The Chromatic Fantasy
The Chromatic Fantasy

The Chromatic Fantasy by H.A., available from Silver Sprocket now, follows Jules, a trans man trapped in a life as a nun, as he accepts a deal from a devil and escapes the convent. Soon, he meets Casper, another trans man who is a notorious thief. Together, they join into a Technicolor romance for the ages, rendered gorgeously in this must-read graphic novel.

The Beat leapt at the chance to catch up with H.A. over email. We asked all about the creative development of The Chromatic Fantasy, the intentional use of anachronism in the text, and about what inspired this shoo-in for 2023’s “Best Of” lists.

AVERY KAPLAN: Can you share the origins of The Chromatic Fantasy with us? How did the graphic novel come together?

H.A.: There are a couple different places this came from.

First, I had a brief fixation on historical clothing in around 2018, I think, and I started drawing two unnamed characters to put different outfits on. I started giving them lore sort of passively, where I was thinking I wanted them to have these fancy clothes without actually being aristocracy, and decided they were just very good thieves. (Though I guess that’s what aristocracy is anyway.) 

So I just kind of had these throw-away characters laying around, and I had another goal of just wanting to produce any original finished work, even if it wasn’t very good, after spending a long time on a project that I ended up not liking and won’t ever be finished. So I just started writing whatever fun things I felt like coming up with with these guys, thinking “this is the worst thing anyone’s ever made but at least it will be done, and then I’ll have experience making something that I can use to make something better later.” I really wasn’t thinking this would be more than just, like, a little thing I did that maybe a few people would read.

Eventually I started taking the project too seriously. 

Second, I really wanted to make something just gnarly stupid gay. I wanted the characters to be overtly and specifically gay and trans, with no room for other interpretations. Absolutely no subtext. And I wanted to draw them kissing a lot. 

They are two men. They are gay. They are having gay sex and have romantic feelings for each other. They are both trans men. They are explicitly trans men. They are not women in disguise and they are not “discovered” by anyone at any point. 

But I also wanted it to be genuinely entertaining on its own. Outside of wanting to make things gay as shit, I’ve always been drawn to write stories that are surreal and weird and avant-garde. 

Jules and Casper in bed & in each others' arms in The Chromatic Fantasy.

KAPLAN: Did any aspect of the development of The Chromatic Fantasy pose a particular creative challenge for you? Conversely, did any element come especially easily?

H.A.: Overall, I wanted the story to be fun and exciting, but I also had a desire to express and deal with emotions relating to coming out and transitioning in your 20s, which aren’t always fun. Figuring out how to write about and express feelings related to like, sexual trauma, feeling socially ostracized, not being sure how to be a person and etc, and having the overall narrative feel comforting to those issues, without it feeling like I was just tossing in random heavy topics into this otherwise silly story, took some experimenting and planning. 

I also wanted it to have the sort of whimsical fun elements of an animated kids movie, but without it feeling like a kids movie. Like the joy and fear you feel watching a somewhat “scary” animated movie when you are 5 but in a way where it is thoroughly for an adult audience, and not in a way where it feels like a Disney princess who has just learned about swearing, or like a 2000s parody of a Disney movie where the plot is a Disney princess just learned about swearing. I wanted it to feel relevant to the feelings you have as a young adult, where you are at this crossroads of having to deal with childhood traumas, which still feel very recent, and figure out how to live in reality as an adult. 

The visuals were all really fun to do. I love drawing characters talking and hanging out and doing things so that was all really fun for me. I love any chance to draw character acting. I loved coming up with color schemes. I love to draw two guys kissing. All fun for me. I made sure I was always writing things that would be enjoyable to draw for this project. 

KAPLAN: What was your reaction to seeing the first finished copies of The Chromatic Fantasy? The graphic novel is an arresting package!

H.A.: I was really stoked that it looked as good as I’d hoped it would. It was awesome to finally see it all come together. I really wanted the whole book, as an object, to feel like a complete maximalist work in itself. I didn’t want any page to feel underutilized. I’m really glad I was able to design the entire book cover and the title pages and everything. Silver Sprocket did a really good job with printing it and gave me a lot of freedom and I’m so glad they were able to help me make it as tacky and obnoxious as I wanted it to be. 

Jules and Casper find some treasure in The Chromatic Fantasy.

KAPLAN: Although some readers might assume The Chromatic Fantasy is set in the past, there are several anachronisms throughout the text. At what point did you decide to include these seemingly anachronistic elements, and do they reveal something deeper about the text?

H.A.: I did that for a couple reasons. Mostly just because it was funny and looks cool, especially contrasting things that I tried very hard to get as correct as possible. But I wanted to approach it from a very specific place. Like, I am putting that stuff in there as though I sincerely think it is true. Like, I am a completely stupid person, like I’m literally both Bill S. Preston and Ted “Theodore” Logan, and I can’t imagine that they didn’t have phones or PBR in the middle ages. 

