The Good Men Project sits down with Dylan Edwards, graphic novelist, to talk about his book, “Transposes,” which tells the stories of seven gay transgender men.
GMP: Has it always been your goal to draw comics for a living?
DE: I tried my hand at a few comic strips when I was very young, seven or eight years old. I created a strip about a horse and stole most of my gags from “Peanuts.” I was a kid imitating the things that I liked. They were crude, in pencil, very tiny. I had a fantasy that I would submit them to a newspaper and they would publish them. I remember having a conversation with my mother in which she tried to tell me gently that eight-year-olds don’t get jobs drawing comics for newspapers. That was my first timid foray into the world of comics.
I grew up in Dallas and went to the University of Texas in Austin. My college job was working at a comic book store. UT didn’t offer classes specific to comics, so I studied a lot of figure drawing, which is central to comic art.
GMP: Are you a full time artist?
DE: I make a living as a self-employed person. I do graphic design as my daily bread and butter. I don’t make a living purely from the comics or the artwork. About half of my time I spend on graphic design and the other half dealing with administrative and promotional stuff, with a sliver left over for art. Depending on whether I have a project pending or not, or if I have a show coming up where I’ll be selling my Feeping Creatures monster figurines, I’ll crank up production on them and make them for hours every day. Other days, unpacking the suitcases that have been sitting for a month is the priority.
GMP: What is “Transposes” about?
DE: The topic is queer identified FTMs (for many different definitions of FTM) which is a very tiny group of people. It’s a subset of a subset of a subset. I interviewed seven people for the book. What became clear from the interviews was even when we’re talking about this tiny group of people, within that group the variations from person to person are astounding. I wanted to highlight the deep diversity and rich experience of each person, by showing this very small slice of their lives, to figure out how they define themselves.
GMP: Where do you find support as a queer cartoonist?
DE: Queer cartooning is a small world. The chances that any queer cartoonist knows any other are high, one or two degrees of separation at most. It’s not necessarily insular, because that implies it’s hard to get people to pay attention to you, which is not true, but it is fairly well connected. A lot of people go through Prism Comics, which is an organization dedicated to supporting queer comics. It’s been around for ten years now, so if you’re starting out as a queer cartoonist, and you’re googling around, trying to find out “how do I promote my work?” you will find them. It’s easy to get involved with them and once you do, you meet all these people who are interested in seeing who is new in the field.
Part of my drive for creating is to do stuff that hasn’t been done before. I always like to explore aspects of characterization that haven’t been done to death. I like to explore aspects of queerness that aren’t really part of the mainstream. At the end of the day, I do things that I find entertaining. My interests are outside the mainstream so it’s not surprising my characters are, too, in various ways. When Bechdel was doing “Dykes to Watch Out For,” she would be criticized for having an unnaturally diverse set of characters. It’s pretty unusual to have that much racial and gender diversity in a little community of dykes. Her reaction was, I thought, very cogent and excellent: maybe that’s not what most communities look like, but having been someone who knows what it feels like to be invisible, I don’t want to impose that on others for the sake of verisimilitude. “How terrible! It’s too diverse!”
I thought, how can I include aspects of people who might feel marginalized, might feel kind of invisible? There are so many people doing comics that if you want you can find anyone doing anything, but that doesn’t take the burden off each creator. There’s a wide world out there. It’s great to have more than one thing representing a marginalized group.
Tabling for Prism Comics, once, at a conference, a girl came up to us: she was about 13-14 years old and Black. She asked for comics with out, black lesbians in them, and we had more than a couple to show her. It made me think in terms of how will I be ready to answer this question when a young person comes up and says, “I need to see myself in media, I need to know I’m not all by myself out there.” How can I help them feel like they’re not completely alone in the world? You can’t necessarily create representations of everyone, but you don’t have to make your characters all look like stock images from a gay mag ad.
GMP: In her foreword for “Transposes,” Alison Bechdel writes, “The medium of comics is perhaps especially appropriate for stories about people for whom appearance is such a pivotal issue. It’s really kind of staggering how many degrees and styles of masculinity Edwards limns in these pages.” Can you talk about how you draw your characters?
