A Conversation with Webcomics’ Stan Stanley

The Hazards of Love, Stan Stanley, 2018

Stan Stanley is one of the very first webcomic creators I ever followed as a teen, and it was a delight to discover that she was still in the webcomics game post Boy Meets Boy, tabling at the very same convention I was attending: Flame Con! We sat down together and talked about the old world of webcomics, internet fame, and what she’s working on now. If Hazards of Love sounds up your alley, you can find her on the Subversive Simplicity of Queer Joy Saturday panel at this year’s Flame Con (and she encourages you to check out the Invisible Latinx panel, too!).

Kat Overland, WWAC: If you just want to introduce yourself.

Hi! I’m Stan Stanley, walking cartoon and goat monster and a pile of rags, that’s my aesthetic right now. I’ve been making comics for about two decades, since I was in high school, and I’m still making comics. Currently I’m working on The Hazards of Love and Abernathy Square (now on hiatus), both comics about queer teens fighting against eldritch forces that they do not entirely understand.

What brought you to webcomics? What first pulled you in and got you started?

So, I feel so old saying this, right?

I think we’re the same age, right [Editor’s note: millennials, but not baby ones]? So you should be good.

Yeah. [Laughter] So way back in the before times, when the internet was slow and there weren’t as many people on it, way back in the late ’90s, early 2000s, there was not the wide variety of queer comics that are out there now, and I wanted to make one and have it out there and have it be, I guess, a ridiculous comic that was as unabashedly queer as I wanted it to be. I could have done a lot of stuff better, but it was what it was, and I’m glad for what it meant to people.

Were you reading other webcomics at the time?

Oh heck yeah. Again, there were less of them out there back then.

What was your introduction to webcomics?

Keenspot back then. Back then, Keenspot was where you would find comics on the internets. And we’ve grown past that, which, you know, it is good. There’s now such a plethora of comics out there that you can find anything that sort of, you want the flavor of.

You kind of already covered this, but Boy Meets Boy was one of the first really big queer comics online. What was it like being that central to sort of queer comic visibility?

So in retrospect it’s a really humbling experience and I am flattered and pleased that people could find something in that, that made them feel better. Like, that is all I wanted in the end, just for people to feel less alone in whatever situation they were, and be like okay, here are some people like me and their big adventures don’t involve gay bashing, don’t involve … back then especially, and I know we have the dead queer tropes now, back then it was like practically ubiquitous in that anything you could find—and there were exceptions of course, I’m thinking of Kyle’s Bed and Breakfast and stuff like that, and that’s been running for a while—but the vast majority was just tragedy, tragedy, tragedy. And I wanted to write what was essentially what was a ridiculous telenovella. I don’t speak for the quality of it because I was a fifteen year old high schooler, and I was awkward as hell, and I know at the time I found it a little bewildering and didn’t really know how to react to it, I guess.

Yeah, I definitely thought you were like a full-fledged adult when I was reading it, but it probably around that same time of my life. I was like oh, everyone’s happy and not dead, this is great!

Yeah, happy and not dead is a really good baseline. So I’m not trying to put myself down here necessarily but I’m so happy and relieved that now we have more queer comics, and better queer comics. Like I said, not putting myself down, but there was some stuff …

I think it’s fine to be realistic about your work from high school.

[Laughs] Let’s be realistic here, okay. A lot of times people are like no, don’t put yourself down! I’m like, I was like, let’s try drawing anime now!

Yeah, that was my next question. What is it like now having so much of your early work online? I know as a queer kid a lot of stuff like I produced around queerness was very misguided, like I’m gonna write some fan fiction because this is totally how all of this stuff works, and I totally understand what being in a queer relationship is like, and that kind of stuff. So what is it like to have kind of—working through that, just being online, and I’m sure people come up and talk to you about it.

I mean now I’m okay with it because, like I said, I found that zen place where I’m like oh, this meant a lot to people and I’m really grateful that it did. That it could have had an effect where someone felt less alone. That’s a positive. Going back, it is what it is, and—[Laughs] “Stan Stanley winces.”—it’s not, it’s super busted in parts … there was a lot of stuff that we would take for granted back then that we don’t know, and it wasn’t okay back then, and it’s not okay now … sorry, that sentence kind of went nowhere.

So having the stuff there is embarrassing. I went through my period where I was just like, I wish I could just take it down from online. I never did, because I always had the idea in my head of, someone is reading this, and they get something out of it. And that is important. But it’s okay to have your work, it’s okay to be that vulnerable and be like yeah, that was me, I hecked up, here are the ways I’m doing better now. Here are the ways I’ve … like, here are the ways I’ve included more asexual visibility … that sounds so full of myself though.

I was going to say one of the reasons I was a big fan, I wanted to talk to you, is that I feel like the internet has really changed a lot, and there’s not … I feel like … this isn’t really a criticism of callout culture in general, because I think it is very important, but in a lot of ways there’s not really a clear path to kind of move on from like, “I did problematic stuff online,” and everybody’s living their life online, there’s not really like a clear path to how do I continue creating and move past that? And I think your early work is definitely sort of before that kind of stuff started happening on the internet, so in some ways you kind of missed out on probably being dogpiled by a bunch of people on Tumblr.

I mean I missed the Tumblr dogpile but I did get a lot of hatemail.

