Kathleen Jacques’ ‘Band vs. Band’ Makes Nostalgia Gay Again [Music Week]
Gosh! Don't ya ever wish you could go back to simpler times, where milkshakes and ascots and groovy tunes made life the cat's pajamas? Well, fold up your fictional feline fashion, friends, for decades past were never so simple for marginalized folk.
Luckily, Kathleen Jacques' webcomic Band vs. Band captures years of ace aesthetic and kooky kitsch with none of the exclusion. There's just super style, boss band battles, and a killer crescendo of gay romantic tension. Tune in to ComicsAlliance's conversation with Jacques for more.
ComicsAlliance: What was the genesis for Band vs. Band? And what genres and inspirations does it build from?
Kathleen Jacques: Back in 2010, Band vs. Band started out as a few pages that I drew just for myself, just for fun. I wasn’t originally planning to expand it into an ongoing series…but I fell in love with it, I'm still having fun with it hundreds of pages later, and I’m so glad that other people have connected with it too.
One of its biggest genre inspirations is the band comics and cartoons of mostly the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Jem, Josie and the Pussycats, and The Archies are particularly iconic and influential, but I also just love how a lot of series had bands (and sometimes only in an occasional or secondary way!), and how cartoon bands in general have developed some particular genre tropes and visual language associated with them.
I was also personally interested in creating something really unapologetically feminine in style and centered on gay female characters. In a lot of ways, it started as me just trying to make the kind of comic I always wanted to read.
Incidentally, I’ve been happy to see a wider resurgence of interest in girl band comics over the past few years, including fresh new Jem and Josie…and that’s made me think harder about what it is I’m doing, how it’s evolved, and what makes it a different animal than its influences.
The comic is also a bit of an attempt to capture this magical feeling I’ve always had about the concept of bands, and especially the pure, raw, goofy enthusiasm I had for it as a teenager. Bands are my favorite way to assemble characters into a team. There’s just something great about a few regular (or, even better, irregular) people joining together creatively to make this shared entity with its own name and basically its own mythology.
CA: What’s it about?
KJ: It’s about two singers with clashing bands: Honey Hart, leader of the sweet, peppy, moralizing Candy Hearts... and Turpentine, leader of the noisy, dirty, troublemaking Sourballs. They start out as adversaries with a barely-concealed mutual attraction, and gradually fall for each other. It’s full of band-related misadventures, friendships, rivalries, and silent music that I absolutely encourage anyone to try to sing while reading.
CA: Who is the intended audience, and do you suggest any age restrictions or content warnings?
KJ: Age-wise, I’d say teens and older. It’s got a jokey “gosh darn it to heck” stylistic wholesomeness that means no nudity and no swears, but it’s a world that definitely has sex, smoking and drinking, and other kid-unfriendly stuff.
I should clarify, though, that I don’t think the focus on LGBTQ characters and relationships is something that inherently makes it adult content. I’ve always particularly wanted it to feel like a friendly, welcoming fictional world for LGBTQ readers.
CA: Members of marginalized groups don't get to access the past with the same nostalgia that more privileged folks do; with great aesthetics comes great baggage, unfortunately. Your super-femme and super-queer comic, however, repurposes that entire aesthetic in a way that's positive and inclusive. Was that a conscious goal from the start?
KJ: Yes, absolutely! When I started the comic, I'd been thinking a lot about how my enthusiasm for many older comics/shows/books/etc is dampened by the feeling that these are worlds where queer people don't seem to exist (or, worse, are actively unwelcome). I wanted to make something that claimed pieces of aesthetics I liked, but without that feeling of absence.
It's also a very conscious choice that Band Vs Band is set in the present of its own alternate universe, and not in our real world's past. I felt like it'd be sort of disingenuous to specifically situate it in real history without acknowledging that these characters would've faced bigger obstacles, and I didn't want to do a strict period piece anyway. It's a deliberately ambiguous aesthetic mashup, which I think gives it a fun outside-real-time quality: corded phones, vinyl records, no computers, and fashion and musical genres from all over the past five decades or so.
CA: Similarly, when you contrast the comic’s aesthetics with some of its plot shenanigans — the drug-fueled Satan music battle/sex fantasy comes to mind — on paper, you’d almost expect it to read melodramatic or exploitative. But it doesn’t. That stylistic wholesomeness you reference presents what could be “mature” topics in a benign, non-judgmental manner. Why did you choose to take that approach?
