Light Carries On by Ray Nadine is a graphic novel telling the story of Leon and Cody meeting under very unusual circumstances. I recently had the opportunity to read this sweet romantic story and was completely drawn into Ray Nadine’s message of grief, loss, and the power of love to heal. The story is also a love letter to Chicago, the city as it is today and its punk rock scene of the late 1970s to mid 1980s. Light Carries On is their first graphic novel published by a major comics publisher! Ray Nadine recently took time out of their schedule to talk about their new book. We hope you enjoy the interview!
Gay League: Hello Ray Nadine! It’s a pleasure to meet you! Thank you for taking time out of your day to do this interview! How are you?
Ray Nadine: I’m doing good! Tired, but who isn’t tired these days.
GL: When Kaitlyn Nash from Dark Horse contacted me I got excited for a couple reasons. You’re the second person I’ve encountered who is working in comics that was born and raised in central Illinois! My family moved back and forth between my parents’ home towns. One town is almost smack in the middle of the state and the other one is near the Mississippi. Was detasseling corn in the summer a teenager’s right of passage where you grew up? It was for a lot of kids during my high school years and thankfully I escaped it.
RN: Haha! I luckily dodged corn detasseling despite being surrounded by cornfields. I went from central Illinois to the Mississippi too! Halfway through high school my family moved to the Illinois side of St. Louis and I went to college down there too so I was there for quite some time before I came to Chicago. I do miss St Louis a lot though.
GL: Of course the other and most important reason that excited me is your graphic novel titled Light Carries On about main characters Leon who’s in a rough spot in life and Cody who’s, well, in an even rougher spot. Would you talk some about this very unusual meet cute and the genesis of the story?
RN: Leon and Cody were actually characters from a completely different story that I ended up scrapping! It was a modern fantasy and the worldbuilding’s scope got way too big and I had too many loose ends to figure out. At the time, I had made a pitch for a supernatural slice of life murder mystery that was more murder mystery than romance, and I really wanted to do something with Leon and Cody still, so I tweaked that pitch to suit them. I’m just way better at writing character driven, small scale stories rather than big fantasy epics, so the change suited my style far more!
GL: The way you combine elements of several genres — mystery, the supernatural, slice of life — is really appealing. The romance that you develop between Leon and Cody and their helping each other to process grief and heal is really touching. I may have taken a short break while reading but otherwise couldn’t put the book down till I’d finished. The ending’s emotional impact had me choked up and crying a little.
RN: So, I like to “joke” that my writing goal is to make people cry as much as I made myself cry while writing it haha! From what readers have told me, I’ve met my goal of that.
GL: Discovering Chicago as the setting of your story was also a bonus surprise. It seems to me that relatively few comics use the city as a backdrop. You describe Light Carries On as your love letter to the city. That love really shines through in visual elements of the city either in panels in the story or the chapter page break photos which are clever and nicely done. A few of the mainstay fixtures you used are El trains, the Loop, Adler Planetarium, Rosehill, and newer sights like Crown Fountain and the Bean sculpture in Millenium Park. And Chicago’s punk queer scene! So many people don’t know how vibrant punk was in Chicago!
RN: Yeah! I just really love using real cities as backdrops, or at least if I have a story taking place in a fictional city, it’ll be heavily inspired by a real place. My first comic, Dollhouse, took place in St. Louis and I often considered it a love letter to the city too. The comic I’m currently working on, Station Six, takes place in a fictionalized version of the city I grew up near in central Illinois too, so it’s been nice to create stories in all of the places that I’ve considered home.
GL: There’s an element of time, generationally speaking, between Leon and Cody being younger and older that’s mirrored in the ways the city does change and how technology evolves. There’s the time honored tradition of older queer people welcoming younger queers and passing down knowledge which was largely affected in many large cities due to the early years of AIDS pandemic. Are Cody and Leon acting as mentors to each other on some level or am I reading something that isn’t there?
RN: Oh they definitely are in a lot of ways! I hadn’t considered it a queer mentoring while I was writing it, but I chalk that up to being queer myself and writing queer stories without deliberately making them queer. They’re queer by default, and honestly every story I create will always be gay haha.
GL: Before Light Carries On you worked on other projects from webcomics (your solo Dollhouse and Messenger with writer Paul Tobin) to anthologies, mini comics, and zines. Are there aspects of working in these different formats the give you different rewards and challenges? How do you keep your creativity flowing?
RN: Working with writers is always a challenge for me to be honest! I tend to prefer writing my own stories, but I really lucked out with the writers I’ve worked with so far in my career, they’ve all been a joy to work with. Paul was just so fun to work with and very open to hearing my input, and in some cases he loved how I designed some characters so much that he gave them a larger influence in the story than he originally intended. I’ve been working on another story with writer Jordan Alsaqa too, our comic Raise Hell!, which has also been a really collaborative process. He’s done all the writing, but we talk a lot about both of our unique experiences during the time Raise Hell! takes place and he does a good job of reflecting both of us in the story. Jordan is a good friend of mine too, so that just makes the collaborative process feel more natural. We’re just two friends sharing memes and talking about our characters. Plus like, I tend to write some melodramatic and heavy stuff, and it does take a mental toll on me to an extent. That’s not to say I can’t write more lighthearted stuff, but Paul and Jordan are SO good at writing comedic scenes and funny moments while having a lot of heart to them. Their stories are just so much fun to draw.
