By Jason Karlson
LGBT representation is among the most hotly debated issues in comics at the moment and while the last few years have seen huge improvements in some areas, it can still feel like what little there is on offer sometimes still isn’t as diverse as it could be and can be extremely hit or miss. At its very best, when the industry gets it right, we get something stunning like J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman’s first 26 issues of Batwoman, or Rene Montoya’s portrayal in Gotham Central by Brubaker and Rucka. However at worst, LGBT characters are treated as tragic figures such as the sexuality-switched Green Lantern and his boyfriend Sam, given a sparse twenty pages and a quick death by fiery bullet-rain. While comics have always featured characters like the X-Men, standing in for many minority groups including LGBT, for the most part characters and situations remain just straight enough not to make waves and often requires the reader to dig a little deeper to find the queerness.
Beyond is an anthology currently on Kickstarter hoping to bring queer, sci-fi and fantasy driven stories to a wider audience currently not catered too by most mainstream comics. With a clear goal to both represent LGBT creators and characters without the allegory, avoiding the cliches on both sides of the scale (such as the tragic queer figure or conversely, the only straight person on the gay planet) and to simply joyously celebrate these stories that rarely get told. The anthology is the work of eighteen stunning artists and writers, all working to create LGBT characters that go beyond the allegorical, with their characters taking center stage as the heroes, space adventurers and other sci-fi staples. When published, the book will feature 18 stories over 250 black and white pages, harking back to the early days of independent comics.
The artists and stories of the Beyond Anthology have been brought together and edited by Sfé Monster and Taneka Stotts. Both are also contributors, having a background in LGBT and queer comics through their own webcomic work. Although active for a few years now on other projects, the main bulk of Monster’s work has been in the last year working on his own genderqueer webcomic, Eth’s Skin. A fantasy tale set in “a different slightly different British Columbia” with raft cities. Centered around lead character Eth, it heavily features both non-binary characters and queer relationships. Alongside contributor and artist, Christianne Goudreau co-editor Taneka Stotts are the creators behind Circle, a sprawling fantasy adventure set in the world of Ves and also featuring LGBT characters.
Swiftly funded within the first 24 hours with over 2000 backers, Beyond shows that there is clearly an appetite for these stories among comic readers and a strong desire to see the spotlight focused on LGBT characters. The anthology is now reaching it’s final week on Kickstarter with Sfé, Taneka and the team working towards stretch goals to improve the book, include upgrades on the backer rewards and most importantly, paying the writers and artists more for their hard work.
Sfé Monster: We took Beyond to Kickstarter because I think it’s the best way to directly support everyone involved in the creation of the book, while allowing me to create exactly the book I had in mind when I first dreamt up the Beyond Anthology. It’s a lot more work, and a lot larger gamble, but luckily for me (and lucky for Beyond) the response has been incredible.
JK: Do you think it’s a tipping point for these kind of comics and representation in comics?
SM: If we’re not at the tipping point right now, we are getting so incredibly close we might as well say it’s a tipping point. The fact that a project like Beyond can not only succeed, but flourish (in every step of the project, from the open call for submissions, to collecting the stories, to crowdfunding the book, and to looking ahead to future projects), seems to me like proof positive that there is a market for this, and a group of people hungry for this kind of content- and, equally importantly, there are creators who want to tell these stories. The Beyond Anthology, for me, has been an example of perfect match-making: pairing the people who have always wanted to make these stories with people who have always wanted to read these stories.
JK: Do you think people will be surprised by the range of queer/gender queer stories and experiences presented in the anthology and do youthink it will challenge people’s perceptions on this area?
SM: I hope that Beyond will confirm a lot of things for people, and show those who don’t often get to see a reflection of themselves in media that they exist and are valid. Part of the selection process for stories to get into Beyond was that I didn’t want a book that only showed one side or segment of queerness, and while it’s impossible to make a book that includes only 18 stories that represents everyone, I feel we have captured a lot of elements that are really important and show a broad spectrum of individuals- both in the fictional setting, and in terms of the creators who made the stories.
JK: A while back you commented on twitter that you we’re happy just doing your own genderqueer comics, where as this project seems a very “set your stall out-show-em-what -we-got” kinda move, has there been a change in the way you feel about getting gender queer comics out there? What changed or was it a case of this being the right time?
