GeeksOUT: From travel autobiography (That Time I Turned 30 in Greece), to historical narrative (26.2: A History of the Boston Marathon), to fictional friend groups (Duck! Vol 1-3), to superheroes (Silk), your topics have been widely varied over the years. What is the process for deciding what art topic will become a full-fledged project? Is your muse drunk or just hangry?
Tana Ford: Ha!
Just wildly imaginative, I hope!
The major factor that decides what ideas become fully realized books is just time. Working on a monthly comic is a heavy lift but it’s one that I really enjoy. Silk takes up almost all of my time, and when I am not working on Silk I’m toiling away on Duck! Third Time is the Charm –the third (and probably final) chapter of my lesbian books series.
GO: For the readers who don’t know, you are a well-decorated artist: Duck! won the PRISM Comics Queer Press Grant and Duck! Second Chances was a finalist for the Lambda Literary award. How did the spotlight from those awards impact you positively or negatively?
TF: Both experiences were deeply validating.
When you make comics (especially lesbian comics) it’s a niche inside a niche. So, to win the Queer Press Grant gave me a boost of self-confidence and a feeling of being seen that I had not experienced before.
In a very real way, that boost of validation (and queer art love) spurred me on to continue making comics and to follow my dream of being a comic artist. I produced a book a year after that: That Time I Turned 30 in Greece, 26.2 A History of the Boston Marathon, and then Duck! Second Chances all while holding down a steady 9 – 5 job.
So it can be done!
Duck! vol 1
GO: When reading Duck!, one of the things that stands out is how androgynous your characters are. Could you explain your artistic decision to render them in such a way? Does it make them more approachable to a general audience or does it run the risk of pigeonholing the characters into the “butch lesbian” stereotype?
I used myself as a model for Duck (partly because I didn’t know how to draw, yet!). The result is that the book has a very androgynous look. Not intentional, just one of those things.
When it comes to approachability and my audience I had not given those things a second thought. I knew that I wanted to produce a story about friendship and love and make it as authentic as I could. I wanted to reflect my lesbian experience as best I could.
From the upcoming Duck! Vol 3
GO: In a 2015 interview with ComicsAlliance, you said that most of the lesbian characters who were being portrayed in the media at the time you created Duck were “despicable” and that you could add your perspective to the “shockingly limited number of stories” available to queer women. Do you think that the American audience wanted to have despicable queer characters at the time? And was your book a rebellion against that?
TF: Well The L Word fucking failed us (can I swear in this interview?) and the way lesbians are portrayed in comics was both flawed and (I stand by my earlier statement) shockingly limited. Hothead Paisan (by Diane DiMassa) was one of the few lesbian comics I owned and the tagline to that comic is “Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist” --not really a reflection of my own reality.
And on the other end of the spectrum was Alison Bechdel’s wonderful Dykes to Watch Out For series. But that featured a cast of characters who were much older than I was (mid-40s) – and they were struggling to balance mortgages and raising children, while I was going out every weekend dancing, drinking, and flirting with ladies.
I wanted to read stories about that experience, and since there were none available to me, I decided to make my own.
So, Duck! isn’t a rebellion so much as it is an extension. Another sliver of the American lesbian experience at this moment in time.
Hothead Paisan and Dykes to Watch Out For
GO: Queer comics (or, I should say, comix) started as a transgressive art form--a way to give the middle finger to the “mainstream” audience who excluded their art and stories (due to the Comics Code Authority). As readers have demanded more authenticity from their comic worlds and a greater inclusion of queer characters, have we lost some of the punk nature of our roots?
TF: Maybe. Probably.
But if comix began as a means of achieving community and of sharing our stories in the face of oppression and hatred, has that narrative evolved now that queerness is widely recognized and to some extent normalized?
I think speaking one’s own truth is an act of radical engagement. And there is still plenty of that to be found in comics/x.
Perhaps the queer stories of today are less violent, less radical, less punk because being gay is seen as less punk?
