In case you don’t follow me on Twitter, or even if you do: here’s the complete-and-expanded version of everything I wrote about Leif & Thorn for the #LGBTWIP question meme this month!
May 1: Introduce yourself!
I’m Erin Ptah, overworked & underpaid lesbian. I have well-managed depression, several webcomics, and a weakness for time-travel stories & vampires. (Separately or together, either’s good.)
May 2: Pitch your WIP
Leif & Thorn is a cross-cultural fantasy m/m romance w/a big ensemble cast. Really big. Current arc-in-progress sidelines most of the regulars, to focus on Hamilton with magic reincarnated lesbians.
May 3: Your MC in five objects
Leif in 5 objects: gardenia bush, pruning shears, cozy knit sweater, behavior-modifying microchip implant, discreet scarf.
Thorn in 5 objects: healing gem, ceremonial two-moon lamp, broadsword, burn compression garment, cat.
May 4: Share a line that best captures your WIP’s atmosphere.
“Oh! I mean — that wasn’t related to the thing, it’s just — I really don’t know what wombats are.”
(See, it sounds like general culture-clash comedy, but in context it’s anti-authoritarian subterfuge AND culture-clash comedy.)
May 5: Does your book focus on being queer and its experiences (coming out, etc)? Does it hardly come up at all? Or is it somewhere in the middle?
Perks of fantasy cultures: you can give them whole new viewpoints & categories. Leif & Thorn is a big exploration of how each culture’s mindset shapes the characters.
So it’s about the “identities that don’t always map 1:1 with English-language labels” experience.
There’s no in-universe expectation of heterosexuality, which means the characters wouldn’t even think of “coming out” as gay or bi/pan in a way that’s distinct from “coming out” as straight. The strip does have plenty of the experience of falling in love (and/or having sex) in various gender combinations. Also, plenty of navigating relationships when you’re a marginalized person, just not in gender- or orientation-related ways.
(Queer polyamorous-relationship navigation is an experience that I would like to explore more…but haven’t had time to yet, because this strip takes multiple years just to maneuver the first 2 characters into a relationship, let alone 3 or more.)
There’s also very matter-of-fact understanding of trans people, so there’s not a lot about the trans experience of struggling to have your gender accepted by the people around you. (Except in the flashback about Imri, because things weren’t as easy 200+ years ago.) The trans experiences of dysphoria and medical needs are still around, and those do come up occasionally.
The currently-written strips include at least one intersex character and one grey-ace character, which you probably wouldn’t guess at this point because none of the relevant experiences have come up at all. In both cases they’re slated to get some panel time eventually…but it might be a while.
May 6: All art comes from somewhere. What inspired you? What pushed you to create this story and make it uniquely yours?
True story, if you go back far enough, the inspiration was Colbert Report fanfiction. No prizes for guessing which of the fantasy countries started as an extended parody of Fox News.
May 7: Is the protagonist based on you?
Armed with the information in the previous tweet, it shouldn’t be too hard to deduce who Leif & Thorn are (very very loosely) based on.
May 8: Why do you love this WIP? What about it just made it click for you? That this was the story you had to write?
It lets me do aaaaaany kind of story I feel like.
Magical-girl adventure! Vampire romance! Utenian swordfights! Awkward teen crushes! PTSD hurt/comfort! Time-travel paradoxes! Gay dating shenanigans! Cave memes! A full-on musical! Literally anything.
May 9: Do you consider your WIP to be #ownvoices? How do you feel about the term?
The closest the comic gets to #ownvoices is all the detail taken from research into my own Swedish/Norwegian family history. Like, this strip is based on the church (now a historic site) where my great-grandfather was baptized.
A lot of this is research I never would’ve done if I hadn’t had the comic as motivation, which is really fulfilling. Even got to take a family trip to Oslo, and I still refer back to those photos all the time.
(I like the term, btw. I wouldn’t want anyone to take it as “you shouldn’t write about a marginalized group you don’t personally belong to.” But it’s worthwhile to look for stories about underrepresented people by writers who are working from personal experience.)
May 10: Are there scenes in your WIP where queer characters talk about their identities? Think about them? Mull over them, question them? Hell, do they explicitly name their identity? Post a snippet!
