I pity the soul who can’t relate to the lyric: “I was a girl in a black corvette getting head in the shadows.”
To date, I’ve always been honest about the joy of writing Iceman’s journey as an out gay superhero, but I’ve skirted around the challenges that came along with it. This is partially because I prefer to give off an upbeat vibe, and there’s also a fear that my truth will affect my career. With more corporations patting themselves on the back for profit-led partnerships wherein celebrities take selfies in rainbow apparel, and with buzz that Marvel Studios is preparing to debut their first gay character in the upcoming Eternals movie, there is an urgency to discuss the realities of creating queer pop culture in a hostile or ambivalent environment. Hopefully, my takeaways will serve as a guide for people in positions of power to consider when advocating for more nuanced and rich representation. In an ideal world, embracing our stories and empowering us to tell them will yield far more profitable (and way less messy) results than what I encountered while writing Iceman.
Stand by your people
It’s no surprise that I got the attention of trolls and irate fans for taking on this job. There was already backlash around the manner in which Bobby Drake aka Iceman came out, and Marvel needed to smooth that landing and put a “so what” to the decision. After a point, I could almost laugh off people making light of my death, saying they have “cancerous AIDS” from my book, or insinuating I’m capable of sexual assault… almost. Between Iceman’s cancellation and its subsequent revival, Marvel reached out and said they noticed threatening behavior on my Twitter account (only after asking me to send proof of all the nasty shit popping up online). An editor called, these conversations always happen over the phone, offering to provide “tips and tricks” to deal with the cyber bullying. I cut him off. All he was going to do was tell me how to fend for myself. I needed Marvel to stand by me with more work opportunities to show the trolls that I was more than a diversity hire. “We’ll keep you in mind.” I got so tired of that sentence.
Even after a year of the new editor-in-chief saying I was talented and needed to be on a book that wasn’t “the gay character,” the only assignment I got outside of Iceman was six pages along, about a version of Wolverine where he had diamond claws. Fabulous, yes. Heterosexual, yes. Still kind of the gay character, though.
We as creators are strongly encouraged to build a platform on social media and use it to promote work-for-hire projects owned by massive corporations… but when the going gets tough, these dudes get going real quick.
Believe in the work
You may be asking if my Iceman book was any good, or if I’m just being sour grapes over a bad work experience. Believe me, I asked that, too. From the get-go, my first editor asserted that Iceman would be DOA if it were “too gay,” while also telling me to prepare for a cancellation anyway, given that most solo X-Men titles don’t last beyond a year. Never mind that my work on Iceman had gotten positive press in the New York Times (in-print), or that in spite of (since-deleted) critical sandbagging, the series nets glowing reviews on Amazon… Marvel still treated me as someone to be contained, and the book as something to be nervous about. Do you know how hard it is to not argue with a publicist when he’s explaining the value of announcing Iceman’s revival via the Marvel homepage? Sis, that’s a burial. Instead of clapping back, I just went and got myself more press from the New York Times. From there, they tightened my leash. I had to get all opportunities pre-approved, and all interviews pre-reviewed. This would be fine if it was the standard, but I assure you: none of my straight male colleagues seek permission to go on podcasts promoting their books.
What Marvel should have done is assign me a special projects editor. They should have worked with a specialty PR firm, rather than repeat a tiresome cycle of treating the book like a square peg, and getting confused when it’s a hit.
Give us a real seat at the table
There was a moment before Iceman was cancelled where I wrote then-editor-in-chief Axel Alonso an email, pleading for a Hail Mary arc. I explained that Iceman was landing with a newer generation of readers who focused more on binge-reading than month-to-month periodicals. The series needed time in the book market before its true strength could be assessed. To Axel’s credit, he was warm to the idea and even gave me an extra month, but when he left Marvel that idea got brushed away. Of course I was right. The first two volumes sold like gangbusters thanks to word-of-mouth, librarian love, and support from retailers big and small.
When the series returned, no one at Marvel asked me: “What do you think landed with readers?” Nor did they ask the question that Axel did: “What matters to your community?” So when I wrote what I thought the fans would be into, a story about a man learning to be a better ally in the war against hate, editorial totally missed its value.