These aspects have always been a part of the kind of vibe I wanted to cultivate. I also just think the pursuit of “historical accuracy”, especially about an era called “The Dark Ages”, called such because we don’t have a lot of information about it, which spans hundreds of years and languages and places that don’t even exist anymore, is just a gargantuan task anyway, especially for a kind of dumb comic, so I may as well just be wrong in ways that are obvious and funny.  

I put a lot of effort into finding very specific references for things but I would often either not be able to find information about what I wanted easily, or the answer I would find would be really vague, or I’d think I had something right and then find out later that it wasn’t quite right, (because there is also a lot of extremely easy to find completely incorrect information about the middle ages out there) and I may as well just give them landline telephones. Landline phones feel ancient enough to belong in the middle ages anyway at this point. 1989 or 1389? What’s the fucking difference? I wasn’t alive for either of those years so who’s to say! The 1380s aren’t coming back, grandpa! It’s time to move on. 

I think it also adds to the vibe of it being about modern queer people. In many ways, the story isn’t really about the middle ages, anyway. It’s about gay people right now. It’s about a kind of over-dramatic depiction of chaotic queer youth and unraveling your own childhood trauma, the part of your 20s where you have to figure out how to not succumb to your own anguish and self destructive impulses and choose to continue on living, at all costs.

It’s about when you are in your 20s and you’re insane and it feels impossible to make sense of anything that’s going on. Like that shitty person you slept with, when you first came out and were desperate for validation, feels like The Devil and you need to purge yourself of the confusing boundaryless relationship before it destroys your soul. (Or find a therapist who takes your health insurance. equally as impossible.) Or when you meet your partner’s scary estranged mom and it feels like you’re going to be executed. In many ways, Jules is just some guy who dropped out of college after being disowned by his family for transitioning and Casper is his partner who likes drugs. 

I keep coming back to this section of the interview to try and make it shorter and instead it just keeps getting longer, so I’m going to stop now. 

KAPLAN: Is there something about comics that make them particularly adept for telling queer stories?

H.A.: I don’t think any more so than any other medium. I was able to make this by myself after I came home from work from my shitty cafe job, though, without having to convince a panel of rich old men that they should give me money first, so there’s that. But I don’t think any art medium is inherently queer or not queer. Gay people can do anything if you let them. 

Casper and Jules have breakfast.

KAPLAN: Were there any comics, or any other kind of story or art, that directly inspired The Chromatic Fantasy?

H.A.: I was inspired to start researching historical clothing/costuming after watching The Devils directed by Ken Russel (1971). However, there were a number of other inspirations. 

I ended up having to take a pre-renaissance/medieval art history course in college, against my will. I think the class I wanted to take that semester was full and I needed an art history credit and that was all that was left. I found it a lot more interesting than I thought I would. Many of the traits that that type of art is maligned for as being “bad” or “weird” are perfectly reasonable stylistic choices once you get used to looking at it. 

Other inspirations for this particular work were Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), cartoons where it is a gay animal causing problems like Bugs Bunny or Pink Panther, Mel Brooks films, Raggedy Anne & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977), Edge of Seventeen (1998), and ABBA (as a concept and emotion). 

KAPLAN: What does your creative process and routine look like (if you have one)?

H.A.: I’m not sure I can really concretely say what my process “always is” because I haven’t really been doing this for long enough. Currently, I really like to come up with either bits or emotional scenes or maybe I’ll have cool facts I learned that I want to utilize somehow, and I come up with an excuse to have that happen in the story, a lot.

I like to work somewhere between “backward” and “all over the place” and “everything at once”, where I am working on whole scenes in one file, rather than just a page at a time, and I am always considering where the narrative is going to go later and making sure I’ve set everything up to make sense at the end. It’s really important that everything comes together cohesively, which involves a lot of jumping around for me. I also get bored easily and I try to just work on what I feel like working on. Though I try not to finalize or color anything until I’m really sure I got the narrative and everything exactly how I want it to be. 

Jules runs with the devil.

KAPLAN: Have you received any reactions to The Chromatic Fantasy so far that you’d like to share with us?

H.A.: Everyone has been so positive and enthusiastic about it. It’s really amazing and crazy. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that the story is deeply meaningful to them, especially trans people who’ve told me they feel really seen and understood by it. I’m really happy I could make something that people enjoy so much.

I’ve had some people tell me that this is the first time they’ve seen something like this, with two trans men who are written as whole people in this way. It’s still really rare to see trans men depicted in ways that feel satisfying. I’ve had people tell me it helped them understand their own gender or other issues better. People have been really really positive about it in a way that is hard to describe for me. 

KAPLAN: Can you give us an idea of what’s next for you, comics-wise (or otherwise)?

H.A.: I really like writing Jules and Casper and I want to write more of their adventures before I am completely burnt out on them. Then I have some other stuff I want to do. I have a comic about “baseball” that I want to write.

The Chromatic Fantasy is available at your local bookstore and/or public library today.