Do you think this comic addresses a youth audience, or is it a general audience but it's about young people?
Both. People who are gay and not in their teens definitely remember what it was like to be a teenager. And teens who are gay are of course living it. Both groups are able to take something from the story. We did originally have an idea for an adult team, but as time went on, we all realized our favorite characters were our teen heroes. It was tough at first, because each of us assumed the others on the creative team were totally set on an adult team. When I finally expressed my misgivings about the adult team to my editor, he expressed relief and said he felt the same way. Then the idea of reader characters came up, and even if you have adults in a Hall of Justice or whatnot, you just can't have a thousand people. But in a school, you can easily say this school has 2,000 students, it's a campus, and there are people everywhere. So it worked out well.
So what attracted you to this project? Are you a big comic fan? Or was it organically, like you said, because of the subject matter, it seemed to be a good comic book?
I love comic books but I have to admit that my preferred medium is animation. If I had the budget, I'd try to make Pride High into an animated series. That's the dream.
It sounds like this project has you really engaged and energized. And as it catches on, it will just keep propelling you forward. How much time are you able to give to it?
It's my second job. I don't get paid for it, but it's truly my second job. Every day after work, if I'm not lettering an issue, I'm marketing one. I'm constantly sending e-mails, checking in with contacts, sending free copies to various LGBT retailers and organizations, and just doing my best to stay in the public eye.
What was your reaction, I know you recently went to the YES conference.
It was great. There were 350 kids in the audience, some I think were younger than 13. There were even some middle school students. At first, some of the kids were hesitant about getting a copy, but once they realized it was free, the pile of comics quickly dwindled. During lunchtime, there was a whole crowd of kids with open copies of Pride High.
But normally you have to ship it, and they may or may not e-mail you or show up in the forums, but to actually see them experiencing in real-time has to be gratifying.
It was just amazing.
You're 31, and I'm 38, and I hate to be the old guy in the room, but it is interesting when I go on the site and they're like 14, openly gay and complaining they don't have a date. And it's like, 'oh, honey... this would have been a dream in the 80s or 90s for a lot of people, you've got it great.' There's been a whole seismic shift since then.
I'm blown away. I would have dated at that age, had I known other out gay boys. I was absolutely ready to date back then.
When did you accept things, come out?
I came out to a few friends in seventh grade, and then everyone else in my senior year of high school.
Was it a situation where the people you weren't out to suspected or knew?
Everyone knew. It was high school. Everyone knew everyone else's business.
And in college, it was just 'I'm out. Done.'
Yes, in college, I was just out. College was great, because finally I was in an environment where there were other gay people, and I could just date.
And, about the multicultural angle of Pride High... how do you make it not seem like the whole checklist of, 'OK, we've got the Asian, the black, the female, the Latino...
That's my life. I'm a black, Korean, gay, vegetarian geek. I don't think twice about creating characters that are members of several different communities at once.
Because it can become... like, I went to see Bill Clinton speak recently, they were clearly making sure they could get video to use in the campaign. And they didn't even file people in in order, they literally placed right behind him the black guy, the Asian woman, and the Hispanic girl, and then just filled in all the rest of the white people around them.
I see where you're going with this... I think it helps that the creative team is just as ethnically diverse as the main cast. The Latino character is Kid Mischief... and I hesitate to even say, 'the Latino character..." because his vegetarianism is probably more foreign than his ethnicity to many readers. Kid Mischief's creator, Carl Hippensteel, is half Puerto Rican and also vegetarian. Some people might think we started with a little checklist, but we just wanted characters that reflected something in each of us.
For instance, I love Indian food. My blog is full of Indian recipes. And though it started with just the cuisine, I later became deeply interested in the history and various cultures of South Asia. There was no way I was going to have a comic book and not reflect this important part of my life. And then there are random elements, too. The British film "Shaun of the Dead" is one of my favorites of all time. It's largely why a British character, Chip Cheetah, made the final cut when we pared down our original roster of ten down to five.
So, I think it's good to discuss it, just so it doesn't come across as a do-gooding element. Like 'We want it to be this way,' and if we don't delve into how it came to be, that could be the impression.
Good point. Hopefully when people read the story, they'll see.
When I read the first one, I don't recall it being referenced. It's just there.
It's referenced a bit. The main antagonist of the series, Kid Olympus, is both a racist and a homophobe. He's not a KKK member by any means, but his squad, known as the Argonauts, are the antithesis of the main characters. The five protagonists of Pride High are diverse in power, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. The Argonauts are all super-strong, straight, male, and all white, at least at first glance. However Kid Olympus, is actually hapa, specifically Chinese & Greek and was raised by his Chinese-American maternal grandparents. But as with high schools in the real world, being a popular jock often trumps all other identities.
Do you have any advice for gay youth?
The biggest thing is to just know that they're not alone. The isolation was the biggest trial for me. Had I known there was a much larger community out there when I was younger, things would have been easier.
Was this a small town in South Carolina?
Not a small town, but it was still South Carolina. There was a lot of negative feedback surrounding homosexuality. I just want kids out there to realize that it's a big world. There really are places where they can be themselves.
For more information on Pride High, go to Pride Comics