Lilah Sturges is a writer of comics, prose, poetry, and video games. Among her many credits are the Fables spinoff Jack of Fables and Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass. The Beat had a discussion with Lilah at SDCC ’18 about why queer representation in comics matters and why it was so meaningful for her to work on Lumberjanes, but somehow the record of our conversation got lost along the way. When it inexplicably arrived at The Beat, replete with supplementary answers from Ms. Sturges, we decided we had already asked enough questions and resolved to simply post it.
Avery Kaplan: What is The Infernal Compass about?
Lilah Sturges: Infernal Compass focuses on the relationship between Mal and Molly, which is sweet because it’s both girls’ first relationship. It’s a queer relationship and it’s happening in the context of this friend group, and Molly’s having some concerns about how their relationship is going to affect their friendship with the rest of the girls.
Molly’s anxiety about the relationship interacts with a magical item called the Infernal Compass that has the power to lead people astray. It’s a cursed compass, instead of taking you where you’re supposed to go, it leads you the wrong way. It turns out that there is someone who is trying to get the compass for her own reasons – this lady explorer and her legion of very polite robotic butlers. Hilarity ensues.
Kaplan: Can you tell me about the art?
Sturges: The art is by polterink. She’s phenomenal, it’s all black and white, with spot color – it doesn’t look anything like the Lumberjanes comics. It’s been such a joy working with her.
Kaplan: Why was working on this book important to you?
Sturges: You want representation of the groups shown on the page. The Infernal Compass focuses on this queer relationship, and so, being able to write that as a queer person, and as a woman who loves women, was huge for me.
Kaplan: How has the queer comic book community helped you?
Sturges: The queer comic book community has been supportive and embracing. When I came out, people were excited! The best messages of support I got said, “I was already a fan, and now that I know that you’re queer, now that I know that you’re trans, I love you even more!”
Kaplan: How has representation helped you personally? Or has it?
Sturges: It’s hard for me to see myself in a lot of the scant trans representation there is, because there’s so little of it. It’s hard for me to see myself because I’m a mom in her forties. I’ve never seen a trans mom in her forties portrayed, ever, anywhere. And I’m trying to change that in my career, but it’s a hard sell even for editors who are sympathetic to my plight.
Kaplan: How has Lumberjanes offered positive representation?
Sturges: One of the Lumberjanes, Jo, is a trans girl. It’s so deftly handled in the book, and I found out they consulted with Mey Rude, a trans woman who is very involved in comics. I love the fact they got a sensitivity reader, which is something I wish more people would do.
If you’re writing a character who belongs to a specific marginalized community, it’s so important and useful to hire a sensitivity reader. As a member of that community, they can look over what you’re doing and make it feel more real, make it feel more fleshed out, and also point out any mistakes you’re making, so when your book comes out you don’t look like a complete idiot because you screwed something up a member of that community will immediately recognize.
The reason the character of Jo in Lumberjanes is so beautifully handled is because they took the time to talk to someone about what it’s like to be trans. And it shows.
Kaplan: What projects do you have coming out soon?
Sturges: In July, The Magicians Original Graphic Novel: Alice’s Story is released, which is a re-telling of Lev Grossman’s novel The Magicians from the female lead’s point of view.
The follow-up to Infernal Compass, which is called The Shape of Friendship, [will be released] in November. The Lumberjanes encounter a group of Pooka, which are shape-changing mythological creatures, who trap and replace them at the camp. Will Jen figure it out before they escape and make it back home? And Ripley part of the plot revolves around Ripley getting these candies called “Squishy Squids”!
[Editor’s note: For FCBD, Boom! Studios is releasing Lumberjanes: The Shape of Friendship FCBD Special, which debuts the first chapter of the new graphic novel.]
Kaplan: Have you read any comics lately you’re excited about?
Sturges: I really like Submerged. It’s written by Vita Ayala and they’re fantastic, and Lisa Sterle’s art is beautiful. It’s everything I want in a comic: beautiful art and an engaging story with this mythological feel to it.
To keep up with Lilah Sturges, follow her on Twitter.