Bebe and Annie don’t run in the same circles at their high school. Bebe is the popular and high performing captain of the cheerleading squad; Annie is an anti-social lesbian who needs more extracurricular activities for her college education.
Encouraged by her mother to join the cheerleading team, Annie feels a romance blossoming with Bebe. This is the premise of “Comfort! Love and pompoms“, a graphic novel released Aug. 10 from Portland publisher Oni Press written by Seattle-based author, artist and game developer Crystal Frasier. Val Wise illustrated the book; the editor, who drew the text for the novel graphic, is Oscar O. Jupiter.
The story is more than just romance; it touches on the complexities of friendships, team dynamics and tokenization. Bebe is a transgender girl and the first trans captain of the cheer team; While her parents are overprotective, her friends don’t always realize that what they see as support is more selfish than considerate or cooperative. Through it all, Annie and Bebe navigate their sweet feelings for each other and help each other develop further.
The Seattle Times spoke to Frasier on Zoom about the inspiration for this story, the legislation targeting the right of trans children to participate in sports, and the center of trans and queer joy in the storytelling. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What inspired the creation of this book?
It is a bit the opposite of an inspired project. I was on the escalator at the Washington State Convention Center for a convention, and I was just thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a story about gay cheerleaders and they were kissing, and that one of them was trans? Because we don’t have a lot of queer cheerleader stories. We had âBut I’m a Cheerleaderâ and I think there was a queer cheerleader subplot in âGleeâ. And trans girls never have happy stories; it’s just something that’s stuck in my head. A few weeks later, when Oni asked me for pitches, I thought, âOh, here are the ideas that I have been developing for months and months. Then here’s this random idea that I had on the escalator one day, “and they’re like,” We want the one on the escalator. “
What’s your own athletic or team background, and how did you approach writing the team aspect of the book?
In fact, I don’t have a lot of team sports experience. I had asthma growing up, and in high school, when I started dating, I was very goth. Sport was therefore not really on my radar. A lot of my friends were on the cheerleader team and it was nothing like the stereotypes you see on TV or in the movies. I love collaboration, I love working with other people, so I love sports stories as team building, community building. Sport is a good metaphor for any type of community development or for meeting a group challenge.
Right now, there is an avalanche of laws that target the rights of transgender children to participate in sports. What do you think of the importance and limitations of telling stories like âCheer Up! “?
We started writing it before this legislative tidal wave happened. The writing was finished in 2019, when the only people talking about trans women in team sports were a few weirdos in England. So it’s a little weird to see that become a problem by the time the book we wrote about it comes out as well. The book was never meant to be a huge political statement. It was more meant to be something nice and sweet, because a lot of trans narratives really miss it. We don’t get fluffy gum stories very often that are just designed to make us feel good. Many of them focus more on pain. So the fact that this is a story of small victories and human growth around sport, just like the issue of trans women in sport is becoming a thingâ¦ I hope that helps some people. to empathize, but I don’t think ignorance is really the cornerstone of why many of these people oppose trans inclusion. I think it’s mostly a smokescreen to stoke the fear of a minority that doesn’t represent a real threat and that can’t retaliate. This book is primarily intended for trans children who feel excluded and need that friendship. Val and I specifically set the goal of writing the book we needed when we were kids.
How do you specifically center trans and queer joy in your work, and what do you find the happiest about it?
It depends on the project. I like to see trans characters possessing themselves and not being defined by the cisgender people in their lives. But sometimes it’s just little joys like telling sweet, sweet little stories about two kids falling in love with an audience that never sees that kind of story on themselves. For âEncourage! In particular, there are a lot of my own little triumphs with Bebe, in particular learning to stand up for herself, learning that she doesn’t have to make everyone happy in her life, and learning to stand up to her dad who doesn’t. Not really supporting him – he’s not exactly negative, but is still a source of stress in her life and something that she sort of ignored and let slip until the end of the book. The hope was to show how friendship helps us grow as people, as Annie learns to be a little nicer to Bebe and Bebe learns to be more assertive from Annie. It’s a bit simplistic, but it’s still an important lesson.
What do you unconditionally like about this book?
I’ll go with Annie’s unbridled glee for the terrible bands she loves. We originally made a list of six or seven fake bands that she was a fan of, and we were going to design some stickers to put on her laptop and put up posters in a room and that sort of thing, and we just have ran out of time. There was too much going on to sit down and design stickers on top of everything else. But I’ve known so many people in my life who have recognized that the bands they love are terrible or have their flaws, but they’re still in love with them just as ever. This is how I feel about Guitar Wolf.
Is there anything else you want to talk about or new projects you’re working on?
Well, we’re currently working on a follow-up to âCheer Up! Â», So they will be the same characters. I’m working with Marvel Comics on a series called “Gamma Flight”, which is a spin-off of their “Immortal Hulk” line. These are my big plans at the moment. I would also say if you have money to donate to trans charities this is definitely the time for that. Groups like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project are fighting this tidal wave of anti-trans legislation, groups like Mermaids are working hard to provide resources for trans children. So anyone who can save a little to help out would be appreciated, especially at this time.