This is the last, and also my favourite, of all the Life on Sticks strips I drew. The entire thing is lifted 100% from real life: I had this conversation on-set, in reaction to an actor with a prop arrow through her neck at the catering table, with one of my friends.
Note was one of the first characters I conceived of for Life on Sticks. They’re a young nonbinary-gendered recent high-school graduate, who just wants to make good films – even if they don’t quite know what their philosophy for a “good” film is yet. Note was never originally intended to be the main character, but as I developed the rest of the idea, I realised that it was going to kind of have to be told from their perspective. The whole thing was, effectively, their story.
Obviously, that never ended up happening. But if I had, we’d have followed Note through their journey.
I wondered the whole way through whether I should internally know what gender Note was assigned at birth – even if it was never revealed in the story, ever. (You might think it would be easy to tell because of secondary sex characteristics, but hey, binders exist and a lot of people are mighty androgynous regardless of genders.) My “no” argument: that kind of information isn’t useful for knowing what a nonbinary person is like (and also you shouldn’t ask it), so I should make the point by not even knowing myself, so I couldn’t accidentally slip in my writing (since I’m not nonbinary, so I’d have to be more alert of the depiction I was presenting, as I lack the life experiences). My “yes” argument: it would inevitably form some part of how Note viewed their own life, and their childhood memories, and as the creator and writer, I should know that for character writing purposes. I never ended up deciding, so officially, I don’t have an answer. For the reasons above I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. Regardless, if I did have an answer, I wouldn’t have shared it here.
Note was a direct inspiration for Emperor Moth in Society Squad, incidentally. Because I’d made them intentionally androgynous, I started thinking about non-androgynous nonbinary people, and how they’re not depicted nearly as often. But you can read more in the annotations for those comics.
The other character was Raghav Kadam. He was going to be a film elitist, who looked down on the opinions of others when they didn’t agree with his own. He was also going to love mindless Hollywood action movies, and always defend this love (shakily) on artistic grounds; he would never be able to admit he just, y’know, liked them. I feel I should specify that he wasn’t based on anyone specific I know, having now said that, especially since he lifted his lines in these preview comics from a couple of individual real people.
So, that was Life on Sticks, or at least what existed of it. I still like the idea, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll actually get the chance to draw the comic as intended.
God, all of the backgrounds I drew for Life on Sticks were the death of me. This one more than any, I think.
I showed all of them to Robert after I drew them, and this was the only one he had actual practical feedback on. “Change the word ‘honourific’,” he told me, “it feels out of character for Tim.”
I think he’s right, but I couldn’t think of anything better. I was also trying to keep it clear that Tim didn’t actually mean ‘honourific’, and that he was just covering his arse. It had to come off as a working punchline as well, though, and – as a result, I still like the idea of this comic, but its execution is flawed.
The character in the last panel was called Pedro. He was going to be the sleazy character that hits on all the women, except he was going to be pansexual and hit on everyone. I only just realised now while typing this that I basically had The Todd from Scrubs without realising it. (Yes, there’s a Scrubs wiki, because of course there is. I love the internet.)
I said the other day that Tim was basically me as a teenager, but I dunno if I was ever this bad on this particular topic. I might have thought it, but I dunno if I ever actually asked it. I was still an asshole, though.
I’ll talk about Note in the next (and final) comic annotation. They’re tied with Alice as my favourite character from this whole thing.
These characters are Ed and Tim, from left to right. Along with Alice, I think they were the only white people in the whole strip.
Note, from the previous strips, was an openly trans character in that they were nonbinary. I’ll talk more about them later, but I’ve brought them up so I can relate them to how I conceived of Ed. Ed was going to be a closeted trans character – a transgendered man who didn’t readily tell people he was assigned female at birth. I wanted Ed’s trans-ness to be kind of a reveal at a later stage of the comic: not for trashy drama (that would be awful), but to make a point. Note was openly nonbinary, so I could confront readers with that directly. But Ed was my stealth option. I wanted people to connect with him and like him and then, bam, he happens to be trans. Yes: I wanted to set a trap for transphobic people, to put them in a situation where their preconceptions were suddenly confronted by someone they liked.
I’ve since wondered about whether that would have been disrespectful to trans people, or a positive representation as I’d originally intended. I figure that when you have multiple characters of a single group – in this case, transgendered people – you have a greater leeway to explore different issues with them. You can make their characters a lot more fleshed out and individual, because you’re not relying on them to single-handedly represent an entire group of people. If I made my only trans character a flappy too-loud enthusiastic gay guy (which Ed would have been), then I’m kinda pigeonholed into insinuating that all trans people are flappy too-loud enthusiastic gay people. But because I’ve still got Note, as well as another trans character called Kennedy, Ed is freed from his burden of sole representation. They can all be individuals first, who are also trans (though of course that would affect their personalities too, but it would affect each of them differently).
Kennedy never showed up in any of the strips I drew, but she was going to be a black trans woman. She was going to love horrible kitsch things and make movies like David Lynch meets François Truffaut. It’s a shame I never drew any comics with her, because she was awesome.
Tim, on the other hand, was a highly privileged white cisgendered guy who thought he had it toughest in the world, not from malice but from lack of exposure to people different from him. He was an obnoxious to be around self-important compulsive liar, and it wasn’t until Lore said he looked a bit like me that I realised I was writing a straight version of myself at age fifteen.
Those posters, incidentally, should be familiar to anyone who went to the VCA circa 2009. I dunno if they’re still hanging up there, but I can remember every movie poster in that building and where they were hanging. I have no idea why. I can’t even remember the name of the main road two minutes from my house. Brains are weird like that.