Published by Image Comics on Valentines Day 2018, Tee Franklin and Jenn St-Onge’s BINGO LOVE is an LBGT+ love story. Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray meet at a church bingo in 1963 New Jersey. It is love at first sight. Forced apart by their family and community, they both marry men and have families. Fifty years later, they find each other once again at the same church bingo hall. With their love still strong, Hazel and Mari will need strength and courage to do what is next.

In late January, ComicsVerse conducted an online roundtable discussion about BINGO LOVE with writers and editors within the company. Participating were Writing Intern Oliver Vestal (OV), Contributing Writers Mara Danoff (MD) and Ashley Wertz (AW), Image Comics Section Editor Chris Galvin (CG) and Independent Publishers Section Co-Head Rachel Davis (RD). Image Comics Section Editor Leijah Petelka (LP) facilitated the discussion. The discussion that followed was positive, open, and honest about how BINGO LOVE impacted each of us.

BINGO LOVE
Courtesy of Image Comics

LP: BINGO LOVE started as a Kickstarter and received massive funding. I’m not sure if anyone else was looking forward to this comic, but I certainly was! Were you looking forward to its release? Were you surprised when Image announced they were going to publish it?

MD: I had no idea this comic existed until two weeks ago because I am so very out of the loop.

OV: Honestly, I hadn’t heard of this comic until the roundtable was announced, but I am very glad to hear it’s gaining recognition.

CG: I did not know anything about myself, but I’m not surprised Image is publishing it.

AW: I had heard about the comic a while back, and I’d been seeing bits and pieces about it from following Tee Franklin and Jenn St Onge, so I was really excited to see that Image took it on.

RD: I knew about this comic since the Kickstarter. Back when I was an intern at CV, the former section head pitched a press release for the Kickstarter. We published an announcement of it! When I heard about this book, I finally felt like comics were seeing me. It’s no secret I am a diehard Archie fan, and part of that is because I love romance. But I never saw myself, visually or narratively, in the comics I loved. I loved the comics despite that, but I was aware of that even as a kid. No one looked or lived like me, a biracial only child from the suburbs. So seeing a story about Black women loving each other with different skin tones, shapes, etc. brought me so much joy. Like an “at last!” joy! Chris, why aren’t you surprised?

CG: Rachel, it just feels like of all the mainstream publishers that I’m aware of, Image seemed like the right fit.

OV: Additionally, hearing that Image is publishing it is not surprising: the art is interesting and adds storytelling elements to the comic, and the story actually made me cry.

RD: Fair enough! I agree with your point too, Oliver: Image is the most experimental of the three big American publishers.

LP: The majority of the panels in BINGO LOVE are slightly slanted. There are few level panels throughout the text, but everything seems slightly tilted. For example, the panels are fairly level when Hazel is with James or with Mari. But from the beginning of the story until Hazel meets Mari, the panels are tilted. What do you think Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, and Joy San were trying to convey through this?

MD: That the characters aren’t straight?

AW: Oh, wow, I never even realized until you mentioned it! I think that’s such an interesting choice, and I think it could mean that Hazel was trying to fit into some kind of box but never felt right until she was with Mari.

OV: I think they were also trying to express the precariousness of not being straight no matter what time period, and from what I understand, a great number of queer POC [People of Color] are kicked out of their homes for being queer. Actually, queer POC make up a very large group of the homeless demographic so it’s a very dangerous situation to be in being queer and a person of color.

MD: On a more serious note, a possible interpretation could be how the main character views her own stability. Like how, despite their imperfect marriage, she did seem to care for James in some way, shape or form. The straightness of the panels could be seen as her wanting to live a “normal” life, but ultimately failing as we see in the end.

RD: I can’t pretend to know, but I do think the layouts add such a visual interest to the page. When I see slanted or overlapped panels, I feel more invited into the story. I no longer see a comic, but a story of someone’s life. Given this is a first-person narrative, I feel the layout works with the textual structure. The visual and textual structures align! They are a love story! It is also a deviation from traditional panel layouts. It’s not hard to make the comparison that Mari and Hazel as a pairing and as characters, and BINGO LOVE as a comic, are deviations from traditional comic romance/heroines/book either.

