Gina Biggs is best known as the cartoonist behind a great series of webcomics that she’s been making for more than a decade, including Red String, Erstwhile and her current project, Love Not Found. She is also the founder and editor of the website Filthy Figments, which turns 10 this year. Long one of the very best collections of erotic comics on the web, Filthy Figments has published a long list of talented creators, including Megan Rose Gedris, Molly Ostertag, Sarah Searle, Niki Smith and others making comics than aren’t simply inventive and interesting and visually dynamic by the standards of erotic comics, but exciting work by any standard.
Biggs’ current ongoing comic is Love Not Found, a science fiction romance set in a world where physical contact is rare. In the second chapter, one character has a line which has long stayed with me, “Sex is great. Why complicate it with emotions and touching?” In the time since I first reached out to us finishing this interview, that scenario went from science fiction to the norm for so many of us. We spoke over email about her career, Filthy Figments, upcoming plans, and how Love Not Found feels like a very different comic right now.
I always ask people as a first question, how did you come to comics?
My love story with comics starts back when I was very small when I would enjoy reading Calvin & Hobbes in the daily newspaper. I would write and draw my own plays to act out and game booklets leading up to my early teens when life led me to X-Men. I was enamored by the comics, especially the relationships like Gambit and Rouge, but eventually found myself unfulfilled as there was never a conclusion and character evolution was limited based on the nature of the media. What really encouraged my passion was Japanese manga, shoujo and josei comics specifically. They offered complete stories, often with romantic plots, and there were so many women creators! For the first time, I really felt like I could create comics “for real,” that there could be a place for me and the types of stories I enjoyed. That inspiration solidified my path.
What was the initial idea behind Filthy Figments and how has it changed over time?
Filthy Figments started out as a one-shot erotic side comic for my then-current online comic series, Red String. The story was progressing and the characters were taking a major step in their relationship. I put together a handful of mini-comics for a convention and completely underestimated how much interest there would be in that little erotic comic. I reached out to five other creators I knew and trusted about creating a place for us. The idea was to showcase our adult works and to prop up voices for a genre that so rarely focuses on women’s desires. The enthusiasm from them was encouraging and we quickly moved forward. Again, completely underestimating the interest in such a project, within in the first year we were bringing in new artists and increasing our monthly offerings.
As we approach the ten year anniversary of the site, I look back at how much has changed while our core message has remained the same. We’re still creating a space for unheard voices, but now the voices are many and growing wonderfully more diverse. The goal is to continue to diversify and be able to reach more people with works that speak to them!
Recently Match Point by Dante and H. ended and The Heist and Cinders launched. You had a call for submissions. Do you want to talk about some of the recent changes to the lineup and what’s coming up?
I’d love to! We’re always launching new short stories alongside our longer-running series. The Heist introduces the newest creators to join our site, D Byrde and V Loveless. And we’re always up for a good fairy tale remix and Cinders delivers with its dreamy pastels and sweet racy romance.
Our recently concluded 2019-2020 open call was a huge success. We received almost double the pitches from our last call for submissions in 2018, and we’re so excited to be bringing on several new creators. Right now we’re getting everyone set up and working on their scripts. Their stories will be debuting on the site throughout the year, so keep an eye out for them! We’re also going to be celebrating our 10-year anniversary in June, and we have a fun little something extra planned, though I can’t go into details quite yet!
I first came across your work years back when you were making in Red String. And I know you’ve made plenty of shorter work, but between that and Love Not Found, what is it you like about making long-form comics?
I honestly love to get really cozy with characters and evolve the story over time. It’s fun to dream up adventure after adventure for them and continue to play in their world. Even when I write a short story, there is a certain point where I have to tell myself to leave it there not matter how much I want to come back and play again tomorrow.
Where did the idea for Love Not Found come from?
Love Not Found initially came from three different unused comic idea scraps I had sitting in a folder. The story itself felt like a natural progression from Red String where affection in public was not a common practice. I wanted to explore that idea further as well as human connection in general. I had mused on the way we live now with the age of connecting on the internet compared to when I was growing up running around the neighborhood with friends. As with lots of sci-fi, it explores ideas in our society in a fictional setting.
From the start, I’ve thought of Love Not Found as sweet, a little sad, and innocent, oddly enough for an erotic comic – which I suppose could describe Abeille in a lot of ways.
That’s pretty accurate! Abeille is messy like a lot of us. She’s got baggage and she’s doing her best to deal with it while also trying to take in as much of the love and good in the world that she can.
