Smash Pages Q&A: Lynsey G.

The co-founder of Oneshi Press discusses the Kickstarter campaign for a second volume of ‘Tracy Queen.’

Lynsey G. has been working as a professional writer for years, but it’s only in the past few years that the writer and editor turned her eye to comics, writing work like Tracy Queen and Pack. In 2015 she and her partner Jayel Draco founded Oneshi Press, where Lynsey not only publishes her own work, but edits and publishes a semiannual anthology, which just released its ninth volume. 

On the heels of that, Oneshi is kickstarting the second collection of Tracy Queen by Lynsey and Draco, which launches today. The comic is hard to describe – as we get into in our conversation – but at its heart it’s about a woman who finds herself, but still struggles to change some of her behaviors. It’s a story about sex work and sex workers and in the second volume the book really hits its stride, managing to capture both the thoughtful and emotional journey that Tracy is on, while also telling a story that revels in its own craziness. Much of the book’s charms come from the ways that it balances those two elements and Lynsey and I spoke recently about comics, writing, her many projects and complicating the idea of helpfulness.

How did you come to comics?

Through my project Tracy Queen. I developed the character and I knew who she was and what I wanted her story to be. It was a really wild story and I just thought, we have to be able to see the visuals. I probably could have written it as a novel but it just would have been so out there, but as a graphic novel it kind of fits right in. I developed the character of Tracy Queen based on a real person. You know there are some people who nobody ever believes them when they talk about what happened to them last night but they’re actually telling the truth? She’s one of those people. Her life is just so out there, but I wanted to obscure who this person is so I developed the rest of this bombastic story that is completely wild and over the top so you can’t pick out the true parts from the fake parts. So I wrote that and then found an artist and we started working on it. I pitched it to every studio that was doing comics that vaguely fit what I was doing and none of them were interested. The story fit neatly between the cracks. It’s not an erotic comic, but it is a comic that deals a lot with sex. We got really good feedback and I was like, I have a background in publishing, and my partner has a background in illustration and web design, let’s just do it ourselves. That eventually turned into having this whole publishing company. 

So for people who haven’t read the comic, who is Tracy Queen? How do you describe her?

I like to call her a love warrior. She starts out as an actual warrior and over the course of the book she gets to know herself better and explore herself more and walks away from a life of violence into a life of pleasure. She does webcam work and filmed porn and she decides, I want to do this instead. At the end of the day, I had fun, the people I worked with had fun, and the people watching had fun, and I’m not hurting people anymore. That’s what she’s trying to be but her past won’t let her go. And she becomes kind of a warlord but she’s bringing this philosophy of pleasure over violence with her. So in the end she becomes what I call a love warrior where she’s trying to fight the good fight but she’s still fighting. 

I’m sure some people went, okay, it’s this sex positive story and when it opens with her in armor and a talking raccoon thought, did I get the right comic?

[laughs] There’s a lot to fit into the marketing and promotional materials. It’s hard to figure out what to focus on exactly because there’s a lot going on. Like I said, things snowballed with Tracy. She starts out here and wants to go there but then it turns into this conflagration of her going way off the deep end and it becomes sci-fi. [laughs]

As you said it’s hard to describe and sum up easily.

Very much so. I wrote this a long time ago. So sometimes I think when I describe the process of making it, I’m not that accurate. A really important part of the puzzle for me is that I don’t want her to be pigeonholed as “a porn star” or “a sex worker” or “a warrior.” Because all of that’s been done and it’s really important to me that she be all of those things. It doesn’t make for a very easy tweet. Because so much of what we’ve seen about sex workers in pop culture in the past has been very very pigeonholed. It’s either the sad sex worker trope or the happy hooker trope and there’s not a lot of room in between those. I thought it was really important that Tracy have a lot of backstory and her own personality.

I’m sure a lot of that comes from your experience reporting on the porn industry. Getting to spend time with people and seeing the behind-the-scenes story I’m sure played a role in thinking about Tracy and making her ever more complex.

That was a really big part of it. When I started writing Tracy Queen I had no idea that I would write Watching Porn. I started writing Tracy Queen as my kind of opus on the porn industry. I had this amazing thing happen where the character took on a life of her own and she said, the story is going to be about me. As a writer that’s the best experience you can have. I started writing with an eye to critique the porn industry and the way that it interacts with the world. As it became much more her story, I didn’t get as much commentary in as I wanted to. But I do think her character growing is a commentary. Rather than talking about the porn industry so much, it became much more my reaction to the way that I see many consumers interacting with porn. 