OV: Mara, I agree with you and think my point was playing into yours a bit. There’s a lot to be said about stability and its representation in this comic.

CG: The very first flashback panel is straight, but the second panel is where Elle notices Mari and that is at an angle. Maybe in that moment, Elles perspective shifts as she falls in love with someone she might not have expected to.

OV: I think sometimes stories that don’t have straight panels remind me too much of manga and specific tropes of manga/anime, but this one didn’t.

RD: One more thing! I like how everyone’s answers relate the panels to the romance and/or to the characters themselves: like the characters are the story. They are synonymous and that is what a good story does, right?

MD: Rachel, that’s such a good point!

NYCC 2017: Tee Franklin Talks Representation, Bingo Love, and Moonlight!

LP: Do you think Hazel’s coming out to her family was realistic?

MD: Do you mean when her family first found out about her sexuality or after a few years?

LP: I meant the second, when she actually admits it out loud instead of having to be quiet about it, just to clarify.

OV: I feel like it was, in part. The idea of her stumbling over so many words and ideas makes sense, as she herself is still confused, but when she tells her husband she’s queer in a non-derogatory sense, I’m just not sure I believe she’d know to use that word that way given her age.

AW: Oliver, I totally agree! I think because we also didn’t see her in an environment where she could have learned about the terminology.

RD: Oliver, you are bringing up an intersectional point here not usually seen or discussed in comics: age and sexuality. Do you think it wouldn’t be possible for Hazel to know this lingo and keep up with it even at her age? I mean, we do see her text (or sext?) in lingerie to Mari.

OV: Also given her daughter’s reaction I don’t think she had ever gone to an environment where she could learn these things.

RD: Maybe Hazel is a woke grandma?

MD: Yeah I agree with Oliver. I mean, I have no doubt that some elderly individuals are aware of queer studies, yet it just seemed a bit too defined for someone of her age. Anything is possible, but it did seem a bit out of left field to me too.

AW: I also think it’s just nice to see that it worked well though, even if reality doesn’t exactly fit in.

OV: Rachel, I’m not saying she isn’t aware, I just find it unlikely that she had the vocabulary readily available to her to explain it, especially when we see her daughter so averted to the idea of her mother being gay.

MD: Oh, yeah, I appreciate how surprisingly well her husband took it? I mean it makes complete sense her daughter would have a hard time accepting her mother’s queer identity, after all. I would imagine it would feel like she’s tearing their family apart. And I like how the artists didn’t downplay that ramification.

AW: Mara, Yeah I think the idea of divorce definitely played a bigger role in her fears, which made it more complex.

OV: The texting thing I find somewhat believable because if she is as aware as she seems, it’s possible that she would wear lingerie to make herself feel better or she could have been subconsciously preparing to text Mari.

MD: Oh, I had such a hard time believing they were texting. Maybe it’s just my experience with my parents, but there’s no way they texted that quickly.

RD: Oliver, that’s fair. As a (painfully) straight human person, I cannot pretend to know what a “realistic” or “normal” coming out is. I only know the ones I have experienced from friends and from popular media (the latter I don’t consider “defining” until we have more queer people writing/creating mainstream media). For me, I thought the coming out was potent in how drawn out it was. It started at the mom’s day bingo hall and then ended on the couch with the kids. It took days and it happened on multiple fronts with multiple people (Marianne, James, the son, etc.) It was protracted and unique to each, and I thought that was a good detail. Tee Franklin identifies as a queer woman so I trust her authority on that.

BINGO LOVE
Courtesy of Image Comics

OV: Mara, I actually have a problem with the divorce because I know many army vets and they are not that ready to easily access non-anger emotions, so I don’t buy that he accepted it as truth so easily.

RD: Mara, my nana has the latest iPhone and her own Bitmoji. Grannies are catching up with us lol.

MD: Rachel, that’s terrifying.

OV: Mara, my grandma Facebook messages me gifs constantly as well, so I find it believable as well.

MD: Oliver, the only reason I was willing to accept it is because I think his relationship with his wife will be further elaborated upon in the other graphic novel? If I was reading that right of course. For it seems like he felt their marriage was one of convenience too. Also, how are everyone’s grandparent’s so tech savvy??? What a plot twist!