With keeping creativity flowing, that’s honestly something I’ve really struggled with lately. I feel most creative when I’m actively in the writing process, partially because it allows me more time to sit with characters and scenes, and because it allows me more energy to draw stuff that’s not work related. I love drawing and it’s still a hobby of mine outside of work related drawing, but when I’m in the art stage of a comic it’s incredibly draining and oftentimes I just don’t have any creative energy at all once the work day is done. And in the timeline of making a graphic novel, I spend, like, three months writing and eighteen months drawing, so the time I feel most creative is significantly smaller. Plus with how demanding it is to upkeep social media, it can be stressful to draw stuff without feeling like it has to be able to be monetized somehow. I did end up making a separate Twitter account specifically for Final Fantasy XIV fanart, I love the game and especially love the character I made and play in the game, and my biggest fear is turning FFXIV fanart into a chore. So I have a rule that I don’t make any FFXIV fanart or merch with the intention of selling it, and honestly it’s been really freeing to have a quiet corner of fanart to make purely for myself and my close friends’s enjoyment. And in a way, having that little bit of art for myself re-energizes me for making comics as a career. When I just straight up need a break from drawing and creating entirely, playing video games and listening to music are huge inspirations for me too. Obviously I love making and reading comics, but as far as media I love to engage with most, it’s definitely video games and music lmao. I think part of it is that both of these mediums are so far out of my skill set that I get to just enjoy them for what they are. I’m obsessed with making finely curated playlists, especially ones inspired by my favorite characters, my own stories, or particular vibes (currently making a two part summer playlist, Side A Summer Kick Back with upbeat pop and lofi, Side B Summer Beat Down with aggressive industrial metal and synths).
GL: Music obviously plays a fundamental role in Light Carries On. You even created a playlist for Cody. What was on your playlists while working on the story?
So before Dark Horse picked up Light Carries On, it’s working title was Dead!, named such after the song of the same name by My Chemical Romance haha. That song heavily inspired the most distilled premise of the story. Ultimately, I’m so glad Dark Horse asked me to change the title cause I love “Light Carries On” as a title far more. That said, the current title is also inspired by a song, Saturn by Sleeping At Last, from the lyrics “how light carries on endlessly, even after death.” I mentioned before that I’m obsessed with making curated playlists, and Light Carries On definitely had it’s own apart from Cody’s playlist. Some of the most influential ones on the playlist aside from the two I already mentioned are Get Out Of My Head by Firewater, I Love You Like An Alcoholic by The Taxpayers, Pictures Of You by The Cure, Upward Over The Mountain by Iron & Wine, and I’ll Wait For You by Exist Strategy. Even though I have a lot of songs that inspire my stories, while I’m actually writing or drawing I have a hard time listening to lyrical music at certain stages haha. I usually listen to video game soundtracks while I write and letter, my favorite to listen to is the soundtrack for Outer Wilds by Andrew Prahlow. When I’m drawing and inking, I have to listen/watch youtube video essays haha, I don’t really “watch” them but just having a video on my monitor keeps me from tabbing over to Twitter or other places to procrastinate on work. Most recently I watched a 2 hour series about a scientist who faked human cloning, and before that I watched a deep dive on the rise and fall of Club Penguin lmao. I’ll watch just about anything, I’m easily entertained.
GL: How have you grown as a storyteller over the time you’ve been making comics? Do you have one piece of advice for someone who is either just starting out or is maybe facing a creative block or hurdle?
RN: Honestly, when I’m in a block or hurdle, I just take a break from creating. There’s some stuff you can’t break from so your mileage may vary, like, even on rough days I still try to get some work done so I don’t fall behind on deadlines, but if it’s really not happenin, I just stop for the day. I’ve tried working through burnouts before and it ends up a disaster, so taking a small break one day keeps me from having to take a long break later after a mental breakdown haha.
GL: What is your next project and can you tease anything about it?
RN: Right now I’m working on Station Six, published by Oni, a story about two teenage gymnasts, Riley and Kota, who befriend one another and through their friendship learn to cope with grief and anxiety, and how friendship grows and changes. Riley is deaf and Kota is hearing, which initially puts a complication in the beginning of their friendship, and the story explores how learning to communicate with each other brings them closer to one another. I was a gymnast as a teen, so it’s a story that’s near and dear to me.
I’m also working on Raise Hell! with Jordan Alsaqa which I mentioned earlier! It’s about three teen besties in the mid-2000s in an alternate reality where the Satanic Panic was real, but the rift opening between Earth and Hell is far more mundane than it was made out to be. Imps are on par with raccoons and rodents, half-demon teens attend human high school, and the school’s cliques include a coven of witches. It’s a fun slice-of-life following Victor, Miri, and Reeves as they use a bootleg demon summoning kit to summon a lesser-than-life servant of Belphegor, Alistair, and the mallrat shenanigans they all get up to.
Gay League: Thank you again for your time and a great interview! And thank you for reading our interview, dear reader! We hope you enjoyed it!
Look for Light Carries On at your local comic shop or bookstore! Give your bookstore the ISBN 9781506726373 to order a copy! Don’t have one in your area? Try Bookshop and IndieBound. 3 If all else fails, you can buy a copy from Amazon.