The past few months in North Carolina have been entrenched with dispute over HB2, a law which designates that men and women to use the public bathroom connected to their birth sex. Rallies and protests have collected people all over the state to show their disagreement, but societal indignation has arisen in other ways as well. “Alters”, the newest comic book for AfterShock comic industry features a superheroic transgender women; because no one fights injustice better than a superhero.
This comic was released in early September and features Charlie, a closeted transgender woman recently mutated into an Alter, someone with special abilities. With her new found powers she becomes Chalice, and fights crime with other marginalized Alters during a war of good versus evil.
This past Saturday, Ssalesfish Comics in Winston-Salem, held a book signing event with the writer for “Alters”, Paul Jenkins. I interviewed Jenkins, and his friend and also owner of Ssalesfish Comics, Brett Parks. They filled me in on the importance of this first-ever comic featuring a central transgender protagonist.
Jenkins always knew that he was going to write about a transgender woman, but things picked up fast when he met Liz Luu at a comic convention. He loved Luu’s ideas and asked to use them in his upcoming comic book. Luu agreed, and has been mentioned as an great source of inspiration. Jenkins own desire to place a transgender protagonist as the lead was to show real life disadvantages in society. He stated, “Giving someone that is marginalized in society…a hyper advantage is going to have a collision in the middle of the human being,” which makes “Alters” such a relevant comic. Chalice, assumed by others to be the middle brother of three, decides to keep her transition a secret from her family, as well as her Alter abilities. If she decides to tell them she may face ‘mutation’ and discrimination. As any transgender individual, she struggles with the aspects of telling those that are close to her and navigating the changes of her body. Yet, as Jenkins wanted to make clear, the comic does not focus only on Chalice’s struggles, but the liberating aspects of freeing herself from the shackles of a false identity.
Chalice is one of several marginalized characters yet to come. Jenkins spoke of upcoming characters facing homelessness and bipolar disorder. He also mentioned including characters physical disabilities, such as a quadriplegic man. He has worked on other mainstream comics such as Wolverine, Hellblazer, and Spiderman, yet he has had little luck in getting these big time industries to change their focus on characters’ appearances and personalities. That is why “Alters” is such a big deal for the industry. The diverse staff working on the comic is attempting to surface regular issues into the superhero world.
Overall, “Alters” has received great feedback. One transgender fan came into the book signing and said to Jenkins, “thank you so much, this is my character”. Yet, in between the positive hype are some negative comments. There are a few saying that Jenkins, a white man, should not be writing about trans people. Jenkins fundamentally disagrees saying, “If I must write who I am, there is going to be an awful lot of miserable stories about a middle aged man that likes video games and golf”. One church group seconds their disliking towards the comic, and showed their distaste by photoshopping the specialized cover. The cover features Chalice taking down bathroom signs for specific sexes and posting unisex signs. The church group changed the signs to say such things as “God won’t change your chromosomes”. Jenkins response to this is, “I’m so glad they are hating on us that means we are doing something right”.
Jenkins lastly told me about the artwork going into “Alters”. One way Jenkins wants change people’s perceptions is to play with the idea of beauty. He is a huge proponent for changing the overt sexual nature of comics, and is trying to get away from. One female Alter that is going to appear soon is very physically unattractive because, as we would assume, she is a mutant. However, Chalice is the only exception. The team decided on her appearance to be sexualized since that goes against the stereotype for trans-people. To tie a bow onto the interview, I asked Parks, the owner of the comic store, what he thinks about HB2. He said, “I’m proud of NC, but ashamed right now… [The bill] doesn’t reflect the views of all people”. While Jenkins had stated that, “We aren’t a crusader, we are entering the narrative”. Jenkins’ means that they do not want to distort any view of transgender peoples, but show that anyone can be a superhero.