[Content note: this week’s column openly discusses sex and sexuality from a trans feminine and non-binary perspective. However, all images are non-explicit, and broadly safe for work.]
A hallmark of a great meal is pairing the right drink with your food. This shouldn’t be a revelation – the idea crops up across human history and throughout our cultures. In Greek antiquity, the food of the gods was Ambrosia – which in turn inspired a mythologically themed graphic novel anthology of trans masculine and non-binary erotica last year. Conversely, the gods’ drink of choice was Nectar – and what better way to complete the meal than with a similarly themed follow-up anthology, this time centred on trans-feminine and non-binary fun times?
This week, we welcome back Ambrosia and Nectar editor and project head Tab Kimpton to discuss the links between the projects, the different flavours between the two ‘courses’, and what might serve as dessert. Oh, and mermaids. Lots and lots of mermaids.
Gayming Mag: Let’s start with a look back at Ambrosia – what lessons did you learn from that anthology, both as a creative endeavour and as a crowdfunding campaign?
Tab Kimpton: Well the Ambrosia books actually came a bit chunkier than expected, so we had to do a special work-around with packaging, so we learnt to drop the paper weight by 10% for the next one so it comes in at the cheaper shipping grade. Super riveting, I know, but with international shipping being so expensive and most of our backers from the US, it’s a big thing to try and cut however you can without decreasing quality.
Creatively, it’s actually been my first time working with a writer for my story, so I got to experience that delightful back and forth while we figured out what worked for us both. Lots of pressure as you hope your art lives up to what they had in their head!
GM: What has the post-release feedback been like, now that the book is in backers’ hands?
TK: I mean, besides the general “wow that story was so hot!” responses, people seemed to really love our pre-story tagging system. What makes something sexy is so variable for people, especially for people who may experience body dysphoria, so before each story we listed things like sex acts, story vibes or anything else people might appreciate knowing before reading. It’s also searchable on the PDF version of the book, so if you’re only interested in stories with a certain theme or acts, you can just skip to those.
GM: You clearly had Nectar in mind alongside Ambrosia – as mythology geeks will have guessed from the titles – but did anything change in the direction of it in the wake of the last book?
TK: As an anthology, you’re always subject to what people bring you. I was saying to my co-editor Harry-Anne how many water submissions we were getting, until I realised “oh yeah, nectar = liquid”. The theme is ‘Drink of the Divine’, and people clearly took to the drink part more this time.
Maybe it’s because there were so many mermaid submissions, and I didn’t make the connection because you don’t drink the sea. Although my writer, Hina, mentioned that for her growing up, The Little Mermaid absolutely read as a trans narrative, so there’s probably an element of culture in that too.
GM: Of the two books, which attracted the most interest from creators, in terms of submissions and pitches?
TK: They actually had about the same amount of submissions, with one extra in Ambrosia’s favour! However, Ambrosia had a lot more ‘own voice’ people (AKA trans masc and non binary spectrum) pitching to do both art and story. Nectar was our first time accepting ‘own voice’ script writers and artists of any gender to be paired up. In general, there are far less trans women openly making comics, which is definitely something we saw and one of the reasons we decided to test out pairing people up.
Creating collaborations was a bit of a logistical nightmare, but I’m looking to do it again in our next anthology because I think the quality of what you can create is worth it. From an editorial point of view, I sometimes get stories that are great but the art isn’t there yet to tell it, or you get a fantastic artist but the story is lacking. That said, you do get people like NJ Barna, our cover artist who also has a story in Nectar, who just knocks it out the park in all senses.
GM: How has the mythological theme shown itself in the stories for Nectar compared to Ambrosia?
TK: We’ve got non-binary Mayan corn deities, Okinawa sea Kami, biker Medusa and her two girlfriends… a real cocktail! Two stories even dip their toes into the waters of angelic deities (one being the giant kind with multiple eyes, haha!).
GM: Time to throw the “choose between your children” question at you again, as we did with Ambrosia: which stories from Nectar really stood out to you, or took you by surprise?
