am. I want the work—it’ll be a big book, it’s looking like 375 pages at this point—to be take that as a whole and a representation of what happens when you try to talk about gender without first establishing shared language. Can you do that? What are the results of that? I want people to ponder on that.
Because another thing is that a lot of my interviewees often used the same words and phrases in contradictory ways. I ask most of the people I interviewed the same sets of questions like, “what is the difference between sex and gender?” Some people say there isn’t one, other people say, “it’s this,” and other people say “weeeeeell, I don’t know.” It’s complicated” Someone could interpret ‘sex’ to mean ‘genitals’ while others interpret it as ‘chromosomes’ while others interpret it as ‘sexual orientation,’ for example.
I want to show that you can have these conversations. You can be open and ask questions about what people mean. For me, that’s a much healthier space to explore ideas in rather than, “oh my gosh, you described yourself as transsexual, how dare you!” But that’s a word some people identify with and has historical weight. Why do we always flip the language around like that? There’s an essay by Julia Serano about the carousal of language around transgender experience that talks about how a term will be accepted for a while and then be seen as a slur. We don’t see that in queer identity labels that are under less scrutiny. ‘Gay’ and ‘lesbian’ for example have specific origins and if you look at the origins, they don’t really capture that entire identity but words can evolve and change.
G: People are more comfortable with the lack of precision with more widely accepted labels than they are in what they would consider new ones.
R: Exactly. Whereas with identities that are under more scrutiny like being bisexual, gender nonconforming, or transgender, there’s more of a cycle of distancing from words associated with being more marginalized or having violence enacted against them.
G: That’s so fascinating, but we have to move on. You talk on your website about being inspired a lot by nature. Tell us a bit more about how you see nature as a mirror of and challenge to human experiences.
R: So, nature is pretty awesome. There’s a reason why at one point I wanted to devote my life to studying it through science, and I still do, but as a ‘fan scientist,’ the one who can explore a lot of topics.
What I love about nature, much like with things like gender, is that the closer you look at it, the more complicated, lush, diverse, and vibrant it becomes. Take the idea of survival of the fittest for example. For a lot of people, that immediately conjures a certain image of a big touch strong animal versus a feeble animal that can’t get the food in time. But when you actually start looking beyond that stereotype level, you see there are a lot more complexities of social interactions, communication between individuals within species, and also a lot more diversity.
One of the species that I featured in my Seven Strengths series is the bluegill sunfish (they’re actually in the lakes here). They’re a fish species with four genders. Roughgarden’s book Evotion’s Rainbow does a wonderful job talking about how the cultural biases of biologists studying nature in the field can have a severe impact on what they perceive. Roughgarden defines gender as a distinct appearance associated with a set of behaviors. So, the bluegill sunfish has four genders. There’s the big orange males who make a big nest at the bottom of the lake and they guard the nest fiercely, looking for a female to lay their eggs in it by proving they can protect the eggs. They can be really territorial and aggressive. Sometimes they’re so aggressive they’ll attack females who visit them, which makes the females wary. They don’t know if the males are dangerous to approach.
Another type of male is the ‘sneaker male’ who hang out around the edges. They have a different appearance and body structure. They’re whole game is that when a female visits the nest of an orange male, they sneak in, do their thing, and run away before the orange males can catch them. It’s really common in lots of species to have different types of males, and sometimes they switch which role they’re in during their lifetime.
What excited me was the third type of male, which for a long time was classified as a ‘female mimic,’ that he was tricking the orange males. But, the behavior and appearance of these types of males is different enough from the females that Roughgarden proposes that’s the wrong classification for them. These males school with the females for most of the year, then, during mating season, they will court one of the orange males. If the orange male accepts his courtship, they’ll form a partnership with a nest together throughout the breeding season and then they both mate with any females who come to visit. The females don’t stay to take care of the eggs, so the fact that male stays around makes him different. And from the female’s perspective, the fact that the big, tough orange male is chill enough that he has a partner means he’s safer.
It’s also cool because when there’s a partnership like that and a female comes to visit, they all mate together. The smaller male will be in the middle and help coordinate the mating process like, “I like you, I like you, here we go.”
So, nature is a lot more complicated than we think and sometimes cultural biases—for example against trans people or a certain vision of gender roles, things like that—can affect our ability to observe the natural world accurately.
It can also work in other ways. There’s a series that I’ve done called the Ancestor series about human evolutionary ancestors and relatives. The thing about paleoanthropology is that when we find fossils and artifacts, the way someone interprets them often ties into what that person believes it means to be human: What do we value? What should we value? How important is it that we be clearly distinguishable from our evolutionary ancestors?
