Romance stories have a long history in comic books, and the up-and-coming creators Tee "Vixen" Franklin and Jenn St-Onge are rekindling that with a story of two women's romance rekindling decades afer it started.
Scheduled to debut in December, the 80-page OGN Bingo Love follows the the lives of Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray from schoolyard lovers in the 1960s to modern times - and even the distant future. Dovetailing into the success of the movie Moonlight, Bingo Love broke its $19,999 Kickstarter goal in just five days and currently sits at twice that amount with 10 days to go.
Franklin and St-Onge talked about Bingo Love, the pair of Hazel and Mari, and how they themselves paired up to do their first long-form creator-owned comic together.
Newsarama: Tee, what’s Bingo Love about?
Tee “Vixen” Franklin: Bingo Love is a LGBTQ romance story that spans over 60 years. A chance meeting at church bingo in 1963 brings Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray together. Through their formative years, these two women develop feelings for each other and finally profess their love for one another.
Unfortunately, these young lovebirds end up separated, as they are caught kissing by Mari’s grandmother. Being forbidden from seeing each other isn’t punishment enough as both Mari and Hazel are forced into marriages with men whom they do not love.
But fate had another plan. Decades later, now in their mid 60’s, Hazel and Mari are reunited, again at a bingo hall, and their love for each other is still alive. Together again, the sexagenarians decide to divorce their husbands and live the rest of their lives together as wife and wife...despite the objections of their children and grandchildren.
Nrama: Can you tell us about who Hazel and Mari are individually?
Franklin: As a child, Hazel is shy, creative, and uncertain of what these new feelings are when she sees Mari for the first time. Mari is laid back, as you see in the preview, she's very sarcastic and just cool as a cucumber. As far as when they're adult, some things change, but for the most part they are who they are when children.
Nrama: Jenn, let’s bring you in here - how'd you go about designing Hazel and Mari, and their changing looks over the years?
Jenn St-Onge: I’m an artist who works very happily with specifics/reference, and I think Tee got that when we started on our leading ladies. She’ll tell you that she didn’t give me much and that I did a lot of the legwork, but honestly the notes she gave me filled in a ton of the blanks, and we clicked a lot in our ideas of what we wanted each character to look like.
I think the “most” revisions that we did were with Mari’s teenage and senior hairstyles and even that wasn’t that many changes. I pulled up a lot of outfit inspiration for each time period and age for the ladies and pretty much just went from there. I love doing “age up” things for characters so this process was actually a lot of fun for me!
Nrama: This has a bit of a 'romance not meant to be' vibe like classic fiction such as Romeo & Juliet, but you're transposing it to be against social mores of the 1960s to now involving same-sex relationships. How'd you work to make this a deeper story that isn't headline-grabbing like some publishers portray same-sex relations?
Franklin: There definitely is a Romeo & Juliet vibe going on as well, but I consider this to be Black Mirror's 'San Junipero' episode meets the Academy Award-winning Moonlight.
Bingo Love being about older Queer black women shouldn't be labeled as "headline-grabbing." The comic book business has been focused on the narrative views of straight, white males for so long, that anything created by people of color is labeled "out of the ordinary" and just has to be something that grabs the headlines when in actuality our narrative has been avoided or dismissed for the most part.
Our lives are deep, our stories are deep, and for the longest time, there were few places where our voices and stories could actually be heard. I'm an older queer, disabled, black woman, I'm not grabbing any headlines, I'm just living my life; and the characters in Bingo Love, Hazel and Mari, are just living their lives.
Nrama: They're united it seems by the game of bingo, which might be considered anachronistic to some. What's your own experience with bingo, and bingo hall culture?
Franklin: Wait. Bingo's considered to be anachronistic? Ha! I still play bingo from time to time at a recreational center down the street from where I live.
Nrama: Hey, not judging. I live in an area with three bingo halls in a 10-mile radius.
Franklin Bingo is alive and well and will continue to keep on thriving. Bingo was invented in the 1770's I believe and it's reinvented itself to what it is today.
I love bingo. Heck, I went to a restaurant sometime last year and saw a group of people eating and playing bingo together. There's a community within these bingo halls, plus there's a chance to win money and prizes.
Nrama: Tee, you mentioned Moonlight earlier, which also dealt with sexuality in the changing 20th century. How has having that movie come about, and be received so positively, affected Bingo Love?
Franklin: I remember watching Moonlight the day before the Academy Awards and being so drawn in and instantly mad at myself for not supporting this movie when it initially came out. I had heard of Moonlight, but I didn't get a chance to see it until it was available OnDemand. As I was watching this movie, all I could think about was Hazel and Mari. While Bingo Love wasn't influenced by Moonlight, they are definitely distant cousins.
St-Onge: It definitely boosted our confidence in running this Kickstarter, that’s for sure! Sometimes you have a concept that is very outside the (mainstream comics) box and it’s tough to tell if it’s going to be something that connects with potential readers, because it’s something that is needed but sorely lacking, or if it’s something that isn’t mainstream for a reason. I was pretty sure from the get-go that Bingo Love was going to be the first option and seeing the outpouring of support and enthusiasm has really cemented that.
