Before the release of Sins of the Black Flamingo #4 this week, a few of Comic Watch’s own caught up with the series’ writer and creator Andrew Wheeler. If you haven’t been reading this slick queer heist miniseries, feel free to take a peek at our reviews of the first and third issues or stick around as we dig deep, talking about queer comics, faith, and Wheeler’s inspirations.
Comic Watch: For curious readers of this interview who haven’t picked up Sins of the Black Flamingo yet, could you tell us a bit of what it’s about in your own words? What’s one reason you’d give someone to try it?
Andrew Wheeler: Friends tell me this is the book I was born to write, but that is a terrible pitch if you don’t know me.
Sins of the Black Flamingo is a queer occult noir story set in and around Miami about a glamorous, jaded thief who liberates occult artefacts from shitty people. He stumbles upon something that challenges his understanding of the world, and there his troubles begin.
If that doesn’t hook you, you should know that it is a gorgeous book full of stunning people, and the art team of Travis Moore, Tamra Bonvillain, and Aditya Bidikar are doing astonishing work! They capture the beauty and the humanity of this story on every page.
CW: Black Flamingo takes a familiar story and puts a twist on it that we don’t see often in comic books, what made you decide to pitch this story?
AW: In the very early stages I was wondering what a queer version of a classic pulp hero might look like — someone like The Spirit, The Shadow, or Doc Savage. An urban legend, a mystery man on a crusade.
The character took shape from there, and the story took shape from the character, and the end result is not very much like The Spirit at all. My own interests and obsessions steered me into different territory.
CW: The Sins of the Black Flamingo exists at the complicated intersection of queerness & Christianity. What drove you to explore that intersection?
AW: I live at that intersection! My queerness and my faith have been in a dialogue my entire adult life. There are two wolves inside me, and one of them is C.S. Lewis and the other is Oscar Wilde.
I’m no longer a churchgoer, because the Catholic Church considers queer people outcasts unworthy of love, but Catholicism is fundamental to my identity and how I approach the world, so I still own that identity. Sebastian comes at all this from a different experience, but the story is very much about negotiating grace in a godless world.
CW: As someone who is both vocally queer and vocally Christian online, how has your own identity shaped/informed how you’ve written The Sins of the Black Flamingo?
AW: It’s there in every page. It’s in Sebastian’s cynicism, Ofelia’s frustration, Abel’s hope. It’s there in the way each character responds to Ezekiel. This is an intensely personal work, despite all the spectacle and sizzle!
I have another project in the works that tackles the reconciliation of these identities in a very different and more vulnerable way. I dare say it’s a theme I will keep returning to.
CW: What were your other inspirations for this comic?
AW: My go-to summer reading for a long time were crime thrillers with a comedy edge — writers like Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen. Their versions of Florida were the touchstone, I think. Florida as the perfect petri dish for exploring social grotesques.
CW: Black Flamingo is wonderfully and unapologetically queer in the characters, the setting, the dialogue, etc. Was there ever a point where your editor wanted to tone down the queer aspects to make it more “palatable?”
AW: Quite the contrary! My editor, Andy Khouri, has known me for a long time and he knows my passions. He actually called me out when he thought I was holding back! He wanted this to be the queer book that I always lamented the lack of.
CW: Black Flamingo is, by his own admission, a narcissist, yet he has strong feelings toward social justice that would seem to be at odds with his core. Is Sebastian Harlow hiding his true self behind a mask of narcissism? What vulnerabilities and insecurities does that mask hide from the world?
AW: Trauma, mostly. Isn’t that under most of our masks? Sebastian is a narcissist, yes, but he’s also a nihilist. When he talks about justice, it’s from the perspective of queer rage. Injustice is another example of how the world is burning. Giving a damn about it just means getting burnt. He acknowledges injustice but he’s too self-absorbed to do much about it.
CW: Why did you choose to name your protagonist Sebastian Harlow? Is there a chance it relates to St. Sebastian, who has become something of a homoerotic icon?
AW: Sebastian is named for two queer icons. He combines the self-destruction of St Sebastian with the glamor of Jean Harlow, or possibly the glamor of St. Sebastian with the self-destruction of Jean Harlow.
Sebastian is one of those very queer names; Sebastian Flyte, Sebastian Melmoth, Viola’s Sebastian in Twelfth Night, Sebastian the crab. I’m sure the saint has a lot to do with that, but I also think the name itself has a languid elegance in all its sibilance and curlicues.
CW: What are your thoughts on how Christian icons like St. Sebastian and St. Joan of Arc have also become queer icons?
AW: We’re everywhere. We have always been everywhere. We will always be everywhere, on every continent, in every age, in every family. We should claim our saints too, they’re part of our culture.
CW: Why is the Black Flamingo Sebastian’s alter ego – or will readers have to stick around to find out?
AW: The name is really The Black Dahlia + Pink Flamingos. It evokes nihilist noir and queer trash in equal measure. That resonance is there for Sebastian as well, but he also talks about his admiration for the flamingo in issue #2. Flamingos are flamboyant and weird, icons of kitsch, but they’re also surprisingly tough and adaptable birds. A black flamingo is an aberration. A freak even among the freaks.
