Writer Michelle Perez and artist Remy Boydell team up once again to continue their story from Image Comics' Island anthology but this time with fully-painted images that tell the touching story of a trans girl trying to make ends meet and surviving through hardships, relationships, and sex work in Seattle.
Hitting shelves April 25, The Pervert is a semi-autobiographical portrait of Perez’s life as a sex worker. Newsarama had the chance to speak to both Perez and Boydell about their relationship, Perez’s thoughts on recent sex trafficking laws , and anything else they might have down the pipeline.
Newsarama: So Michelle, Remy, this started out as part of the Island, how did you guys come together to make this into an OGN?
Michelle Perez: We met through a mutual friend of ours, Francine Bridge. She's an amazing print artist and if you have a video game company you need her in your employ right now. Anyway, Remy and I did a little collaborating, and hooked up with Brandon Graham after the first Pervert strip ran in Mammon Machine's ZEAL, an online sorta culture magazine. He loved what he saw, and the rest was history
Remy Boydell: Actually, we were planning a whole book from the start, the partial serialisation was a stroke of luck really! The chapters work as standalone stories, but their place in the whole book was timed up so it worked as one piece.
Nrama: Talk us through the characters of this story because there's more than just one point of view given here in The Pervert?
Perez: There is Tom. He is The Pervert. Everyone keeps asking me who The Pervert is, and it’s Tom. Tom is basically a John who had a trans partner he was never legally able to marry, and so he hires feminine and trans-leaning rentboys. He at some in-determinant point meets our lead, Pedro/Felina. There's Astra, a buddy of Felina's. There are various animal friends, but for some reason I believe if there is a really hated character or visual cue to a character we do not like, they are a human and not a fun animal friend.
Boydell: The main character is the white dog one, so I do feel it’s mainly from that point of view. The deal with Astra, the possum, or weed trap, the camgirl, or even Edna - each of those could be one book each. Those are never going to happen though.
Nrama: Why did you feel that The Pervert was such a suitable title?
Perez: I think we went with the title because of it being our first strip title and it seemed kinda fitting, but I also kept listening to a song called “Pervert” by Descendents because I just mainline punk whenever I'm really doing well with a script. It probably depends on the day you ask me honestly.
Boydell: I kinda hate the title to be honest! Michelle was really in charge of that one. Every time I meet a normal person I gotta evade the question or sink the whole conversation by weirding them out.
Nrama: The sex trafficking legislation known as FOSTA-SESTA has been a hot topic as of late, and as a former sex worker Michelle, how do you personally feel about this initiative? Why do you both think there is still this stigma of being a sex worker?
Perez: FOSTA-SESTA is basically going to drive sex workers into a sort of digital dark age. With vetting services and ease of selecting clients at your own discretion being taken off the table? We're going to see more full service sex workers being on the street as opposed to juggling a more safe gig and so they're going to be exposed to more danger. With transgender sex workers in particular, we're more likely to do sex work than our counterparts because of bigoted hiring practices, and the fact that the whole world round, while people can't agree on much, they sure seem to be unified in their hatred of trans people. Maybe not Thailand so much, but it’s the message I generally see. For perspective? The United States military is the biggest employer of trans people.
There is a ballpark 15,000 people trans people employed by the military, and now we're at a point where this administration is so craven in appealing to literally every bigot it can, that they're going to attempt to push trans people out of that visible position of power. I don’t f-cking care about the American empire. I don’t need trans people drone bombing weddings in Afghanistan to show our validity.
What does give me pause for thought, is that being pushed out of a job when the highest retention they have is about 15,000 people is a sign the government does not want us being seen as legitimate. They do the same in education, and now we see this in sex work, which is now being conflated with human trafficking. They're coming for us in literally every public square. It costs more for our f-cking weird ass deranged blue blood President to golf constantly in terms of travel, and security, than it does to pay 15,000 people in a government job who meet their arbitrary "gender dysphoria" cause for liquidation.
If SESTA existed prior to this book's publication, i myself would be dead or in jail. If I survived magically, and somehow told this story, it seems pretty f-cking likely Felina would be dead or in jail.
Boydell: I’m not a sex worker, but no one seems happy about that stuff. Girls are gonna get murdered, and no one in charge cares.
Nrama: Michelle, you've mentioned that this book was a contributing factor of your break-up with Remy, can you both talk about why this was so important to make amends and come together as friends to make this happen?
Perez: There were a lot of things that became complicated by being partners and creators together on a single work. This thing is our baby so we united to take care of this hideous, beautiful mutant.
Boydell: We finished the book about the same time that we broke up, and we didn’t talk for a year. We fight like nuts. I barely went outside when I made the book. I’m glad I’m entering a new stage of my life.
Nrama: In recent years, there's been this improvement of getting trans comics creators more of a spotlight. How do you feel about being part of this drive?
Perez: Speaking for myself, I do this as a writer in general, and I want to work on all kinda stuff. I’m heartened by the fact that people see quality and that we happened to be at the right place at the right time. I’m as vocal as I am because I’m in favor of trans people being normalized and you know, not just being tolerated. We are as f-cking boring as everyone else. We want legal protections, food, shelter. crazy, outlandish shit like that. I want people to be able to do that on their own terms. If there's one less trans person in the world that can eke out a living without becoming a far right bootlicker or a YouTuber that shouts weird ass conspiracy theories about George Soros, I will have made a meaningful impact on the world around me.
Boydell: This isn’t a diversity drive, this is here because the demand is here. I don’t care how many poorly-adjusted guys get angry that there’s gay furry stuff in the comic book store. Don’t read it if you don’t like it, I’ve already sold a ton. I’ve got mine, dude.
Nrama: Was any part of this autobiographical or simply influenced by your past? The story with Tom for example seems, I don't know, honest, I guess is the best word.
Perez: The book is, for the most part, autobiographical, employing composite characters for both clarity and protection of said persons. Tom is sorta how I view men, and how a lot of what hinges on acceptance and tolerance of LGBT culture sorta hinging on men accepting them, things about themselves, and how unfair and weird that shit can be? If Tom seems on the nose in terms of older men, and fathers you might know, this isn’t really on accident. That said, he’s also someone facing some of the same hopelessness and alienation Felina does. I’m not one for these f-cking insipid "We're all the same, at the end of the day" narratives because they're disingenuous, but at the same time looking at the same experiences we have can be an important lens for empathizing, and getting to a place where we can love ourselves and one another much better.
Boydell: Michelle and I both use the same kind of rationing when we write, about 75% autobio but reshaped so it works in fiction. We really got on because of that.
Nrama: Do you feel like you guys have a solid rapport with Image Comics and maybe have something else planned down the line?
Perez: Image has been great the whole time. I don't really have a point of reference for working with a publisher, but suffice to say they're gonna be my first port of call for any comic book pitches I do in the future.
As far as working with Remy again? I'm not against the idea, and most of the people who have wrote about the comic really keep saying they want us to make something together once again. That said, it would be a while no matter what. Remy's making 920 London, as well as other projects and I'm gearing up for my first novel, as well as starting up like three or so comic projects I keep kicking the can on. I'd love to, but we'd have to see? And I'm not sure we would work on something The Pervert related.
Boydell: I don’t have a date or anything for my next book, but I’m getting close to finishing the inked pages. It’s my first solo book, 920 London, and it’s a British 2005 - era kind of deal. Lots of emo kids.