Franklin: I truly believe Bingo Love is being accepted so quickly is because of the fact that people want these stories, they crave them. Representation matters. I really don't understand what is so hard to understand about this concept when it comes to media. People want to see themselves in books, movies and on TV.
St-Onge: People keep telling women in comics (especially women of color creators) to “shut up and go make your own thing” so that’s what we’re doing and it’s striking a chord with people. Being funded in five days shows why this graphic novel is important and needs to be made. We want to make comics for marginalized people that normally gets dismissed in the comics industry.
Nrama: The Bingo Love Kickstarter hasn’t completed yet, but you broke your goal very early on. How emboldening is that, to reach your goal so early?
Franklin: This is so surreal. Sometimes I think this is a dream, or I'm in Flashpoint and remembering what used to be. Thanks, Barry.
We were funded in five days and I remember not being able to breathe with tears flowing down my cheeks. I still can't believe this is happening.
St-Onge: I am honestly very greedy, because we thought about potential stretch goals very carefully and I want to see them all happen! We’re super close to getting a bonus short by D.J. Kirkland funded at $30k, and if we hit $40k we can also include another little comic by Marguerite Bennett and Asia Kendrick-Horton, so obviously, I want to get both of those for this print.
We’ve been so lucky to have all these amazing creators collab with us on rewards and stretch goals and I want to make full use of everyone.
Franklin: Thank you to everyone who has helped make this project come to life. The biggest thanks go to Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, Cardinal Rae, and Erica Schultz. They didn't have to go on this journey with me and they did. They turned my boring words into a book of beauty, I love my team to the fullest.
Nrama: Tee, you've done short stories in several titles for other publishers including Image and IDW. Why'd you choose to self-publish your first feature length story?
Franklin: I truly believed that if I pitched this story to a publisher, no one would pick it up. Bingo Love isn't anything that's out there on the shelves in comic stores. I refused to take a chance of putting a pitch together, just for it to be shot down, Bingo Love is a vital book for my community and I was going to tell it - come hell or high water.
Kickstarter is there for this reason and I decided to take the plunge and put it all out there. If it didn't succeed, then I knew this wasn't what the people wanted, Bingo Love being funded in five days tells a different story.
Newsarama: Jenn, what made Tee's Bingo Love something you wanted to do - when you're already doing major work-for-hire work like Jem: The Misfits?
Jenn St-Onge: This is the first project I’ve worked on of this nature (both in context and in approach to getting it made) and it’s both very freeing and very scary to work this way versus my commercial work. I’ve been freelancing full-time for about two years now and doing professional comics for almost as long, and I got to a point a few months ago where I looked at my work and realized that while I enjoyed the properties I was working on, I wanted to do something more indie and more socially relevant. I’m not the most established comic artist but I still feel like I am in a position to boost up other creators, even a little bit, and that I have a responsibility to my community to do that.
I’m always looking for writers that I connect with and I honestly adore Tee. She is incredibly dedicated to her craft and knowing that she has been fighting for representation in comics for some time, I wanted to make something happen with her. I believe if I’m not using my art to reach those who aren’t being represented, then I feel like I am not utilizing it to my full potential.
Nrama: One of the underscored aspects of a successful Kickstarter is the actual publishing and distribution of the rewards - in this case, the books. You're aiming for a December release, and in the Kickstarter you said this is your and your company Inclusive Press' first time doing this. With your goal already reached, how are you ensuring timely follow-through on delivering
Franklin: We all know that anything can happen at any time and life can be changed in an instant; I was permanently disabled in an instant. The team and I will do our best to get everything to our backers by December. We are printing overseas and that can lead to problems, but we're hoping it won't.
Being disabled does pose a ton of setbacks, but as I mentioned in the risk and challenges section, I plan on hiring people to help with the shipment of Bingo Love and I will continue to keep my backers up to date with everything.
Communication is key and it's no different in this situation.
Nrama: Lastly, how did you two connect to do Bingo Love?
St-Onge: I (internet) met Tee Franklin originally a few months ago, back when there was some flare up over a certain Iron Heart variant cover and I did my own Riri fanart for the #teensthatlookliketeens hashtag. I didn’t realize it was a tag that Tee had specifically started but that was the first thing we connected over!
Franklin: Jenn and I have been trying to work on a project together for a while now, but it just wasn't happening. I finally asked Jenn if she'd be interested in working with Bingo Love and it was a resounding yes.
St-Onge: We are both very passionate about inclusive representation in comics and the characterization of youth in these stories; she had actually approached me about another comic idea that wasn’t right at the time and I was a bit bummed because I did really want to work with her, so I’m really glad that Bingo Love came up not too long after. Clearly we were meant to be!
Franklin: Joy San responded to a tweet and Jenn knew Joy and she loved her art as well as her colors and it just all worked out. Editor, Erica Schultz is an amazing friend of mine and she recommended Cardinal Rae.
Our team was born very quickly and we have been knocking Bingo Love pages out of the park. We can't wait to get the finished product in everyone's hands.