CW: So far, what has been your favorite aspect of working on this series? What’s been your biggest challenge?
AW: Honestly, I love every stage of this. I loved creating these characters and writing their stories. I love seeing how Travis brings it to life, how Tamra enriches the world, and how Aditya captures their voices.
Then there’s the experience of sharing the book with the audience and having people respond to it. This is the book that I wanted to make, and there’s an anxiety in wondering if other people want to read it, but the response has been phenomenal. People really seem to appreciate what we’ve set out to do. There are no other books like this out there, but there is an audience.
Creating comics can be rough, it can be heartbreaking, but comics writers are lucky bastards for getting to live this dream and we need to appreciate that! It’s a wonderful job to have!
CW: Let’s talk about Travis Moore, whose artwork graces Sins of the Black Flamingo. He isn’t shy about drawing unapologetically beautiful people, is he? What made him such a perfect fit for Black Flamingo’s world?
AW: Travis is incredible! I knew this book needed an artist who could deliver sex appeal and style, but I also needed an artist who could find the soul of each character and tell every part of this story, from the heartfelt moments to the big set pieces. Travis was at the top of my wish list. I didn’t think we’d get him, but he fell in love with the story, and thank God for that. There’s no better artist to bring Sins of the Black Flamingo to life! He’s doing the best work of his career so far. He’s a superstar.
CW: There are certainly people this comic isn’t intended for. Right off the bat, it paints an unflattering picture of Trump supporters and American fascism (and Florida). That said, are there any readers who you really hope this comic reaches? Have you had any unexpected reactions from readers that you’d be willing to share?
AW: Let’s be fair; Trump supporters paint an unflattering picture of Trump supporters. I’m just reporting the facts.
Art doesn’t need to reach everybody, and to reach the unreachable requires compromise to the point of capitulation. I hope there are people who come to this work who enjoy it who wouldn’t expect to, but the important thing is that they’re coming to this work. The work isn’t coming to them.
CW: You’ve also written a short comic in 2022’s Marvel’s Voices: Pride which focuses on Marvel’s version of the Greek hero Hercules. Has working with Christian and Jewish mythologies in this series had any similarity to that, or have you found it to be a very different experience?
AW: I think superheroes have become a sort of pop culture mythology for a lot of people – a way to unpack and make sense of our place in the universe. That’s not necessarily front of mind when I’m writing Wonder Woman or Hercules, though; there’s a whole extra level of consideration that’s required when writing about people’s lived faiths.
CW: Is there a story/character in the Big 2 that you are itching to write for outside of the anthologies?
AW: I would love to do more with Gregorio de la Vega, aka Extraño. He feels like the perfect character to travel the DC universe rescuing queer characters from limbo the way he did with Sig Nansen in my second JLQ story. He cares very much about queer people and their struggles. It would be a great way to address the problem of queer characters often being forgotten. Introducing a queer character is easy; keeping that character around is a commitment.
At Marvel, I’d love to write Starfox. I’ve talked to Kieron Gillen about the character, and I know we have similar approaches. Shatterstar is really high on my list. Nightcrawler. Moondragon. Apparently, I’m really into characters with celestial names.
CW: Both Marvel and DC have begun doing yearly Pride anthologies, and you’ve been able to write for both. Where do you want Marvel and DC to go next in terms of queer content?
AW: I’m excited to see them follow through and give more opportunities to these creators — I assume that’s the intention at both publishers. Audiences notice if queer creators only get work during Pride month! We have to pay our rent the rest of the year as well. The anthologies are the start of a conversation with marginalized creators, opening the door to the opportunities that were long denied us.
CW: Moving from a romcom with Love and War to a supernatural thief story with Black Flamingo is a big genre jump. Are there other genres you plan to cross to?
AW: Love and War is really about character dynamics, which is why tug-of-war was the perfect sport to build a queer sports rom-com around! I definitely want to create work that can appeal to an all-ages audience as well as work that is unapologetically adult.
I’m working on a more adventure-focused crime book right now, but I also have ideas for horror and science-fiction stories that I’d love to find homes for. Horror has really been speaking to me lately, because, oh, everything is still awful. I don’t want to limit myself, though. The unifying feature of my stories is the queer experience, and there are no limits on the types of stories that might inspire.
CW: Finally, the last few years have seen a strong leap in positive queer representation in comics, which is an inherently wonderful thing yet there’s always still more work to be done. What would you like to see happen, or continue happening, in terms of LGBTQIA+ comics?
AW: I want more! For a long time, queer comics were such rare birds that each one carried the weight of every queer reader’s expectations, which meant every book was a failure by someone’s standards.
We need more creators telling more stories representing more experiences. That’s when we’ll be set free from the burden of perfection and allowed to be as complicated, flawed, and messy as we need to be.
That’s all from us, folks! Be sure to pick up Sins of the Black Flamingo #4 from Image Comics on Wednesday, September 28!
Queer Comics & Other Rare Birds: An Interview with Sins of the Black Flamingo’s ANDREW WHEELER
User Review( vote)