A Queerer World: Blue Delliquanti Dishes On LGBTQ Themes And Insect Cuisine [Flame Con]
Blue Delliquanti's webcomic O Human Star, about queer family drama and resurrection amidst a robot revolution, is now in its fourth year. During that time it has received the Prism Comics Queer Press Grant, and nominations for both the Ignatz and Lambda Literary awards.
Delliquanti recently announced plans for a new graphic novel, Meal, starring a chef on a quest to establish insect cuisine as truly the bee's knees, coming in 2017 from Iron Circus Comics. ComicsAlliance sat down with Delliquanti at Flame Con to talk about queer comics and food shonen.
ComicsAlliance: What does it mean for you personally to be at a convention like Flame Con, that focuses on queer creators and queer fans?
Blue Delliquanti: It’s one of those things where the conventions that I go to typically already have a really strong LGBT/queer contingency, so it’s that vibe times a thousand — where everyone is there, you feel like you don’t have to clock someone and be like "they’re probably there for this or they would probably enjoy that," or this is their time to be themselves in this certain way. To realize that everyone is there for that, and everyone is on-board with this fun time, is really exciting.
I’m really looking forward to having more chances to be in spaces like that. Not that indie cons aren’t great, but it’s really fun to be in that space specifically for us, and to have everyone be that excited about that space.
CA: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s a way for people to know for sure that they’re safe and welcomed here.
BD: Exactly, exactly. And the way the administration, the organizational staff, has committed to safety ... has been really, really nice.
CA: You’ve built your comics career on the self-publishing side of things. You’ve been doing O Human Star for the past four years?
BD: Yup, four years.
CA: Is that roughly the beginning of your comics creating career?
BD: Yeah, pretty much. I had a few anthology pieces from 2011, but, prior to that, I was in college, so I was mostly just doing stuff for me. And I didn’t start publicly putting out things [until] around right before O Human Star.
CA: And what’s the journey been like from then to now?
BD: It’s one of those things where I’m kind of amazed things happened as quickly as they have, where I look at my career and realize that it could not have existed as it has now, even like ten or maybe even five years ago.
All of these resources available to me to help make my work pay for my life and make it work for me is kind of astounding. Things have come together relatively quickly for me, and I get to experiment and try a lot of great projects that were kind of beyond my imagination when I started out.
CA: How has both your process and the story changed for you? With story, not necessarily in terms of plot, but in how what you planned changed over those four years.
BD: When I started the comic, I knew exactly how it would end, I knew most of the major event points, but I sort of had to grow everything else beyond that initial skeleton as I worked on it. I sort of write it on a chapter-by-chapter basis, so there are a lot of side components and characters that have fleshed out considerably as I draw them, as I get to know them and like them and be like, “I want to draw more about them,” and realize they can play this wider part in the story.
And also, I feel like a lot of the themes I was originally pushing for and wanted to hint at in the story, I become more familiar with them or I get a more three-dimensional view of all the implications of what I’m talking about in terms of queer representation or artificial intelligence and technology — what it’s like to be in that community of people.
In a way, the technology and robotics community of O Human Star is a rough equivalent to the comics community, so sort of how my position changes in that in my relation to my friends and colleagues, it kind of changes how it approaches that imaginary community in O Human Star.
I feel like it’s increased and enhanced but also matured a little bit.
CA: Obviously robotics is a huge part of O Human Star. Did you have a body of knowledge for it before you started, or is that something you had to do a lot of research getting into? Or both?
BD: I was always really interested in robotics, and it was one of those things where I had passing knowledge with how it worked. In a way, I was departing from how robotics and that industry functions in the real world. I kind of wanted to have it follow the path of the single person who’s given this weight and identity as being the core figure in a technological development. Which we frankly see more of in other technological things like the invention of Apple. Robotics we don’t necessarily have that so much, so making up this figure and how that community would rally around them is interesting.
I have learned, as I’ve worked on it, that the world of robotics and artificial intelligence is in itself way queerer than I thought it would be. There is a millionaire, her name is Martine Rothblatt, she basically invented Sirius Radio, she’s like a bajillionaire, and she’s a trans woman and she is interested in developing artificial intelligence, so she commissioned a robotics company to create a robot that’s basically the bust of her wife, named Bina. She looks like Bina. And she's got the artificial intelligence capacity that would be equivalent to a three-year-old child — you know, basically the most advanced we have so far.
So just, coming across these kinds of stories and sort of like all these LGBT figures on the edge of artificial intelligence and all these advances in our world kind of helps reflect on what I’ve been doing and realize, "Yeah, there is sort of a queer edge to that world." And they do go well hand-in-hand together. It’s interesting how they sort of reflect each other the more I look into it.
CA: That dovetails perfectly into what I was just about to ask! I was wondering if you felt themes around robotics and artificial intelligence and queer themes themselves — if they are a match for one another. Was that something you knew of, going into it?
