Smash Pages Q&A: G Romero-Johnson on ‘SFSX: Terms of Service’

The artist of the newest volume of the queer science fiction tale discusses her process and approach to creating the new story.

Sfsx (Safe Sex) was a stunning book when it was published in 2019. Writer Tina Horn was new to comics, but the journalist and podcaster took to the language of comics in a really exciting way. The queer science fiction tale was like nothing else in comics. The dystopic series is returning in a new graphic novel coming out from Image Comics. Writer Tina Horn and editor/designer Laurenn McCubbin and other members of the team are back with a new artist, G Romero-Johnson.

SFSX: Terms of Service is currently being kickstarted and G Romero-Johnson was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk. A cartoonist and illustrator, she’s made comics like Sweet Insecurity and The Red Side of The Moon and her work has appeared in anthologies including Stratos and the upcoming Nectar.

To start, how did you come to comics?

I’ve been invested in comics since I was a kid. My dad is a nerdy white guy and raised me on X-Men, and we watched the old X-Men animated TV show obsessively as I grew up. We were watching it over quarantine and he said, this isn’t very good, is it? I said, no, it’s still good. That was the formulation of my childhood. Then I got into manga. I learned how to draw from reading Dragonball Z. That’s my origin. I was interested in writing and making stories and so that was the progression. Animation is insane and I had no interest in being a part of that. [laughs] Comics was the happy medium for me.

How did you and Tina connect?

A mutual on twitter posted about if anyone is interested in working on a super kink positive comic, hit me up. So I hit them up. That was someone who works at Bluestockings, and Joan connected me with Tina. We started talking and I did a bunch of test pages. And I got it!

Looking back it was so easy and happenstance.

That’s all of my jobs. I’ve gotten them all through weird coincidences and it’s worked out pretty damn well.

The first volume of Sfsx was drawn by Michael Dowling and Jen Hickman and Alejandra Gutierrez, and they’re very different artists, and they’re very different from you. There isn’t a model for you to work off of how the book or the characters are supposed to look.

That is a thing I thought about a lot. Jen had talked about wanting to base a lot of their ink work on Michael Dowling and trying to pull bits of that. Alejandra’s comics are so fun and beautiful. I really struggled to find a definitive source material that I wanted to stick with for this book. I really just went, I’m doing the second volume on my own so I should stick to my guns and make it look good in the ways that I know I can. I think it helps that for the whole second book I will be in control of most of the imagery. I really appreciate a book being able to straddle several different artists. I think that is always a fun thing and a good opportunity to get different people on board. I’m a control freak in a lot of different aspects so I’m going to bring my little spin to this. I was nervous at first having to be the fourth person to come in but at the same time, I went, I’m just going to own this one and it’ll be okay. So it’s been pretty okay.

Your work is different from all three of them, but it sounds like you want this to be its own thing, both from their work and from your other work, in some ways.

That’s for sure. I am very meticulous. My work is super clean. I can’t not do that. It’s a dirty ass book, but it’s got clean inks. [laughs]

So what have your conversations and interactions with Tina been like?

Reading scripts. Leaving excited notes in the google docs going “I’m so excited to draw this!” Most of our conversations spiral into referencing media. Like, what if we did something like in this movie? Have you seen Magnolia? So I get a lot of homework. I ask collaborators to give me homework like that so I know where their headspace is at. That way we can have that synergy as much as possible. Over the months of knowing Tina and Lauren, I feel like our conversations have devolved into a lot of, let’s just talk about stuff. I think that makes the product a lot more lovingly crafted. 

Are a lot of the references they’re throwing at you more about tone or style?

I’m trying to think about what I can say. A lot of sci-fi and horror movies so it’s usually about tone or backgrounds. How to build a city by referencing Blade Runner and Children of Men. That sort of thing. Bringing in visual set pieces and how we reference them or build on them. That’s been such a fun part of working on the book.

The first book has this “day after tomorrow,” fairly realistic approach.

That’s why Safe Sex is so scary to me. It’s not far away. For a lot of people that’s just reality. 

I know that you’re contributing to the upcoming anthology Nectar. Is there anything else you’re working on that you want to mention right now?

I have a few anthologies cooking. I’ve got Nectar, which is an anthology of trans femme and non-binary porn comics, which is going to be so fun. The story I’m working on, I will  be very vague, but there’s a lot of fantasy stuff and it’s just nice to draw fantasy stuff and trees and Little Red Riding Hood set pieces of gnarly trees. I feel like I got my start in drawing nature, which I don’t get to do much these days. Most of these days I’m drawing sci-fi hellscapes which I love, but sometimes it’s nice to draw pretty trees and houses. Strange Disturbances the Christmas anthology is also cooking and that is a story that I got to write and draw and is well, I’ll just say Mexican folklore lesbian curses. [laughs] I have a book that’s in negotiations but that will happen eventually. That is my queer punk Minneapolis story that has been cooking for several years and it will good when it comes out. I pitched it on twitter and it got traction and now it’s going somewhere, which is nice.

Background and setting and a sense of place is so important in your work. And drawing anodyne cityscapes isn’t as much fun as drawing nature.

Absolutely. Now that I think about it, though, there are a few pages that are very nature heavy. That’s not spoilers. 

Without getting into spoilers, is there a scene or something you got to draw that you’re excited about or loved?

Within Terms of Service, there’s so much crazy stuff. A big part of it is the first book talked a lot about conservative movements and the return of women to the home and purity as a construct that influences everything, including things like credit scores. That carries through obviously. Surveillance is a big theme in the second book. I’ve had to draw a lot of crazy cameras. We have a lot of characters who are either looking through the lens of cameras or being looked at through cameras, and a big theme is how vulnerable that leaves people. There’s a lot about privacy and trying to find safe spaces in a world that leaves you none. I got to draw a lot of scary men’s rights rallies. That comes up a lot in the second book. The first book leads into this new men’s rights organization taking over the government. Or is it taking over the government if it was always there?

And a few panels of trees.

I got to draw some trees. I got to draw a lot of science garbage. I know that doesn’t sound good but I love drawing Ghost in the Shell crazy technology. Laboratories and cables and that has been good. I feel like Tina thought, G will like to draw a bunch of bio-mechanical stuff. And she’s right, I do. [laughs]

The first volume was much more about the psychological underpinnings of this new world order, and it sounds like the second one is showing how all of these ideas are not natural, and about what it takes to enforce and police that behavior.

Exactly. There are a lot of discussions going around tech about the kinds of stuff being made, the surveillance tools within phones. Also, the people who get to control the technology being made. Terms of Service is bringing in the idea of who gets to create that technology and what horrible things are they going to do with it. That’s something I’m always thinking about.

Thanks, G. The campaign just reached its goal, and writer Tina Horn asked if she could say a few words about the stretch goals:

We’re beyond stoked we got fully funded at $20K! Because our entire art team comes from the world of zine making, we decided the perfect stretch goals would be creating new digital zines as a bonus for all of our backers! If we hit $25K, we’re offering a zine featuring new original art as well as backmatter and scripts from the earlier issues you can’t get anywhere else. And at $30K, I’m going to write erotic prose featuring characters from the Dirty Mind, along with a ton of behind the scenes exclusives from SfSx: Terms of Service! We hope all of our fans will spread the word and help us reach these goals, which really cuts down on hustle pressure for this queer feminist art team!

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