Austen Crowder

Transgender Comics: Interview with Erin Lindsey

Filed By Austen Crowder | August 03, 2009 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media, Transgender & Intersex
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I know I covered Venus Envy on this column before, but I wanted to let everyone know that the comic is about to start updating again. It just so happens that I recently interviewed the comic's creator, Erin Lindsey, about the webcomic. Coincidence? Well, yes, but it is mighty convenient in any case.

How did Venus Envy come about?

Venus Envy was a happy accident. I'd been thinking about starting a web comic off and on, but could never get anything to stick in my head. At the same time, I belonged a trans support mailing list called Antijen (http://www.antijen.org/). Someone on the list posted a few of Matt Nishi's cartoons about the funny side of being trans, and I loved them, but they were mostly from the FtM perspective. So I drew a few cartoons poking fun at the MtF transition. Those evolved into the very first VE strips.

After that, the characters just started churning in my head and this little universe developed. It's funny, because I'd never had much exposure to dramas: I never watch 90210 or Picket Fences or Seventh Heaven growing up, but the characters just sort of fell together into this story that was a little weird, but by-and-large just about relationships and everyday situations.

Why use both a transgender male and female as principle characters in the comic?

Zoe is the central character, and while she's fun and interesting, the basic concept of transsexuals is a little alien to most people. Larson is there to provide a rivalry and counterpoint to Zoe, sort of like holding up a mirror so we can see both sides of transition and alienation.

Egad, that sounds pretentious.

Mostly, Larson is there because Zoe spends a lot of her time scared and alone, and she needed a big brother type so she didn't become this unrelatable superwoman who can resolve every emotional issue without any help. Larson's actually been in transition longer than Zoe, and his personality is a lot more calm. He's really the one person around who understands what Zoe's going through. And then I thought it would be hilarious if they didn't really like each other that much.

I hear you're not a fan of Venus Envy being called a "teen drama." How would you classify it?

I don't HATE the term 'teen drama,' I just hate the baggage that comes with it and constantly fear that VE will slip into the drama deep end and become totally ridiculous. I've already done a "very special episode" on rape; if I end up doing another one where Jesse gets hooked on drugs while the girls make a music video, I'll shoot myself.

I like to think of VE more as a romantic comedy. It has its serious moments and horrific scenes, but in the end, I always want to come back around to a joke. It would probably fall into whatever category you'd put "Buffy" in. Without vampires. And before everything turned painful around season 5.

Do you have a favorite strip?

I get a big kick out of Phil and Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius. And like most bitter, disaffected people of generation X, I enjoy Something Positive; it warms my blackened husk of a soul. I also enjoy the weird, random ones like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Perry Bible Fellowship, and PartiallyClips.

My absolute favorites are comics of the book variety, though. My favorite is Bone, but I also love Fable, Top 10, Powers, Sam and Max, and Strangers in Paradise. They make me happy to be a creative type ad they're the goals I reach for.

Where do you get your ideas for the comic?

All over, but mostly from the characters themselves. Most of the plots grow out of other plots, or from wondering how Zoe or Larson or Lisa would handle X situation. Usually the characters take over from there and I end up with a surprisingly coherent story out of it all.

What's the quirkiest aspect of running a webcomic?

I'm not sure there are any quirky aspects to running a webcomic. You draw the comic, you punch your editor in the nose and scream about "creative freedoms" and "stifling" when he tries to correct your spelling, then you publish the comic. Then you have another gin and tonic and count your money.

I read in a previous interview that you prefer working online to publishing print comics. Why is that?

That was probably in reference to the comic I self-published a few years ago, and primarily because it was a long, painful, expensive project that went nowhere. I prefer working online because it is a much simpler process. You put the comic online, and if people are interested, they come by and see it. No need to distribute or move through a printer or lift heavy boxes or fumble with postage. It's much faster and simpler, and is accessible to many more people than printed comics would be.

You haven't posted since December of last year. What are we in for when you return?

Yeah... that.

Well, the series was on a back burner for a bit while I've been trying to find some stable footing.

When we come back, I'm hoping to tone down the drama a bit once the current "end of the year" stoyline is resolved. There are some fun things over the summer in store for Zoe and company, including family visits and a cross-country trip. And an old friend will come back, misinterpret things, and then hilarity will ensue.

There will also be a whole new site design, utilizing all I've learned from the Art Institute of Seattle, as well as new wallpapers and merchandise in the brand new store.

If you're comfortable sharing the information, could you tell us a bit about your own transition experience?

I don't know that my story is much different from most younger transitioners. I went through the "Traditional Transsexual Backstory #3" of knowing something was wrong, putting a name to it, finding out change was possible, and dressing up in secret. In high school I was tall but also very thin and fine-featured, so I occasionally went out with my friends as a girl. Just to prove I'm a bad influence, I actually went fulltime once I started college, before I ever saw a therapist or started hormones. The overall experience had its ups and its downs, but obviously I survived, and with enough funny stories to start a comic strip.

Has your connection or relationship with the transgender community changed since you began writing Venus Envy? If so, how?

It has, partially because of VE and partially because we all change as we get older. When I first started understand that I was queer, I was far too shy and self-conscious to actually take part in community activities. A very political gay man at my college actually chewed me out once for not being more involved, which actually just drove me further away. I did, however, get very involved in the online community. I ran a support/information site for two years before starting VE and joined the aforementioned Antijen mailing list. I made a lot of friends on both.

In the years since, I've withdrawn a bit. The drama that usually accompanies transition can be exhausting, and while I've met some amazing people through my comic and the trans community, I have also stumbled upon more than a few creeps, perverts, and worse who have made me very happy that I lead a private life. There's also the fact that I seem to have developed into a sort of celebrity within the trans community, and that doesn't sit right with me most of the time; I'm a screw-up, and the last I want people doing is admiring me.

What is the most important thing you want people to take away from reading Venus Envy?

Overall, I just want them to have a good time reading the story. It's always heartwarming when I hear from a "mundane" person that they've learned a lot about transsexuality, or from a young transsexual that VE gives them hope. But I'm not out trying to change the world.

Who wins in a fight, Batman or Spiderman?

If Spiderman and Batman fight, nobody wins...

Except Spiderman.


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