LGBTQ Indie Comic 'Shout Out' Embraces Diversity On and Off the Page

The anthology's editor Andrew Wheeler says "The comic industry doesn't give nearly enough opportunities to LGBTQ talent, because the industry's not as bold as it pretends to be."
Naomi Franquiz/TO Comix

Next year will see the release of Shout Out, an anthology of YA comics by queer creators including Star Wars and The Wicked + The Divine’s Kieron Gillen, Misfit City’s Naomi Franquiz and Crystal Frasier. The title is intended to be “the stories we wish we could have read growing up,” according to publisher TO Comix Press.

Currently being crowdfunded, the book spans multiple genres, from fantasy to historical fiction and sci-fi, showing off the diversity of the comic book medium on the page, as well as behind the drawing board. The anthology is edited by Andrew Wheeler; THR talked to him about the project.

Andrew, you’re someone who’s known both for being the editor of sadly-departed comics site Comics Alliance, and the writer of a number of indie comics series, including Freelance and Oni Press’ Another Castle. Now you’re the editor of Shout Out. Where did that come from? What made you think, “Oh, I need to be editing an anthology of queer comics?” More to the point, why an anthology aimed at YA audiences, specifically?

There were two main impulses here. The first is that LGBTQ relationships and characters are often kept out of youth-oriented media because they're considered "adult," which is offensive nonsense. Kids who share those identities need to see themselves represented in the media they consume at every age. Robbing them of that opportunity is a form of abuse.

The second is that I've always promised that if I'm ever rich and famous, I'll use my position to elevate other queer writers and artists. Then I thought, "What if I'm never rich or famous?" So, I decided to just go ahead and do it now, while I'm still poor and obscure! Launching this anthology via Kickstarter has allowed me to do that.

The title launched on Kickstarter a week ago, and is 2/3 funded already. One of the things that I’m impressed with surrounding that campaign are some of the rewards tiers — you’re not just promoting Shout Out, but TO Comix in general, with the back catalog of the publisher available, and you’re also offering the chance for schools and libraries to receive copies. What was your thinking behind the campaign, and the ambitions for it beyond simply funding the book?

TO Comix Press has been doing amazing work for years, giving opportunities to new and emerging creators and shining a spotlight on the best genre storytelling. Most of their books focus on our hometown of Toronto, but last year's horror anthology Wayward Sisters, by female and non-binary creators, and this year's Shout Out anthology, by LGBTQ creators, have expanded their focus in a major way. That allows us to shine a light on their back catalogue and the wealth of great stories that they've already published.

As for supporting schools and libraries; librarians and educators are our champions and our advocates. They are the front line in getting books into the hands of children and expanding their minds and their world views. Having the opportunity to give back to them, to say thank you to them, was hugely important to all of us.

How did you gather the creative lineup for the book? You’ve got a wide range of voices with different levels of experience and different backgrounds. As editor, what did you want to say with the lineup of talent on show in the book? 

We had an open submissions policy for queer creators, and we said from the start that our first priority was to find great stories and great talent. It didn't matter what they'd done before; it mattered that they were amazing, and had wonderful stories to tell. Some of these creators have huge audiences already; others are being published for the first time.

The comic industry doesn't give nearly enough opportunities to LGBTQ talent, because the industry's not as bold as it pretends to be. What we discovered going through our submissions is that the talent out there is breathtaking — and diverse! We didn't need to go hunting for stories that represent a non-binary experience, or an aromantic experience or a two-spirit experience. We chose great stories by great creators, and all of those voices were there.

You mentioned the industry not being as bold as it pretends to be; diversity in comics is one of those perpetually ongoing discussions, in large part because a significant part of the comics industry remains slow to accept anything other than the characters and faces they grew up with. Something like Shout Out feels like it both serves an underserved demographic of existing comic readers, and could bring in new readers and new blood. Could you see something like this inspiring other publishers to follow suit with similar projects?

In all my years working in comics, two things publishers always told me were that anthologies don't work, and that there wasn't a big audience for LGBTQ content. The emergence of crowdfunding has put the lie to both these claims. 

These aren't impossible challenges, they're just hard work. Millions of kids exist out there who are struggling with their sexuality, with their identity, with normative expectations, who feel isolated and angry and broken, because nothing in their world looks or feels like them. I think we owe it to those kids to work hard to reach them. I hope other publishers come around to that point of view.

This is perhaps getting ahead of everything, but can you imagine Shout Out becoming a regular, or at least recurring, event, with future volumes being published? Is there already a secret wish list of creators for a second volume, should it happen … ?

My great wish, beyond seeing this book in stores, schools and libraries, is to see publishers rushing to sign up these creators to tell more stories in a similar vein. I'd like to see young readers' bookshelves swell with more graphic novels that feature LGBTQ protagonists and relationships. I want Shout Out to help launch more great careers than SNL!

As for Shout Out volume two, I think that's a lovely dream to have! We don't have a wish list of creators in mind, because some of the best stories we're going to find will come from creators who haven't had their shot yet.

More information about Shout Out, including preview images from additional stories, can be found at the Kickstarter page for the title. The anthology is scheduled for release in May 2019.