TK: I love the story I’m working on, obviously! NJ’s story, which I’ve already mentioned in passing, is a fantastic ‘Warrior Rivals to Lovers’ tale that is SUPER high energy and features a very smug Goddess. This anthology, we’re welcoming back Dominique Doung who I previously worked with in Come Together, who is working with Emily R Riesbeck for what I think will be the opening story in the anthology. It’s about two Galli Priests who drink a hydria filled with delicious but strange smelling wine which makes them extra horny, and changes them into a harpy and a tree nymph while they express that horniness. Galli Priests are one of the examples of historical gender fuckery and part of trans history, so it’s awesome to be able to include that.
We also picked one mermaid story, and made it a great one! It’s about Queen Poseidon subbing to the Sea Witch, written by Jaylee Warren and with art by Kori Michele.
GM: With Nectar being focused on trans femme and non-binary stories, how did the energy or tone of the comics change or shift compared to Ambrosia’s trans masc focus?
TK: I’m making some sweeping general vibes here, but I think Ambrosia dealt more with body positivity and general showing that trans masc people are sexy, probably down to pressures anyone feels if they were raised with female expectations of beauty. Nectar has more stories that deal with feeling like outcasts, or just showing the desires that trans femme people have as beautiful, as the narrative of ‘Predatory Trans Women’ has poisoned that well.
GM: Given the non-binary element is where the two anthologies overlap, what made a non-binary story for Ambrosia distinct from one for Nectar?
TK: I’d say the non-binary stories in the anthology are interchangeable – it’s not that we’ve split them into ‘Non-Binary A’ vs ‘Non-Binary B’. Lots of the stories have mixes of genders, and there’s several trans femme characters in Ambrosia too.
It’s a tricky one, where “trans” & “non-binary” as labels don’t really cover everything we’re putting together and exploring in these books, but those are the words people most recognise so we’re leading with those. I’ve been jokingly referring to the next anthology as the “Fuck Gender – No, Seriously” book!
GM: You just touched on this above, but given there’s a sustained and targeted attack on trans women in particular in much of the media – especially in the UK of late – do you have any concerns Nectar might attract negative attention if the usual right-wing suspects catch wind of it, especially given much of the public still equates “comics = for kids”?
TK: I was getting myself ready for much more general online abuse about the project this time, but it hasn’t happened yet, thankfully. I think there’s something about not even bothering to engage with people not driving in your lane, though. Like, who cares about going on TV to fight with people about whether trans people need to be able to urinate? Better to just skip past all that and make stories about people of non standard genders or bodies just having a great fucking time!
GM: As we’re speaking, you’ve already exceeded your funding goal on Kickstarter, with two weeks to go. Has the response been greater than expected?
TK: It’s half way though, and almost pledge for pledge the same as Ambrosia was, which is good! I think if one had been lots more than the other I’d have been like… how dare you discriminate! [laughs]. Nectar will be a bit more expensive, as print costs have gone up in a year and we’re giving writer payments on top of artists this time. However, we wanted to make sure both projects got given an equal chance of succeeding, so have set the goal at £20,000 GBP for both, and we’ll be using some leftover money from Ambrosia to fund the extra we need for Nectar.
GM: Now that the UK has, sadly and stupidly, fully left the EU, has that created any additional problems or risks, either for Nectar or other future projects?
TK: There’s a bunch of new EU VAT rules which have rolled out last month, though by “rolled out” I mean “awkwardly come into place and no country is ready for them or has a proper system in place to deal with them”. Look up IOSS if you want to see what myself and other creators have been staring at in despair for the last 6 months!
It’s basically that instead of paying customs charges on parcels when they arrive, we’re now supposed to charge it up front and send it to whatever EU country that customer is from. It’ll be a great system when it actually… has a system. Market places like Etsy and eBay are doing stuff which sorts the tax out already, but Kickstarter runs in this weird grey area between purchase and donation, so they don’t need to do anything. I’m hopeful they will roll out a system if they find a big drop in EU sales because of this.
GM: Lastly, given you had so many mermaid pitches for this anthology, do you see perhaps an entire merfolk themed collection in future? Is that something readers are – sorry – thirsty for?
TK: Ha! I think I prefer something a bit broader, as we’re opening up to things outside mythological creatures in our next anthology. It’s called Nether Realms and is erotica once again, but this time exploring non-binary or just gender in general using the lens of sci-fi. So I guess we’re gonna see lots of aliens and robots??
Readers can back Nectar on Kickstarter here, with two weeks left at time of publication. Nectar is scheduled for an October 2021 digital launch, with physical copies following in January 2022.