12/2/2021 0 Comments
SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING OF ‘O HUMAN STAR’ LAY WITHIN. PLEASE APPROACH WITH CAUTION RESIST THE URGE TO READ SOMETHING ELSE OR TALK WITH LOVED ONES.
Folks, prepare your minds for a deep dive into the world of tomorrow. We got the opportunity to talk to Blue Delliquanti, the creator behind the hit webcomic ‘O Human Star’ and graphic novels like ‘Meal’ and ‘The ‘Stan.’ We sat down to discuss what the future after the recent conclusion of ‘O Human Star’ holds. We hope you enjoy— we certainly did.
J: When were you first introduced to speculative fiction?
B: I guess you could say childhood. I was always really into space. I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid, I loved space stories. The sci-fi side of spec fic, I’ve paid attention to for a long time and I guess that never really went away.
J: When did you first start making stories?
B: Again, I think when I was a kid. As a creator, I’m very character-driven. As a kid, that manifested as making lists of names I thought were cool and coming up with characters that suited the name. It was very, very a weird habit. One time, my fourth grade teacher found a list and read it aloud to try to find who made it. I was mortified, but I had to get the list back… *Chuckles*
I was interested in becoming an animator before I started pursuing comics. I had pretty good access to television in terms of where really cool animation was at the time. I think I was more adept at recognizing different animation styles by different people. A really influential animator on my work to this day is Gendy Tartakovsky, who did ‘Dexter’s Lab,’ ‘Samurai Jack,’ and other stuff since. I remember being really struck by his pacing. The way he paces stories is very distinct, and you can still see it in his work like the ‘Hotel Transylvania’ movies.
Over time, as I got more familiar with how animation works, I realized it’s a big team effort, which is fine, but I found myself more drawn to comics, which I feel achieves similar grandness of scale and narrative, but it’s something that a single person could conceivably do. I think it was kind of a combination of, “I don’t want to work with others all the time, I want to make my own things,” and it also being very interesting. I feel like that’s not uncommon, too. There are lots of people who dabble in animation, make comics, and go back and forth throughout their lives.
J: When did you first really start making your own comics?
B: I remember experimenting and getting used to it in high school. I made a terrible, terrible newspaper comic in college. It really did not work for the amount of times it was serialized or anything— in retrospect, I wanted to make a webcomic but did not have access to webcomic things. I just kept kind of picking away at it and figuring out the medium. Eventually, after I graduated college, I finally started working on a webcomic. I began making more friends and finding opportunities to do shorts for anthologies. Iron Circus plays a lot in terms of my career getting to where it is because I got the chance to contribute to a lot of their anthologies. Spike Trotman (who runs Iron Circus) really liked my work… To answer your question, I finally started seriously pursuing it after college.
J: Was it a smooth transition?
B: I guess so? I feel weird whenever people ask me for career advice because I think so much of my career trajectory was very ‘right place, right time’ and very personal. I feel like I had a really strong vision for what I wanted ‘O Human Star’ to be, and I had an idea of how webcomics work. I didn’t think it would be a big comic. (I mean, it’s not really a big comic, but it’s big enough.) I just put it on there and it slowly, steadily accumulated a readership. I managed to catch a wave of demand for queer comics and independently published webcomics. I was just very well-placed and timed with the story I wanted to do. I feel like it was a very organic development professionally and of readers and such.
I tried a lot of things. There were a lot of opportunities that I got to do with non-fiction comics and journalism comics that I wouldn’t quite say were my wheelhouse but I’m glad I tried it because the people I collaborated with were really cool and professional and I feel that I got to learn a lot about collaboration. I think I had a lot of lucky breaks. I’m not the best artist, but I try to be very reliable, and it turns out that being very reliable gets you a lot of jobs as pinch-hitters, so that helped me a lot.
J: How would you say that writing a webcomic is compared to other mediums of comics?
B: That’s a good question. Something that I am learning the distinction between more as I switch away from the webcomic schedule I’ve had for a long, long time and working on the graphic novel that I’ve been working on for the last year is that there’s a big difference between that instant gratification of working on a page every week, putting up a new page, getting feedback instantly vs structuring my story more broadly… I feel like I was able to stay relatively consistent with OHS because I did a lot of groundwork beforehand and the outlines stayed pretty intact, so there wasn’t so much flying by the seat of my pants or changing/reconsidering the scope of my story, the way lots of webcomics naturally do. But with a graphic novel, everything is behind the scenes until it isn’t— at the very end, when it’s finished. There’s a lot of chances for me to look at the shape of the story as a whole and be able to make more serious edits.
Another thing is that there’s much more editorial involved, in that I have an editor for my current graphic novel that I doid’t have for OHS. That’s a good sounding board that has a different kind of feedback to it than commenters. They’re a little more laser-focused, they can come with suggestions, they know where I want the story to go. There’s a lot of working in silence and not having feedback for a long time. I’ve been working on this current book since 2018 and nobody will even read it until early 2022. It’s just working for a long time and not being able to show much and being like, “I promise I’m working on something. It will be cool! I like it, I think you’ll like it too. Just trust me that I’m working on something!” *Laughs*
J: Can you tell us anything about this comic?
