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A Chat With Andrew Wheeler

Photo by Wheeler

Andrew Wheeler (he/they) is an award-winning writer and editor whose credits include the queer anthology Shout Out, the comic book series Another Castle, Freelance, the Valentin & The Widow adventure serial, and the Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides. Wheeler was also editor in chief of Comics Alliance which won an Eisner for Best Comics Periodical/Journalism. You may be familiar with Wheeler’s Justice League Queer stories from 2021.

Wheeler kindly set aside time to talk about their recent and upcoming projects – Love And War, a Hercules and Marvel Boy story in this month’s Marvel Voices: Pride anthology, and Sins Of The Black Flamingo whose first issue will be released at the end of the month.

Love And War #3 is available on June 13th. Marvel Voices: Pride will be out on June 22nd and Sins Of The Black Flamingo on June 29th. Please support your local comic shop! Can’t find one? Please use Comic Shop Locator!

Gay League: Is there anything you can share about your Marvel Pride story, Black Flamingo, and Love and War?

Andrew Wheeler: It’s amazing to me that they were all announced in a single week, because the timelines on these projects were very different! Sins of the Black Flamingo was maybe the last book to get a green light at Vertigo before Vertigo folded! Love and War has been in the works at Comixology since early in the pandemic. The Marvel Pride story happened in the space of a few weeks.

They’re such different projects as well. Love and War is a sweet-natured romance, very Heartstopper vibes. Sins of the Black Flamingo is darker, more cynical, more adult. My Marvel Pride story is the type of superhero tale I want to tell — a ton of action, a ton of heart.

Brittney L Williams line art. Jose Villarrbuia color art.

GL: Love and War is a charming story and I very much like that all the romances are queer as well as the decision to have characters with different body types.

AW: Thank you! That was a key part of the pitch, and why tug-of-war was the perfect sport to build this rom-com around, because we could make a team of any gender and all sizes.

Guillermo Saavedra line art. C. R. Chua color art.

This isn’t a story about struggling with being gay or struggling with body image. Those are not the points of friction for our characters. Domo is dealing with ambition, anxiety, first love — and maybe second love — but he’s happy in who he is as a fat gay person. His worry is about his future, and who he’s going to spend it with.

I was so lucky to work with Killian Ng in creating these characters and establishing this world, they have so much sensitivity and skill. With issue #3 we welcome Guillermo Saavedra as the new series artist, and he brings enormous love and joy to these characters. I’m really excited for readers to see how he brings Domo, Nessa, and the others to life!

Guillermo Saavedra line art. C. R. Chua color art.

GL: Later this summer the first volume of your Freelance series, done in collaboration with Jim Zub, Vaneda Vireak, and Cindy Leong, will have a second printing. This series may have slipped under the radar of a lot of people, which is a shame because Lance Valiant, John Cabot, and Tasha Kolchak are interesting characters. Will the second volume see a new printing soon too?

AW: I hope we’ll see both collected volumes of Freelance on shelves in the coming months. I love those characters and I love telling these old school pulp tales that center this trio of queer anti-colonial outsiders! I’m really proud of the work we did with Jim, Vaneda, and Cindy, and with the fantastic Juan Samu in volume two!

GL: Several things about Freelance stood out to me. The first is discovering these characters debuted in Canadian comics Golden Age. Another is a bit of dialogue you wrote for John Cabot in issue #3. Cabot’s been taken hostage by the story’s villain who wants to learn more about the mysterious Lance Valiant. It reads: “You want to know about him? Lemme tell you how we met. I was a bad guy. He was a good guy. He looked at me like he didn’t see the bad things I’d done. He looked at me…like I was beautiful.” That really struck me as a powerful statement about the power of love and wanting to be loved. Vaneda Vireak drawing Cabot with his tongue stuck out to one side added a special touch.

AW: Getting to breathe new life into these Golden Age characters and reimagine them for a modern audience was a wonderful opportunity. Lance is now retroactively one of the first queer heroes in comics!

The relationship between Lance and John is great fun to explore. The pious paragon of virtue who sees the world in uncomplicated terms, and the tarnished bad boy who knows how things actually work. I really enjoy those kinds of stories!

GL: The other detail I really appreciated is the various locations into which you put the heroes – Nunavut and the Northwest Territories in Canada, Istanbul, and Ukraine. In your Wonder Woman story (Wonder Woman: Agent of Peace #16) your story took Diana to a small town in Slovakia where Yuri had made a bad decision in response to being bullied. I take it you like globetrotting stories?

