‘Rooster Tails’ Cartoonist Sam Orchard Documents Real Life LGBT Stories In ‘Family Portraits’ [Interview]
Sam Orchard has been making his webcomic Rooster Tails since 2010; a series of weekly autobiographical strips about life as a transguy in New Zealand. It's an honest, sweet, nerdy, funny, and charming insight into one person's experience with transitioning.
Orchard has expanded his canvas to look at the experiences of other queer and transgender people in his new book, Family Portraits, and he's turned to Kickstarter to crowdfund the book and an American promotional tour. Rewards include PDF and print copies of the book, postcards, art prints, and custom comics. ComicsAlliance spoke with Orchard to find out more about the project.
ComicsAlliance: How do you describe Family Portraits?
Sam Orchard: Family Portraits is a comic series with short comics that celebrate our diverse sexualities and genders. Each story is based on a real-life person, and is told in a different comic style: and the first two issues are just the beginning of the stories out there about how we live, how we love, and who we are. It celebrates the many different stories we have. I have been really lucky to chat with some amazing people to create stories that explore a range of topics, like what it was like to be in a gay relationship before homosexual law reform, and what it’s like to be a first-generation queer Kiwi from a migrant background.
This series is a first-of-it’s-kind in New Zealand -- as far as I'm aware - and it’s all about celebrating our lives, our diversity, and our selves.
CA: What's the significance of the title?
SO: When I’m out and about in the world my friends and I will often describe people as being "family" if they’re LGBT/Queer/Trans etc. So the title Family Portraits (which was a friend’s brilliant suggestion) speaks to that unspoken connection that is often shared when you’re out and about in the world and see someone who’s kin.
CA: Who are the audiences you hope to reach with this comic?
SO: I think the comic series is intended for a mixed audience. The first issue includes a Queer and Trans 101 comic, which is definitely intended as an info comic for people who don’t know much about gender, sex or sexual orientation. So I think the series will be useful as a resource for people new to this stuff, or for friends, families and allies.
However, I think the audience I had in mind when I was coming up with the idea for the comic was people like me -- people who wanted to see themselves reflected, to see their stories told. When I was a kid I looked everywhere for stuff on TV or movies that I could connect to, and feel like I was a part of, but I really didn’t find much, and so these stories speak to that gap. I think the more stories that celebrate our differences the better!
CA: Your webcomic Rooster Tails has been running since 2010. What distinguishes Family Portraits from that series?
SO: Rooster Tails is an autobio webcomic about my life, and is usually focused on me being a queer transguy. Family Portraits is a collection of short stories about other people; I still feature in the comic series, probably 'cause I’m a narcissist, but kind of as a book end between each of the stories.
So, it’s quite different. These comics are in longer form, so not just a four-panel strip, told using different comic styles -- in one comic I pay homage to Calvin and Hobbes-style comics; others I used superhero comics as an inspiration, etc. And they tell the stories from a range of perspectives, voices, experiences, and identities.
CA: Webcomics provide a great opportunity to expand the range of queer voices in comics. Do you think crowdfunding can do the same?
SO Yeah, definitely! I love the way the internet has opened up pathways for more nuance in creative projects. I think that webcomics definitely picked up on that very fast, and people began drawing their own comics wherever they saw gaps in mainstream media. And now, with the advent of crowdsourcing, I think there’s more and more avenues for people to make a living off these creative projects that embrace diversity, and also to build audiences, and projects that require a bit more of a bigger budget.
I don’t think that my comic series would ever get picked up by a publisher -- it’s queer and trans, it’s from New Zealand, a super tiny country, and it’s a color comic -- it’s only via the Internet that I’m able to get an audience at all. To think that I can ask the Internet for money and they would say, "Yeah, sure!" is kind of incredible!
CA: You've included an American tour as one of your Kickstarter goals. How do you think the queer comic scene in the U.S. might compare to your home in Auckland?
SO: Yeah, I’m so excited to come over to America! There are a lot of amazing queer comic artists over there that do incredible work.
New Zealand is a super tiny country, and Auckland is a tiny city compared to American cities -- and although we have an amazing bunch of talented comic folk over here, we don’t really have a comic "industry"; there’s no big two, or little two, or even tiny two -- there’s just a bunch of super passionate people who find creative ways to get their comics out into the world.
So, yeah, I’m super excited to come and explore America, and go to comic cons, and meet some amazing queer artists that I’ve admired from across the globe!
CA: What's your advice for aspiring queer comic creators?
SO: Tell your stories! Seriously, I think the more stories we have out there that celebrate diversity and difference the better. I’m so excited to see more and more queer comics popping up all the time, so if you feel nervous about putting it in the world, know that I’ll be super excited if you do!
You can pledge to Sam Orchard's Family Portrait Kickstarter here. To read more of Orchard's comics, visit his website, Rooster Tails.