Meet Author Jennie Wood, Whose Gender-Bending Hero is Changing the Face Of Comics
Jennie Wood is the author of the comic Flutter, a coming of age story with a sci-fi twist that explores gender roles through a fantastical premise. Fifteen-year-old Lily is endowed with the ability to shape-shift into a boy's body. The comic traces her first experience of seeing the world through a boy's eyes as she seeks the love of a young girl. The comic, along with Wood herself, has been receiving positive press recently, and Wood has just completed a new novel. I reached her on Skype in Boston, where she now lives.
Stephanie Hill (SH): Where did the story for Flutter come from?
Jennie Wood (JW): The root of this story was growing up in a small southern town, working at the local movie theater and watching other people — including my older brothers — on dates. I would sit there and dream about being a boy and taking someone on a date.
SH: Why comics?
JW: I read Y: The Last Man, and just loved it. I started writing this story and found prose just too flat, and when I thought about writing it for TV or movies I could just picture the bad special effects. As a kid, I read superhero comics like X-Men, Hulk, and Thor, and later I studied theatre and movies. But it wasn't until I read Y: The Last Man that I got really enthusiastic about the medium.
SH: How did you meet your collaborator?
JW: Jorge Vega introduced me to Jeff McComsey. I was taking classes at a writing center, and I took a graphic novel course with him. He had worked with Jeff in the past and made the intro. When we're working, Jeff shows me the rough sketches of pages and then the inks later. He also gets much deeper into the script, bios, and characters.
SH: LGBTQ issues play a large role in this work. How much was advocacy on your mind in telling this story?
JW: Issues of gender and sexuality are something I'm passionate about. My novel, A Boy Like Me , has a transgender main character. For Lily in Flutter, life is easier as a boy and people like her more that way, but it's hard in other ways.
I also think that the time has really come for these kinds of stories. The exclusionary attitude that has been such a big part of society is on the way out. People like Lady Gaga are part of a move to a more inclusionary model of living.
SH: How involved are you with the LGBTQ comic community?
JW: I don't know how involved I am in the community, but I've found some pretty good comics on the topic. I was at Massachusetts Comic Expo, and I found an independent comic called Jesus Loves Lesbians, Too. I feel like that one really explored a range of issues.
SH: Can you tell me about the process of getting the work published? Why did you choose the route that you did?
JW: The comic is available both in print and in digital form. We both wanted to be with an indie publisher and wanted the story to be told as a graphic novel rather than in shorter installments [the way typical superhero comics are].
At about the halfway point of finishing the story, we approached 215 Ink because they had been the table next to me at the Boston Comic-Con. They're fighting the good fight, and seemed like the right fit. We sent what we had so far, and they accepted it, and here we are.
SH: What has the experience of having the story made public been like?
JW: The demographic of people reading it has been a real spread. At comic conventions there are so many exhibitors, and people are understandably skeptical, so it's a good test of who you might be able to reach.
I remember this one guy — probably around 15 years old — wearing a Rise Against T-shirt who picked up a copy and asked me about the premise. Once I explained, he said, "That sounds like it doesn't suck." It was exciting to reach someone beyond my expectations.
SH: Let's talk a little about the characters. Lily has several people around her who kind of help her to blossom. Are any of them based on people you know, or people you wish you knew growing up where you did?
JW: Penelope was going to be a pretty minor character. It wasn't until I saw Jeff's drawings of her that I fell in love with the character. She is what I wish life was like when I was 15.
SH: The parents in this story are kind of dealing with things at a different level. How deliberate was that?
JW: I wanted to really capture that moment of teen angst when people are really trying to separate from their parents and forge their own identities. No spoilers, but, in Volume 2, a lot of those issues are going to come round again.
SH: So Volume 2 is on the way?
JW: Yeah. Still working on getting the word out about Volume 1, but the story is progressing.
SH: How does the feedback from the first volume affect your writing process on the second?
JW: The reactions mostly remind me of the things I want to do with this story. I think it's an amazing thing that has happened in pop culture — I'm thinking of things like Lost — where fans can interact with creators to get questions answered and address issues. Like, in Lost, everyone would have tons of questions, the creators would hear that, and in an episode or two you'd see some of the characters voicing the same questions. I think it all feeds the story.
SH: Is the ending to the story already written?
JW: I have an ending in mind, and that allows for changes on the way. The story can still alter, or can even alter more because I know where it's heading. The story is about thinking about gender — about why we're different and how that affects who we are.
PM: Are you working on other projects right now?
JW: I'm finishing up a novel for young adults called A Boy Like Me about a trans boy learning what it means to be a man.