There are also some really scary racists and eugenicists who draw parallels between contemporary modern humans and certain evolutionary species. What’s fascinating is depending on whose DNA they think has what they will completely change whether those parallels are good things or bad things. Anyway, the Ancestor series is all these figures cloaked in leaves and artifacts holding these fossil skulls up as masks. Because we have all these ideas on our own of what we want things to mean; those ideas, hopes, and hang-ups are like using these fossil finds as masks like, “oh look, see, I’m legit.”
G: It goes back to what you were saying at the beginning about visual art being a concise medium, because it took you longer to explain that to me than if I had just looked at the art and absorbed that message.
R: I almost always want to have an artist statement next to my art pieces. On my website I have these long artist statements, and if I do a gallery show I’ll bring them along to hang next to each piece. I want my pieces to work if people don’t have all that background information, but there are pieces where you might not know certain things unless I told you. There’s a species of butterfly that I feature in one of my Ancestor pieces called the large blue arion. As caterpillars, they go and sing to an ant colony and release these pheromones to which the ants reply, “Woah, this is the biggest ant child we’ve ever seen.” The ants then take it into their nest and take care of it. Then the big ant child that is actually a caterpillar eats and cocoons. When it emerges, it’s clearly not an ant baby, so it sings a different song and the ants clear the way for it to walk out.
What’s interesting is that the usual MO is that these ants attack anything that’s not a part of their colony on sight. Ants are kind of the worst. There was an ant scientist talking about two ant colonies, same species, with this line in between them stacked high with dead ants. So that’s a tension I like playing in my work, too. I have this drive to see all of these beautiful things in nature, but that’s another bias, right?
Anyway, there are all these surprising connections like that that I think are interesting and I want to showcase those, but it gets tiring to verbally explain to everyone who walks by. I have those artist statements to help.
G: Are there any other themes or sources of inspiration you incorporate into this network of connections in your art?
R: Two things immediately come to mind. One is that I really like big things that are made up of lots of little things. A big influence of that in my work is the Korean three dimensional and installation artist Do Ho Suh. A lot of his work is lots of figures or, like, a piece of armor made out of army dogtags that were flowing out onto the floor almost like feathers or scales. He did a piece where instead of a pedestal with a statue on top, it was a bunch of smaller statues supporting a pedestal.
That’s a big interest in my work. I do a lot of things where I make these amalgam, almost spirit characters made out of leaves or insects. A part of that is I want to fit all these ideas and interests that I have into one thing.
Another thing that often comes up in my work that people comment on is that I draw a lot of hands. Hands forever remain my most and least favorite thing to draw. They’re very complicated, but they’re also very posable and expressive. The difference between someone gripping a water glass very casually versus white knuckling it a bit can tell you a lot about what that person might be doing or feeling. I use hands in my work to express that there’s a human element, idea, or emotion. But I like doing it through hands because when you draw a face, people get stuck on the question of who the person is, their age, place of origin, how they’re supposed to relate to them, etc. Hands are a more generalized statement of humanity.
Part of what I enjoy about my comics is that it’s the opposite. I’m able to depict a character who represents a real person and I want the audience to be able to relate to them while also seeing all of the things that are unique about them. My comic isn’t a general statement about ‘this is what humanity is like’ because that doesn’t work for all the reasons I mentioned earlier about that project.
G: Most people tend to think of queer representation in literal terms—queer characters in narratives, for example—how would you describe your art as a representation of queer identity and experience outside of that very literal conceptualization of it?
R: I’m really excited that you asked me this question. For me and for my identity and the way I experience and think about my gender and sexual orientation, queer is an acceptance of complexity and of other and of something being strange or of doing things in a different way. There’s a really wonderful comic called Queer: A Graphic History, and one of the things it cites is Dory from Finding Nemo and how, because of her memory, she doesn’t experience events in the same time and space that everyone else does. But she’s still able to have all kinds of meaningful connections with other fish. That kind of mindset is what I’m thinking about.
My perspective on nature is that it’s complicated. There’s a lot of different survival strategies and we have a lot of baggage, things we want to be true and our own agendas when we look at it. If your impression of survival of the fittest is ‘winner takes all,’ what does that imply for your politics? All those things are important. Taking a queer lens on them means making room for the abnormal.
G: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced being a queer artist? How can our readers best support original artists like you in pursuing your work?
