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One of the important functions of zines is that they can fill in gaps where mainstream publishers forget or refuse to go. For queers, people of color and anyone with an alternative lifestyle, self-publishing and small press publishing have always provided a crucial method of expression and communication. Now, combined with technologies like videos, podcasts and social media, it’s possible for alternative creators to become their own media proprietors, sharing not only their creations but also other voices in need of a venue.
Nia King went to art school for comics in 2005, but dropped out after only one semester. She began to draw again seven years later, when her boss asked her “What do you really want to be doing?” and she replied, “I want to be an artist for the movement.” “Then why aren’t you making art?” he replied, which inspired her to start drawing comics about her life and sharing them on Tumblr.
King’s comics are about her relationship with her partner, a white transgender man. King identifies as a mixed-race queer woman of color. Her comics touch on topics that many of us will recognize, especially because they’re based on real life incidents. Her insights on the hypocrisies and frustrations of working as an unpaid intern at a non-profit organization ring true, and many readers will also identify with her struggles as a queer artist of color in a mostly white art school.
But some of King’s best comics are the ones that focus on her relationship. They record the kinds of things we all deal with in real life: going to parties and wondering if there will be any other brown folks there, dealing with each other’s families at holidays, having bad days at work, and cuddling with your partner. What makes them so great is that they emphasize the love and support her relationship provides, in spite of all the prejudice and negativity of the outside world.
For example, in the comic “Bunny Love,” King is nuzzling her boyfriend’s cheek. “Oh my God, your facial hair is so soft!” she exclaims. “You like it? I put honey on it to make it extra soft…like a bunny rabbit,” her boyfriend replies. “It’s working,” King answers, with a smooch. It would be so easy to have these comics reflect only strife and struggle; but filling them with love instead makes them a much bolder political statement.
King’s media presence includes her website, Tumblr, and her podcast We Want the Airwaves: QPOC Artists on the Rise, in which she interviews queer and transgender artists of color. In August and September, King used indiegogo to successfully raise enough money to transcribe these interviews so she can publish them as zines, an e-book, and as a hardcover book. It’s telling that King plans to use the money to pay people who helped her with the interviews, and to offer as an incentive advice on how to increase your own visibility as an arts’ activist.
King is also participating in the POC Zine Race Riot Tour, October 3 – November 9, 2013.
King’s work is a great example of how alternative culture can build its own network. Her hard work is commendable for both publicizing King’s voice, and for also supporting and sharing the work of other valuable artists.
Art Credit: Nia King