Jeinu’s webcomic Trial of the Sun is a fantasy adventure with a cast we rarely see: populated heavily with people of color and a trans lead character whose identity is culturally recognized and even celebrated. When you’re creating the world where your story takes place, you have free rein to remake societal attitudes entirely, as well as explore conflicts about gender identity in a deeper, more nuanced way. Jeinu relishes the prospect of doing both.
Unicorn Booty: How did you get started creating comics?
Jeinu: I was always that kid that drawing during class, half paying attention and half lost in his own head. But storytelling for me began around age 10. First it was novellas, then one-shot comics that acted as teaser prologues to said novellas, then I delved into the flash animation scene in my teens. While I originally planned for one comic (Miamaska) to be a web-series animation, I realized that took too much effort for one teenager and ended up back in comics.
Embarrassingly, I didn’t begin thinking about the potential of comics until two years into making them. I saw comics as a vehicle for a story and not an art form in its own right for a long time. As far as creating comics goes, I feel like I’m still in the “getting started” stage, five years in.
In Trial of the Sun, it’s traditional that some people have a different gender than was assigned at birth. Was the culture patterned after any real-world examples?
Oh yes, many. In research for my other comic, I came across Albanian sworn virgins which first prompted me into researching transgender issues. Although I couldn’t find a way to gracefully fit it into Miamaska, the idea marinated in my head for years before I began Trial of the Sun. When I did begin serious development for Eliano’s culture, I knew I wanted to weave it into the narrative somehow. Obviously there are the connections to third and fourth genders in South East Asia, but I also looked into Muxe from the Be’ena’a culture and historical figures like Antonio/Katalina Erauso.
I hesitate to say “Ah yes, Enoran culture is directly based off this culture in our real life!” because really, it isn’t. Each culture is constructed to fit into a world that makes sense with their histories, values, neighbors, and prejudices. But I don’t think it would be unreasonable to see fantasy cultures developing their own recognition of trans people. It happened here all over the world, after all.
Was it a conscious decision to largely ditch transphobia in the narrative, at least in Eliano’s culture?
As far as blatantly disrespectful transphobia goes, yes, there’s only one minor scene in the comic featuring that. Enough has been said in queer discourse about the most obvious wrongs, and while some of that is seeping into mainstream society, it wasn’t something I wanted to focus so much on.
But transphobia does still exist in Eliano’s culture, and it’s interesting to see how different readers react to this. Most of my readers are cisgender, and most are pleased with how “progressive” his society is — how trans people have legal and social recognition, how they allow minors to transition. But my trans readers see the underlying similarities with our world. How medical sterility for legal transition here is to Anocura’s vow of having no children. How you’re expected to take on or shed various gender roles in order to properly conform. Underlying homophobia that might force some into this identity or live chastely under it.
Both Eliano’s and our own cultures want everyone to fit into neat little boxes with no overlap, without having to think about how it’s possible people embracing the same label might have different experiences and needs. I’m itching to explore these subtler topics in detail when the narrative allows for it.
Do you prefer utopian or dystopian fantasy or some blend of the two?
I don’t think I have much of a preference here, as long as the story has time to develop nuance in its conflict honestly. Both genres have the potential to explore questions of morality and humanity and carry on in their readers’ hearts for years to come. And both can be silly forgettable schlock. (And that’s fine; sometimes I’m in the mood for that.)
I started writing stories because I wanted to know who I was, and why I did or believed the things I did. I crave stories that challenge me in the same way.
Read more Trial of the Sun on trialofthesun.com!
INQ is an ongoing exploration of the wonderful world of LGBTQ comics, spearheaded by Charles “Zan” Christensen, the publisher at Northwest Press.