Erin Nations has a lot to be proud of. The Portland-based cartoonist and writer inked a deal with IDW-owned Top Shelf for a new comics series called Gumballs, and the first issue hit stores last month. It's the first new series from the publisher since 2005's New York Times bestseller The Surrogates, and the first time Top Shelf has worked with an openly transgender creator. It’s a role Nations takes seriously.
“It’s just good to have positive accurate representation [of transgender people],” Nations says. “Especially coming from trans people, just having that authentic voice speak.” That said, Nations is quick to add he doesn’t assume his perspective is somehow universal. “It’s also understanding that this is my own voice, that I don’t speak for all trans people. There are so many people with so many different voices. Not just mine.”
Much like Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor or Allison’s Bechdel’s Fun Home, the scenes in Gumballs are lifted from Nations’ everyday life, and depict his personal struggles with things like being an artist and gender reassignment therapy. Nations, who both wrote and illustrated the book, uses bright colors and angular line drawings to make his material approachable even while exploring a range of emotional tones and subjects within short scenes and mini-narratives.
“Gumballs is sort of a variety—a little anthology—of different work. It’s not just one thing,” he says. “They are mostly about me.”
While much of Nations’s previous work has also been autobiographical, it’s Gumballs that really examines his experience as a trans person. Everything from catcalling to struggles with childhood gender identity are drawn into sharp focus.
“It all has to do with this identity and coming to terms with who I am," he says.
Nations, who has been publishing zines for several years, found his way to Top Shelf through some of the connections he made while studying at Pacific Northwest College of Art and the Independent Publishing Resource Center. Later in his studies, Nations took a class with Brett Warnock—formerly of Top Shelf—at PNCA. Warnock encouraged Nations to submit his work.
“With his [Warnock’s] help, I put together a comic book, and he talked to Chris Staros, who is the chief editor of Top Shelf and co-founded it with Brett," Nations says. “Chris really liked what he saw and just said I had a publisher.”
The Gumballs launch party takes place 5–7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 18 at Floating World Comics.