Writer and artist Abby Denson has a graphic novel collection of her series Tough Love coming out this summer. The series, which has featured in the magazine XY, has, as Abby remarks, moved beyond being ‘just’ a story (all readers know no story is ever ‘just’ a story) when she she started receiving mail from gay teenagers who had experienced some of the events she was writing about, including self-harm and suicide. It is something creators have often found, that their tales take on a new life once released out into the wilds and become adopted by readers who take it into their own lives, relate to it, talk about it, share it; who says reading is a purely solitary activity? Good writing will always spark discussion and debate and in an area which is under-represented in comics it is good to see Abby making some waves and having some impact with readers (and readers on her from what she says):
Tough Love started out as a self-published mini-comic. I was inspired by some shounen-ai anime I had seen (including Keiko Takemiya’s “Kaze To Ki No Uta”/ “Song of Wind in Trees” and Minami Ozaki’s “Zetsuai”) at an anime convention. I was really impressed by the beautiful art, pretty boys, and unconventional romance. This was before the recent U.S. shoujo manga boom, so it was hard to get a hold of any of this stuff. At the time I was studying illustration at art school and reading comics, but didn’t think I wanted to be a cartoonist since it seemed too arduous, drawing the same characters over and over. I learned that if you have a story you really want to tell it will drive you through the hard work.
Other comics I was inspired by include Love and Rockets and the work of Andi Watson. High contrast, iconic art appeals to me greatly. So I wanted to do a story about gay teens, like the shounen-ai manga and anime I was interested in, but more realistic and from an American perspective, with high contrast, simple art. I drew the 12-page story and self-published it as a mini-comic with a red cover. I wrote it while I was drawing it for that first issue (after that I started scripting before drawing it). I made 50 copies and sent them to cartoonists I liked and also to XY magazine, a new magazine for gay teens. Along with the comic I sent a note suggesting they review it or maybe even publish it in their magazine. To my pleased surprise the publisher called and asked if he could run it as a serial in XY. Suddenly I was a professional cartoonist with a series (and deadlines)!
The response was amazing. I received many e-mails and letters from fans of Tough Love. Most sobering were the ones from suicidal teens. One of the subjects Tough Love deals with is gay teen suicide, and these letters really affected me. I always responded immediately with words of encouragement and hotline numbers provided by XY, but it made me fully realize that often a story isn’t “just” a story. Stories can mean a lot. In fact, they can mean everything. Now that Manic D Press is publishing the complete serial as Tough Love: High School Confidential I am excited and hopeful that it will entertain and also reach the people who really need this story.
Tough Love is about friendship above all, and I’ve made so many great friends through my comics I feel truly blessed.