BD: The funny thing is that when I started developing O Human Star, I hadn’t come out yet. I didn’t really know what my deal was. And it wasn't through doing the research, because I knew I definitely had to do research on trans people, trans issues, and what the process is through transgender identity things, and the more I became educated about gender and sexuality and stuff, I kind of figured out my deal a little better.
It was one of those things where things I was fascinated with made more sense as a result. The more I began listening to trans creators and trans artists — their own interests in science fiction and film and things like that — there are definitely figures and auteurs and creators who pop up again and again, like the Wachowski sisters are one of them. It’s one of those things where a lot of people really zoomed in on The Matrix and later on, as they kept working, people started going, “Oh, that’s why.”
And there’s lots and lots of other figures like that too. I just feel like that there's that combination of ideas that are very conducive to how trans people think about themselves in the world and how they want to be in order to be safer or happier — that meshes very well with science fiction, especially cyberpunk and artificial intelligence.
CA: O Human Star, in my opinion, is one of the several successes in terms of queer creators and stories finding success through self-publishing. Why do you think webcomics and self-publishing is such a popular, fertile space for marginalized creators to tell their stories?
BD: There are fewer gatekeepers to start out. There’s one of those things when you have Patreon and you have Kickstarter where it’s mostly just a matter of being prolific on a social network site and getting a lot of eyeballs on your work, that’s really, after a point, all you need.
You don’t necessarily have to make it for anybody who’s considered a tastemaker or someone who’s marketing your work. Because I didn’t think that anyone would be super interested in trans robot family drama besides maybe a tiny niche audience who would understand what I was trying to do. And the sheer interest beyond what I’d even imagined from the start, that’s helped. And that their interest and patronage has fueled my career, basically, is kind of amazing. And I feel like that’s just happening to multiple people who are putting their interests and big stories they want to tell out there, and realizing that it reflects for a lot of other people too.
CA: Regarding comics creators --- specifically even the marginalized ones, who look at the gatekeepers in the traditional venues of building a comics career --- do you have any advice for them when starting out in self-publishing or webcomics?
BD: I would say the main thing is, try not to tailor your work to satisfy someone saying, “Why doesn’t your comic have ‘so-and-so’ type of person or type of character in it, why don’t you do this? I don’t really like this aspect of it.”
As a developing creator, you want to be open to constructive criticism that will help you, but it’s also one of those things where, when there are so few voices like yours in the world, what you want to reflect in yourself out on the world takes the priority because people want it and they need it. And you’re the one who knows your story best.
CA: Your upcoming graphic novel, Meal; what was the genesis for — okay, actually, let me rephrase. I have a pun in here and I want to get it out.
Your upcoming Iron Circus Comics graphic novel Meal focuses on a chef who wants to get people — including her girlfriend — into eating grub with grub. What was the genesis for the story, and do you have any bug cuisine recommendations?
BD: To start off with the origins, I have been interested for some time in insect cuisine and all of its multiple forms around the globe. I started trying them — there’s a trip I took where I got to try it, and then I became interested in seeking it out more, trying recipes myself — and I realized that interest meshed very well with a comic genre that I find very appealing, which is the Japanese manga genre of — all I can think of is “food shonen.”
It’s basically this overly exaggerated hero’s journey that takes place through a medium that includes food. The one I think of off the top of my head that’s so good is Drops of God, which is all about wine. This guy is the son of a wine critic, and when his dad dies, he has to seek out these legendary wines, so he can get access to this fortune. He starts out as the layperson stand-in, and he has to learn all this wine and gain an appreciation for it and meet all these eccentric characters who are way more experienced in it than him. I love that genre and I love the way it manifests itself with different food. So I wanted to try that with something I find genuinely interesting that I’m kind of a wacky person for liking, but kind of pass on that passion in a comic.
As for recipes, the thing that I make frequently is mealworm curry. You can get mealworms that are either chili flavored or there are some that are packaged with Cancha corn — like, corn nuts. And if you make it with a super easy curry mix, it’s so delicious. Especially in the fall.
CA: Where can people get mealworm?
BD: I get it from this San Francisco business called Don Bugito, they'll mail it out to you. But lots of Mexican, Oaxacan cuisine uses mealworms and also grasshoppers and crickets. So if you are anywhere with a super strong Mexican food contingency, you’ll probably find it somewhere.
CA: And my last question: what would you like to see from the industry — however you define that — in terms of supporting both queer creators and queer stories going forward?
BD: I would like to see more people who have been able make it in the industry selling their own stuff being supported and offered stories with the bigger companies. The thing I feel has the most room to grow is all-ages stories. And we’re starting to see it.
But I feel like [we have to give] queer creators the chance to tell stories that reach kids and young people especially, in a way that we can start introducing these ideas to kids early and be told, “It’s okay, you can be awesome and have all these cool stories and be ace or be non-binary gender or be a little gay girl.”
Being able to hand the reigns over to people who were kids growing up with these, and tell these stories, but also make it more than an after-school special; I think that’s where we have the room to grow, but there’s also things in motion already to make that happen.