“It’s a genre that champions young girls and femininity” Olivia Hicks and Emma Oosterhous talk magical girls and queer sports stories in Grand Slam Romance

We loved the over the top mix of sport manga and romance in Olivia Hicks’ and Emmas Oosterhous’ all action Grand Slam Romance. Keen to find out more about the secrets of great romance comics, and their link to great sports comics, we caught up with Emma and Olivia to find out more!

Tell us a bit about the inspiration for Grand Slam Romance? Did you set out to write a sports book, or did you want to write a romance book – or did the two ideas develop simultaneously?

Olivia Hicks: The main inspiration was that Emma and I wanted to work together! We both brought different ideas of what our dream collaboration comic would be – I was very much in the sports corner, and Emma wanted to do something with magical girls. We thought it would be fun to throw those two ideas together – sort of what if there’s this crazy overpowered magical girl existing in a world where everyone else is still normal? It’s her world and they’re just trying to play softball in it! It would be insane! I think there’s a lot of fun and visual humour but also tension and conflict in that, and that’s what we tried to push in the comic. But the priority was always that the story would be queer and would be created with queer women specifically in mind, because that’s the content that we love to consume and there’s not enough of it! (In my opinion, but also, I’m right)

Emma Oosterhous: This comic has a lot of my favourite things in it: romance, sparkles, banter, magic, ridiculous outfits, a grey-haired middle-aged butch woman, the color pink, and girls.  Everything I do is about and for girls.  I’ve wanted to do a magical girl story for a long time because it’s a genre that champions young girls and femininity without necessarily pushing harmful beauty ideals or suggesting that a woman’s power lies in her ability to seduce men. Magical girl stories also frequently rely on teamwork— something we admittedly haven’t seen much of in issue 1, but Astra isn’t your average magical girl (she’s more arrogant).  I think all of those things are important to have in any story, but especially in a story that’s geared towards young women and queer readers.  And like Olivia said, she suggested we throw sports in the mix, and we ended up with a really fun, energetic story.

What’s the secret to a good sports book – and conversely, what’s the secret to a good romance story?

OH: For me at least, the two types of stories are related. I think sports have a lot of homoeroticism in them – it seems to me most obvious in the big beefy male sports like rugby or American football. They have all this macho masculinity attached to them and the fans, but when you look at the sport itself, its all about team work and touching butts and its seems pretty queer to me, a queer woman who has never played a sport. Sport is hyper-focused on the body; how it interacts with sports paraphernalia or how it interacts with other bodies, and I think a lot of emotional and sexual tension can be poured into those moments. I tried to write in as many of those little moments as possible when I was writing the script. And then there’s big bursts of energy or emotion when people score points or miss goals! It’s such an emotional journey, that hyper-fixates on small physical moments or glances – and its very similar to what happens when you fall for someone – so it also forms the basis of a good romance.

EO: Yeah, these two genres just inherently mesh well together.  We based the main conflict of Grand Slam Romance around the rivals-to-lovers trope, which is obviously romantic and also fits naturally within a sports framework.  While a lot of tropes like rivals-to-lovers might seem predictable and overused, when put in a queer context they’re still pretty fresh and revolutionary.  On the flip side of that, we also have conflict coming from the forbidden lovers trope.  A lot of gay romance (typically written by straight people) uses this trope under the assumption that the love is forbidden because of homophobia.  But I know that lots of queer readers, myself included, are tired of having homophobia be the main conflict of a gay romance story. So here we have a forbidden lovers scenario, but for a completely different reason — they’re on rival softball teams. It’s a much more fun and hopeful take on queer romance than what I grew up reading.

There seems to be a bit of a boom on romance books at the moment, but looking at non-hetero romance stories. Was it important for you to add your voice to this growing trend, or did you just set out to tell the kind of story you wanted to tell?

OH: It’s so important to me to create queer stories! It’s all that gets me up in the morning! And the romance genre is particularly close to my heart because I love romantic comedies but so few of them are queer and even fewer are for queer women. I had this defining moment last year at Thought Bubble when I went in with my money, ready to just buy whatever WLW (women-loving-women) content I could find. And I couldn’t find nearly enough comics to fill my need. So I decided I was going to start making WLW comics. And women have responded so well to them and enjoy them! So I’m going to keep making them.

EO: First, I don’t ever want to tell a story without queer characters. If I ever sit down to write something with only straight and cisgender characters in it, assume I’ve been abducted and am trying to send a coded message.  Second, right now is a really good time to be a gay lady making comics for and about other gay ladies. But just like being queer isn’t a new trend that appeared in the last ten years, the outpouring of queer content we’re seeing in bookstores and on the internet isn’t a new trend either. It’s the first time in living memory that such content has been visibly mainstream, but only because of decades of queer activism.  There have always been lesbians like me making art about their queer lovers and friends, and I believe it’s a mistake to take that for granted.  So when I write gay stories it’s always deliberate; it’s a way of remembering the queer artists who were silenced before me, as well as trying to make the world a little nicer for the next generation.

Did you and Emma develop the story together, or did you choose her artwork because it manages to capture that sport manga style perfectly? She seems to really nail that high energy look for a sports manga!

OH: Emma and I met through the Dundee comics scene and I’m so lucky to be creating this comics series with her. This is the secret – Emma can literally draw anything and is one of the most versatile artists I know. As far as I’m aware, this is the first sports manga she’s done – prior to that I’d only seen autobiographical comics, horror and fantasy from her. But she (pun intended) hit it out of the park. She’s the most exciting artist I know and she added so much to the script. She’s amazing.

EH: Aww, thanks to both of you for saying that.  I really had so much fun drawing this comic, partly because it was my first attempt ever at drawing sports OR action OR magical girls! I love working within specific genres, but I hate being confined to only one, so I like to jump around and do a bit of everything.  I get bored if I don’t play around and stretch my creative muscles every so often.

I should also mention that Olivia’s scripts are some of the funniest things ever. She puts so much heart and humour into the Grand Slam Romance scripts and is just a fantastic comics writer. I’m used to more decompressed storytelling; when I’m on my own, I tend to write stories that take up a bit more space and really stretch out those little moments. But one of Olivia’s (many, many) strengths as a writer is that she knows how to get a story moving quickly.  She can cram so much stuff into a single page and it doesn’t ever feel crowded or confusing.  Even though we came up with the story together, it would be completely different (and probably worse) if she hadn’t done the actual script writing. She’s a boss!

And finally, if people enjoy what they read in Grand Slam Romance, will we be seeing more from the series and what else can people read that you’ve created?

OH: Yes! We’re in the early stages of making Grand Slam Romance #2! And you can buy physical copies of Grand Slam Romance #1 in the following Travelling Man shops: Manchester, York and Leeds, as well as in Category Is Books in Glasgow! If you enjoyed Grand Slam, you might also enjoy my 24 hour wlw romance comic Shark Wife, which is also on my gumroad, and I also have an ongoing webcomic called Sarararara which is a parody of 1950s American teen culture featuring aliens! You can read that for free here: sararararawebcomic.tumblr.com!

EO: I’m absolutely itching to start drawing issue #2, it’s gonna be a wild ride! The plot will thicken! There will be more cute outfits! In the meantime, you can pledge $5 to my Patreon (patreon.com/emmaoosterhous) and get monthly short comics starting at the end of September. I also recently wrote and drew a 30-ish-page horror comic with four different visual styles in it, which you can buy here: gumroad.com/emmaoosterhous. And you can follow me on Twitter for miscellaneous comics and drawings at @EOosterhous.

You can purchase Grand Slam Romance from Olivia’s Gumroad Store here