Do you like to have an idea mapped out in detail, or how do you write Love Not Found?
I do indeed! At the very start, I had a vague outline, but as I built on the story things became much clearer for the ending. With longer stories, I tend to have a skeleton in place, but leave the details for later. As earlier chapters progress I get a better picture of how I will bring about those story beats planned later down the line. In the past, I would have multiple chapters written in advance, but these days I take a couple weeks break between the end of a chapter to write the script for the next. Even still, I tend to edit and tweak the script as I draw out the pages, sometimes to shorten the length of the dialog, other times because I see a better way once it’s drawn out.
Is that different from how you’ve worked on other projects?
With shorter stories and even one-shot graphic novels, for me, it’s better to plan out of the whole story in advance. With a story that will run for years, I feel like I have to be flexible mainly because, as I learned with writing Red String for 10 years, I’m going to change and grow as I work on a story that long. I might want to tweak things down the line. If you are too rigid with the story it can sometimes hinder the creativity.
You mentioned that you have the story for Love Not Found plotted out. How far into things are we right now?
There are three planned graphic novel collections, 21 chapters in total, so at chapter 18 we’re at the middle of the final volume of the series. Things are getting ready to heat up and the stakes risen for some of the characters.
Obviously ideas about the virtual world vs. real world are constant right now, but I wonder if you could talk about thinking about this world and the science fiction aspects of it.
Love Not Found was my second attempt at world-building a completely new world from the ground up. The first attempt was a fantasy story that didn’t have enough explanation. I took what I learned from that failure and corrected things. When I was creating the world of Monotropa in Love Not Found, I wanted to have aspects of it be distinctly alien, but have the tech and life in general be recognizable enough to readers to not take them out of the story. There are so many ideas I brought into the fold that are based in science today, spherical Sun Power Generators, humans refining bio-hacking their bodies to acclimate to different planets, tattoos used as personal smart phones, machines that promote personal sexual health, holographic communication and so on. Admittedly, it’s a lot of fun researching these things!
I always come back to Ivy’s line in chapter 2 – “Sex is great. Why complicate it with emotions and touching?” Which I always smile at, but there’s a lot in that line.
There really is so much going on there. In Love Not Found, for the most part people have not actively sought out physical touch for a very long time. It’s the norm to not touch. The idea of intimacy and what it is to people has changed. When we meet Ivy, she’s working at a job she’s passionate about and is happy where she is at the moment. She doesn’t think she has time to mess around with the complications of a serious relationship, and frankly, is not interested in one. Like most people in Love Not Found, she’s is both isolated and connected due to the technology of the time. She’s very different from Abeille in that Abeille starts out seeking a deeper connection and Ivy is not convinced being more connected is worth the effort. Over time, her feelings on this change and she starts searching for answers. Her journey has been one of discovering something that was missing in her life, not necessarily touch itself, but a deeper connection with another person.
Between when we first started talking about doing this interview and now, this idea of not touching being the norm went from science fiction to daily life for a lot of people. As you’re working on the comic now, are you thinking about this? Does it feel like a different comic now?
I’m thinking about it quite a lot, honestly! Sci-fi tends to explore current world issues by putting those themes under a fantastical lens, but this turn of world events has been quite unexpected! Since 2014, the series has been exploring themes of technology bring the world both closer together and physically further apart. Now in 2020, the social isolation and yearning for the touch of another human being has taken on a new layer. Many of us are feeling loneliness right now and my hope is that the story can bring even a bit of catharsis as the lovers in the story find a way to each other.
How are you and the family doing? It’s a rough time, but have you managed to get some work done and find some routine?
You know, I’ve found like most artists right now I’m struggling to find creative energy and feeling bad about not having as much of it as usual. I’m distance-learning with two young kids (first and third grade), so I’m trying to simultaneously be teacher, mom and breadwinner right now. Thankfully, I’m still able to keep up with Love Not Found updates and keep the Filthy Figments site running. I’m following good advice in not trying to take on more than I can right now.
So what’s next for the comic? What are you looking forward to that excites you right now?
I’m excited about a new Kickstarter I’ll be launching later this year for the second Love Not Found graphic novel! As someone who creates online comics, I love comics any way I can read them, but for me there’s nothing that compares to the excitement of getting to hold a physical book in your hands, especially one you’ve created yourself!
And as a heartfelt message to you, dear readers, art is so important for our souls, so immerse yourself in it! Read, create, love, laugh, live your best life!