I was … so in the past I’ve been kind of bitter about my work, and people are like woah, what the heck? A big part of that is because no one saw what kind of I was going through behind the scenes, and it was a weird time, again because I started this in high school. So your teenage years and early twenties are this very weird period where friendships and relationships are so intense. I say that, but I’m still really intense with like friends and loved ones. Anyway!

All of your feelings are like … it’s like Tinkerbell where you can only have like one really big feeling.

And it’s so huge! So one of the reasons that I was bitter was because I was dealing with a lot of, I mean I get backlash all the time, and in retrospect I’m like some of that was probably justified. So all the narrative choices, invariably someone would hate it, and email me to tell me about it. I get less of that now. And I’m okay with that.

Yeah, I feel like old internet … it was just a lot different in the way that communication happened. Talking to you is like, you’re still creating, your style has really evolved.

Thank you!

But it’s still like, your style.

It’s still very me.

Which is cool, and it’s awesome that you’re still doing stuff with a lot of these themes, and you kind of—I don’t want to be like oh, you’ve moved on from your past, because that’s not really what I mean. But I think it’s really interesting that you have been online and visible for so long and have managed to kind of continue on.

Oh, I hid for a while, because I just … there was a time when it was just too much. And so I basically just, back on the LiveJournal days, went friends only, and really sort of curated my internet experience to just sort of give me some space. And now I’m kind of tentatively stepping out there and trying … now that I’m older and wiser, said tongue firmly in cheek. But you get to know your limits better, at least, what you can and can’t do, what you can and can’t sort of participate in. So yeah. And with regards to callout culture, I look at a lot of it like someone telling you, “You have spinach in your teeth.” Sure, it sucks to hear, you’re like, I can’t believe I’ve been out here with spinach in my teeth for god knows how long. But also I want to get that spinach out of my teeth.

You’re like, I can’t believe I’ve been walking out there with spinach in my teeth, that’s really embarrassing, I wish everyone could forget that. But they can’t, and so all you can do is take out the spinach in your teeth, and not be that person who is still walking around with spinach in your teeth.

That’s a very apt analogy. So you said you took a break, tell me a little bit about how you got back into comics.

The fact is … God, I sound like such a pretentious artist. So, it is what it is. The fact that I couldn’t stop making up stories, I couldn’t stop drawing. Even when I was very depressed, I still wanted to draw, I still wanted to make things. And it’s hard when you have to balance a career and still find time for the thing that you can’t stop doing.

What were your goals when you started setting out, getting back into comics? And I guess also a little bit about what you’ve learned over the years. That probably should be its own question.

No worries, so we’ll start with the first one, which was …

What were your goals when you got back into it. Was it, gotta tell these stories?

I’ve gotta comic, I wanna tell these stories. It was that. I wanna make this story. I really wanted to make The Hazards of Love. I had this idea about this … sorry if I’m mixing my metaphor but I had a bee in my bonnet about how a lot of YA is really white, and how a lot of it is really straight. And I mean that’s not universally true, more and more we’re seeing some stuff, but I really wanted to draw my specific thing. I wanted to draw a comic that had an entire cast of Latinx characters and very specifically had a very Mexican flavor to the world, to draw that kind of fantasy. A friend of mine mentioned, well, it’s kind of like a Tolkien thing, except with your own flavor. And I’m like, sort of? In that it’s a huge environment, and that entire environment is very much Mexican. I’m rambling, I’m sorry.

No, that’s cool, worldbuilding is always interesting! I’ve been reading [Hazards of Love], and it’s cool, I didn’t frame it as YA in my mind so it’s interesting to me that you do—do you feel like it’s a YA book?

It’s the sort of thing that I would have read at that age.

That’s fair. [Laughter]

Now if I separate, I’m like, oh, there’s a lot of swearing. So I don’t know if I’d specifically call it YA, but I can see the YA appeal to it. Either way, I just really wanted something … I say it’s very Mexican, but it’s also sort of the ephemera of growing up in Mexico in the ’90s and stuff like that. So there’s a lot of nods to TV shows and things that would show up. I just really wanted to tell these stories.

What lessons do you think you’ve learned and would you maybe impart on other people who are looking into webcomics? I know it’s a whole new world and it’s so easy to kind of get your work out there now, maybe not necessarily get your readership but if you just want to do the work, you can make yourself a comic, which is so cool.

Yeah, and I mean that’s pretty much it. Don’t be in this to make a million dollars and some readership. I’m not saying you can’t do that, but it takes a lot of hard work. I think a lot of Spike Trotman, from Iron Circus Comix, and all the amazing work Spike’s done. But it is work, 100%. And they’re like the first one to say that, it’s work.

Oh yeah, Spike is amazing.

An inspiration. So that’s pretty much it. You have to love what you’re doing, and I hate that I say that. But if it’s something like a comic, and drawing, you really have to actually like it. And also there’s nothing wrong with not having readers. If you’re still making a thing, and you like it, and you’re putting it out there, eventually someone will find it and they will think it is rad as heck.

This interview was transcribed by CK Stewart, and edited for length and clarity.

Kat Overland

Kat Overland

Small press editor Kat Overland is a displaced Texan now living in Washington, DC, where she is perpetually behind on reading her pull list. She's a millennial, Latina, exhausted, and can often be spotted casually cosplaying America Chavez and complaining.