Sam Orchard writes, creates graphic novels and has a regular web comic called Rooster Tails He will be one of the seven writing teachers hosting the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat and running a workshop called ‘Telling Our Stories’.
1. What drew you to comics and the graphic novel?
I’ve been drawing since I was really little, and I’ve always used drawing as a way to express stuff. When I first started thinking about sexuality stuff I tried to find any stories I could – films, TV, books, etc that reflected who I was. Mostly I found lots of movies where queer women (and ESPECIALLY butch women) were either killers or killed themselves. It was super depressing and frustrating trying to find role models in the mainstream so I turned to the internet to try and find myself. I came across comics by Erika Moen and Tab Kimpton that explored sexuality in a nuanced and fun way, and they got me really inspired. So, because I could draw a bit, I started experimenting making comics about myself. One of the first proper comics I made was a comic I made for a friend so that I could come out to her, and to be able to express a whole bunch of stuff that I knew I wouldn’t be able to face-to-face.
2. How does your autobiographical web comic fit into your creative practice? I guess I’m wondering why blog?
I blog for a few different reasons – I think partly it’s because the internet is an open platform to share ideas, and so I get to meet a bunch of amazing people through writing my own weird stories. I think another part of it is that I’m narcissistic and I enjoy the immediate response of it – a lot of the reason I draw Rooster Tails (my autobio webcomic) is because I feel quite isolated as an anxious nerdy queer transboy, and having people read my stuff online and say ‘hey! I relate!’ is an amazing feeling. I also think part of it is about the fact that so many stories, particularly about trans people, told by mainstream media are told in a dehumanising way. We’re often portrayed as ‘tragic’ or ‘scandalous’ and so telling stories that humanise us, and are available free for anyone to read, is quite important to me.
3. What do you think about the idea that the ‘personal is political’? Do you think that writing and literature should have an educative quality? And how do these ideas affect your work and practice?
I definitely think that the personal is political. Everything is political. I think every story we tell or read shapes our identities – whether it’s through relating to individuals (‘I’m like that!’ or ‘I’m NOT like her!!’) or through the thematic content – all of this informs how we feel about our identities and how we relate to others – it’s inescapable. I think about this stuff a lot – I think about my readership, and who I am telling stories for (which sometimes overlap, and sometimes don’t), and I think about the implications of the stories I tell. I don’t have control over how people interpret my work, but I have come to comics with a goal to celebrate difference – the good and the bad of it – so that is marked in all the work I do.
4. Given that there is a level of invisibility of sexually and gender diverse characters in many of our stories what advice would you give to someone who wanted to broaden the range of characters in their stories but who may not have any direct experience with rainbow issues or the community in general?
When I think about this I think about my own investment – what is it I’m trying to say, and why do I want to say it? I look at stereotypes about our communities, and which ones work to humanise us, and which ones don’t – I think that’s the crux of it. Creating characters that are human and that humanise our experiences is SO important. We can be flawed, we can be villains AND we can be heroes, and we can be beautiful – but we need to be human.
5. Can you tell people a little about what they should expect from the workshop?
My workshop is centred on discussion and inquiry, I don’t have a set rulebook to give to participants, but rather I’m interested in how we tell stories outside of the mainstream. How we tell our own stories, as marginalised people, and how we tell the stories of others in an ethical way. I’m interested in examining what other writers have said on the topic, exploring our own stories, and sharing ideas of how to do this well.