KJ: Ha ha, I think that was the single weirdest story I've ever done!
It's partly because I think the contrast can be funny --- but it's also more than that. I'm glad you read it as non-judgemental, because I'm very big on that. I wanted the comic to have this core of easygoing acceptance, and a feeling like being among friends --- whether your friends are more the type to get ice cream and go roller skating, or get drunk, make macabre artwork, and have unconventional sex adventures.
It also relates to how tales of hedonistic and destructive behaviour are basically their own "band stories" genre, and I liked the idea of playing with that while keeping the whole tone mostly lighthearted and earnest, and never really mean-spirited. Meanwhile, Honey often likes to lecture about wholesome and good behaviour in-universe... but it's usually a little misguided even though she means well.
CA: How has both your creative approach and the webcomic itself changed since inception?
KJ: The art’s gotten a whole lot better! Apart from that: I think the early pages tended to be faster-paced and sillier, and I’ve gradually become more interested in spending more time with longer story arcs, exploring characters and relationships and letting them change, and building more of the world it takes place in.
CA: What drew you to webcomics and the platform you currently use?
KJ: A webcomic was a natural fit for me, as an independent creator --- it lets me have full control over publishing my own weird indefinitely-ongoing personal project, and share it easily with people all around the world. I love having a printed book version, too (the first volume came out in 2014, and I have plans for the second in 2017), but the book could never have happened without the audience it had as a webcomic first.
CA: How did you build Band vs. Band’s “retro” vernacular? Is it something that’s come naturally or has it taken research?
KJ: It feels surprisingly natural to write, but I also like to look at older comics for inspiration, and sometimes glossaries of outdated slang terms from various eras. At the beginning, I'd write the dialogue "normally" and then make substitutions for some of the words and phrasing... but now these characters' voices feel so normal to me that I never do that anymore. An unexpected side effect: I think it may have affected the way I talk in real life.
CA: What’s your process like?
KJ: I ink, colour, and letter digitally --- the only part I do on paper is the initial rough pencils, which you don’t see at all in the final artwork. It’s all hand lettered, and I really like to push the lettering and make it a big part of the comic’s look. A big part of my process for this comic is approaching the format and layouts with a lot of flexibility, and I like shaking it up with nonstandard pages --- for example, I’ve incorporated activity pages, paper dolls, and Valentines. My field other than comics is graphic design, and Band vs. Band has always been my design playground.
CA: Could you talk about how you developed the comic’s red-and-blue color palette and many typographic styles?
KJ: I've always liked limited palettes, and this one was originally meant to emulate the look of something printed with only two spot ink colours besides black. I really wanted a unified, bold graphic look, and worked out a palette that had both warm and cool colours, a range of values, and kind of looked delicious like candy. I was also excited to do special edition mini risograph editions of a few of the stories in 2015/2016, and actually only use two inks! I picked a fluorescent pink for those, though --- because hey, you only live once.
The lettering is an ongoing experiment in playing with different styles and pushing the expressiveness. I always want it to feel like it's made of the same visual DNA as the rest of the page, and to not have a strict separation between text and artwork, and writing and drawing. Mostly anything goes, but I've got a few rules for different types of text --- for instance, dialogue is treated differently than anything handwritten or typeset in-universe.
CA: Do you think self-publishing this story granted you freedom that you might not have had elsewhere?
KJ: I think so, yes. I like having a comic that’s entirely my own to play with, apart from anything else I work on that may be subject to (or improved by!) a publisher, editor, or client’s input and constraints.
CA: Which other webcomics would you recommend to readers who like yours?
KJ: If you like cute queer comics set in sort of a stylized retro alternate universe, I know of exactly one other besides mine: Rock and Riot, which is delightful.
This is surprisingly tough question --- I like so many webcomics, and there are always so many more that I haven't seen yet. A few favourites I'm enjoying right now are Night Physics, Cucumber Quest, Witchy, Eth’s Skin, Meat and Bone, Lunar Maladies, and Rosalarian's various projects.
If you have a webcomic you’d like to suggest for an upcoming Webcomic Q&A, send a tip to jonerikchristianson[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject line “Webcomic Q&A.”