B: I sure can! It’s called ‘Across A Field of Starlight.’ It’s a YA-grade science fiction graphic novel. The best way to describe it is a kid from a Star Wars-style space society becomes pen pals with a kid from a Star Trek-style society. They stay in touch and they communicate with each other as massive galactic unrest threatens both of their cultures. I think it’s very cool. It’s very queer. I’ve got various pitches depending on who I’m talking to and how much they care. For some people, I’ll say, “This is a story about post-scarcity society and queer assimilationsism,” vs, “This is a space opera for middle schoolers!”
Somewhere around this point, our conversation became completely derailed by a splendorful miasma of nerdy bullshit. When we finally came to, the following exchange was taking place.
B: The idea of ‘O Human Star’ being a text by trans people for trans people as opposed to a 101 explainer for cis people… I find that very interesting. As I went on, I think I more explicitly intended that to be the case. I was not out when I started it— I wasn’t really even aware of what my deal was. I felt compelled to tell this story for some reason. I thought it was interesting in terms of science fiction concepts I was really interested in.
J: “I just think they’re neat!”
B: Yeah! But I was aware enough to know that it was about a marginalized sub-section of people that I should probably research more to make sure I do it right. Over time, reading more and doing that developmental research allowed me to interrogate myself more so that that shift from writing as an outsider to an insider happened.
J: Did you have the ending of ‘O Human Star’ in mind when you started?
B: Yes. I can confidently say that. I always had an understanding of what I wanted the basic skeleton of the story to be. There’s been changes and additions to that over time, particularly in the nature of the secondary characters. In the earliest outlines, I always knew who Al was and what I wanted to happen and what would be the ending for her. That always stayed the same; I just had no idea if I would stick with the story long enough to complete it. I knew enough about webcomics at that point to know that not everyone feels compelled to stay with the same story after eight or five or even two years. I just thought, “Well, I’ll just go with this for as long as I can and we’ll see what happens.” *Laughs*
J: How does it feel to have ‘O Human Star’ in the rearview mirror?
B: It’s very strange. It changed my week-to-week in a way that affected me more than I thought it would. The fact that I was able to see through it to the end and reach that conclusion I’d always wanted to and lots of people were still there for the ride was satisfying, but there is that slight melancholy with it being over or behind me. I’m trying to be aware that that is a natural way to feel and balance my life accordingly.
J: From your experience, how has the industry been treating queer creators and themes in comics?
B: I feel really optimistic about it. In general, the graphic novel industry has grown a lot, and most of the growth is in books for children and young adults. They understand how profitable it is because they’ve had creators like Raina Telgemeir, Dav Pilkey, who just totally changed the game. I think they’re noticing how much demand there is for queer work and have seen success in similar industries like animation and pop culture in general. There are lots of people who are in influential positions (editorial, acquisitions, etc.) where they are sympathetic and really interested in good queer work in general that they are making informed acquisitions and decisions. Not universally— they are still making lots of Queer 101 work, especially for kids. I feel like there is a demand and a place for works that go eyond Queer 101, especially for kids. I think young readers are ahead of the game in terms of acceptance and identity narratives. They’re sophisticated enough to say, “Ok, I know that I’m a trans woman. Can I get a job? Can I get healthcare? What does this mean for me being in society?” Radical requests for basic human rights. Giving children who are already pretty well-versed in identity narratives, having that be their next step towards developing as adults, is essential, so I thought about that a lot as I was thinking what kind of queer narrative I wanted this to be.
J: Do you have a favorite monster?
B: ‘Pacific Rim’ is one of my favorites. I love kaiju movies, I love robot movies. I got into the Pacific Rim community, which is small, but everybody’s very cool. That’s another example of a movie with a character who’s locked on as, like, a transmasc character.
J: It’s not Charlie Day, is it?
B: It is, yeah! *Laughs* That’s a character that lots of people who were coming at it from a transmasc angle really liked the character and did lots of speculating and fiction-writing. Of all things, that was a really good entrance to transmasculine ideas and concepts and work, and it linked me to other queer works. I have a friend through that fandom who’s a classic Turner Classic Movies-style gay. There were lots of people who had different interests like that. I got into Richard Seiken poetry and transmasculine artists. It got me into different aspects of queerness through this very weird point because of this completely metanarrative fan bullshit. I could not even begin to explain that to anybody who has not been in a community like that, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that that was very influential to my development personally.
J: Have you ever felt intentionally represented by a piece of media that you’ve read?
B: I feel like I’m a pretty standard kind of AFAB nonbinary person. I don’t feel like there’s a lot of particular complications to how I identify. Of all the nonbinary characters, of what there are on TV or pop culture, they probably look most like me. I feel like I would have a better chance than most to see myself represented, but again, I feel like instead I’m most drawn to characters who are played by cis men and done as cis men but the cases that have been put forward by people online in that metanarrative are more interesting to me. It would be fun if that narrative was canonized in a character eventually, but I don’t think that exists yet. Not for me, anyway.
J: What is it about science fiction that keeps you drawn in?
B: I really like that the possibilities are endless. There’s a lot of variations on the questions that it asks, the possibilities it suggests, style, tone, optimistic vs pessimistic… I just feel like there’s endless possibilities for what that means. I think there is an optimism in thinking about where things can go from here. Even if there are dystopian or pessimistic outcomes, just the ideas of imagining futures for ourselves is a really fulfilling mental exercise.*