The upcoming graphic novel Mimosa by Archie Bongiovanni, available from Surely Books beginning on March 7th, 2023, does something radical: it offers a window into the sex lives of adult queer people!
The Beat caught up with Bongiovanni over email to find out all about what inspired Mimosa, to discover more about the process of depicting adult queer people honestly, and to learn whether or not the “CHUBSLUT” shirt actually exists in real life (spoiler alert: it does)!
AVERY KAPLAN: What was the genesis of Mimosa?
ARCHIE BONGIOVANNI: I was yearning to tell a longer narrative about a group of queer pals and I was thirsty to draw comic characters that were the same age as me. As I entered my thirties, I realized my thirties look wildly different from when my parents entered their thirties. Homeownership? Out of the question. Roommates? A necessity. Marriage? Not happening and not desired. Job stability? HA! Simultaneously, while mulling over these differences, I desired to draw a story about a chosen family and how our chosen family (and what we need from each other) can shift or change with age. And big themes aside, I simply came up with the characters and fell in love with their neurosis!
KAPLAN: How does your process of creating a narrative graphic novel like Mimosa compare with your process of creating a nonfiction comic like Yes I’m Flagging: Queer Flagging 101: How to Use the Hanky Code to Signal the Sex You Want to Have or The Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns?
BONGIOVANNI: Very different! With Mimosa, it’s all about the characters. The four main characters, and the way they interact with each other, is the meat of the comic. It’s why it exists in the first place. So creating Mimosa took a lot of imagination in the way nonfiction work doesn’t. I took a lot of walks picturing the characters in different scenarios and how’d they react. Also, I got to draw backgrounds! There’s so much more worldbuilding to think about. Also pacing and plot! In many ways, non-fiction was easier to write–the information is all there, it’s just how you tell it–but fiction is a lot more open-ended.
KAPLAN: Why is it so rare to see queer people of this age range authentically depicted in media?
BONGIOVANNI: That’s a great question! Specifically for comics, the young adult LGBTQ comic market is booming. As it should be! It’s about time! However, when there’s only a few graphic novels about queer adults out there, it’s hard to prove to publisher’s that books about queer folks of an older age can sell well thus worth investing in. In a larger scope, I think the majority of media is drawn towards telling stories that are familiar to a large and broad audience and that they know will sell well. When the media tries to focus on stories that would appeal to everyone (straight and queer, young and old, etc), they lose a lot of nuance that comes from a specific group’s lived experiences.
KAPLAN: Mimosa contains themes of queer sex and kink. Did you receive any pushback for these elements? Is it important to depict these things in mainstream graphic novels?
BONGIOVANNI: I didn’t actually get any pushback! From conception, I knew the comic was going to start with someone masturbating to “Butches In Chains” (a small reference to the dated but not awful movie Better Than Chocolate) when their Magic Wand dies. To me, it’s important to showcase sex and masturbation as a part of my character’s everyday lives because it’s important in my everyday life. My friends are late to dinner and are all, “sorry, I was masturbating” or “sorry, I was boiling my dildos.” It’s just not a big deal! Because Mimosa is a comic, things that would get a pass in writing don’t because there’s a visual element even though there really isn’t much actually shown in the comic. However, I stated early on in my career that I refuse to believe the everyday occurrences of our lives as intrinsically explicit and I continue to stand by it.
KAPLAN: Can you tell us a little bit about your approach to representation in Mimosa? What was it like creating, depicting, and hearing editorial reactions to authentically represented (but obviously flawed) queer characters?
BONGIOVANNI: I didn’t want any perfect characters. No one is without fault in my comic. Which to me, is representation! I was lucky to work with editors who didn’t want my work to feature any good gays, rather just people trying their best, even if at times their best is the worst. It was a lot of fun for me to depict characters who are moody, irrational and at times mean to the people that mean the most to them. While I know everyone would like to act like their higher selves all the time, sometimes we don’t and those are the moments I find interesting.
KAPLAN: What was it like working with Surely Books?
BONGIOVANNI: An absolute dream honestly! Charlotte Greenbaum and Mariko Tamaki were great editors! The comic had a few different drafts and they helped me really focus on the point of the story. They also ever asked me to dilute or change any of the queer aspects of the story which was a delight!
KAPLAN: Have you heard or seen any reactions to Mimosa so far? How do you hope the book is received?
BONGIOVANNI: While, yes, I want this book to be loved by all and sell millions of copies, I truly just want folks to relate to it, whether it’s a scene, a joke, a character or an outfit someone wears clubbing. I want folks to feel like this could be their group of friends. I also hope that younger readers can see what a thriving gay life awaits them. None of my characters are questioning or figuring out aspects of their identity in the story. They are clearly exactly who they want to be, from the start to the end and I just think that’s neat! I hope queers in their thirties and forties can also connect to the lived experiences of my characters, whether it’s holding down multiple jobs, having roommates or kids, or the strength and fragility of chosen families.
KAPLAN: Is the “chubslut” shirt based on a previously existing shirt, or did you design it for this book?
BONGIOVANNI: I am SO GLAD someone noticed that shirt! It was actually made by my friends a few years ago! They had two designs, CHUBSLUT in bubble cloud letters or green Goosebumps lettering. I have a lot of little nods to my friends in this book. Fun fact: I gave all those friends ‘chubslut’ stick-n-poke tattoos on their asses the same year those shirts got made.
KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like me to include?
BONGIOVANNI: I’m a lot of fun (and occasionally NSFW) on my Instagram, which is where I’ll soon be announcing future projects!
Mimosa will be available at a local bookstore and/or public library near you beginning March 7th.