“Diversity of every sort—racial diversity, gender diversity, acknowledging minority sexualities—is experiencing an explosion of recognition and representation in comics,” C. Spike Trotman, creator of the webcomic Templar, Arizona, acknowledged in 2015.
But while this may be true (see: Riri Williams, America Chavez, and the melanated excellence of the forthcoming Black Panther film), the comic book industry, whose publishers are predominately white, still has a long way to go.
Tee Franklin, a queer and disabled Black comic book writer, has been tuned into the convo for years.
“When you talk about the Academy Awards, and how [inclusion and diversity] was a prime topic, I look at the cold, hard reality, and I’m in business,” a retailer reportedly told Marvel executives at a summit earlier this month. “A lot of those movies, or other things in other media, aren’t really big money makers. For me, I care more about whether I’m going to sell it or not.”
Tee Franklin, a queer and disabled Black comic book writer, has been tuned into the convo for years. An avid comic book reader since childhood, she created #BlackComicsMonth in 2015 so Black comic book creators could get their shine on.
“There is just a huge straight white bro [dominance] in comics,” she told CASSIUS. “You have a sprinkle of people of color here and there, but the fact that there are so many people that I did not know that existed—I just felt that I had to do something about it.”
Now—with the help of artist Jenn St-Onge, colorist Joy San, and letterer Cardinal Rae—the Jersey native is publishing her first full-length comic book, Bingo Love. The 80-page graphic novella, tentatively dropping this year, chronicles the story of two Black women who met as kids in ‘63 and fall in love.
“They’re older women, and you definitely do not see that in comics at all,” Franklin said. “This could be someone’s real life that I’m telling, and I think that’s why it’s so important for stories like this to be out there.”
We spoke to the bad-ass mother of three about her forthcoming comic and the barrier-breaking Kickstarter that raised $57,148.
CASSIUS: Take us back. How did Bingo Love come to be?
TEE FRANKLIN: I came up with the idea while watching a commercial for a heart specialist transplant. They had these two older Black women sitting on some brownstone steps. I just felt like I needed to tell a story about, not necessarily them, but older Black women, but I wanted to delve deep into their past.
I don’t know what their backstory is in the commercial, but for this project I decided to have them to be queer. I knew I wanted a LGBTQ artist to help me with this project just because I wanted an inclusive team. I put out some tweets and artists, colorists—they all just popped up and everything just gelled together instantaneously. We started to mock these pages out and we launched on March 15 for the Kickstarter.
CASSIUS: What was it like working with the team?
TEE: Jenn’s artwork is just – oh my god, it’s just so beautiful. I remember when I got the first page and I cried like a baby. It was so perfect. [Laughing] And then Joy added her colors. My favorite page is page two where you see a slew of Black women, all different shades, sitting with their little church hats on and their little bonnets and they’re playing bingo together. It’s my favorite page because there are so many Black women on this page and you don’t see that a lot in comics, and when Joy gave me this picture I just lost it because there’s so much representation on one page.
CASSIUS: You really don’t come across many comic book stories with queer protagonists, let alone Black queer women protagonists – at least not in the mainstream.
TEE: You are absolutely right. It’s just not something that publishers are looking for. That is just not something that they believe will sell. Obviously, I’m proving them wrong because [Bingo Love] was funded in five days and currently [has] over 1,000 backers. I’m gonna say there’s an audience for a story like this.
And [the protagonists are] not only queer and women of color. They’re older women, and you definitely do not see that in comics at all. This could be someone’s real life that I’m telling, and I think that’s why it’s so important for stories like this to be out there.
CASSIUS: Moonlight comes to mind.
TEE: It’s funny because I heard of Moonlight when it came out and I wanted to see it, but I’m disabled so me getting around a lot and sitting in movie theaters is really just not feasible for me. So I figured, ‘You know what? When it comes out, I’ll buy it on demand,’ and when it finally came out, it was, what, a few days before the Oscars? Watching it I’m like ‘Holy crap, this is Black Mirror ‘San Junipero’ with Gugu [Mbatha-Raw] meets Moonlight.’ That is an accurate description of Bingo Love, and Moonlight really blew me away like ‘Oh my God! This is my girls!’
It was such a good flick, and I think that’s probably another reason why people are drawn to [Bingo Love] because they’re craving these stories – these queer Black stories. Moonlight was a Black story. Bingo Love is a Black story. No offense to people of color, that’s not where I’m going with it, but people want these queer Black stories and I think that’s why people are drawn to Bingo Love – because it reminded them of Moonlight.
CASSIUS: I think it’s affirming as well. Like, ‘There are people out there who recognize my story and care to tell it. You see me.’
TEE: Absolutely. It’s so—I can’t even tell you the things that are gonna go on, but goodness gracious, you gotta grab tissues. It’s so heartbreaking. [Laughs] But when it comes to love stories, there’s tragedy! I couldn’t just make this, ‘Oh, everything is all roses!’ That definitely isn’t the case with Bingo Love.
CASSIUS: Is this the first comic you’ve written?
TEE: No! My first comic I wrote was called The Outfit. It’s a four-page horror short that was in Image Comics’ book Nailbiter Issue #27. It’s a four-pager, little bit of blood, little bit of guts, you know. A lot of ‘Ohh, snap!’ A lot of horror. That was my first bad boy.
My second one was a short, a one-page story in the New York Times best-selling Love Is Love book, that actually I believe just raised $165,000 for the victims of the Pulse shooting in Orlando. That was with DC Comics and IDW. I have a total of 15 pages total that have been published. I’m really new in this whole comic book writing industry, so this is my first full-length comic.
CASSIUS: I take it you’ve always been into comics, though.
TEE: Oh God, yeah. Comics helped me during a very bad time in my life and comics kept me grounded. [They] kept me alive. Literally. There’s just something about comics that has been there since I was younger, and decades later I’m still into it, but I’m pretty much over the whole [idea of] cape comics with the white savior and superhero doing this. I’m just over it. With there not being enough superheroes that look like me, it’s just not something that’s appealing to me anymore, so I gravitated towards the horror, the mystery, the crime type of comics, a lot of indie comics. I don’t stick to one genre when it comes to my writing, just like I don’t stick to it when it comes to my reading.
CASSIUS: Mari and Hazel are superheroes in themselves just by unapologetically being who they are.
TEE: Yes. That is their super power! The confidence to live their lives. Nowadays it’s kind of hard, especially if you are a 60-something-year-old person and you’ve been married 40, 50 years and you’re like, ‘You know what? I’m done. I love you, but I wanna spend the rest of my life being happy with somebody I truly love.’ That takes a hell of a lot of confidence, you know? It’s not being selfish at all. Like in Baby Boy she was like, ‘Momma gotta have a life, too!’ It is what it is!
I wanted to also show the young LGBTQ kids that ‘Hey! You guys can grow old with somebody!’ You might not see it in certain mediums, but you can grow old and you can still be in love just like the first day you met this person or the first time you fell in love. Just because someone is straight doesn’t mean they’re the only ones to get their happily-ever-after. Sorry. Everybody deserves happiness. Everybody.
This interview was edited for flow and brevity. ‘Bingo Love’ is available for pre-order here.