Noelle Stevenson returns to personal comics in new Substack

Long before Netflix’s animated series She-Ra, the Princesses Of PowerIt became an instant hit with its five-season run. Noelle Stevenson (the showrunner) had created a fanbase separate for her and Stevenson’s personal projects. Stevenson launched the Eisner-winning fantasy webcomic. NimonaWhile in school for art, Stevenson completed the comic and published it. Stevenson was drawn to the project by readers who wanted to see more of their projects. LumberjanesStevenson is working on an animated series that will air on HBO Max. Runaways And Thor

Stevenson was a young man who seemed to have a lot of success. They also created a following around long-running comics that were all about mental health. These eventually led to the creation of the book. The fire never goes outIt is. As they continued to examine their gender identity and created their own comic, called “The Journey”, which chronicled their physical and mental journeys via free comics. The weight of them. Stevenson, Oct. 5, announced that he would continue these intimate comics through a new Substack. I’m Fine I’m Fine Just UnderstandThe group will keep exploring mental health and gender identity. Polygon recently reached Stevenson by phone to discuss their intentions for the new project, Substack’s anti-trans reputation, and the process of maintaining a little privacy in a public forum.

Image: Noelle Stevenson

What’s the overall plan for what I’m Fine I’m Fine Just UnderstandHow will they look?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last few years about how I want to talk about topics related to gender, transition, and mental health — topics that are a little more personal, that I want to keep a little closer to my chest. So when Substack came along, I was really interested, because I’d been looking for some way to be able to post my comics on a platform that I had more control over.

Places I’ve posted comics in the past, like Tumblr or Twitter, have reblog or retweet functions built in. It’s becoming more apparent to me that these comics need to be available in a location I control. This seems the perfect home. These parts are my favorite, and I hope they can help others in the same situation.

It’s exciting to be able to just have that go to people who are choosing to be on that mailing list. These comics aren’t necessarily secret. They will be downloaded and distributed in different ways by people, I’m sure. Substack decreases the likelihood that they will circulate. This is a feature of most social media platforms.

Do you have a primary audience?

I think it’s going to be more interesting to people who’ve followed me for a while. I’ve always been very chaotic about my social media use, posting all kinds of things. I was able to use my social media accounts in a very chaotic manner. She-RaMy social media accounts saw a significant increase in traffic. I’m very aware that there are a lot more young people following me on Twitter, because I made a cartoon aimed at young people. This makes it a bit more difficult for me to share mature content. Substack won’t be 18+ but there may be some adult topics. Being able to leave platforms where I am hyper-visible seemed like a great idea.

What’s the paywall plan?

There’s always been a type of comic that I’m just not comfortable having public. The truth is, I’m making these comics anyway, even if I’m not posting them. These things might deal more with mental health, or family matters, or the more intimate side of transition — things I want to talk about, or that I’m processing on my own, but that I don’t want to be public or forward-facing.

Again, I know that there will be some who spread these comics to other places than the Substack. It’s not going to be anything so personal that I wouldn’t want anyone to see it. It’s the ones I prefer to keep to myself. I also like to have a way for them to be less visible and more intimate. That is really my thinking about what’s going to be behind the paywall. Many comics will be available for free. People can also read them without registering to the newsletter. But having just that little bit of privacy is something I’m really looking forward to.

Tumblr’s early posts seemed like they came from an area of great pain and uncertainty. Do you feel more at ease now?

It is my opinion. Over the past year or so, I’ve been really scaling back my social media presence because I’ve had a lot of big feelings going on. Premiering the final season was something I had to deal with. She-Ra and moving on to other projects — anyone who’s made a project on that scale, or for that amount of time, knows it’s not easy to let go of and move on. And then also transitioning, and trying to figure out who I was, and who I’m going to be. For a short time, I felt it was valuable to have the ability to reduce my social media footprint and to take care of these tasks for myself.

I’m a lot older now, and more stable in many ways, than when I first started making mental health comics. I was 19, and undiagnosed, and unmedicated, and like any early-20s person, dealing with a transition from teenagerhood to adulthood — it was a tumultuous time. It’s not that my life has suddenly become smooth sailing, but I do have resources that have allowed me to take back a lot of control, and become more settled, and be able to rest and take stock. That is what I consider very fortunate.

However, new feelings are replacing the intense old feelings. They affect me in a completely different way. To help others who may be struggling, or are in the exact same situation as me when I started these comics and are looking for some hope, I’m going to try to post something that will hopefully provide some hope. It’s also a way, honestly, to process these new feelings as well. So I hope it’s something people relate to, something that hits a chord.

