Jennie Wood and Jeff McComsey have a Kickstarter going to support the printing of their LGBTQ indie comic Flutter, Volume 2. Jennie graciously agreed to an interview in which we talk about Flutter, diversity, backlash, hypocrisy, and Kickstarter.
Daniel Elkin for Comics Bulletin: For the sake of context, I think it best if we get the pitch and the plug out of the way first. To that end, how would you describe Flutter and what’s the aim of your Kickstarter?
Jennie Wood: Flutter is an LGBTQ indie comic about Lily, a girl who shape-shifts into a boy to get her dream girl. Over the course of the series, Lily learns that pretending to be someone else has its consequences and that being a guy comes with its own set of difficulties. She’s treated differently as a guy so we play around a bit with how society treats boys vs. girls.
The purpose of this Kickstarter is to raise the funds to print enough copies of Flutter to get it distributed into comic shops. Working with small indie publisher 215 Ink has been wonderful. They’ve used all their available resources to help spread the word about Flutter. However, the one thing we haven’t been able to do is print enough copies to work with a distributor to get them into comic shops. Now we’re releasing Flutter, Volume 2 so we’ll have two 100+ page full color volumes. We simply want Flutter to be available for anyone who needs or wants to read it.
Elkin: A girl who shape-shifts into a boy in order to get her dream girl is an amazingly transgressive concept, which brings up all sorts of questions about gender fluidity, sexuality, issues of power, and issues of community. While I imagine that you have a relatively receptive audience in the LGBTQ community, these are still seemingly seen as fringe topics in the traditional comic book audience.
Why have you turned to the medium of comics as a venue to explore these issues, and, as the Kickstarter is to get the book in more traditional shops, what sort of reaction or conversation are you hoping to spur within the more traditional comic book readership?
Wood: The medium of comics just felt right. The search for the best way to tell Flutter was a little like Goldilocks and those bowls of porridge. First, I attempted to write Flutter in prose, as a short story or even a novel, but it felt too flat, too static. Next, I played around with it as a screenplay, but couldn’t get the image of cheesy shape-shifting special effects out of my head. I was reading a wide range of graphic novels at the time so I decided to try it in comic format and it just clicked. I wasn’t thinking about anything beyond the best way to tell the story. I wasn’t thinking about how it would be received in any medium. I was just trying to get out of the way and let the story go in whatever direction it wanted to go.
It’s actually the reaction we’ve gotten at comic conventions about Flutter that has made me want to get it into comic shops. Comic fans have been extremely supportive. Part of that’s Jeff’s art. He captures the love story and teen angst of Flutter, but also the seedy underbelly that’s also going on – why Lily is the way she is, etc.
Jeff has a style all his own, but he also puts some great references in the work, too, and comic fans get all of it. I love the reactions and conversations at comic conventions over Flutter – the story, the art, the content, etc. Everyone has been so positive and encouraging. I think there’s a sincere desire for more diversity in comics, it’s not just a hashtag or trend. And the success of mainstream books such as Young Avengers, Ms. Marvel, and Sex Criminals proves that.
Elkin: I definitely want to talk about Jeff McComsey’s contributions to the book, but I want to pick up on your last couple of sentences first. While certainly there is a growing movement to see more diversity in mainstream comics, there is also an equally vocal backlash occurring. What do you think is behind this resistance to change, and how does a comic like Flutter address the concerns of those individuals?
Wood: With any a push for change, there’s always backlash. It’s in our nature to resist change. Change is uncomfortable and scary. People in an industry that’s changing become afraid of losing their jobs. With comics, people are attached to stories they’ve been reading for years, characters they’ve grown up with and there’s a fear of losing that.
One of the main characters in Flutter, Lily’s mother, is a Republican politician who is campaigning against same-sex marriage. Then she finds out that her daughter is gay. I wanted to explore that tension within her. But beyond that, I know people similar to Lily’s mother. It’s extremely important to have different viewpoints represented in our stories.
There are people in Flutter who are comfortable with the fact that Lily is a lesbian and there are people who are not comfortable with it. Lily is one of the latter at first. That’s part of her journey. I grew up surrounded by people who thought that being gay was wrong. Some still believe that it’s wrong. Those voices and viewpoints – even though I disagree with them – will always be in my work, as will LGBTQ voices and viewpoints.
It’s important that we see ourselves in the stories that we put out there. The push for diversity is this need, this desire to see ourselves reflected in comics. The push against it’s from those who fear that they’ll lose their place in it, their reflection. What we need to realize – and all of us need to realize and remind each other of this – is that there’s room for all of us in comics. The audience for comics is growing. At every comic convention I meet more and more people who are there for the first time, exploring comics for the first time.