R: A lot of the challenges I deal with as a queer artist involve wanting myself and my ideas to be understood at least marginally well. There’s a certain pressure for artists as small businesses to market themselves or put themselves out there in a certain way. I’m not always comfortable with that because I don’t want to be misunderstood.
I did an interview a couple years ago and when it came out, they had misgendered me in half of it. But not the other half, so it was kind of strange. I’ve had art curators take my bio and artist statement off of my website and when they change the first person to third person, they used all of the wrong pronouns for that but had kept the right pronouns elsewhere. There’s an extra layer of work for me to do.
I want people to focus on my work and appreciate it for what it is, but that means appreciating me for who I am. At least in a rough sketch kind of way regarding my pronouns and why they’re important to me. I’ve had to get comfortable sending people messages about my pronouns and using them consistently in professional contexts.
Another challenge would be the challenges artists everywhere face. Culturally, societally, we place a lot of value on creativity and the beauty or aesthetics of things, but we don’t place a lot of value on the people who make those things happen. There’s not a lot of funding for the arts. A friend of mine recently lost a gig because she made a bid and all of the other artists except her didn’t budget compensation for their own time into the proposal.
What that leads to is that the most privileged voices get heard the most. If art can only be done on a volunteer or mostly volunteer basis where you’re mostly working for minimum wage or below, then the artists who have the extra resources to support themselves or receive support from family members will be the ones you hear from the most.
A challenge for me is that I recognize I want work like my own to be out there more, especially Fine: a comic about gender, and I want it to be done by those who do not have the same privileges that I have. The fact that I’m able to bring this project to this point has cost 7 years of only being able to work part time, thousands of dollars in travel costs, hiring artists to help do inking and polishing steps. The fact that I was just barely able to pull all of this together is like, yippee for me, I guess. But if we want to see more of this, we need systems of support and structures in place that can support not just funding for the arts in terms of physical supplies but in terms of time and expertise. I actually applied for several grants when I was working on Fine and the consistent message I heard was, “We’re excited about this project, come talk to us when you’re ready to print it because we don’t want to pay for something to be made.”
But that’s more of a challenge with society and the arts in general. I’m very aware of the fact that I can live with my parents is a huge thing. But even the fact that we ask such things of artists means that there are a lot of folks we don’t hear from, and that needs to be fixed.
To combat that, if you’re in a position where you are working with an organization that supports the arts, help change mindsets. Like, “if we want to hear from a more diverse range of people, we need to be able to compensate people for their time, and we need to actively seek out diverse artists.” The people I want to hear from the most are the people with the least extra resources to give.
If you’re not working for an organization like that, it’s great to support artists directly through purchasing their work, making commissions, and platforms like Patreon.
Another way to support diverse artists would be to makesure that you’re holding everyone to the same standard. Something I see a lot of is that queer artists, artists of color, trans artists, other diverse artists in general are held to a much higher standard than cis white male artists and mainstream media. A big Hollywood blockbuster or a (white) male creative making a vague gesture towards feminism is applauded but something that’s supposed to be a queer or feminist work gets picked apart for every imperfection. We need to celebrate what a work does while recognizing what needs to be done next. The expectation that everything marginalized creators make needs to be perfect and save the world all by itself is toxic. We’re all consumers of media, so watch out for that in yourself Let go of some of those expectations of perfection.
G: As someone who wants to be a published author, I live with that same anxiety all the time.
R: Oh yeah, it has definitely defined my career.
G: Like, am I going to get picked apart for this? I’m trying really hard, and not in a “I’m trying hard, give me cookies” kind of way, in a “I really care about this, it deeply matters to me” way. I want to do the best job that I can, but are people going to recognize that or are they just going to assume that I don’t or didn’t care or just did it for cookies?
R: I have a lot of feelings about that, as that’s something that has been very detrimental to my mental health throughout my creative career. Even now I think about that. If I start experiencing a lot of harassment or get doxxed and my family is at risk, that could come from a few different places. I could see it coming from conservative spaces (maybe pretending to be liberal spaces), but I could see it coming from people on the left who take a very absolutist view of how these things work. It’s sick that I find myself in a position where I have to accept that a certain amount of this backlash is going to unfortunately happen from people that I would like to share community with. It’s hard.
And of course, I hold myself to a very high standard, which is why Fine has taken so long! But at some point I have to recognize that I can’t make a definitive document about what it means to have a gender identity in the midwest United States. I can’t even say this is what it meant within the time period in which I was doing interviews, which is between 2012 and 2016. I can’t even say that! This is just what the 57 people I talked to said about gender. It’s complicated.