OV: Mara, while I do agree that their marriage was for convenience, I don’t believe that the husband would be so willing to give up his reality so easily, especially after we realize (because Hazel points it out) that he’s so infatuated with the idea of a family.

RD: I think James’ handling of the news is realistic and understanding. He is not made a total villain: this comes out of left field for him and he is shaken. He isn’t noble or right necessarily, but it seemed human to me. And he eventually comes around, I think because he himself felt queer attraction (look at the panel of him in Vietnam and how he looks at the other soldier. That’s my fan theory). I think Hazel’s coming out hit too close to home for him and made him re-evaluate his ideals (why he wanted a large family, his identity (masculine and sexual) via being a family man with a wife.) There is depth there, to me.

CG: Mara, I noticed that about the spin-off GN (graphic novel) focusing on the husband. I think with the context of that GN, it could add more depth to his acceptance of her coming out and their marriage ending. I would personally have liked to have seen a more in-depth talk between them instead of that editor’s footnote.

MD: Oliver, I definitely see your point, but I fear that we don’t really have enough information on his own situation to properly state why he reacted the way he did.

CG: Then again, we do get a BINGO LOVE Universe out of it, so that can’t be a bad thing.

MD: Chris, oh that frustrated me so much. I’m glad we’re getting more comics, but I’m not a patient person.

OV: Mara, I would have totally believed it if like Chris said there was a more detailed and lengthy talk.

RD: I see your point, but I like incomplete narratives personally. A story feels more real to me if it is somewhat incomplete. Life never seems to be while you live it: why should a story?

LONG EXPOSURE: Queer Kids with Cool Powers

LP: So, you guys sort of hit on this already. But, without giving anything away, what do you think James is hiding?

CG: An affair of some sort.

MD: He’s gay. Very gay.

AW: I really love Rachel’s theory!

OV: Ok, so, while it seems like he’s hinting at having relations with a man, I think he may have had relations with a non-binary person with a male body possibly. While the idea of non-binary was still very new I believe it’s possible as other cultures have hit on that topic long before we could.

RD: His queer experience while in ‘Nam! I am convinced; if you look at that panel and the way his head is turned from his new wife’s letter to him! Plus, the military has always been an environment of homo-eroticism and homo-attraction (Fuck you, DADA). That’s my theory.

MD: Oliver, that’s very true.

RD: Oliver, oh my goodness, that is so fascinating! I never considered that! Why exactly do you believe James had a relationship with a non-binary person in a male body? I just never would consider that given the setting!

OV: Rachel, he specifically says “person” rather than “man” or “woman.”

MD: Oliver, wow what a good catch!

RD: Oh snap! That is so true. I so didn’t see that either. Bravo, Oliver! Do you think if that were the case — that James fell for a non-binary individual — that it would add to the story? I mean, we rarely see love stories with non-binary people (unfortunately). Or would it add nothing and just be real and right (as it is)?

OV: I definitely think it would add to the story because it would show more depth to James’ story and a very interesting look at queer struggles in both cultures. It would also be real and right at the same time I just think the story would have more depth.

MD: Well, it’s speculation for now. But if they did have a non-binary romance it would show the creator’s commitment to including a wide variety of individuals. Everyone deserves to see themselves in the media that they consume, and non-binary people are no exception (obviously).

RD: Oliver and Mara, well said! Agree with you both!

BINGO LOVE
Courtesy of Image Comics

LP: This comic tends to avoid a lot of the Civil Rights issues of the time. The comic swerves around Civil Rights to focus on the LGBTQ+ narrative of the story. Why do you think Franklin, St-Ong, and San handle the story this way?

MD: I think a large part of that had to do with time. They had to tell a story spanning so many years and only had so much space to really tell this love story. I think it would have been awesome if they included civil rights in the narrative as well, and I don’t know if it was ever considered in an earlier draft. But, they didn’t spend too much time in the 60s, and the main focus is on older individuals rekindling their love.