AW: Love them! Adventure stories, pulp stories, those have always been my favourites, but I’m very conscious of the fact that there can be a lot of colonialism, imperialism, a lot of othering in those types of stories. ‘The hero bringing his macho virtue to a dangerous land of wild heathens’, that sort of nonsense. I don’t want my characters to be explorers or liberators, I want them to be compassionate and engaged!

Travis Moore line art. Tamra Bonvillain color art.

GL: In some ways I think queer representation in comics has improved, at least when I look back on comics from my youth when it was impossible to have queer characters that weren’t heavily coded because of the American Comics Code Authority. At other times I find things lacking – at least in mainstream comics and I turn to comics and graphic novels that come from smaller publishers. What are your thoughts on the state of queer representation in comics today and what do you think their future will be?

AW: There used to be so few queer stories in the mainstream, so few queer creators, so few queer characters, that everything was held to an impossible standard, because you would always be leaving someone’s experiences out. You were given three slices of pie to feed 1000 people.

At the same time, the audience was right to say that everyone deserves to have their experiences represented. The problem wasn’t the queer authors who were trying their best, it was the editors and publishers who weren’t giving more queer authors an opportunity. The solution was always more queer creators telling more queer stories with more queer characters! And we’re getting there.

Through my own stories I get to explore action, comedy, romance, horror, fantasy, and all my stories are queer, and they’re all different. Some stories are directly about queer experience, like the short stories I wrote for The Old Guard: Tales Through Time and Stillwater: The Escape, but a story like Love and War is more universal while the characters are still queer. We need both stories that are about the unique experiences of being queer and stories where queerness is a fact of existing!

Travis Moore line art. Tamra Bonvillain color art.

GL: When it comes to queer characters some people like to have a more nuanced approach while others want a direct approach. Hopefully not as blunt as Northstar shouting “I’m gay!” on the cover! What kind of considerations do you make when writing queer characters?

AW: I think, so long as queer creators are telling a broad range of queer stories, it’s all authentic. We can have characters that lean into stereotypes, and we can have characters that lean away from them. If we have more queer heroes, we can embrace the queer villains that used to seem problematic.

We can have characters that scream, “I’m gay”, and we can have characters that never say it at all, but never hide it either, because it’s the truth of who they are and how they live.

I don’t remember if Domo ever says the word “gay” in Love and War. That would be a problem if that was the only visibility we had, but he’s in a love triangle with two other guys, and his best friend Nessa is experiencing friction with her girlfriend. They don’t need to say, “I’m gay”, they’re too busy being gay!

Travis Moore line art. Tamra Bonvillain color art.

GL: Last year there was so much excitement for the idea of Justice League Queer and an equal amount of disappointment that the idea didn’t when the round robin contest. I just want to say I greatly appreciated what you and Luciano Vecchio, and Meghan Hetrick achieved in your two short stories. What most excites you about the idea and is there any possibility of the team reappearing?

AW: I was so touched by the response to JLQ and all the people who voted for us, and I think we could have won the Round Robin if people hadn’t also voted against us! There’s the problem; the people who hate us are not going away and they’re not slowing down. We need to hit back with stories that show queer readers that they do belong.

I envisioned JLQ as a book about queer community and the ways queer people build families, and part of that meant elevating otherwise neglected heroes like Gregorio, Bunker, Tremor, Traci, and Sig Nansen, and showing that they still have stories to tell. There’s room for a book like that at DC, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen.

Big publishers sometimes get in their own way when it comes to representation. I actually have a page of original art hanging on my wall that shows what should have been the first kiss between Apollo and Midnighter, but DC cut the panel before the comic was published. That’s a useful reminder for me of what queer creators are up against. I’m happy that these publishers want to put our names on their Pride books, but I hope they remember to keep that dialogue going through the rest of the year. We exist outside of June!

As soon as DC is ready for a book like JLQ, I’m ready to write it!

Travis Moore line art. Tamra Bonvillain color art.

GL: Is there a project coming later in the year that readers can look forward to?

AW: Dark Horse is collecting Love and War in September, and the collected Sins of the Black Flamingo will be in stores early next year. I’m working on some other projects that I can’t talk about yet, and there are more Love and War stories to tell if enough readers love the series!

GL: Where can people find more information and keep up to date with your work?

AW: I have a newsletter at Buttondown, which you can subscribe to at buttondown.email/wheeler, and you can follow me on Twitter @wheeler and on Instagram @wheelergram! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me!

GL: Thank you, Andrew! Thank you too, dear reader! We hope you’ll check out these comics from Wheeler and their artistic collaborators!

Love And War #3 is available on June 13th. Marvel Voices: Pride will be out on June 22nd and Sins Of The Black Flamingo on June 29th. Please support your local comic shop! Can’t find one? Please use Comic Shop Locator!

June 13, 2022
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