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An Interview with Venus Envy's Erin Lindsey

Erin Lindsey maintains one of the most popular sites on Keenspace with Venus Envy, the continuing escapades and tribulations of Zoe, a transgendered teenager....and through it, explores not just issues of gender, but issues of being human. She was kind enough to grant Comixpedia an interview.

What is your name; age; occupation?
I prefer keeping some anonymity, so let's just stick with just Erin Lindsey for the time being. I'm 24 and have just finished trade school and will be going into a medical profession as soon as I pass my licensing exam.

Where are you from? Do you have any siblings?
I was born in upstate New York, but was raised for the most part in central Florida with my little brother.

What was your inspiration to make a Web comic?
Nothing specific behind doing a 'web' comic, but I've been doodling comic strips for years and years. Ever since I first discovered Garfield, I've wanted to make my own comic strip someday. I doodled them in grade school (although they never made much sense), and drew the official comics for the school papers in junior high and high school. I was really excited when I found Sluggy Freelance and other online comics and gave a couple of shots at starting my own up, but they all sputtered out before they really got started.

VE basically started out as a couple of silly doodles with no intention of turning it into an actual comic strip, but then I actually drew five of them that sort of linked together and the idea for a character started to develop in my head. After that, my roommate said 'Why don't you put it online' and everything just sort of fell together.

How did you come up with the title Venus Envy?
The title Venus Envy isn't original, I'm afraid. I, being monumentally terrible at coming up with titles and names for things (I'm planning on naming my first daughter Miranda; that should tell you something right there) was relying on my wonderful roommate to come up with something catching and appropriate. She finally came up with Venus Envy and I skittered off gleefully to continue my 'work'.

Ah, but several days later, my esteemed roommate (who has hopefully forgotten by now that I still owe her money) and I discovered that she was not to first to be so mind-beguilingly creative. It seems that "Venus Envy" is also the title of a novel by Rita Mae Brown, a rather talented feminist author. Luckily for me (and for all of you), titles can't be copyrighted, so I managed to avoid a lawsuit... well, I would've, if Ms. Brown were the sort of person to press charges for something like this, which she doesn't seem to be, but I digress (and talk too much, as well).

Anyway, Venus Envy is obviously a take on "penis envy", for those of you who don't get the joke, except replacing the word "penis" with "Venus", roman goddess of beauty... "Hera Envy" probably would've been more appropriate, but it wouldn't be as funny nor as catchy.

What does TS and TG mean?
There's no hard-and-fast definition at the moment; the Trans community (kind of an oxymoron) is pretty fractured and there are tons of regional and generational differences, but the most commonly accepted definitions are that TG/Transgendered means pretty much anyone that crosses or blurs the line between the sexes, whereas TS/Transsexual is specifically someone who believes they were born the wrong sex and are taking steps to correct that, usually with therapy, hormones, and surgery. For example, in the strip, Zoë, Larson, and Chris/tine would all be considered TG, but only Larson and Zoë would be considered TS.

How did you come up with the content for Venus Envy?
It's actually developed by accident. VE started out as a few Trans jokes, but then I made a mini-story-arc that stretched out over the course of a week. When that happened, the concept of Zoë started forming in my head and I starting building characters around her and the FTM I'd created (who became Larson). The storyline has undergone two massive revisions since then, as I've improved my writing style and changed the overall focus of the strip.

How is your comic designed; what style (format) do you use?
It was originally done in a newspaper-style format, with three or four panels across a single row. I occasionally started breaking out of that mold, since the web lets you use any shape of style you want, and eventually when I changed over to doing the strip three days a week, I switched the what I called a 'half page' format... because each strip is made on half a sheet of sketch paper.

For your comic, you have several mini-storylines within the overall comic; how did you come up with this idea versus the one continuous storyline?
It's basically for variety. Most good stories out there are actually several little stories that somehow interconnect. I mean, look at A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; you've got three separate storylines within it that don't actually intertwine until the end of the book, but you still keep reading because each one is fun and it helps distract you when the previous storyline starts feeling a little tedious.

Besides, it's more fun to write like this. Just focusing on the same set of characters in the same, slowly evolving story kind of gets dull after a while. This way I can switch off moods and stories and characters if I need to revitalize the strip for myself.