Like her nemesis Dickie Doublefinger is the personification of what people seem to think men in the porn industry are like. The guys pulling the strings who are objectifying women all day every day. I have run into this idea, which I tried to disprove in Watching Porn, that pornography is this monolithic entity that’s out to destroy the morals of the world. I made that character be the ultimate bad guy because it’s ridiculous to think that’s true. Pornography is not one guy, it’s a ton of different people with their own ideas and goals. I point out the ridiculousness of this idea with the character. 

Tracy is the antidote to that. She’s this woman who wants to do it for her own reasons and loves what she’s doing and wants nothing to do with that guy. In a way it kind of did turn into a critique of what people think the porn industry is – as opposed to a critique of what the porn industry really is. It went in its own direction, but I did manage to get jabs in.

You do get at that and the way you talked about the difference between indie vs mainstream porn made me think of the difference between indie and mainstream comics.

That’s been a really interesting exploration for me. I keep putting myself on the indie end of every industry I get into and really seeing a lot of similarities. I wrote in Watching Porn how much the publishing industry is like the porn industry. There’s this bifurcation between the massive companies that keep getting more massive and the indie people who are getting stronger because of the internet. It’s happening at the same time but they’re continuing to move in opposite directions. I wrote Tracy Queen in 2012-13 and at that point, nobody in the porn industry knew what was happening. It was the end times because the mainstream companies were dying and nobody knew what was going to happen. Now basically the mainstream companies have died and it’s Pornhub versus everybody else.

Tracy starts by webcamming and from there starts to film porn, which is a story I’ve heard and read, and we see what those experiences mean to her in this second volume.

That’s a legit journey. There are lots of people who got into porn on a whim or just wanted to buy a car with the money, but they stayed. I think that’s an important story to tell. As many times as I have heard those stories and I’d like to believe that everyone in the world has heard those stories, people have not. It’s important to keep telling them until people realize that this can be a voluntary, joyful job. I sent the draft to a friend who was a big comics fan and he wrote back that he wasn’t buying that Tracy would just make the decision to do porn. She needed to have an origin story like Charlize Theron’s character in the movie Monster where she has this horrible horrible trauma that results in her becoming a serial killer. I was like, are you telling me that you think porn stars are like serial killers? I realized in that moment that parts of Tracy’s more positive story almost feel trite to me at this point because I have heard so many stories like that, but a lot of people have not. And it’s important those stories get told. Even if they are ridiculous and feature raccoons and cyborgs.

Okay, so where did the coke-snorting, eyeglass-wearing, talking raccoon come from?

The person who I based Tracy’s character on had a pet ferret and I started making these sketches of Tracy with her ferret and thinking that he would be her sidekick. Then I developed this whole theory about how promiscuous women are the most powerful from a genetic and evolutionary standpoint. The more men you have sex with, the more you’re promoting sperm competition and vying to get the best possible offspring. I was reading a lot of sexual evolution and sexual psychology books at the time. I went, in modern times if somebody really wants to take over the world, she won’t do it by having children but by using cloning technology. It was a bizarro brainstorm.

I realized that Tracy needs to be a scientist who comes up with this race of cyborg-clones using genetic material from her sexual partners. She’s going to be this pioneering dominating woman who wants to take over the world. I realized that in order to make that all work she needed her animal sidekick to help her in the lab. Then I realized that a ferret does not have thumbs. [laughs] So it came down to either a monkey or a raccoon. I think monkeys are overdone and I don’t really like monkeys. They kind of freak me out. It made more sense for her to be living in New York and meet a raccoon than a monkey. 

When I was writing Nikola, who is probably my favorite character, I had no idea that Guardians of the Galaxy was a thing. [laughs] I had a few people say to me, he reminds me of Rocket Raccoon, and I had no idea who they were talking about. Neither did anybody else! And then of course, the movies. So now I have to constantly point out how there’s enough room for more than one talking raccoon who’s an electronics engineer. Talking raccoon sidekick rights are important. [laughs]

You namecheck Jiz Lee, Sophia St. James and Madison Young in the first volume.

They’re all doing cameo appearances in the book, but not for a little while.