RD: I don’t think the comic overtly discusses the Civil Rights issues of the day, but I think it does subtly, partially because this is a story of young black girls. The Civil Rights Movement, to me, has a tendency of being viewed as a monument — something solid and defined and exact, a big chunk of time — when really, it was lived and experienced differently by different people. Mari and Hazel are young teen girls in NJ: the Civil Rights movement happened during that time (and in the North as well), but it is unrealistic to expect these girls to be marching, especially given how conservative their families were. Some teen girls did, but not all. I think they are part of that discourse, though, because they live as black women and in the black community.

OV: It’s also possible that they lived in a culturally cut off town of all POC or at least a separated neighborhood so during their time in the sixties they didn’t encounter civil rights issues directly.

RD: Not all Black individuals were actively for the Movement for varied reasons.

OV: Rachel, that’s a good point. We need to take into account the limitations set by their environment.

RD: I also agree with Mara: the main story is about the older women.

CG: I agree with Mara, there was only so much space to tell this story, and to introduce a civil rights element could have bogged down the story, taken away from it, or complicated it.

MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS Roundtable Discussion

LP: Okay. This is the most difficult, and a bit cliche, question: who was your favorite character, and why?

MD: Well, I have to admit Mari was such a cool girl that I completely got why Hazel fell in love with her. But honestly, in terms of the characters I really felt for, it would have to be Hazel’s daughter. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like her getting mad at her mom wasn’t fair to Hazel. But in terms of genuine emotionality, I can see why she acted the way she did. She’s confused, how could she have known her mom had feelings like this? I just think it’s cool that the creators thought to show the reactions of the children when this sort of information came to light. Obviously, I’m happy when she supports Hazel in the end, but as for her emotional journey there, I’m glad they chose to show it.

RD: I love that question! I’m the kind of person who always falls for secondary/tertiary characters (Archie who? B+V and the other Riverdale girls always!) But BINGO LOVE is so tightly wound around our main characters that it’s hard for me to feel too attached to anyone else (Sympathetic? Yes. Empathetic? Yes. Favored? Not really). For me, it is Hazel and Mari together. Their love, if that isn’t too, too tacky. I love the “montage” scenes of them at different times and scenarios. Their body language, the progression of time and joy and love together, that makes me happy. Their love makes me happy. They are yin and yang to me: each is distinct, but their love balances them and makes this story whole.

MD: Because nothing is ever as simple as “coming out and people accepting you.” It should be, but it rarely is.

AW: Oh, that is hard! Personally, I loved Hazel. She’s the main character and we spend the most time with her so I just felt more familiarized with her life. She’s such an interesting character because you, unfortunately, don’t see a lot of queer, older women of color depicted well in media.

OV: I honestly can’t decide that’s how much I loved this comic.

CG: Hazel, definitely. Wears her heart on her sleeve, she falls in love and pursues it, for good and ill. I also think despite society and being forced into a marriage, she never felt any guilt about who she is deep down. When given the opportunity, she will express her love in the most open and honest way possible, and in public, with no care for what people think.

RD: If, I may ask, Oliver: you said this book made you cry: why was that? And feel free to not answer if that is too personal!

OV: Well, I’m trans, and when I figured it out I came out to my parents right away, and Dad refused to believe it was true, and he’s been getting better but things were tough, so I could really relate to Hazel and Mari’s struggle.

MD: Oliver, I’m so sorry your dad is a dingus about all this.

RD: Oliver, thank you for sharing that. I am so happy BINGO LOVE exists for all of us. This book left me haunted too, in a good way — in the way only good books can. I knew about this comic for months (full disclosure: I was a Kickstarter backer) but it exceeded my dreams with its depth and beauty. I am ready to live in a world of BINGO LOVE.

OV: It’s ok I’ve become stronger from it. And like it even shows that it helps me relate to people, hell even to these characters, so it gives me a great insight unique to me.

RD: Ashley, did this meet your expectations?

AW: Oh definitely! Exceeded, actually. I trust Tee and Jenn because they’re fantastic creators, but I came into the comic expecting more of the fluffy love story than some of the harsher realities. It was bittersweet in some ways, but I think the way their story unfolds is very complex and in the end, they still find each other.

Want to know more about BINGO LOVE?

Does BINGO LOVE sound like something you’d like to try? You can pick up BINGO LOVE at your local comic book store and follow the books developments online at bingolove.com.

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