Seat at the table pt II: The Shade of it all
All of the weird drama I put up with crystallized when I created a drag queen mutant, first called Shade, now called Darkveil. I told my editor that Shade would be a big deal for X-Fans, and asked how we should promote her. He said: “leave it up to the reader’s interpretation.” Everyone at Marvel shrugged off two years of goodwill and acted like I’d coordinated behind their backs on an announcement that made headlines. Beyond mentioning on Instagram the queens who inspired the character, I didn’t coordinate shit. Of course, their head publicist can’t admit that my quotes were pre-approved from an unreleased interview. At this point, I stopped believing that there’d be any more work for me. There were so many shady moves on their end that I’m still having trouble putting into language, but it all aligned with an experience I had in retail where a corrupt manager kept lying and moving the goal posts in order to keep me selling in a department I didn’t want to work in. I offered to give Darkveil a proper character bio, and I walked away.
I recognize that some of my complaints can be filed under “this is freelance life.” I am aware that it was not a queer person of color who joked to me that “it’s not a matter of if Marvel fucks you over, it’s a matter of when.” That came from a cis white male. The same-day turn-arounds without warning, the work emails on Christmas week… that’s the freelance bullshit. Truly, I don’t even think of this as discrimination, I call it general ineptness. It is my belief that if we are telling stories about heroes doing the right thing in the face of adversity, wouldn’t the hope be to embody those ideals as individuals? Instead of feeling like I worked with some of the most inspiring and brave people in comics, I was surrounded by cowards.
Truly, I hate writing this. In keeping with Pride Month, I am proud of the work I did on Iceman… I love the book! It sucks that I may be tarnishing its legacy going public about how the cookies were made. That said, the time for self-congratulating is over, and folks should be earnestly listening when they ask: what could we have done better?
I’m my own queero and sailor scout
I’ll be on the 5/20 episode of HEY QWEEN TV with the magnificent Dax Exclamation Point!
My poster for Jenny Lewis’ Palladium show, along with yours truly in his On the Line finest
I dug the movie Long Shot, starring Seth rogen and Charlize Theron!
Proves you can totally do the rom com, in spite of toxic masculinity and tired tropes !
Jenny Lewis released a new album
ON THE LINE
have you listened ?
I was on the line on-line tonight !
Got to draw Sarah based on her own description - she phoned from Costa Rica !
Thanks for having me, Jenny Lewis. Hope everyone is excited for on the line !
Raise your hand if you love PEN15 on Hulu as much as I do :-)))
She is now to be called DARKVEIL
want the full tea on Shade’s origins, Darkveil’s evolution, and future plans for the character? PopSugar has all of it:
Portrait of the band FEELS. Their gripping new album POST EARTH is out now!
I’m writing Jughead!
Jughead’s Time Police to be exact
Derek Charm is drawing !
June come sooooon
Syfy wire has the tea:
As my chapter at Marvel comes to a close with the beautiful Uncanny X-Men: Winter’s End special, my destiny truly begins when I announce the character I was born to write. Keep your eyes peeled this Thursday for the best valentine’s day gift your favorite dummy could ever offer.
“The End is really the beginning, you’ll find out when I return” - Alex Greenwald, ROTK
Old death drawing with new tools
Shade, drawn by me. I’ve included a peek at her lewk for Uncanny X-Men: Winter’s End, out in February from Marvel Comics.
I appreciate all the love and support the character has received to date! Expect a massive fan art drop in coming days :-)
“I’ll Always Remember Us This Way”
New lapel pin commemorating a Star is Born
Only 100 available
Plated in antique gold
My friend and muse colleen green
Here’s more shade fan art!
(The last one is a design she’ll be wearing in the future… more on that in a sec)
Her first appearance is in the fourth issue of the latest Iceman run. A mutant drag queen who can create pocket voids a la Cloak, Shade is one of my favorite characters i created while working on Iceman. Similarly, I have really loved seeing y’all interpret her lewk and come up with a few original ideas as well!
She’ll be showing up in Iceman issue five, as well as Uncanny X-Men: Winter’s End in February.
Thanks everyone for being so rad!
Introduced a drag queen mutant named Shade in issue four of my current Iceman run. She’s dope. She can create pocket voids similar to Cloak’s powers.
This boss queen has only been on people’s minds for a day and I’m receiving fan art.
Also including my original design for her that I sent to series artist Nate Stockman.
Here is Siobhan Keenan’s cover to Jem and the Holograms 20/20, out in January from IDW Comics! She did an amazing job illustrating the story I wrote about Jem two decades into the future. Lots of truly outrageous moments await you!