They’re each doing very different, very interesting things that probably don’t fit into what people think of as porn. But I think name checking them set the tone for the second volume as we get into more of her journey.

Good. I’m glad that you recognize those names and get the context. I am just starting to realize because I lived in New York for a long time and then I moved to Montana that one of the things I miss is performance art. I never really thought about it at the time because in New York there’s all kinds of weird crap going on all the time. In retrospect I realized that I love performance art. So, in pornography I’m really drawn to performance art. So Jiz and Sophia and especially Madison Young are right up my alley.

But yes, those three and others very much fit into this continuum of performance art.

Yes – and porn as art, which is really important.

You made the decision to make this and publish it yourself. But you’re also making a regular anthology and publishing other people and how did that develop?

We knew that we wanted to make a publishing company. In part to get out Tracy Queen and PACK. I wrote Tracy Queen and realized writing comics was a lot of fun. I started writing PACK and co-writing on Children of Gaia, which is a sci-fi/fantasy illustrated series. My creative partner, Jayel Draco, and I knew that we wanted to get these things out in the world. But as someone who has a lot of experience in publishing, I was really leery of having a vanity press where I just publish my own stuff. It was important to me from the beginning that if I was going to call myself a publisher, I had to publish other people’s work. So we started Oneshi Press with no money. Which it turns out is a big part of publishing. We started saying, how do we start publishing other people’s work? And we started an anthology. Each issue has pages of Tracy Queen and PACK, and other people’s work as well. We’ve now published nine and we’re working on the tenth. Each issue is getting bigger and we’re getting more submissions. The goal is that we’re going to eventually make enough money that we can publish other people’s work as standalone comics. We’re going to publish a book by someone else later this year and we hope that goes well. 

I first came across you and Oneshi because someone retweeted about your anthologies. I know you have a background in publishing and editing, but how have you found working with other cartoonists and writers?

It’s awesome because there’s so much originality and vision out there. You can spend all day on Kickstarter and discover new exciting work. Sometimes I do. [laughs] But it’s amazing to see how much vision people can pack into an eight-page comic. I am continually amazed. And the breadth of those comics. We’ve gotten everything from Golden-Age style work and really weird out there space-travel stories that seem out of the sixties to these conceptual art pieces with barely a story, but the art is so deep and wild. And people fit these ideas into eight pages. I’m just blown away that this is out there and I get to be a part of it. I love being able to share people’s visions with the world. So far almost every single interaction we’ve had with people has been positive. It’s a great community. And we’re hoping we can turn it into a community of people who do it because they love it and get paid for it. 

And you’re publishing all creator owned work, you’re only taking first publication rights. Though I know that anthologies are often a hard sell.

Yes. I have seen the evidence of that, but I still don’t understand it. Why would you not want a grab bag of awesome comics? I just don’t understand. I’m going to keep making anthologies and eventually people will love them because they’re great.

You mentioned PACK, which is the other series you write. What is it?

PACK is another of my forays into moral ambiguity, which is what I really like to write about. On the surface PACK is an old-school noir where instead of having a masked vigilante, we have a masked vigilante fighting for the rights of animals and he has a pack of dogs backing him up. We’re questioning who’s the hero and who’s the bad guy, which is also a classic noir theme. We’re dealing with issues of animal rights. We get into the way that humans think of animals and the way that dogs in particular bear the weight of humans being terrible. We brought in the idea of gentrification in Brooklyn, which is a theme that runs through all the stories. We tell the backstory of one of the dogs in the PACK in each issue and then in the last issue we’ll tell the backstory of the masked vigilante and how he got here. In each story there’s some aspect of how this neighborhood is changing and being gentrified and why and how the dogs bear the brunt of that. How are the cops involved, how are developers involved? It’s a tale of moral ambiguity. 

In both series you’re really interested in exploring the idea that the persona that we all take on is not who they are and doesn’t define or explain individuals in a way that’s helpful.