A knight and a secret agent discuss deadnames as part of pre-swordfight banter.
If this counts: a mixed-race knight commiserates with a person who’s been reincarnated in a different ethnic group, and on top of that has to catch up on 50 years of language shift.
Nonbinary embassy guard complains about the local language’s pronouns.
Sneak preview of an info page where Thorn explains his language’s words for sexual orientation. (They’re not supposed to be better or worse than the English-language categories, just…different.)
May 11: What’s the one thing that could convince your protagonist to join the dark side?
If Leif fell in love with someone manipulative enough, he could be groomed into the dark side’s most dedicated servant.
Thorn might do morally questionable things to protect a loved one…but that’s as close to evil as he gets.
(What could make Leif & Thorn characters go dark, organized by heartsword type.)
May 12: Talk about your antagonist!
A partial selection of antagonists:
– Self-taught magical boy who thinks he’s entitled to date a woman because she smiled at him
– Mine owners who cut costs at the expense of worker safety
– Sexy vampires who just want to eat in peace
May 13: Who’s your protagonist’s soul mate? Is it the love interest, their best friend, or someone else entirely?
Well, Thorn’s soulmate is his cat.
There are no traditional-romantic-human soulmates in this universe. And yes, I realize that’s a strange thing to say about a comic where the main characters were literally brought together by prophecy. (Them falling in love was not actually the goal — it’s just a helpful building-block on the way to something bigger.)
May 14: What part of your WIP are you most excited to write? What part are you most excited for other people to read? What are you just HYPED for??
So many backstory reveals I’m looking forward to. Kale! Leif’s parents! Acai! The Woman in Black!
Readers have come really close to guessing some of them…on the other hand, there’s one link nobody’s noticed that I didn’t even intend to be a secret.
May 15: What’s your ideal cover?
Also very much a WIP, but I like this layout:
May 16: What scares you most about your WIP?
You know what, none of this is scary.
It’s so far from being my first work – I already know I can come up with ongoing plots, draw the panels and write the jokes at a steady rate, develop new characters that I care about, research new topics and portray them in a way that people find relatable and engaging, anything else the story needs. It’s just a matter of putting in the hours.
May 17: Time for tunes—post a link to your protagonist’s theme song and explain why.
I jumped right past “song” and made a whole playlist.
May 18: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve had to research for this WIP?
Not sure if weirdest, but the coolest stuff I’ve researched is the geology. What happens to the climate when your landmass is a single supercontinent? How do the tides work on a planet with two moons?
May 19: It’s always fun when a book shocks its writer, not just its readers. What line did you write that surprised you as you wrote it?
I keep reverse-shocking myself. I’ll come up with a great bombshell to drop on readers…5 storylines in the future. Then by the time it arrives, I’ve written a bunch of other stuff that makes the original scene redundant/non-canon-compliant/irrelevant.
May 20: Are you jealous of your protagonist?
I’m jealous of some of the characters’ skills – Leif’s singing, Thorn’s athleticism, both their second-language fluencies – but I sure do not envy either of their massive amounts of life trauma.
May 21: Has working on this WIP changed you in any way?
Wouldn’t say the writing itself has changed me, except in the sense that it’s an ongoing source of joy and fulfillment. It’s the ongoing conversation with readers that really makes things happen.
May 22: How do you handle queerphobia in the setting of your manuscript? Is it a (mostly) homo/trans/etc-phobic world? Or is diversity celebrated and embraced instead?
Well, let’s put it this way…
In the main countries of this world, same-gender couples are unremarkable, and sex-related dysphoria is seen as a medical condition to be treated without stigma.
In Ceannis, most things aren’t even strongly gendered. (Bathrooms are all gender-neutral, for instance.)
Which doesn’t mean it’s a flat featureless social utopia. For instance — Tamapoa has a well-accepted third-gender role, but it doesn’t cover all nonbinary people, it just makes some of them nontrinary. Ceannis has an assumption of default-bi instead of default-straight, which is less confining for gay people, but still not exactly right. And so on. I didn’t want to create a perfect or sanitized world.
It’s just clear of the logical fallacies that create the major biases against real LGBT+ people. So when it has problems, at least they’re refreshingly different.
May 23: Post your characters’ pride flags!
