Beyond The Panel: An Interview with Sam Orchard of Rooster Tails
Rooster Tails is a year-old comic by Sam Orchard in which he "explores [his life as] a simple transguy transitioning in the lower half of the South Island of New Zealand." Sam and his boyfriend Joe are both joyful and thoughtful as narrators, discussing their relationship, their masculinity, and their community. It's a colorful, funny, and optimistic weekly journal comic that I found through his guest strip on previous BTP interviewee RJ Edwards' Riot Nrrd. Find out more about him and Rooster Tails below!
RMJ: What are you up to today?
SO: I have been busy writing a queer 101 comic, and trying to work through the difficulty of simplifying a concept that can't really be simplified... It's for a master's course that I'm starting; I'm hoping to write a book about different queer identities in Aotearoa (New Zealand), but I figured that it would probably be helpful to explain some concepts about sexuality and gender/sex first because I think it'd be a useful resource for the queer community and family/friends, etc.
RMJ: There's not enough theory explained in comics.
SO: I think that comics can be such an accessible medium, and help people (like me!) who really like visual explanations as well as written ones. Plus I like comics, and want to see more queer stories told in the medium I love!
RMJ: I think that's a big part of the strength of Rooster Tails. Whereas a lot of journal or creator-narrated comics are really heavily focused on just the experiences of the narrator, you talk about your experiences, your boyfriend's experiences, and the queer community.
SO: I initially started Rooster Tails out of a feeling of frustration from doing a political strip in my uni magazine. I felt like I really wanted to tell MY story, and write something personal. But the more I've written the more it's become a sounding board for ideas that I've read, or conversations I've had with people (particularly Joe). And it's felt really nice for me when people comment and can feel free to say, "That story reflected my reality" as well as, "That's not my experience."
RMJ: Your boyfriend Joe is a frequent presence in your comic. What is his involvement in the creation of the comic like?
SO: A lot of the comics come out of actual conversations that we've had. If I'm struggling with how to explain something that I want to write about he quite often gives me the words. He also would like me to note (he's right here) that he is quite strange in real life so provides a lot of material just by virtue of being himself. But he's my go-to person; he's totally a co-collaborator.
RMJ: Tell me about the Trans Post Statement project.
SO: Joe's writing a thesis on trans-masculinity and embodiment in a queer New Zealand Pakeha context. He is really interested in having an artistic and creative element to his thesis, and also wanted to include more voices than the small amount of people he interviewed. So we came up with the idea of the Trans Post Statements project. It's taken from PostSecret, but it's a trans perspective. We didn't want it to be just secrets, because for us that felt like it was about things that were hidden, and could often have an element of shame attached to it. We've had a really awesome response!
RMJ: How does your physical context play into your work?
SO: I think that stereotypical kiwi masculinity is something I think about a lot, when I think about my own masculinity, it's based on what I experience. Kiwi masculinity comes from a rural farming context, and having a relaxed attitude, drinking lots of beer, and being very outdoorsy. So that informs how I articulate my own masculinity, whether that's the similarities or the differences. One of the things I'd really like to be better informed on and really explore this year is looking at the influences of Maori and Pacific Island queer identities; Takataapui and Fa'afine identities, among other identities. I often explain queer and trans concepts, in my comics and queer youth work, from my Western perspective, which is often informed by U.S. literature. I really need to address that imbalance in my comics and in my life.
RMJ: You draw a lot of superheroes from a queer/trans point of view—Batman, Superman, and my favorite, Wolverine. Tell me about your superhero fascination.
SO: I think it's to do with my idea that all superheroes are queer. There are a lot of coming-out narratives in superhero comics. I think it's also probably a frustration that because the genre is so ripe for queer analogies, and so often doesn't explore them. So it's my way of reinventing them to suit my own needs. I do it with movies and books as well. It's one of my favorite things to do
RMJ: What is the role of feminism in your comic?
SO: Huge. I think about feminism a lot, and was really lucky to have a strong mum who instilled those values in me from a young age. One of the huge losses about transitioning is losing my place on "team women," and as someone who's grown up and been socialized as female I have a unique perspective now, as a man. I think for me it's really important to be aware of that, and to be aware of the privileges that I take on as I begin to pass more and more as a man. I think it's important to be conscious of the ways I can continue to express feminist ideals, and fight for equality, from my different viewpoint. It's been an ongoing conversation with myself of how I can transition, and move away from "team women," because that's what feels right for me, and to continue to be pro-women and pro-equality, and to honor and acknowledge my past, and all the wonderful women in my life, and all the wonderful women who have made our world stronger. Feminism is a strong part of my identity, and I'd like to think that that comes through in my comics.
Sam is currently having a fundraiser to fund his move to Auckland, and I encourage you to donate!
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