A Conversation with Activist and Author P. Kristen Enos

On October 17, the Kickstarter campaign was launched for Active Voice The Comic Collection by P. Kristen Enos, subtitled The Real Life Adventures Of An Asian-American, Lesbian, Feminist Activist and Her Friends! The title comes from a column Enos wrote for the Blade Newsmagazine in Orange County, CA from 1994 to 1998. She described what it was like being an out and proud lesbian Asian-American while navigating hostile territory in the corporate world and life behind the “Orange Curtain,” a conservative backwash between the more progressive cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. I got the chance to have a phone conversation with her last week to talk about it further.

This seemed apt, since Enos wanted the audience to feel like reading this collection would be like a “dinner conversation.” “I very much put myself in the shoes of the reader,” she said, choosing each story because people would find it interesting.

The volume is illustrated by four artists from three different continents: Casandra Grullon and Beth Varni from the United States, Leesamarie Croal from Scotland, and Derek Chua from Singapore. This was not a deliberate choice on Enos’s part. Instead, she made an open call for submissions from artists, making it clear that this would be a “labor of love.” She looked for a range of styles, and a versatility that approached a “more comic strip” sensibility. “I looked over what [the artists] were capable of, and chose what would fit.” She didn’t factor in any demographics. “I don’t know if any are LGBT,” she admitted with a laugh.

Enos is familiar with the comics medium, and did not give original columns of “Active Voice” to her collaborators. “I wanted to give them stories that had never been columns,” she told me. “About one fourth [of the stories in Active Voice The Comic Collection] had never been columns.” For example, the story “Above and Beyond” was written as a collaboration with Heidi Ho, an Assistant Professor at University of San Francisco School of Law, who ran a “weekly rap group” at UC Irvine’s Women’s Resource Center in 1989. “I was sorting things from memory for a first draft and would have four or five revisions.” She started with a “skeleton script,” which led to “proposal sketches” from the artists. “We offered lots of feedback to each other before the final inks.” Enos did the lettering, and it was all digital. “I wanted there to be a good balance of art and text,” she said.

Working from memory did have its drawbacks, as Enos discovered when she scripted one of the stories based on a previous column, “The Quilt at U.C.I.” about the debut of the NAMES Project's AIDS Memorial Quilt in Irvine in 1990. “The story was finished and the script was sent off,” she explained, but she had forgotten about how she had fought against an attempt at appropriating the AIDS Memorial Quilt for a quilt representing student organizations. “Thankfully I was able to rewrite the script before Leesamarie [Croal — the artist for that story] had done much work on it.”

This story in particular highlights part of why Enos thinks activism is so important. “People don’t know” how they may be hurting other people. They may have good intentions, but remain ignorant of how sensitive a subject is. That’s why she sees activism as an “opportunity for discussion.” She tries to raise “awareness of another way of looking at something.”

I asked about her legacy of activism and how that makes her feel. “I definitely feel a sense of pride,” she answered. “My friends and I did something, contributed to something concrete for future generations that was meaningful for the time and place, but it was a stepping stone.” She recently interviewed Las Vegas queer youth and learned that “personal struggles are very much there.” “It Gets Better is not that old,” she added. “People still have issues standing up for themselves; there is still suicide…A lot of change has happened in thirty years, but racist homophobic adults are still out there.”

"Yes, this is the model photo for the cover" according to the Author Biography

Enos said the ultimate message of Active Voice The Comic Collection is “you can’t live your life expecting the worst-case scenario, but you won’t know if you don’t try.” “You don’t know how people will react.” She further explained, “You have to realize who your allies are…stand up for at least yourself, and give people a chance to stand up for you if you can’t. Give them a chance to be allies, especially if they are in a position of power.”

She has had a table at both Flame Cons and thought they were well put together. “I was impressed with Geeks OUT and glad [they] reach an audience and fill a need.” She singled out the intimate atmosphere at Flame Con as praiseworthy, noting it’s easy to feel “lost at mega-cons.” She is familiar with that, having created and moderated panels at San Diego, including "LGBTQ Year in Review" (which included Geeks OUT’s own Amber Garza) and one on Queer Imagery in Animation.

What’s next for P. Kristen Enos? In addition to Active Voice The Comics Collection, she’s working on a graphic novel for her comics Web of Lives and Web of Lives: Demons and focusing on the arts as a creator. “I’m not interested in journalism,” she said. “I’ve been there, done that.”

Active Voice The Comic Collection will be 120 black and white pages. Besides physical and digital copies, other rewards for contributing to the campaign are a packet of zines created by Enos earlier this year as a way of continuing her column and signed bookplates from her collaborators. The cover is a full-color illustration by Archie Comics artist Dan Parent. The foreword for the volume is written by Joseph Amster, a journalist and former editor of the Orange County and Long Beach Blade Newsmagazine. The Kickstarter runs until Wednesday, November 16 and has a goal of $3,000. I strongly urge anyone to give as much as they can and enjoy this book!

Devin Whitlock's picture
on November 8, 2016

I've enjoyed comics since I was ten years old, but won't reveal how long ago that was. I'm a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago, and can usually be found at a local bar with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. I'm so happy to be contributing to Geeks OUT!