DE: Cartoonists all draw themselves to some extent. If you know what the cartoonist looks like, go look at their work and unless they’ve worked really hard to eradicate it, you always see them in their work. Bechdel usually models for herself, takes photos of herself in poses. You can see how many of the characters have the same body type as her. Steve MacIsaac draws very burly bearish men. Ed Luce deliberately draws characters who look like himself and his friends. So it happens, whether people are self aware about it or not. Who you see in the mirror every day is the body you’re most used to looking at, so when you go to draw something, you draw yourself. There are characters I draw who wind up kind of looking like me. Often unintentionally. People will ask if that was meant to be me and it wasn’t.
Artists will also use a kind of shorthand that becomes their style. You need to be able to make a character consistent and recognizable from panel to panel, so you develop a particular way you draw eyes and noses. Look at Love and Rockets and how Jaime Hernandez has a way he tends to draw a woman’s face. Though his characters have a lot of diversity of race and age and appearance, there’s still a current of similarity.
GMP: Has the publication of “Transposes” been a coming out process for you, personally?
DE: This is the first time I’ve come out to a lot of people about being trans. I don’t think about it very much in my day-to-day life, and I still have a strong, clear preference for being taken as male without any qualifiers. I still don’t tend to introduce myself as trans socially. It’s not the first thing I want people to focus on about me. It invites questions I don’t feel like answering. Professionally, it was a situation where writing a book like this does beg the question, what is your relationship to the material? There wouldn’t be a way of not coming out without actively being deceptive or at least coy and annoying and evasive. If I were reading an interview with me I would want to know and I think honesty’s very important. I think it does more good to be honest. I don’t know what it gains to be closeted when I’m talking about a book about trans people to say it’s all good and fine but I won’t come out.
It’s a different world to navigate from being out as gay, because if you’re not out as gay and people assume you’re straight, they’re reading you incorrectly. If you’re not out as trans but you’re passing as the gender you want to be perceived as, then you’re not being deceptive. You’re a guy and everyone’s treating you like a guy. Coming out as trans often confuses people. They say, “Wait, I thought you were a guy but now I found out you weren’t born as a guy, so does this mean you’re actually a woman?” You have to say, “No, you were right the first time.”
This book is a drop in the bucket toward that greater understanding of trans people.
GMP: Are the stories in “Transposes” all true?
DE: They’re all true. I fictionalized details to preserve anonymity. There are some composites of tertiary characters, changed names.
None of the stories are about me. One difficulty I encountered is that I would have no choice about coming out. Anyone whose privacy I wanted to protect I couldn’t, as a fictional character, because everyone in my life would ask, “is that supposed to be so-and-so?” Then it’s not just me who’s not anonymous, it’s my family and my ex-boyfriends who aren’t anonymous. Obviously, this is not insurmountable. Alison Bechdel does work that is not at all anonymous but she has a different comfort level with the kind of exposure that results from that level of openness. It’s possible in a few years I’ll feel comfortable with that level of exposure. I have thoughts of writing something autobiographical, but for this book I thought it worked better to have everyone in this book be anonymous. Some people might choose to come out later on, but others will prefer to remain anonymous. I will not pressure anyone.
GMP: What does it mean to be a good man in the 21st century?
DE: The people I think of as being good men are people who are very good at listening to and understanding the experiences of people who are different from themselves, and taking those experiences at face value without trying to impose any other context on it. Just letting other people’s lives wash over you and listening and really trying to understand where they’re coming from. It doesn’t make everyone that you listen to great or sane or doing what’s right for themselves but when you spend a lot of time listening you will develop a better understanding of the human condition overall.
Listening will help you be a better ally. And allies are hugely important for the advancement of rights for everyone. The guy next to you who hasn’t been practicing being a good listener is probably going to hear about the problems specific to being queer or trans or a woman or a minority, and he’s going to be dismissive about it because he hasn’t experienced those problems. When you, as the ally, call him out on that dismissiveness, when you say, “No really, this is what the world is like,” he’s actually more likely to listen. And it will begin to sink in.
Images courtesy of Dylan Edwards