Sfé Monster talks about his genderqueer webcomics

Eth's Skin Cover detail

Sfé R. Monster is a cartoonist focused on the internet. With the help of social media, he has gathered around him an audience very concerned with queer and genderqueer issues. His readers want to see another side of the stories available in mainstream media.

His previous works include Seven Stories From The Sea, a heartbreaking comic about a boy discovering himself, his gender, and his sexuality. The absence of dialogues creates a strength that shines through the storytelling.

Seven Storie from the Sea page

Sfé is also working on the webcomic Eth’s Skin. This story takes place in a coastal region with sprinkles of fantasy. There are mermaids and magical seals. Once again, the author questions the gender binary, this time by portraying a protagonist that is gender neutral. Representation matters.

For the future, Sfé is co-editing a queer sci-fi/fantasy anthology called Beyond.

First of all: who are you, as a person and as an artist?

My name is Sfé R. Monster, and I’m a queer and genderqueer (I use ‘he’ or ‘eh’ pronouns) comic artist, author, and illustrator, living in Halifax, Nova Scotia (in Canada!). Over the last couple years I’ve run several webcomics, including Kyle & Atticus, and currently Eth’s Skin, and an ongoing monster project called The Wolf That Only You Can See. I’m also the creator of the upcoming Beyond, a queer sci-fi/fantasy comic anthology.

What is Eth’s Skin about? What can readers expect of it in the future?

Eth’s Skin is a queer fantasy-adventure set on the coast of a slightly different British Columbia. It’s a world rife with magic and old-growth forests, full of barnacle-punk mermaids, moss witches, low tides, kelp forests, and restless sea spirits. The story follows a young genderqueer fisher named Eth who discovers a selkie (a seal person) and accidentally-on-purpose gets pulled into an adventure. It’s all salt water and moss, and mist and magic, and is an overtly queer and genderqueer story that I’m very excited to be working on.

About your comic writing process: do you write scripts? How far ahead do you plan a story?

I plan the entire story in advance, and write down the overall plot before I begin scripting, then I break the story into pieces and write scripts for each chapter. I try not to improvise, if I can help it (to avoid plot holes and writing myself into a corner). All of Eth’s Skin has been outlined, and I’ve written up to chapter two of the script (and am currently starting to think about chapter three).

Do you draw the compositions intuitively or plan and sketch a lot first? What are your drawing references?

I do a lot of sketching. I sketch to work out character designs and key locations and settle out the pacing, and thumbnail everything in advance. Eth’s Skin is a love-letter to the west coast of Canada (where I’m originally from) so a lot of my references for the locations and environment are pulled directly from places I spent time in or lived near. The very first page of the story is based on my favourite spot in a place called Whytecliff Park.

Eth's Skin page two

All of your comics deal with gender queerness on some level. In your experience, how do the readers respond to it?

My readers respond to it really well, and I love them for it! I think, because all of my comics deal with elements of gender and queerness, I’ve built an audience who are there first and foremost for the queer content (usually because they themselves are queer). I used to worry I was limiting myself or making the wrong choice by choosing to create and tell only queer-focused stories, but it turns out there is an awesome audience hungry for unquestionably queer content, who are incredibly supportive of the work I create.

Eth does not explicitly show their gender. Do people get nervous about it and ask you if Eth is male or female? Or, because you openly describe Eth’s Skin as a “gender queer comic,” is your audience more aware of gender issues?

I’ve had a few people attempt to negotiate Eth’s gender or pin a pronoun to them, but most have been very respectful about Eth’s ambiguous gender identity, and really happy about the fact that Eth presents and identifies as gender-neutral. It was really important for me to have Eth be a gender-neutral character who doesn’t fit the cliche of slim, pale, hairless, boyish androgyny, and I’m happy that people reading the comic are receptive and supportive of the way Eth is (I love my readers).

Are you going to crowdfund or self publish anEth’s Skinbook in the (close) future?

I’ve actually already self-published Eth’s Skin! I’ve done an extremely limited self-published print run of the first chapter that I will be premiering in May at TCAF (the Toronto Comic Arts Festival) and will later be at VanCAF (the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival). After that I’m going to have to wait until more of the comic is made before I can even begin to think about when and where to self-publish it, though.

I believe that comics like Seven Stories From The Sea can have a great impact on people in need of support while discovering themselves. As a trans man growing up, did you have some piece of art (maybe a comic, a book, or a movie) to help you stand up?

I honestly didn’t — which is part of the reason I’m so committed to creating positive, unquestionably queer comics now that I’m an adult (Seven Stories especially is a story I made because I wish I could have read it when I was a kid). When I was a pre-teen/teen and began looking to find words for my own identity there wasn’t much trans media to draw from (and the stuff that did exist tended to focus on how wrong, dangerous, and depressing the lives of trans people were). There were a few movies I latched on to: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert weren’t for me, but they did help me realise there was a bigger world of gender identity and queerness (and acceptance) out there. After that I rebelled by shamelessly interpreting the media I did consume to pretend the main characters were “like me,” but that’s not the same as having true representation.

You and Rachel Edidin are organizing a sci-fi & fantasy queer comics anthology called Beyond. Some of the confirmed contributors are big names such as Fiona Staples. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Absolutely! Beyond is a queer sci-fi/fantasy comic anthology that I dreamt up and am now co-editing with Rachel Edidin. The goal for the anthology is to create a collection of unquestionably queer fantasy and sci-fi stories. No reading-between-the-lines, no cautionary-tales, no tired and condescendingly trite cliches. We invited a handful of comic creators (Fiona Staples was one) to be a part of the project, and then held an open call for submissions where we overwhelmed by over 220 pitches. From that enormous pile we teased out the absolute best of the bunch and now have a full lineup of incredible comic creators making queer stories that I honestly could not be more excited about.

How is Beyond’s production going and when it will be available to the public? At this point, do you already have an idea of some comics plot and art?

We don’t have a set-in-stone date for Beyond’s release, but we plan to run a Kickstarter in order to pay our writers and artists in mid-2014. We do know the set lineup and all the comics (they are all incredible), though. At this point everyone is thumbnailing and pencilling pages, which means every day Rachel and I get to glimpse loads of fantastic, unapologetically queer sci-fi/fantasy comics taking shape. It’s invigorating and inspiring and I’m so, so thrilled to be able to be making this.

What comics are you reading right now?

My weekly comic diet consists of As The Crow Flies, O Human Star, Goldy & the Bears (nsfw!), Peat Comics, Gunnerkrigg Court, and Titanzer- and just the other day I stumbled upon Thermohalia, and started reading Band Vs. Band. I’m also currently re-reading my favourite selkie comic, Rockall.

You can find Sfé in his site, Tumblr or Patreon.