Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Interview with Ilike Merey

I am so excited to be interviewing Ilike Merey, the awesome artist and author behind A + E 4ever, today! His answers are just brilliant, and it's such a great interview!

Ilike MereyHow did you come up with the idea for A + E 4ever?

A few years ago, I was working on a couple of novellas, exploring different love situations through different ages and places in life. The overarching theme of the stories was alienation and obsession—‘a + e 4ever’ was the story expressing what I called ‘metalove’ (or love that was essentially un-label-able); the story of a teenage boy with a beautiful girl’s face and the tough girl with a vulnerable boy’s heart who loved him too much.

Later, when I got the idea to make a graphic novel, out of the four stories I had written, this one stood out to me as the best candidate. The cast was limited (which fit my limited artistic ability haha) and the visual aesthetic of both characters was crucial to the story. I also liked the idea of making a graphic novel as a developing artist about two people who are also developing artists. Thus the drafting, sketching, inking, cursing, hair-ripping and madness began. ::laughs::

(Jo: Ilike's artisitic ability is not limited! So talented!)

LGBTQ themes constantly run through your graphic novel. Eu experimented with her sexuality in junior high; people make judgements about Ash’s sexuality and his gender because of his beautiful, feminine face. In regards to these LGBTQ aspects, what’s the story/message you want to tell readers? Is there a story/message you’re trying to get across, or is this just Ash and Eu’s lives?

Sometimes I wonder, do we write because there is a message, or does a message emerge because we wrote stuff down? For myself, I find the latter to be much more often the case. I create something because writing and drawing is for me, essentially, a compulsion. It’s how I deal with and process what I feel and experience, but it’s more passive observation about something that fascinates or troubles me than active, conscious commentary. Once it is down, I look at the story or drawing and as often as not realize, huh. There’s like… a message here! >___>

These two particular characters were also part of my observation and fascination. I feel like I watched a few months of their lives and wrote it down, and now that it has been recorded, yes, you can definitely find a message there if you want to.

There is a moment where Ash and Eu are discussing Ash’s sexuality, and what label he would give himself.
Eu: “Ok. So what do you call yourself? Gay? Homo-flexible? Bi, mayhap? A guy who likes sex with guys? A girlfag?” Ash: “I don’t know. Why do I have to call it anything?”
What are your opinions on LGBTQ labels?

{Hope you have a cup of coffee, long answer coming up :D}

Broadly, I think labels can be a positive thing. For younger people especially, labels can create a sense of community and pride about yourself, which is important especially when you are not in the sexual majority and find most books/media/advertising etc. tailored towards heterosexual themes. They are a way to identify others sharing some of your experiences and problems.

However, labels carry with them the idea that there comes a time when your sexuality has to be ‘done’, haha, like a roast in the oven, the timer dings and you are—
A femme lesbian!
A straight guy!
A gay top!
Gold star, you figured it out—now go and enjoy your life and your sexuality.

Depending on your environment/family situation, some experimentation and uncertainty is allowed, but at some point, you are expected to be a gender and orientation definable in a few short words. Once these words have been articulated, if you deviate from that definition, people may see you as confused, or worse, duplicitous. (Because the labels are important in the queer community too, in the complicated ritual of ‘do you, as a certain type of queer person, want to date the type of queer person that I am?’) Let’s not even talk about how some labels are not even fixed yet, so say one person’s idea of ‘trans’ might not be another person’s idea of ‘trans’.

On the days that I feel like I owe someone an explanation or that anyone even cares, yeah, I have my own labels. And they give me a sense of security and feeling of pride and done-ness (not to be confused with completeness >___>).

Other days, I think, hey, I’m not done! What I like this year is not what I liked last year. And who I am this year is not who I was five years ago. Maybe I won’t ever find the label that feels comfortable all the time for the rest of my life and that’s fine too. Maybe some people are never ‘done’? Then I’ll stay unfinished! Alternatively, if we do find a label we are comfortable with, it can be a suggestion, not an iron-clad tenet. I believe labels are more subjective than we sometimes believe.

So you can as a male have experiences with women and still be gay, if that is how you see yourself. You can identify with being a lesbian and fall in love with someone who identifies as male. There is no such thing as ‘not trans enough’.

When Ash and Eu have that conversation, it does not matter that at that point, Ash has never had an experience with a girl before, making him ‘technically’ gay. Or that Eu never has a visible same sex experience in the book, making her ‘technically’ straight.

One of the messages that emerged to myself as I was making my book was that there is no technicality to our identities and how you see and are most comfortable with yourself is, what I’d say, most valid, whether that be straight, gay, bi, pan, asexual, trans or undefined.

A + E 4ever by Ilike MereyTo me, it seems less that Ash and Eu are bisexual, but more that they are attracted to individual people, especially for Eu, like they don’t exactly really "fit" into any label exactly, fluidly moving between all sexual orientation labels. Was that your intention?

Ash and Eu’s sexuality and genders are somewhat an extension of my own ideas on the subject.