I can’t say for sure how much of it will be these darker, more venting comics, I guess you could call them. I do have one of those that I’m planning to take behind the paywall, because it’s very personal. It’s something that happened several years ago, during my time on She-Ra, that I’ve never felt comfortable talking about before. However, it’s something I still struggle with to this day. I still don’t know for sure how much of that I am going to be comfortable posting. It’s something I’m going to feel out as I go, to get a sense of what the Substack audience looks like. But I’m also excited. I would love to be able to talk about these things, because they’re things that will affect other people very much like me. It does make a difference if people openly discuss these things.

I dream of it becoming something more like Tumblr. Maybe that’s seeing it through rose-colored glasses, but I always enjoyed being able to be open within that smaller crowd of people. So I hope some of the people who’ve been around for a while find them interesting, find them fun, find they speak to them. I’m really hoping you all like it.

Substack was founded in Anti-trans harassment historyplatforming voices that are anti-trans. It’s trying to rehabilitate its reputation, but are you concerned either about being harassed, or about fans who are leery of the platform?

Yes, I’m very aware of the criticism, and it’s something I take very, very seriously. My intention in being here is to increase the visibility of trans people on Substack and raise funds for trans charities. To help trans people get grant money for surgery, the money I make would be donated to charity. Some of the really vile TERF rhetoric on Substack is just something I’m very comfortable being outspoken about. I would like to see those incredibly toxic voices removed and barred from the platform, the way they’ve been barred from other social media platforms. I know full well that I can be viewed as a potential target by the TERF presence online if anything is posted about me or my gender on platforms like Instagram or Twitter. So it’s complicated. If people are skeptical or upset with Substack for platforming voices that have been deplatformed elsewhere, that’s very, very fair. That’s something I want to rectify. But I’m prepared to own up to being a part of this platform. People should understand what I mean by it. It’s to make Substack more visible for trans people and call for an end to the hateful and dangerous voices against them.

What will the comics be like if they look exactly like your Tumblr posts or what went in to your book?

Both will look very similar to me. But I really enjoy making comics that are tailored for the platform I’m putting them on. So if I’m posting something on Twitter, you have to think about the fact that you can only upload four images at once. It also affects how the comic is paced. Tumblr’s infinite scroll makes comics for Tumblr different. I’m really excited to figure out how the comics will adapt to a new platform. They will still be familiar, however. I started doing this way back in college, making comics that were stream-of-consciousness, just me putting my feelings down on the page. My goal is to make them honest, straight from my heart. So I think in that way, the comics will be similar to the ones I post on Tumblr or Twitter, but I’m excited to get more in depth with them for sure.

Do you have a safe place for comics? Or are you going to start from scratch, starting with the present?

These comics could be updated. It’s something I want to feel out as I go. These will be pretty personal, pretty intimate comics, but there are still things I don’t necessarily want to share. We’ll see, really. There are certain comics I’ve made in the past, and that I’m making now that I would never post on Twitter or on Tumblr, and I am really excited to be able to talk about some of those things. It’ll be interesting to see how that pans out, and how a more intimate community functions.

How have you felt about the response you’ve gotten to your past comics about mental health or transition? Is the engagement or feedback useful?

Transition is a really interesting one, because I gained a lot from being able to read other trans people’s accounts of their own transitions, and I learned a lot from people who were willing to be really, really open and get into the details. It’s something I feel a lot of people experience. It’s so personal, but I do try to share, because I know how important that can be for people who are searching for information for themselves. But it still is so personal, and I feel like I benefit from taking my time with it, instead of going in with that stream-of-consciousness approach I was just talking about. I’ve been as open as I am comfortable with on social media about going on HRT, or top surgery, things like that. There is so much more I’d like to know, and I have benefited greatly from hearing the stories of people who are in transition.

Will the project be hyper-focused on mental health, transitions? On your other social media outlets, you’ve done comics on everything from playing D&D to just making art in general.

It’s really going to differ. I think some of the comics will be shorter and have a lighter tone, or be about things that aren’t as personal or heavy as some of my other comics. You might find comedic comics about everyday life. I think there’ll be a pretty broad range. I will also be posting some comics on Twitter. This is a collection of autobiographical comics. Some of the comics will be more heavy-handed and focus on mental illness, while others may highlight the intimate aspects of transition. But it’s exciting to me to be able to have the ability to explore some of those things as well.

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