Interview: Archie Bongiovanni Talks Writing Aging Queer People & Not Diluting Your Art
Last week, we featured an exclusive preview to Archie Bongiovanni‘s upcoming adult graphic novel Mimosa. Their story features a group of queer friends in their thirties navigating aging, work, love, relationships, parenting, mental health, and a number of other pressures. Things always seem to get worse before they get better. However, these four always have their found family, right? Right?! You’ll have to read the story to see how that plays out.
In the meantime, I wanted to share the interview I had via email with Bongiovanni (who wrote and illustrated the story) through the publisher Abrams ComicArts. This correspondence didn’t quite fit in the sneak peek, but is no less interesting going into the story, and especially after reading, for those who have.
Alyssa Shotwell (TMS): While I was familiar with your work by picking up A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns (co-authors with Tristian Jimerson) at my local comic book store, it seems like the rest of the internet has found your work through Grease Bats. This series on Autostraddle centers on characters in their 20s and was written over five years.
What was it like moving to Mimosa, where characters are not only in their mid-to-late 30s but a story crafted mostly during a global pandemic where we are all thinking about time, age, and relationships very differently?
Archie Bongiovanni: Moving to Mimosa from Grease Bats truly felt like the next step in my career. Grease Bats was limited in that it was drawn in a strip style, meaning plots had to be short and sweet. Mimosa gave me so much breathing room, not just stylistically but also allowing more depth to the story and characters–but I will say there’s a lot of similarities to the characters of Grease Bats to Mimosa!
Ultimately all my work emphasizes and examines the active choice of creating family and growing older without a heteronormative script. It’s important that my characters and stories age with me. I’m a huge believer that queers are just as interesting, funny and dynamic when we’re 45 as when we’re 25 and our stories deserve to be displayed with the same love and attention as any other story! Growing up, I think a lot of us were fed a prediction of what we’d have in our thirties: a single steady job, a family, a retirement plan. The reality is so different from what (cisgender heterosexual) aging is supposed to look like and it was so fun to showcase this in Mimosa.
Especially creating it in 2020, I was hyper-aware just how vital community, interdependence and chosen family is and in a pandemic (whose government negligence mimicked a different pandemic), I never took it for granted how awesome it was that my characters were surviving and (at times) thriving in their mid-thirties.
TMS: Which of the four main characters was the most challenging to write/design and why?
Bongiovanni: Chris was definitely the hardest to write! I’m not a parent so I really had to pay attention to the parents I knew for inspiration. What I realized while writing Mimosa is that parenting is easy(ish) for Chris. It’s easy for Chris to love and care for Pepper but it’s all the outside factors that make parenting difficult. Losing access to community and struggling to find community care, being overworked and various emotional strains leak into what is otherwise a really joyous experience for Chris.
TMS: There was an off-page exit of one character, which in my experience, is unusual for a narrative featuring such close-knit friendships, even ones under strain. What led you to make that decision?
Bongiovanni: It felt more representational! The times folks have exited my life, and the times I chose to leave other people’s lives, has been a quiet slow-ghosting experience. While I know some folks have conversations where a friendship ends, it feels more realistic for phone calls to slow down, to stop checking each other’s social media, for there to be a mutual slow separation that isn’t necessarily felt until it’s completely severed.
TMS: You’ve been in the community with some of the most recognizable talents in contemporary comics and have been published across different types of print publications for various audiences in terms of age. What advice would you give to others that want to pursue both adult/general age storytelling and something for much younger audiences?
Bongiovanni: It’s tough! I try hard to never limit myself in what I can create and remind myself that I’m a multifaceted human with a lot of different interests and it’s okay if my work and persona reflects this. If I was smart, maybe I’d suggest creating two social media accounts or a pen name or something, but I really detest the idea that folks who work creating things for younger audiences must present completely sanitized separate versions of themselves.
I don’t need every comic I made to appeal to everyone. There are things I could do that would make my adult books more appealing/allow a crossover to the young adult market but I purposefully leave them in (such as crude language, sex and drugs, etc). My community deserves to see our adult lives represented without censorship or dilution for a younger audience.
It’s not possible to make everyone happy so the best thing to do is move forward, drawing and writing what feels good to you without focusing too hard on an audience. It takes guts to create something that can’t be commodified by everyone. Even though the comic market has a strong emphasis on YA books at the moment, there are editors and (a few) agents out there who are willing to work with both.
TMS: Is there anything else you want our audience to know about [you or Mimosa]?
Bongiovanni: I’m just really pumped for Mimosa to be coming out and can’t wait for folks to read it and let me know what they think! I encourage folks to buy from their local comic shop or bookstore more than Amazon, if possible. I’m a pretty personable person and really enjoy talking about my work, so if you’re part of a book club, work at a library, or something similar, don’t hesitate to reach out! I love to chat with readers and other comic artists. I’m also a lot of fun on Instagram.
Mimosa releases March 7, 2023 and is available for pre-order.
(featured image: Abrams ComicArts / Surely & Archie Bongiovanni)
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