Tee Franklin on Bingo Love’s Golden Graphic Novel Romance

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What will it take to sell you on Bingo Love? That it’s about two relatable New Jersey, Proud Family-looking Black grandmas who fall in beautifully written and illustrated love? That it’s smart and touching and a great Image comic unique among even other great Image comics? That it’s the perfect graphic novel Valentine’s Day gift? That it’s one of the best recent, vaguely futuristic, queer women love stories we’ve seen since Black Mirror’s “San Junipero“? That’s it’s the most black AF comic we’ve read since Black AF?

Well it’s not our job to sell you cool things, just let you know they exist. And who better to tell you about Bingo Love, available later this month, than author Tee Franklin, who created the book alongside artists Jenn St. Onge, Joy San, and Genevieve FT. So we interviewed Franklin for her thoughts on fresh perspectives and taking art projects directly the people.

What were some of your inspirations behind Bingo Love? Is any of it based on people that you’ve known?

Besides Bingo Love being inspired by a commercial, the majority of this story was inspired by my own life. I knew that I was different as a child and didn’t really like boys, I was beyond attracted to girls. I was married with kids and came out later to my children after being divorced.

My daughters also inspired the characteristics of Hazel and Mari – my oldest daughter is very shy, helpful, caring and sensitive like Hazel, and my youngest daughter is extremely sarcastic, blunt and while she is a sweet individual, she has the tendency to be a bit sour at the same time, just like Mari.

Why did you decide to tell the story mostly from Hazel’s perspective?

Dark-skinned, plus-sized Black women are rarely seen in comics and I wanted Hazel to be front and center. There are many little Black girls who don’t see themselves in comics, and it was important to have Hazel tell the story on how she met the love of her life.

Bingo Love is about queer, old, Black, women. Four identities the traditional comic book industry doesn’t always seem super interested in courting. When crowdfunding the project, were you afraid it wouldn’t find an audience? Or that the underserved audience wouldn’t be enough? What was your reaction then to its success?

When I created Bingo Love, I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to take it to the white gatekeepers, as I would’ve heard no… if I would’ve heard back at all. So I decided to take it to the people, because they’re the ones that this book is for. When I put together the Bingo Love Kickstarter, they responded so loudly by funding Bingo Love in five days!

I had a feeling that Bingo Love would barely make its funding and I’d have to beg people to pledge within the last hour of the Kickstarter. Seeing Bingo Love being funded within five days and making almost three times the goal was extremely surreal. Honestly, I still can’t believe this is happening.

What made you want to tell the story as a graphic novel?

Frankly, I didn’t want Bingo Love to be a monthly series. This is a story that wasn’t meant to be told with cliffhangers – “come back next month to see if Hazel leaves her husband” – this is a love story and should be read as a novel. Just because it’s told with Jenn St-Onge’s amazing art and Joy San’s mind-blowing colors, doesn’t mean that it had to be told every month.

When you pick up a romance novel – let’s say from award-winning and Queer author, Rebekah Weatherspoon – you’re getting yourself comfortable to read a book, not 20 pages and wait until the following month for the next 20 pages.

If I decide to create another Bingo Love book, I’m sure it will be told as a graphic novel. I have no immediate plans to make it a monthly series.

During the 1960s part of the story the characters suffer because their religious family members don’t approve of their relationship. The Black church at the time was doing a lot of good political work for the Black community and civil rights movement, but is the hypocrisy of its (ongoing) homophobia something you wanted to address?

Church, as a whole, is still homophobic and full of hypocrisy, only thing that’s changed is the year.

James, Hazel’s husband, tells Hazel a secret that the book says will be revealed in an upcoming Bingo Love spin-off. Would you want to continue making comics set in this world?

It’s not really a spin-off, these stories were a part of the Bingo Love Kickstarter. What people don’t understand is that this book was created with the help of 1,950 people. These amazing backers were given an incentive – if we reached whatever monetary goal, we’d have a story done by Shawn Pryor (F.O.R.C.E.) and D.J. Kirkland (Black Mage).

I would have liked to have added these stories within the Bingo Love graphic novel, but I had no more money to pay Jenn, Joy, Cardinal Rae and Erica Schultz. If the book was picked up by a publisher, they would’ve given an advance and I could’ve made Bingo Love longer than 88 pages. Which, BTW, originally was going to be 60 pages, which turned to 80 pages and then we were finally able to make it an 88 page book – thanks to the backers.

Some of these creators are donating their time to do these stories for free and the backers will be getting these stories as soon as they are completed. This isn’t a marketing ploy to get people to buy these extra stories – those amazing backers helped make this dream come true for me and I’m thanking them by giving them free content.

As I mentioned earlier, I’d love to continue to create stories in the Bingo Love universe. This particular Bingo Love story is how Hazel viewed her life, and what she went through to get her happily-ever-after. There are so many characters in the pages of Bingo Love that have stories of their own, it’s just a matter of creating them, people reading these stories and, of course, if Image allows another book to happen.

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