The thing is, I don’t want to be immune to criticism, I just want those conversations to be productive. I want people to look at the gaps and missing pieces in my work and be inspired to create and fund projects that do what needs to be done next. When young creatives only see work being torn apart and creators being sent death threats, what are they supposed to think? I know it certainly held me back for a long time.
G: So, what’s coming up next for you? Any other projects you’re working on that you can tell us or hint to us about?
R: There are a few things I’m working on this summer that I’m excited about. I already mentioned the Arts + Physics project so you can look to see what the students who are involved with that come up with at the Arts + Literature lab later this year.
Otherwise, I’m working with Dr. Stephen Meyers, he’s a geology professor UW Madison. I’m working with him on a short scifi story summarizing key geological ideas and scientific mindsets for his students. It’s called “Grace in Space” and I’m super excited. It’s also kind of funny because this is maybe my dream gig and I’d given up on ever getting it, then I get this email out of the blue saying hey, here you go. I’m also doing a few projects with Dane Arts Mural Arts. The biggest thing I’d done with them before now is the mural on Broadway St. in Monona. So, I’m working on a couple of projects with them that I’m hoping will be near completion by the end of the year.
For Fine, the next step is just cranking out the pages. I did a lot of work editing and having it reviewed by people I trust early on because I knew that I wasn’t prepared to draw 375 pages of graphic novel only to realize I needed to rewrite half of it. So I’m in focused production phase right now. It’s hard because life expenses come up, health stuff related to family, or just things you want to do like have a family. Balancing the finances of that is hard, but I’m very lucky that I have very dedicated fans that have supported me for a long time.
If people are interested in knowing what’s happening with my comic work in particular, Patreon is a great way to keep up with it. Because I’m interested in Fine: a comic about gender being taken as a whole, I haven’t posted many work-in-progress images or things like that publicly. But, Patreon supporters get access to that. Plus, all my patrons are super nice and welcoming. It’s a wonderful community that keeps me afloat when things are hard.
G: Thank you so much for doing this!
R: You’re so welcome!
Visit Rhea’s website to see all of their art plus keep updating on what they’re working on. And if you’d like to support them and their work, especially Fine: a comic about gender, head on over to their Patreon.
As a quick, final note, I’ve been thinking of putting the past audio of my Creator Corner interviews up as a podcast (however crappy as it is at times since I was just using my phone) and starting to add more content with other creators. I would get permission from past and future interviewees of course. If you all would be into that, let me know! Some of these conversations go long because the creators are so damn interesting, and I’d love to give people access to it.
Images Courtesy of Rhea Ewing
The Wicked + The Divine: When Crows Cry
Sometimes these things just write themselves. Upon reading this issue, my only question was if it’d be more suitable to call this “When the Wicked and the Divine Cry,” since there’s gonna be a lot of crying involved. In the end, my loyalty to Prince took priority, so we’re going with Crows, which is also suitable given the focus of this issue. If the Mothering Invention arc can stir one very legitimate complaint, it is how little focus there’s been on the Underworld Gods.
Not so this time. We’re reaching the final issues to this wickedly divine series. So if the Goths are getting a swan song, it had best be black as fuck. The doomed romance between Baphomet and The Morrigan comes to an end, featuring—of course—our tormented lead, Persephone…
… But first, a leap back in time, to the ancient infancy of the Recurrence for some further enlightenment. By now, we have sufficient pieces to make up a generous picture of the puzzle. As per the agreement between the first Ananke and the first Persephone, the former will always have two gods to inhabit: Minerva and herself. In order to protect her scheme to live eternally, this “dual Ananke” will always seek to destroy the one who could jeopardize her scheme: Persephone. As we’ve seen in the previous issue, this has resulted in violent and gooey outcomes for both. Should the Maiden and the Crone succeed, the young God will live on for ninety years until the next Recurrence, becoming the next Ananke, and so forth.
But it then brings up the question: What happens when Ananke or Minerva fail?
The answer lies in Egypt, 3127 BC. Having taken over the body of this Recurrence’s Minerva, Ananke attempts to do the four head ritual, one head short of the requirement. The smug confidence in her face turns to horror as she disintegrates, which goes to show that you should never aim lower than your goal; mediocrity drives us downward, people. In a similar fashion as last issue, we are treated to the passage of the years, one panel at a time. This will initially seem a lazy choice in design, having us readers look at nine panels of sheer black a page, one for each year. So we get ten pages of black panels. Ninety years til we continue the narrative in the shores of Crete, in the year 3037 BC.
