Artistic powerhouse Melanie Gillman, is a queer nonbinary cartoonist, writer, illustrator, and professor. They are the creator of graphic novels As the Crow Flies and Smbitten. They also illustrate Roar Comics’ new Care Bears. Their work as illustrator and graphic designer includes book covers, interior illustrations, posters, cards, and product labels. Their style is distinctive and juicy.
As the Crow Flies is a poignant, beautifully illustrated web-based graphic novel. Melanie’s illustrations and sensitively written text introduce us to Charlie, a queer 13-year-old black girl who finds herself stuck at an all-white Christian youth backpacking camp. The comic reminds us of our own experiences of feeling isolated and ostracized without an escape. Charlie deals with fellow campers and counselors whose actions and words communicate layers of across-the-board prejudices against those who are non-white, non-Christian, and homosexual. All young adults could benefit from reading As the Crow Flies.
I asked Melanie about their inspiration for this graphic novel: “Partially, As the Crow Flies was inspired by my own experiences as a queer, nonbinary kid at Christian youth camps. I wanted to tell a story about how queer kids navigate homophobic and transphobic religious spaces, and about how queerness can intersect with certain crises of faith experienced at a young age. I wouldn’t call As the Crow Flies autobiographical, though — Charlie’s story is definitely her own.”
Asked about artistic goals, Melanie states, “I primarily write queer [young adult] comics, so my main goal is to reach young queer readers who need more positive queer representation in their life. LGBTQ kids’ media is hard to find, and most of what is available is still being written by straight/cis authors — most of whom seem to think a queer/trans story isn’t ‘real’ unless it’s tragic. We do kids a serious disservice, constantly offering them stories about queer and trans people who end up victimized; I’d much rather hand kids a story about queer and trans people who are given agency, and are allowed to be resilient, creative, and complex.” This truly explains the importance of Melanie’s work.
For light-hearted reading check out Melanie’s first graphic novel Smbitten (“A Ladies Romance with Teeth”). Smbitten, Melanie’s first all-colored-pencil graphic novel, is “about lesbians, swing-dancing, fancy hats, and vampires.”
Why did Melanie turn their artistry to comics? “The comics medium has always spoken to me, way more than other strictly-visual or strictly-text mediums. There are so many things you can do as a storyteller as soon as you combine images and text in narrative sequence! I also like how personal comics are. Especially in the small press and self-publishing world, most comics today are created by just one or two people — and every cartoonist brings their own individual touch to their work, both in terms of art and writing. Aside from the handful of mainstream publishers who keep to “house styles,” there’s a huge amount of stylistic variety in modern comics, and room for even more experimentation and innovation. I like being a part of that!” Melanie adds, “It’s a good time to be reading queer comics — there are more queer people making comics today than ever before, and the quality of those comics is incredible.”
How does Melanie stay motivated as a busy artist? “I’m definitely busy, but busy doing what I love. Being able to make a living off of comics requires a lot of hard work and long days, but I’m incredibly grateful that I get to wake up every morning and work on stories that I care about deeply.” Melanie Gillman — living the artist’s dream.