Nonbinary Creators Project · Queer comics

Nonbinary Creators Project: Emily Helen

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Hi there! I go by Emily Helen on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. I identify genderqueer (sometimes either end of the spectrum, sometimes fluid, sometimes agender). Got a BFA in sequential art at SCAD Atlanta, and still in Atlanta with my partner and my cat named Nugget.

What do you do? (Write, draw, edit, publish, promote etc.)
How did you get started doing that?
Write, pencil, ink, color. I work as a freelance inker and have a webcomic.

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(Cover art for music album, more info here!)

What was your first comic to create? Why that one? First to read?
Technically the first comics I read were the Sunday funnies, but I think my work was most informed by webcomics I read in high school. As a little kid I loved Captain Underpants and Calvin and Hobbes, and for awhile I drew a weekly gag strip about a superhero named “Super Guy.” I pretty much didn’t get back into comics until I got ahold of manga in middle school, then I came across Tessa Stone‘s work on deviantART and it was the first time I really felt like comics was something I could do for a living. I did have a webcomic for a couple years that I scrapped because people were actually reading it an it was a total pile of crap.

Any current or upcoming projects we can find you on?
I’m currently working on a book called “My Riot” with Oni Press slated for release in 2018. It was announced last month. I also write and draw personal projects, and I have a short story in the Sweaty Palms anthology, which is due out around September. The only thing I’ve had published so far is my Fried Pie Con exclusive variant for Rick and Morty #14.

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Favorite inspiration, collaborators, other professionals you’ve worked with if any?
Dav Pilkey had an immediate influence on me when I was little. As I kept drawing, Eiichiro Oda’s work on One Piece had an influence on how I think about environments. Then Sarah Stone and Tessa Stone. As a professional, I’m inspired by the work of Jason Latour, Noelle Stevenson, Craig Thompson, Tradd Moore, and Jillian Tamaki.

Anyone you’d like to collaborate with some day? Why?
I’m awful at talking to people I admire, but I always thought I’d have “made it” if I worked on a project with Tessa Stone. I also would love to work with Mariko Tamaki’s writing.

Favorite genre to read? To work in? Are there any you won’t work in?
I’ll pretty much work in anything I think, but to get really specific…I love supernatural themes and stories set in the late 20th century. “My Riot” is set in the 90s and doesn’t have any supernatural elements in it, but it’s got punk rock, which is just as good. I don’t want to write anything off but I can’t see myself working on a major superhero title like Batman or Spiderman. I just don’t have the backlog of understanding to get it right.

Have you ever faced adversity/discouragement for being nonbinary in your field? How did you overcome it?
Discouragement for sure. The team I’m working with at Oni was very excited to have a “women-led” team on this OGN about Riot Grrrl stuff, and it took some finessing on my end to come out and say I’m not strictly a woman. My queerness has informed my worldview much more dramatically than my biological sex, and that does change my perspective on the book. Even though I have neutral pronouns on social media and talk pretty openly about my gender and sexuality, I’d say I still get referred to as “she” 99.9% of the time. Which is fine. But it’s a big part of my identity that’s totally invisible to others, and that can be hard to deal with sometimes.

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Coolest moment you’ve had as a creator?
I think it’s rad that a peer linked me to this survey and it wasn’t strictly questions about gender. But in general, I think the coolest moment was when one of my old professors invited me out to dinner with some of the pros who were in town for a SCAD networking event. I was the only person there who wasn’t a professor or a special guest.

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(SCAD portfolio here!)

How do you think the current comics industry is toward those outside the gender binary, and to the concept of gender in general? What can we do to improve it further and create a safe space?
I think the audience is still wrapping its head around the idea of cisgender women being in comics, but, you know. Baby steps. The best thing to do is to give jobs to qualified non-binary artists and make sure it’s known. Oni Press reprinted Wet Moon with Sophie Campbell’s correct name, made it a special edition, and it’s just a beautiful, beautiful book. Everyone was talking about it when it came out. That was a very exciting moment for me, because I feel like the higher-ups are open to these changes and are listening.

Who are some of your favorite/most inspirational characters to read? What about in other media (novels, TV, movies, pop culture)? Why?
Spider-Gwen was a game-changer for my view on mainstream comics. Maybe it was because she was in a punk band, maybe it’s the way Jason writes her, maybe it’s because it was a big “fuck you” to her fridgy fate – maybe it’s all three – Gwen captured my heart. When it comes to TV and movies, I’m a big fan of a good ensemble piece because you get the most variety of perspectives on the same issue. I really really like characters that are different from me in some key way because I use stories to learn about others (and this is why I feel it’s so important to have diversity in creative teams.)

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What do comics mean to you?
When you want to get close to a creator, find the comics they make. Comics is the ultimate visual narrative medium because it can be fully executed from start to finish by a single person. There’s a lot less intervention from big money, which means artists can get a clear message out there.

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(Read Kodama here!)

Advice to other nonbinary creators in the field?
Whatever has worked best for someone else might not work best for you. But it’s a good idea to keep an inner circle of peers that support you and are willing to back you up in an altercation. When you’ve got bigger things to worry about, it’s so nice to have a friend bear the load of correcting others on pronoun usage.

What are you currently reading?
I’m pretty much caught up on Paper Girls, which is the only floppy series I’m on top of. Just finished reading the Luther Strode series, and still digging through Love and Rockets. Something I’m eagerly waiting for is the final issue of Loose Ends.

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Interested in participating in the Nonbinary Creators Spotlight project? Use this form! Find other nonbinary creator spotlights here!

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