Elkin: Comics as the “big tent”. I like that. I guess this concept goes both ways, though. If we’re, as we should be, pushing for greater diversity in comics, then isn’t it a little hypocritical for there to be outrage over “problematic” comics that may not be especially culturally sensitive? What do you make of the vitriol being hurled at publishers and creators who continue to tell the same stories they have been telling for decades? Are Comics creators like R. Crumb the enemy of progress now when a few decades ago they were seen as pushing the envelope? Or is this a red herring and an argument bred out of fear, endemic of a medium in the midst of a sea change?
Wood: Yes, I think it’s hypocritical. Publishers and creators are telling the same stories because there are still lots of people who want to read those stories – including the creators and publishers who tell them. My hope is that people can channel that outrage into making their own comics. Like that Toni Morrison quote – “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
If you’re not a writer and/or artist then support the stories that others publish, the stories that do resonate with you. Ignore the rest. I feel like outrage is a waste of energy. If something doesn’t speak to you than don’t waste your time, energy, and hard earned money on it. Instead create or look for things that do resonate with you. The argument / outrage is there because it’s easier to get outraged at what’s shoved at you, put right in front of you. It’s harder to create or look for something new.
Elkin: You’re echoing my sentiments exactly, and I think we’re living in a period where more and more people are getting into comics because, well, frankly, the barriers to access have been all but eliminated and the price of admission has been lowered so much. I, too, get the sense that many new comic creators are spurred by the fact that they don’t see their story represented in the marketplace. Since I’ve been writing about comics, the range of possibilities has become vast.
That provides an adequate segue back into Flutter. What, ultimately, is the message of the book? What ideas do you want your readers to consider and what do you hope they come away with by the end of it?
Wood: My hope, first, is that readers find it entertaining. On top of that, if it stirs any thoughts or conversations about how boys and girls are treated differently by society and how being treated differently affects how we look at each other and ourselves, that’s great. Flutter is dedicated to anyone who’s ever felt uncomfortable in his or her own skin. A lot of us go through that at some point, where we feel awkward in our body and struggle to know who we’re, especially in middle school or high school.
Some of us go through a time where we want a certain girl or boy to like us so we’ll try out for the school musical or the basketball team just to be close to them or to get their attention. Lily’s no different. I think the message of Flutter is that most of us go through that at some point – that struggle to be comfortable with and accept who we’re. I want anyone, everyone to be able to empathize with Lily and see that she’s really not that different in that aspect.
Elkin: You just got me thinking about what Willa Cather wrote in her novel O Pioneers!, “there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before “ – in this case, how the story of the “other” is really a story of ourselves.
Speaking of telling stories, for Flutter, you’re credited as the writer of the book and Jeff McComsey is credited as the artist. Is it as clear cut as that, or is the story of Flutter more of a result of collaboration? I’m interested in your process. How do you and Jeff work together?
Wood: It’s not as clear cut as that and I wouldn’t want it to be. Flutter is a complete 50-50 collaboration. With each volume, I spend about 10 – 12 months on the graphic novel script. During that time, I do set the script aside for breaks, so I can get some distance and come back to it with fresh eyes. When I’m close to a final draft, I share it with Jeff to get feedback. Then I send him the “final draft,” but we both know that nothing about that draft is set in stone.
From that point, Jeff spends the next several months on the art. He sends me rough sketches for feedback. During this part of the process, the script is altered based on things Jeff comes up with. For example, Jeff might draw a certain panel or scene in a way that less dialogue is needed or no dialogue at all. He might run an idea by me for a way to condense or lengthen a scene, depending on what’s best for that scene and/or for pacing.
This is also the time when what he’s doing with a character or scene influences the direction and future of the story. A lot of what happens in volume two, a lot of the character development is inspired by Jeff’s art in volume one.
Elkin: Really looking forward to seeing Volume 2. Any last thoughts on making comics, Kickstarter, sexuality, politics, or life that you’d like to leave us with?
Wood: First, thank you so much for this interview. It’s such a pleasure talking to you. And I hope you enjoy Flutter, Volume 2. As far as any last thoughts, just to reiterate what you said about the range of possibilities within comics being so vast. There are so many different paths for making comics right now. The key is to find the best path for each project. The best path for one project might not be the best path for another, etc. One thing I love about comics is that there are people doing stuff for major publishers and indie publishers while crowdfunding other projects at the same time.
There’s a lot of jumping back and forth. It’s cool in comics to do indie and to self-publish. There’s not the same level of stigma attached to self-publishing that you find in other publishing worlds. You also have indie publishers like 215 Ink who are looking to work with and nurture emerging creators and artists, first-timers. You don’t need an agent or a lengthy publishing history to get started in comics.
It really is a fantastic community filled with people who love comics, who are fans first. And that passionate fandom surrounding comics is why we get into such heated debates about diversity and other issues. There’s so much love and passion for what we do. I’m so proud to be a part of it.