All Hail Queen Sasha! The season finale of RuPaul's Drag Race season 9 was powerful, with four incredibly competitive queens fighting tooth and painted nail to be America's Next Drag Superstar. Throughout the competition, season winner Sasha Velour stood out as grounded yet dramatic, charmingly classy, and one of the most creatively ambitious queens to ever set stilettos on the runway. Having met Sasha (Steinberg) at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE) in 2013, and witnessing her creative forces then, I have been #teamsasha from the beginning. What many Sasha Velour fans might not know is that her talent entered the world of art and entertainment through beautifully realized self-published comic books. What fans will be disappointed to know is these comics are no longer available for purchase through the artist, and the works discussed here are near impossible to find. It is time, then, for Geeks OUT to show you how the House of Velour began its formation in funny books!
Self-portrait of Sasha from 2012 (All images courtesy of Sasha Velour)
Sasha Steinberg received a bachelor's in Modern Literature from Vassar College, and then moved on to the graduate program at The Center for Cartoon Studies. His particular area of interest was evolving queer literary autobiographical comics, and he found inspiration in the Stonewall Riots. This produced a thesis work, a comic series titled Stonewall. Sasha only produced three of the proposed issues, all debuting at CAKE, and they represent some of the best queer alternative comics.
Cover and interior page from Stonewall: Miss Venus
Sasha created fictional characters who represented attitudes of the era, and arrived at the Stonewall Inn the night the riots occurred. The almost mundane stories leading up to the riot illustrate how normal these people are facing extraordinary circumstances, and their potential for creating a revolution. Sasha shows just the beginning of this historic evening where the patrons of the Stonewall aligned to express the power and fury of their marginalized queerness. The art and design is detailed and lovingly rendered. Even the paper is of a high quality.
Stonewall: Miss Venus #1 and #2 introduce a group of drag queens and transsexuals, but focuses on the young Venezuelan Miss Venus, who wishes for the comforts of a home in the suburbs. For now, she has to tangle with other queens who either pray to Santa Barbara, or sneak drugs and want to go dancing. It is they who have just spent time mourning Judy Garland's death the day before, and who would then erupt into violent defiance at the hands of the police. The sequence beginning the riot is riveting, and I can only imagine how Sasha would have continued the interpretation. Stonewall: Mark #1 introduces a young male taxi driver, Korean War veteran, and photographer who is immersed in the seedy underbelly of New York and would be the lens through which the riots would be recorded.
Sasha's backmatter mentions that the art for Miss Venus was largely inspired by subversive female comic artist June Tarpé Mills, known for the comic Miss Fury. The illustration style in Mark is distinctly pulled from Guy Peelaert, and I sense a little Peter Max in there as well. The stories are moving, explosive, and humorous, showing an accomplished storyteller. This level of accomplishment, reverence, detail in communication, and authoritative knowledge of queer history, is imbued in Sasha's performance and styling in her drag career.
Panel from Stonewall: Mark
In 2015, Sasha would completely own her Velour persona, the "glamour terrorist" who steals as an art form, in the comic Sasha Velour #1. The book, proclaiming "The Dawning of the House of Velour," is a collection of short form comics Sasha published in magazines and an anthology that wouldn't be seen in one place otherwise. One story, "Sasha Velour Goes to Walmark," depicts the drag persona we know spreading fantastical queerness at a Walmark by emitting a transformative energy from a crystal ring. The artwork shows a departure from Stonewall into boundary pushing psychedelia only hinted at in Mark #1. Each story shows Sasha as the creator of narratives that encompass revolution, drag history, mysticism, and a marvelous wit. For example, some things I know about Sasha Velour:
- has been a cabaret performer, a sex worker, a student, a drag queen, a revolutionary
- has seen it all
- is an alien from the planet Quorzen
- made entirely of crystal
- drives a mini-van
- can manifest words into reality
- is good humored but pissed
Cover of Sasha Velour #1 and page from "Sasha Velour Goes to Walmark"
Sasha's comic reach is wider than the books examined here, and can be found for purchase. She has short form comics in anthologies Queer, and Maple Key Comics. For Queer she created the previously mentioned "Sasha Velour Goes to Walmark." For Maple Key Comics, she contributed a seemingly serialized mystery comic about queer club kids in New York titled "The Disappearance of Pepper Stein," and designed the cover to #4. She also co-edited an anthology called Queerotica with fellow graduates of the Center for Cartoon Studies.
Sasha's Tumblr holds many secrets, including Sasha's comics she's made for magazines, including one for Cicada magazine titled "Life is a Drag", which introduces the best drag name I've ever witnessed: Untitled Queen. Sasha has also done similar work for magazines Suspect Device, The Nib, Dog City Magazine, and InkBrick Magazine.
Several of the above shorts are reprinted in Sasha Velour #1. Of all the comics mentioned here, Sasha Velour #1 is the one I wish all of Sasha's fans could own as it is autobiographical of the history of the Velour character herself. The dripping bright red lips on the cover harken to Rocky Horror Picture Show, and echo Sasha Velour's own signature blood red lips. Let's hope Sasha's prominence will inspire her to reengage with comics, and that this is made available again sometime soon. She proclaims to change the world through drag, but comics are a popular form of disseminating important messages too.