Do you know the entire storyline (with strips) before putting it up online; or do you come up with the strips the day before? How do you work?
I have the entire series plotted out at this point, and I work out the outline for the strips involved in each new storyline as I begin it. The actual layout and writing within the strips, though, I write as I sit down to do it; if I plotted everything out exactly beforehand, then it would feel boring and redundant when I sat down to draw them, and I'd probably stop the series. This way, I still get to input something new at every step of the process.

The latest storyline, “Unholy Alliance,” just started August 11. Tell us a bit about it.
'Unholy Alliance' is basically a break from all the melodrama that's been developing over the last several months. It's just getting back to some fun and silliness as we have a lesbian separatist ask a cross dresser out on a date.

How long are your storylines usually?
About twelve years each... Err, I mean it varies, depending on how much information I need to get across with each. “Middle Child Syndrome” was pretty short because it was mostly designed to revealed some of Richie's perspective on the world, while "Dirty Little Secrets" ran on for what? Six months? But that's because there were several different characters' perspectives within it and a fair amount of back story that I wanted to include, too. I suppose my storylines are typically 'long enough' and occasionally 'too long.'

What is your favorite storyline thus far; why?
Oh, that's a two-way tie. I love "Shadows of Juliet" because it's so unlike anything I've drawn or written up until that point, and because I'm fairly proud of myself for being able to portray a scene like that without it being too graphic or unrealistic. It was a hard balance to achieve and I'm still not sure how I managed it.

My other favorite is "Adventures in Baby-Watching" because it was a lot of fun to draw, I got to use a lot of tasteless jokes, and I really love the chemistry between Zoë and Larson, so they tend to be really easy to write for when they're together. Plus, as we all know, baby vomit is the comedy gold!

What is your favorite one-day strip so far; why?
venusenvy.keenspace.com/d/20040213.html (The second one, with the soccer ball). The art is great; the timing is absolutely, as it breaks the tension from the last two storylines, and the simple fact that I love slapstick.

How much fun do you have with Venus Envy? I mean, you make a lot of people laugh. How much fun do you have creating it?
Most of the time I have a lot of fun; just ask my friends. There are days when I talk about my comic almost non-stop because I'm exciting about my upcoming storyline or about how a strip is turning out. There's a strange sort of satisfaction I feel from actually creating something that's not exactly 'fun', but very enjoyable nonetheless.

What is the most difficult aspect of writing a comic, and drawing a comic?
Probably just sticking with it on a constant schedule. It's not easy to force yourself to produce creatively on a regular schedule (as the last couple of months of my comic will attest to), and a lot of people, with really great comics, just up and quit because they lost their spark while trying to control it.

Where do your ideas stem from? Do a lot of the strips stem from real life experiences of your own, or others' you know?
Some of them are based on real life, but most of them just sort of grow from my characters. Zoë and a few of the others have grown pretty willful and don't always do what I tell them to anymore, but that makes writing for them a lot easier, since I don't have to make anything up, just convey how they react. Most of the time, I just throw a monkey wrench into their lives and see how they react.

How has being a “sort of” transsexual helped you write the strips; or has it?
Well, obviously it's given me a bit of insight to writing a transsexual character, plus I think it makes it a little easier for me to write transsexual characters who basically seem like normal people (if anyone in my comic can be counted as normal, at least).

What was the hardest thing for Zoë when she was going through her transformation (internally and externally)? What about for Larson?
Actually, Zoë's had a fairly easy transition (rape aside); she passes very easily, she has parents who are at least open-minded, if not supportive, and she's gotten a remarkably young start on it. The hardest time she's probably having is learning to balance out who she is versus the stereotypes she's expected to live up to as a teenage girl.

Larson has likewise had a fairly easy time, with his biggest frustration being that his family more or less doesn't acknowledge the change (it's entirely possibly his father hasn't even noticed). Larson made the slide from girl to dyke to butch so slowly before his family moved to Salem that it wasn't much of a jump at all to boy. While this makes his home life pretty non-confrontational and low-key, it also makes it extremely frustrating.

How come you picked soccer as the sport for Lisa to find another lesbian?
It's a joke from back when I was in high school. All our lesbians were on the soccer team. It wasn't planned like that; they never all agreed to join soccer together, they just all happened to be there.

What is the one most loved about quality of each of your characters?
Zoë I love because she's afraid of the world, but she's also very optimistic and enamored by everything, since she's seeing a lot of it for the first time.