I’m more aware of labels now that the book has been published than when I wrote it. When I wrote it I was merely a person who was attracted FIRST to a person’s personality/overall appearance. Their gender, race, sex, orientation, etc. etc. etc. came into consideration after that. I also knew that I personally was attracted to people who, as you previously said, ‘don’t fit’ into clean-cut ideas regarding masculine/feminine, butch/femme, gay/straight, all those polarizing characteristics…

I figure, everyone’s a stereotype until we get to know them—and once we get to know someone we thought we had pegged, they can continue to surprise us because labels are only shorthand and people and their intentions are wonderfully complicated. That wasn’t my intention to express when I started—I realized it, as Ash and Eu could be called one thing, but then they’d turn around and do another.

Despite the huge LGBTQ themes running throughout A + E 4ever, to me, this is a book that’s more about a great friendship, a beautiful love story. Even with the really thought provoking elements on sexuality and identity, what I personally take away from reading your book is the moving, sweet relationship between Ash and Eu. What is the story about to you?

To me, this is a story about creative activity. Traditional creative activity, like drawing, which is a major theme in the book; dancing; communication; enjoying music; sex, which I consider a creative activity with potential positive or negative outcomes, but also how friends create each other, how a close friend can literally become an author of a piece of your life. What they do, what they say to you and the experiences they take you down will draw or write that part of the story of your life and I find that really amazing.

What do you want readers to get out of A + E 4ever?

Charles Bukowski said "My dear, find what you love and let it kill you," haha. I’d modify that to say “My dear, find what you love and hang on to it. Tight.” It can be a friend, it can be something you love to do; ideally, doing what you love to do with someone of a like mind. I want to say to readers, especially younger ones, never give up looking for the things that make you feel at home and/or the people who want to share that with you.

On your route to publication, did you encounter any difficulties finding an agent or publisher due to the LGBTQ themes in A + E 4ever?

Uhm, yes. Hehe.

To me, the LGBTQ themes were initially not so apparent—in the end, (in the beginning?) I thought of it as a modern friend meets friend/shenanigans ensue type story. Like a more techno ‘Ghost World.’ I pitched it to a couple of more main-stream agents and got rejected. When I explained the story to someone, they said, "Well, have you considered going to an LGBT publisher? It sounds a little too out there for mainstream..."

I found a list of say, seven LGBTQ publishers—I got one response back, from Lethe Press. They were interested right away and of course I was overjoyed. They took a risk for my book and for that, I’m very grateful.

Are there any graphic novels for young adults that deal with LGBTQ themes you would recommend?

I recently read ‘Skim’ by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. It’s the only other LGBTQ YA graphic novel I’ve read, but I thought the story was excellent (and I loved the loose, inky art work!).

A graphic novel that will always be an inspiration to me with some secondary LGBTQ themes is “Diary of a Teenage Girl” by Phoebe Gloeckner.

What is your opinion on how YA novels of today deal with LGBTQ themes?

Can I be honest and say that I’m not really well versed in YA—I didn’t write ‘a+e’ specifically for a YA audience and only after I started looking for a publisher did I think, well, this has high schoolers in it... that’s YA, right?!? Since then, I’ve read a few books for a transgendered audience and I enjoyed them.

I think maybe what people might be looking for is YA where the orientation of the characters is secondary—that is to say, books about kids doing cool stuff who happen to be queer and not necessarily ermagahd I’m gay/bi/trans etc. and this is now screwing up my life.

And I think with a new generation of LGBTQ writers growing up, more books will treat LGBTQ themes as matter-of-fact instead of vehicles for coming out drama.

Were there any books you found dealt well with this topic when you were a teen?

Mmm, nothing really comes to mind ::cries::

It would have been nice; I think it would have helped me figure out stuff earlier (I am the type of person who really feels for protagonists and puts myself into the situation). I’m happy to see that this is different now and that there are more books being published all the time for LGBT kids.

What are you working on at the moment? Please tell us we’ll get to read another graphic novel!

I just finished a regular novel exploring some of the themes that come up in ‘a + e’ but in a much broader scope, I'm currently at a cross roads as to the publishing route… and yeah! I would like to do another graphic novel and I have another one broiling in my mind, but it takes an incredible amount of time. :< Can someone fund my project to get it done? I need a year of peace and quiet, paper, ink, music and a lot of rice and instant coffee. Anyone? ^^But seriously, I hope to get started on the new project this year!

Thank you, Ilike, for such a awesome answers! Be sure to check out Ilike's blog, and read my review of A + E 4ever.

1 comment:

  1. Creativity is its own gender -- it's not so much that the wisdom is there to find, but that wisdom is created in us as we read a book like A+E4Ever. That means that we're whatever gender we are at the moment, and that gender is whatever I'm comfortable with it being. Sometimes it's open versus action and other times it's easy verses critical -- which one of these might ever be female or male is up to your own bias, I think. Create another, if you're stuck in one.