Yet the subtle brilliance of this design is how it hearkens back to something Ananke said in a very early issue. The passage of time without Gods is without inspiration, comparatively dull if you focus only on the historical human experience sans the drama of the Recurrence. But there’s something else, a disturbing realization when looking at who appears to be Minerva, nude and staring blank out into the distance. Having scratched deep scars into her cheeks by despairing compulsion, she utters “Never again.”
The state of the young Goddess hints at a peculiar “newborn” state, which goes against the accustomed Ascension mechanic. If this is not a mortal become divine, then Ananke effectively remained “alive” in darkness for ninety years in one sitting. Never again, indeed.
Fast forward to the present, folks.
Things in the London of us mortals seem quite uneventful. That is, things are the same as usual. People ride the subway in the daily soul-crunching commute while entertaining idle talk. But the subject of chatter paints the course of events after Dionysus’ gig, which was taken over by asshole Woden. Cassandra earns the mythological character of her name by condemning Woden’s brainwashing of the masses, but nobody believes her. To add further insult, she is now behind bars. People ridicule the Norns, mourn Dionysus (while still mindlessly doing drug-themed victim blaming), take delight in their flawed memory of a “hell of a gig,” and life goes on. But in the neighboring Underground, affairs are not that simple.
Persephone meets up with Baphomet away from the vigilant gaze of his abusive girlfriend, The Morrigan, for some catching up. Keep in mind, he has missed a lot of the latest action, including all the death. As you can imagine, Dionysus’ demise is particularly hard on him. He remarks then that Marian will likely blame herself for choosing to keep away from mainstream Pantheon business. The current business absolutely demands the Underground to get involved, but first, there is a pressing question nobody has asked. Is Persephone okay?
Well, of course she’s not. In her inner monologue, she decides against telling Baph of her pregnancy, but has the candor to tell him she’s indeed not okay. However, there is some solace we find in the dark. Aside from Cass, Cameron here is the only one who gives a shit about Laura. And she has needed it for sure. So, it is nice to see a little friendship developing here despite the affair they had previously. In a visual sense, the game of shadows in the Underground accentuates the characters’ expressions. Things like concern and gratitude look paradoxically warm down here.
Meanwhile, Ananke-overwritten Minerva returns to her Headcave for some evil business. As a foil to the ominous mood and Minnie’s Anankish frown, we get to hear the heads talk a bit. Even in their current state, it’s nice to hear Luci being Luci, Inanna being Inanna. And we never did get to know Tara long, but… you know. Anyway, Minerva is texting Baphomet, still keeping up her charade to divert attention. At this point, it’s very likely that Woden is out to find the Heads, probably for his own shady agenda. As a preemptive measure or to the advance of her own plan, Minnie is going to sew their mouths shut. As you do.
Back in the Underground, Baph tells Persephone about Minerva’s text, when a wild Morrigan appears. Wild and very angry at Persephone being here. By the look of things, the Death Goddess is here to make good on her threat. It’s now that Baphomet realizes she meant for Sakhmet to kill Persephone. After knocking Laura out, Marian basically echoes every line in the abusive partner’s discourse, brutally demeaning Cameron while moving in to kill Laura. Baphomet urges her to think soberly. The final measure to bring this hermetic conflict to an end: he breaks up with his goth girlfriend.
“Hell hath no fury…” Congreve said. He probably did not visualize a threefold Goddess of War and Death with blades for hands. With a shriek, The Morrigan turns into her Badb Catha persona and turns her attention to Baphomet. And here is where it begins and where it ends. In this moment, I really want to personally praise Kieron, Jamie, and Matt for the dual narrative unfolding. And while you read those pages, I do hope you’re listening to something sad, like “Maybe Someday” by The Cure.
The fights between Gods have always looked spectacular in WicDiv, but never as emotional as this. In between the moments when Marian swarms Cameron with bloodthirsty birds, we see an alternating flashback to their past. Behind Baphomet’s flaming pole is the moment Cameron met Marian. The irremediably broken communication between the two is a tragic reprisal of the first time they exchanged words. Every strike is a shadow of the initial awkwardness. Marian’s spontaneous mutation into a bird of prey mirrors the mutation from affinity to interest. Their fight all over the subway station, their first dance together.