Larson is wonderful because he's got a big need to prove himself, being a middle child in a big family, and he doesn't realize that underneath all that false bravado he actually is fairly competent and sensitive.

Lisa is fun to write because she has a fairly black-and-white view of the world that clashes with the very 'gray space' that most of the rest of the cast occupies.

Eric I love because he's an utter bastard, but I actually forced myself to figure out why, rather than just make him a stock villain. So now he's got a traumatic past that may or may not be responsible for him being a jerk, but forcing himself to confront it is slowly making him try to improve himself.

As for Grace... she's just incredibly fun to write for. Let's leave it at that for the time being.

Venus Envy is sometimes the “most popular comic on Keenspace.” How do you deal with that much fame? How do you keep up with requests, mail, etc.?
Most of the time, I don't. I actually try to keep a lot of the comic separate from my real life; only my closest friends in real life know about the strip, and I rarely have to do anything or go anywhere involving Venus Envy, aside from the two Conventions I've done. The fan mail isn't what I'd call a landslide, and I don't really get anything in the way of requests, aside from someone wanting an interview every four months or so :) The only times I feel famous are at conventions, and even then, I tend to be one of the smaller-name celebrities.

What is the most memorable thing a fan did for you?
Well, I do have a fan, who shall remain nameless, who had a custom-made Grace T-shirt the first time I met him (at Dragon Con back in 03), and when I saw his this year at Trinoc Con, he gave a shirt with my own avatar character on it. That was a pretty unique feeling.

There is a Venus Envy store in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Have you heard of it?
Actually, I'm quite aware of Venus Envy in Halifax; traded e-mail with the owner for a little while when she wanted to carry my comic book in her store; seemed like a very nice woman.

You create comic books as well as the online comic? Tell us about the Venus Envy comic books.
The comic book was a collection of some of the online strips, as well as 8 pages of new storyline (which will eventually be finished). I don't distribute it 'officially' anywhere, besides the website, though I do offer a dealer discount to any stores that want to carry it.

I think I honestly prefer working online over print. It's a lot easier to go back and fix typos you find after publication, and god knows it's cheaper! Not to mention that online you can reach a lot more people than you could with just a comic book.

What strips do you enjoy reading?
I love strips that mix comedy and storyline, without it turning into a bad sitcom. Some of my favorites are Real Life, El Goonish Shive, PVP Online, Skirting Danger, Sexy Losers, Second Stage, Lean on Me, and Unicorn Jelly.

I also have a few I read just because they're damn good stories, like Kagerou: An Electric Manga and A Wish for Wings.

What, in your opinion, classifies as a great comic?
The most important thing to any comic is the writing. If the story isn't there and the dialogue isn't believable, then I don't care how beautiful the artwork is, I'll get bored and wander off before long. Not that art is unimportant; you still need a good sense of layout, balance, and design because the picture is still telling at least as much of the story as the dialogue (otherwise, you'd just write a book, right), but comics like 8-bit Theater prove that you don't need to be able to draw to make a very good comic.

Away from your strip, you have a “Rant du Jour” section on your site. Tell us about it. Why do you rant in public? How do you separate what is private and what is not?
It just seems to be the tradition. "I have a web comic, therefore my opinions are inherently superior, no sit there and listen whilst I yell about something!" That sort of spiel. I mostly put it up because I'm an egomaniac who loves to hear herself talk, but I don't update it very often anymore; I kind of annoy myself when I get all high and mighty these days.

What are your three most loved qualities about yourself?
Uh... I guess I have a good sense of humor and like to cheer people up.

If anything, what would you like to improve in the strip; and as an artist?
I'd like to improve the overall art quality. My line quality needs work, though it has been improving over the years, and I need to work more on backgrounds and establishing setting and mood. As an artist, I just need to be a little more dedicated and practice more.

In three sentences or less, please describe Venus Envy to date.
Venus Envy is basically about being different, and about how your differences mix with other people's. It's also about learning to be wary of random soccer balls.

Whew... that was quite an endurance project.

If that was an endurance test, surely you passed. Thanks a lot for your honest answers. I've had fun.
Not a problem at all. It was very nice working with you.

Re: An Interview with Venus Envy's Erin Lindsey

Great interview there.

Re: An Interview with Venus Envy's Erin Lindsey by Yolanda Janig

What? You mention A Wish for Wings but don't link to it? :)
Perhaps appropriately, AWFW introduced me to Venus Envy.