I’m trying to complicate the idea of helpfulness. [laughs] That’s really true. That’s what interests me across the board. The public persona or the Twitter bio of person versus the actual person. I find that really interesting. The concept of PACK was dreamed up by my partner Jayel, who’s the artist. He and a friend of his came to me with the concept. I looked at it and it felt simple. Not that I don’t like a simple story, but that’s not how my brain works when I sit down to write. We talked about it and complicated it, and now we have a series. [laughs] 

I’m really interested in the complexity of characters. There’s always new Star Wars stuff coming out and I realized recently that I have seen every Star Wars movie at least five to ten times, but I don’t remember most of the details. I don’t remember all of the political machinations. I don’t remember the names of half the characters. I enjoy them, but I am much more interested in the people and their character arcs and motivations. Which is why I think the original three movies are the best ones, because it’s not constant action all the time. There are times where they’re just sitting on the Millennium Falcon playing games. I realized that really informs my writing. I’m not really interested in action scenes, I’m interested in people and figuring out why they do what they do. 

Even in PACK where there’s a lot of action sequences, we don’t show a whole lot of fighting. One, because a lot of the time there are dogs involved so it’s really grisly. We’re not trying to give bad PR to dogs. But the action scenes aren’t the point. Same with Tracy Queen. As the story goes on, we keep flashing forward to this battlefield but it just keeps being about to happen for a very long time because to me, the battle isn’t the point. The point is how we got to the battle. That’s way more interesting to me. 

I have been trying to process the idea that a fight can be a form of storytelling. I know that’s true. But I also know that in a movie or book when a fight scene happens, my eyes glaze over. I’m trying to get better at that. There are some examples where you see the storytelling in the fight. I always think of the movie Eastern Promises. That fight in the bath house is really interesting. But most of the time I’m not that interested in fight scenes; I’m interested in how they got there.

So you’re kickstarting Volume 2 of Tracy Queen.

Yes we’re doing Volume 2, which has a lot more backstory. You get to find out where Nikola came from. Tracy Queen does not take place in a world where talking animals are normal. We learn a lot more about Dickie Doublefinger. We see Tracy move from doing solo cam work to recording partnered sex for the first time. That is all precipitated by this horrible realization Tracy has about her grandfather, who runs this crime syndicate she worked for at the beginning, and her deciding that rather than making her sex work life something she does for money, it becomes her mission. She wants to explore female sexuality and show the world that she’s in control of herself and she’s making these decisions and that’s important and powerful and sexy. 

It gets rough because what I felt I needed to do was show a very clear delineation between voluntary consensual sex work and sex trafficking. The difference between those two things should be mainstream knowledge. We should all understand that sex trafficking is a horrible crime and that people doing porn voluntarily is completely different. And yet we are still having laws passed that conflate them and make voluntary sex work just as criminal. That keeps happening. So I feel like it’s important to draw a clear line between the two. 

Unfortunately that means I have to talk about sex trafficking. That is an issue that comes up in Volume 2. There’s a continuing storyline that starts there that involves trafficking victims. Tracy rescues women from that situation, but she sucks at the follow-through. She doesn’t take these women very seriously. She rescues them and then goes, I’m so great for rescuing you, on your way. I worry that people are going to see Tracy not handling this very well and get mad at Tracy. She is this love warrior, but she’s really problematic in a lot of ways. I am trying to write a character who feels very honest, but she does some fucked up things and I hope people will take the ride and see where it goes. 

I think the character of Nadia and what we see her do afterwards gets at some of the ways that we recreate our own traumas.

Nadia’s character is in a lot of ways doing what Tracy is doing, trying to take ownership of her own sexual labor in the best way that she can. She’s really complicated. Tracy is the hero but she’s kind of a dick and not the greatest person to be around a lot of the time. She screws up a lot, but she’s trying, and Tracy’s strength is that she tries to take ownership of her failures and do better next time. I think it’s important to hold people accountable, but we need to show that people can change and grow. That’s Tracy’s story. She comes from a bad background and she’s trying to do better. But that doesn’t mean she’s going to do everything perfectly. Same with Nadia.

So the campaign launches February 20. And besides collecting the second volume, is there anything you want to say about what you’re doing or what’s included?

We have a whole bunch of goodies planned. We’re going to put in some extra comics that address some of these issues we’ve been talking about. We’re going to be doing paper dolls of Tracy. When I was a kid, I loved paper dolls. I have no idea why. That’s maybe not the most exciting thing ever, but I’m really excited. And we’re going to have a lot of bundle packages so you can buy volume 1 along with volume 2. We’ll also be bundling those with issues of PACK, because the two stories take place in the same world. And we’ll be offering art prints, stickers, postcards, and even comics anthologies as rewards, as well.

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