Cameron gets the upper hand. But the memory of that first night together makes him relent. He cannot finish her off. The Morrigan seizes the chance to turn the tables in a definite way. But the bloody victory tastes foul in her mouth. Laura wakes up to find the subway station in a foreboding state of destruction. There have been people injured, most likely also casualties. Finally, she arrives at the spot where Marian ended the argument, permanently. Shfiting from Badb Catha back to The Morrigan, Marian weeps while scratching bloody marks onto her face. Laura confronts her with the truth, that she just killed her boyfriend.
In response, Marian quotes a gentler self from issues past. “He’s not dead. He’s just sleeping.” She instantly turns into her third persona, Gentle Annie, the one we believed dead after Marian found out about Cameron and Laura’s affair. Also the one who imparted a painful truth upon Dionysus prior to his final gig, one that he tragically refused to heed.
You can’t save everyone.
But maybe you can save one. With a snap of her fingers, Marian—as Gentle Annie—brings Cameron back to life, at the cost of her own. This issue may just have brought the Underworld side of the Recurrence to its tragic end. After this, it’s time for Persephone and Baphomet to join the fray above, in whatever manner it manifests. A great issue, I’d say, perhaps my favorite so far, though it leaves such a bittersweet taste on the tongue.
This is what it sounds like when crows cry.
The Wicked + The Divine Issue 37 Credits
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art / Cover: Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson
Images Courtesy of Image Comics
G. Willow Wilson To Be Fifth Woman Ever To Write Wonder Woman Solo Title
At the Fandomentals, we’ve been a little disappointed in the recent Wonder Woman run. Back in ye olde days of Wonder Woman, Diana famously lost her powers whenever her bracelets were bound or chained by a man. When so bound, an Amazon became “as powerless as any other woman in the man-ruled world.” While she eventually (and thankfully) lost this weakness as years have gone by, in a meta sense she never really seemed to escape the “woman in a man-ruled world” problem. Even as “Wondy” became DC’s most successful on-screen character yet, she continued to struggle on the comics rack (see our issues with recent Wonder Woman above). But let’s back up and take a look at the long and very male history of Wonder Woman writers.
Since 1941, only four other women have written for the iconic hero. That’s right, for seventy-six years, DC’s star heroine and feminist icon has largely been in the hands of men. Despite the integral part women played in the creation of Wonder Woman, it took ages for a woman to actually write for the hero. Novelist Jodi Picoult was the first woman take up the pen in 2007 for a five-issue run. Legendary writer Gail Simone took over soon after and helped steer Diana through Final Crisis, Blackest Night, and her 600th issue in 2010. It’d be five more years before Meredith Finch, with her husband David on art duties, took over in 2015…just in time for DC to overhaul the whole book. Shea Fontana’s run was even shorter, a five-issue filler run sandwiched between Rucka and Robinson. Those are truly tragic numbers for, bar-none, the highest profile woman in comics. Even recently, as Patty Jenkins takes the hero to new heights on the silver screen, Wonder Woman flounders in the hands of James Robinson (again, see our numerous problems with his run above). However, this fall, DC might finally let Diana break her chains.
In a major coup, it’s been announced that Kamala Khan creator G. Willow Wilson will return to DC to take over writing duties for Wonder Woman this fall. Wonder Woman’s new scribe G. Willow Wilson cut her teeth with Marvel’s “distinguished competition.” Her first titles were under the Vertigo imprint. There, she published her debut, Cairo, and wrote her first ongoing series, Air. She would later move to the flagship brand and write for Superman, The Outsiders, and Vixen. But her next work, with DC’s rivals, would help change the face of comics.
Wilson jumped at the chance to help create a new Ms. Marvel. In 2014, she worked with editor Sana Amanat on crafting the details of a character that was inevitable to cause controversy. That series ended up becoming one of the most successful debuts in modern comics. Willow’s work on Ms. Marvel earned her a Hugo and a Dragon, plus Eisner and Harvey nominations. She would also later create A-Force, Marvel’s first all-female Avengers squad.
Wilson will be joined on the new Wonder Woman book by Cary Nord (Conan, The Unexpected). The two will have to pick up the pieces from James Robinson, who seemed hell-bent on making the book focus on everyone but the title character. The new run, to begin Nov. 14, will be titled “The Just War” and put Diana front-and-center as she battles Ares yet again. As a bonus, Wilson will be on the book as things ramp up for Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman 1984. It seems like finally, finally, Wonder Woman is back in the hands of those with whom she feels most comfortable: women.