SM: I feel like there are a lot of people with a lot of incredible, unique voices who- for whatever reason (being a minority queer creator/creating minority queer work) aren’t getting the attention they and their work deserve. I like the work I do and believe strongly in it, but I know I am one fraction of one element of a far larger queer spectrum of voices and creators. I don’t think I’ve changed my opinion, so much as I’ve expanded it to have a larger, less single-minded focus. Collecting multiple voices and working together on a project like Beyond allows us to make a larger, louder statement, and I think uniting under the Beyond banner creates a special environment where we can draw attention to the project, and in turn bring attention to our own stories and voices, and continue to grow and share and expand outwards with the same motives in mind.
JK: Do you think the creators involved are maybe more comfortable telling unusual or maybe difficult stories of this topic within a sci-fi setting?
SM: Yes and no. I think it’s impossible to divorce any story from politics and social commentary, but with Beyond I deliberately set out that we didn’t want stories that were difficult or painful in terms of coming out or understanding, or issues and instances dealing with bigotry and intolerance. I believe this created a safe atmosphere in Beyond for people to tell stories that exist in a world of acceptance and understanding for queer rights and identities. This means that the stories in Beyond that are unusual, or deal with difficult subject matter, are that way because of the settings they take place in, and not because they’re struggling to achieve a fantasy or sci-fi based analogy for basic human rights.
JK: Is there anything in particular that drew you to an anthology format, and was it based on a strong desire to make it a collaborative project rather than releasing your own work?
SM: I love the idea of an anthology because it’s such a great way to feature so many different and diverse creators together in one place. Collaborating with other comic creators, and working together to pool our voices and our stories means we can make something that is bigger and has a larger impact than anything we could do on our own, and that is such an exciting concept for me.
JK: Do you feel that a sci-fi/fantasy theme lends itself more easily to these types of stories, or maybe makes people more receptive to read about something in real life that is more unfamiliar to them (different genders and sexuality), or was it simply a love of the genre?
SM: It’s a little bit of both, to be honest. I think sci-fi and fantasy are the absolute best places to explore the concept of diverse gender and sexuality- they are both limitless genres where literally anything can happen, and the potential for all sorts of diversity and explorations of gender and identity are huge. There is a definite advantage that sci-fi and fantasy can allow for readers to more gently ease into what might be unfamiliar territory for them. For me, the most exciting part of Beyond was taking these genres I love but rarely see myself in, and making them completely focus on the representation and queer identities that mean and matter the most to me. It’s a love of the genres combined with a love for representation that makes for a really good and really special combination.
JK: Are there any stories among them that even as a creator of gender queer comics, surprised you?
SM: I was very pleased by how eagerly and earnestly the contributors to Beyond embraced diversity in all forms, not just limited to gender and sexuality. Every story in the book is included because they pleasantly surprised me (and in some cases: absolutely blew me away). There is a huge focus on family, and queer parents raising children, that I did not expect but absolutely love. Gabby Reed and Rachel Dukes have contributed a story that perfectly weaves together sci-fi and fantasy that I also adore. I say this about every story: but they are all so unique and nuanced- each and every one is exceptional.
JK: Are there any other comics out there that you would signpost as being particularly LGBT/gender queer friendly at the moment?
SM: Blue Delliquanti’s O Human Star immediately comes to mind. A lot of Beyond’s contributors create and post their own queer comics- many of them as webcomics: Dylan Edwards, Reed Black, and Brittney Sabo all make really wonderful LGBT/queer comics.
JK: How are you finding the experience of working with a lot of other creators, and on a printed project rather than a digital medium?
SM: It’s a constant learning experience, but a rewarding one, and I can’t wait for the printed payoff! I have a zine background and am used to collaborating with people to make printed zines and minis (way back in the day) so this is a bit of a return to that (albeit in a hugely expanded and far more coordinated way). I owe a lot to my assistant editor, Taneka Stotts, for being an incredible well of knowledge and information in terms of getting a book ready for print- I have learned so much from her in the past months, and would not have be able to get this book together without her.
You can back Beyond here.
We know only two things for certain of Jason Karlson; that he was born on the wagon of a traveling show to Latverian parents, and that tales of his origins are wholely fictional. His writing style is pithy and insightful, with hints of oak and red berry, finished with earthy tones and somber notes. If he were to describe himself in a single word it would likely be self-deprecating. He occasionally tweets over at @marfedfolf and rambles on at marfedblog.wordpress.com.