I think that we can still find one another, create community, and tell our stories in much the same spirit as the early comix did. That’s how I found so many of my fellow queer creators, by googling queer comics and following their work. I highly recommend it.
GO: You spoke to me once about the “Ghost of Authenticity”. What do you mean by that?
TF: Oh, we could talk for days about the ghost of authenticity.
At the heart of it is the notion that my experience is different than yours, but that we can both have authentic human experiences. Is it possible, then, to dissect our divergent realities and find something “true” something “real” something “authentic” about our shared queer realities?
It’s good bar conversation (said no one ever.)
GO: Switching gears, how did you get approached to be the artist for Silk and how has the experience of working at a “mainstream” publisher differed from publishing independently?
TF: After the Sean Murphy Apprenticeship Program (google it) I emailed some of the editors at both DC and Marvel to see if they had any openings for new artists. I had sample pages from Café Racer to show, and some other finished work that I was trying to get traction with. Duck! Second Chances was just announced as a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award so I included that in the emails I sent around. Maybe that helped my work stick out from the crowd? Or perhaps I seemed serious about the business of art? Whatever it was, it worked. One day Sana Amanat from Marvel emailed me back and offered me an issue of New Warriors #9. I did a little bouncing around after that but when a spot opened up on Silk Marvel gave me my shot and I haven’t looked back.
From Marvel's Silk
GO: From talking to you at Flame Con, it became evident that you have a huge spot in your heart for Silk’s supporting characters Lola and Rafferty. Non-powered characters in a superhero comic are often discounted by the fans as window dressing--what makes them a vital part of the book in your opinion?
TF: I love seeing female friendships in any media. But being able to draw such a friendship inside the Marvel U, knowing that the audience for this book is as hungry for representation as I was when I was a child, heartens me tremendously. Lola and Rafferty are Cindy Moon’s best friends and they happen to be in a happy, committed, interracial lesbian relationship. WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE?! They talk sense to Cindy, support one another, go adventures together and are every bit as essential to this world we are building as any of Cindy/Silk’s super-powered friends.
From Marvel's Silk
GO: Did the head honchos at Marvel actively encourage you to tap into your queer creativity, passively accept it, or discourage you from leaking your queer all over the pages?
TF: All my Marvel editors are overworked but utterly wonderful. (I’m looking at you Nick, Devin and Allison!) No one has ever discouraged me from expressing my vision of Cindy Moon’s world but neither have they encouraged me to –how did you put it? “Leak my queer all over the pages.”
GO: Did you know you don’t even have a Wikipedia page?! It tries to autocorrect to “taga fort” which (in case you were wondering) is a former castle in Japan that was established in the 8th century. Your Deviant Art page hasn’t been updated in a year, your blogspot hasn’t been updated in two, and your cholesterol is slightly higher than I’d like to see. How and where are the children supposed to find you?
TF: You’ve torn back the curtain of my shame!
I am FINE with not having a Wikipage. “Taga fort” FTW!
The Ruins of Taga-jo
I’m not entirely a Luddite, though.
If you’d like to see (or purchase) my Silk pages you can check them out at Geoff Martin Art Sales (How reasonably priced, you say!) (I also do commissions, I say!)
And I’m rather active on Twitter @tanaford
That, and my Facebook page: Tana Ford Designs are probably the best places to keep up to date on my happenings.
I also do an ASOIAF podcast with my friend Dave that you can check out called Westeros Wheneverly
So see? I’m all over the internets.
All of my creator-owned books (including Duck! and Duck! Second Chances) are available digitally through Northwest Press, which is a wonderful queer publisher that you all should be patronizing. Vote with your dollars friends!
What lies behind the "curtain of shame"? These two.
GO: Tana, it was such a pleasure to chat with you today! Thanks for taking the time out of your day.
TF: Thanks so much for having me, Jon! I look forward to accosting you at some future show, Mister Tullyman.