"Validation" is the story of a transgender girl named Ally. The strip explores the triumphs and challenges she faces, but it's also a strip about geek culture. It's about cosplay and conventions and spending too much time on the internet and needing to get out of the house, but it's also about the process of getting one's gender changed on a driver's license, connecting with other queer friends and the additional challenges of dating. It avoids melodrama and preachiness, but it's emotionally open in a way that's very powerful. After meeting in person for the first time at the recent Phoenix Comicon, Crawford and Bernaek spoke with CBR News about the project.
CBR News: First of all, what is "Validation?"
Kelci Crawford: "Validation" is a webcomic about Ally, a trans girl who's also a big nerd. The comic is all about her day-to-day adventures as she meets cool people, goes to conventions, and lives as awesome of a life as possible.
How did the two of you meet?
Crawford: On Tumblr. I was browsing one day when I saw a post by Christian saying she was looking for an artist for a new comic project. I sent her a link to my deviantART page and we connected right away.
Christian Beranek: Whilst conventions are still a great place to meet artists, I can't stress enough how much awesomeness is happening on Tumblr. It's amazing to see the amount of talented people posting their work there just waiting to be discovered. One note about using the site, when you do blast out your comics just make sure you have everything link back to you. Many times people who reblog stuff onto their own pages don't credit the creator.
How big a challenge was it to get the voice and look of Ally right?
Crawford: I whipped up a character sketch of her at the start and sent it to Christian. She loved Ally right away (which is really reassuring, because I loved her too).
Beranek: Kelci did nail the design on the first take. I had been working on the story for a couple of years and had just had a breakthrough in terms of tone a few months earlier. I had 15 pages ready to go with some descriptions. Once Kelci and I agreed to work together we just hit the ground running.
Why did you decide to make "Validation" a three-panel comic and what has the creative process been like, because it is a challenging format.
Crawford: I had never worked in a three-panel format before, so it was a refreshing challenge. Usually I make manga-sized pages or I do large pieces for my walls, so the three-panel format was outside of my comfort zone at the start.
Now that I've been working with it for a little over a year I feel like I'm developing a better sense of pacing and build-up. Three-panel strips are all about build-up and delivery.
Beranek: The first three-panel comic I worked on was "Post Apocalyptic Nick" with Tony DiGerolamo and Tom Kurzanski over at The Webcomic Factory and it definitely was a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. For "Validation" I opted for the three-panel format over manga and traditional comic pages because it just felt right writing it that way. I also knew it would present well on mobile phones and tablets. And now as we publish new strips week-to-week it's fun to see how the story unfolds using this type of pacing which really is about the set-up and reveal each time.
Do you have a lot of back and forth trying to find the right look of the comic?
Crawford: It depends on the scene. Usually Christian lets me have creative freedom with character design, composition, etc., though we do exchange photo references and character designs when we need to. We both are often of the same mind, especially when we agreed to do some wackier things, like having Roxie's hair being a different color every time she appears, or changing the inside of the coffee shop, Coffee Time, every week.
However, there are times when I make something, send it to her, and say, "Does this look bad? I think it looks bad. I'm not sold." And she's very honest with her feedback. I appreciate it.
Beranek: Sometimes with a project I'll take a few months to go over character designs, settings etc. I will often take hundreds of reference photos to help paint a picture since I myself am not a gifted artist. I travel quite a bit and have loads of folders devoted to settings. I'm a bit of a research fanatic.
With "Validation" we really did hit the ground running. Every once in awhile, particularly in the case of Coffee Time, I'll send some reference photos over, but for the most part we just keep moving ahead.
"Validation" balances the life of a geek and dealing with geek culture and getting into the life of someone who is a transgender woman and issues like what pronouns to use to getting a new driver's license with the proper gender. Was that always your intention? And how has that changed since you started working on it?
Beranek: The intention was always to have Ally interact with a multitude of different types of people. The first comic sets the tone: She has to get out from behind the computer. But what was she doing on the computer? What most of us do these days and that's follow friends and read and comment on geek culture.
The comic-con environment is a natural extension of that.
Crawford: When it comes to portraying both the geek life and the trans life, it's a fine balance. But it's a balancing act I enjoy illustrating. To Ally, they're both part of her identity. I want to show off the character the best I can, and there are times when she can feel that one aspect of her identity eclipses the other. It's going to be a struggle for her to balance those aspects of herself. And I can't wait to draw them!
What has the response to the comic been like?
Crawford: When we first started, there were definitely some opinions. Right around when strip #4 was released was when we really started to get some vitriol from the internet. That was around the time I was introduced to TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists), as well as the concept of ableism. So that was a learning experience.
Once we got past those, though, the response has been pretty positive. We both get messages from readers now, saying how much they appreciate "Validation" being out there. It helps them with the things they're experiencing in real life as trans people. And I've had friends message me saying, "Wow. I didn't know this was what life was like for trans people." It's messages and comments like those that make it worthwhile.
Beranek: It is extremely humbling and gratifying to see people show such interest in our comic. I may not respond to everyone who posts individually, but I do read every comment. I just want to keep writing and see where the story takes us. Happy to have such savvy, intelligent and passionate readers on board for the ride.
Do you have a plan for where the character and the series are going?
Crawford: We've been brainstorming a few ideas.
Beranek: We want to follow Ally's journey for as long as we can. I do have an ending in mind but there's many more settings and situations to explore before then.
In the strip there's a series called "Tiny Unicorn," about which many of the characters have an opinion. Will there be more "Tiny Unicorn?" Also, have you given thought to crafting a "Tiny Unicorn" spinoff/companion comic?
Crawford: Yes, yes and yes.
Beranek: I am definitely interested in expanding the idea of a world of miniature unicorns working to build a utopian society. A companion comic, even if it is just a one-shot at first, would be a great place to start.
Crawford: To be honest though, I think we should also include "Rubber Duck: The Reckoning" in our repertoire of creative ideas. I keep getting messages from people asking me to make "Rubber Duck: The Reckoning a thing."
I know that you both have a few other projects you're working on. Talk a little about the other projects you're in the midst of?
Crawford: Right now I make another webcomic called "Johnson & Sir." It's a weekly strip about two cops in Fantasyville keeping the peace with aliens, dinosaurs, and (really) each other. It's online at www.johnsonandsir.com.
I'll be illustrating short stories, a new webcomic, and possibly some graphic novels this year. But I'm always up for new projects and collaborators.
Beranek: Beyond helping Tony D out over at The Webcomic Factory I've been working with Doug Lefler on his wonderful digital comic creation "Scrollon." I'm also doing my best to complete several graphic novels including "Unhappy White Girls." In addition, I'm open to writing for open-minded comic book companies who strive towards excellence in storytelling. If they're interested in working with me I'm interested in working with them.
So what do you have planned next for Ally and "Validation?"
Crawford: All of the things!
Actually we've been bouncing ideas back and forth, especially when we finally got together at Phoenix Comicon.
Beranek: Kelci and I actually hadn't met in person until Phoenix Comicon. The weekend flew by and way too many fun ideas were discussed. I will drop one hint as to what is on the horizon: We are going to meet Ally's family soon.
"Validation continues at www.validationcomic.com.