Since their whole framework of sexual orientation is askew from ours, I’m copping out on flags. But have a portrait of the trans characters in their closest-match flags’ colors.
Plus a relevant cast portrait from the (real-world, mostly) But I’m A Cat Person.
May 24: Post the scariest/darkest line.
Reader-nominated darkest lines:
Leif thinks about how it’s “an honor to be chosen” to almost die from vampire-bite blood loss; vampires admonish a human not to interrupt when “the non-food are talking.”
Magical stalker threatens to drown a bunch of hostages, blames it on the woman who won’t go out with him. (Don’t worry, a couple of teenage girls are about to take him out.)
Dry, technical, encyclopedic description of what turns out to be magic-induced aversion “therapy.”
Characters trapped in a collapsed mine, cut off from all contact with the surface, cope via dark humor. Although one of them might not be joking.
Not a line, but a scene (warning, flashing GIF): Thorn has a gruesome flashback in the middle of a fast-food restaurant.
May 25: Who should play the main character in a movie?
I’d rather have an animated series than a movie, so no faceclaims.
No voiceclaims for the main cast, either…but if @StephenAtHome could play radio-pundit Bennet and @oliviamunn could be pie-loving President Romarin, I’d be over the moon.
(And if anyone reading this knows of actors who look like any of the characters…send recs! I can always use more good real-world references.)
May 26: I gotta ask—what’s the queerest moment in your WIP?
A solid candidate for queerest moment: a couple of bicepsexual characters are briefly stunned to the point of paralysis while watching two attractive people swordfighting.
This scene is simultaneously Most Gay and Most Bilingual.
Possible candidate for trans-est moment: that time a slouchy goth recently-out trans boy changed his name 3x over the course of one storyline.
Moment of most concentrated queerness: Rowan has 5 dates (4 other men, 1 transmasc nonbinary person) crammed into the same strip.
May 27: If you could tell your protagonist one thing, what would it be?
Leif: you know all those things you trained yourself never to question? Start questioning them. Maybe have a talk with Katya, she knows what’s up.
Thorn: you can’t rescue someone who isn’t ready to be rescued. (Yet.) Just keep supporting him, and hang in there.
May 28: Are any lines in your WIP particularly hot? Sexy? Sensual? Post em!
There’s a bunch of sexy NSFW stuff relegated to a separate 18+ site. Hasn’t been updated for a while. I should work on that.
May 29: Do you feel like you’re breaking ground with this WIP? Do you feel like you’re filling a niche with this manuscript?
I’d love to live in a world where #LeifAndThorn was not breaking ground, but there’s a real shortage of daily SF/F LGBTQ comics out there.
Between my own reading list and followers on Twitter, here are the others we came up with:
Skin Horse (6 strips + 1 art post per week)
Questionable Content (5 strips per week)
…aaaand that’s it.
If anyone has recs for more comics that fit the bill, please comment with links! Self-recs entirely welcome.
(To be clear, I’m thinking of Cast Full Of Gay situations, as opposed to “it has a couple of LGBTQ characters,” which is at least a slightly wider field. It also gets wider if you leave out “daily” — for instance, But I’m A Cat Person is LGBT-cast-heavy, but only updates twice a week.)
May 30: What is your absolute FAVORITE line in your WIP?
Asking for a single Favorite Line is a fool’s errand. I’m not even gonna try.
But I will say that one of my favorite characters to write for is Kale, and this scene includes all the reasons why.
May 31: Wrap-up day!
I was going to just flat-out copy all the answers I put on Twitter, then I spent a bunch of this afternoon expanding some of them. And then peppering artwork throughout the resulting walls-o-text.
The whole thing was a ton of fun to talk about. And if you have questions about any of it, by all means ask in the comments, because as we move on into Pride Month I’m happy to keep talking.
Re daily LGBTQ comics: Dumbing of Age fit?
I also mentioned sci-fi/fantasy, and from the description it looks like a realistic slice-of-life college strip. But if that’s wrong, please tell me! (I used to read the artist’s earlier comics, so I know he’s done sf/f before, but I drifted away from them and then didn’t even start on this one.)
My bad, I forgot about that bit, sorry.
“Oh this is similar to QC and updates everyday!” oops :p