I've been a little quiet of late, and I'd like to share the reason why. For the past few months, I've been diligently working away at "Torontovka", my one-shot comic for the Shout Out Anthology, and I am just know coming into the final stretch of that work.
Shout Out is published by TO Comic Press, and is described as a comics anthology for young queer readers, created by queer creative teams, with queer-identified teenage protagonists. The Kickstarter for Shout Out launches mid-November (I believe the Twitter page is most up to date as of writing this post, if you wish to find out more: https://twitter.com/shoutoutcomic)
It's a project I'm very excited to be a part of.
These are the kind of stories I wish I'd had access to as a child. The kind of stories that would, in a country like Russia, fall directly under the purvey of the draconian "gay propaganda law", born of the notion that queer people are not born, but rather "made" through exposure to "corrupt Western society" and that predatory older queer people are out to "get" children and "convert them".
Now the peculiar reality of being queer, whether that means you're transgender, bisexual, or any other combination of variants under the LGBTQ umbrella, is that unlike "membership" in other minority communities, such as ethnic or religious background, you're most likely to be born to a straight, cisgender family— that is to say, outside of the community you will eventually find yourself taking part in. Unfortunately, this also means that many of us who are a part of other minority communities, or else deeply religious ones, are pressured into making an uneasy choice. Do you prioritize your heritage and the community you grew up in (which may very well hold more "traditional", conservative views on the subject than the broader culture), hiding your true self all the while? Do you endeavor to live freely, even as you know this could mean becoming a "traitor" and distancing yourself from that community forever? What happens when you enter the queer "community" only to find little sense of community to speak of, or else end up ostracized within it for your religious or ethnic background? Do you have no choice but to settle for thinly-veiled "tolerance" from all sides when you know acceptance is not forthcoming? What if even tolerance is out of reach?
"Torontovka" is a story in the tradition of the urban horror genre that asks some difficult questions. It tackles such dark topics as the double-isolation of being simultaneously an immigrant within a majority culture and a queer kid in a predominantly homophobic immigrant culture. A story that examines how personal narratives can be shaped by that isolation, and how internalized fear and hatred can sometimes turn into something monstrous.
This has also perhaps been my first time writing and drawing a story intended for a younger audience (since I was at that age myself, anyway). I recognize that some might find these topics too heavy for younger readers to handle. To those people, I would like to pose a question. Are they too heavy when that same middle schooler you're thinking of is going through the very isolation I just described? When they reach out, desperately searching for something that resembles them, only to find nothing— and ultimately be forced to conclude that there is something deeply wrong with them? Who is prepared to take responsibility for their complicity in that deafening silence?
The adage "Be the person you needed when you were younger" has rung true for me in so many ways while working on this project. I still don't know the true origins of this phrase (having heard variations on it from many different sources over the years), but I do know how deeply it has affected me.
I hope that "Torontovka" can be that for someone, wherever they are.