I chatted with a friend recently about the practice of minority translation. As a gay man, whenever I watch movies or TV shows, or read books featuring heterosexual characters and stories, I will mentally add a gay “translation” as a way of relating to the material better. All minorities do it to some degree, I think, because there is still a major lack of representation in mainstream media. As a kid, I would even act out this process in my playtime adventures. More often than not, a superhero in my world would be flying off to save a handsome, male “damsel in distress.” Comics may have given me the source material, but the translation was all my own.
One of the reasons I’m a strong advocate of independent gay comics is because they serve as an important repository of our own stories, characters and adventures. No translation required. In terms of unapologetic, bold and fun LGBTQ storytelling, you’re not going to find a better example than Reignbow & Dee-Va by Brian Andersen and Celina Hernandez. I picked up the recently released trade paperback at San Diego Comic-Con, which includes the first three issues of Reignbow & Dee-Va, as well as a new 8-page mini-comic. Anderson and Hernandez completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of the book, so it’s always nice to see the final product of a crowdfunding venture.
If you’ve ever read Andersen’s work (So Super Duper, Friend of Dorothy, Sex and the Superhero), you know to expect a brash, refreshing take on the superhero genre, delivered in colorful and campy style. Reignbow & Dee-Va certainly follows this pattern, but puts its own specific mark on the genre. All the familiar action/adventure tropes are here: secret agents, superheroics, vampires, werewolves, romance. There are also more double entendres and spy gadgets than James Bond would know what to do with. Agents Reignbow and Dee-Va are fierce (and fiercely loyal) partners and BFFs. They fight the forces of evil, and they do it with fabulous style and a lot of quips. The best part about Reignbow & Dee-Va, though, is how strongly it appeals to that longing you experience when reading or watching something mainstream, wishing you were included, projecting your own alternative spin on the story. Andersen seems to understand this and makes Reignbow & Dee-Va part comic adventure and part wish fulfillment fantasy for gay comic geeks.
Reignbow is tough, an accomplished fighter and secret agent, and even in the face of homophobic, slur-slinging vampires, he keeps his cool and wins the day. Similarly, Dee-Va is the resourceful and strong best friend you’ve always wanted covering your back and rooting for your success. At the center of this initial collection, though, is Reignbow’s boyfriend, Treasure. Just like you can always count on superhero spouses to get captured and tied up in a warehouse somewhere, Treasure requires rescue on a regular basis, often losing his clothes in the process. In this way, Andersen evokes the strong familiarity we already have with these traditional archetypes, then satisfies our longing for a version that more accurately represents our own mythology. It’s a surprisingly layered feat, especially for a comedic book.
The creative team seems to be having as much fun as their creations here, and poke fun at their own material. When werewolves arrive on the scene at one point, Reignbow asks, “Can these missions get any more cliché?” The villain answers: “Based on your overly self-aware pop culture-riddled dialogue? No. I don’t believe it can.” It’s just meta enough to bring the reader in on the joke, but not too much to get annoying. It’s a fine line to walk, and Reignbow & Dee-Va does it well.
A talented comedy writer, Andersen never shies away from making the biggest, broadest jokes possible, and Hernandez’s artwork matches that tone with bold lines and bright colors. While her style may reflect an anime influence, she gives each character a distinct shape and line on the page. Dee-Va is all curves; Reignbow is lean and fluid; and Treasure is more angular and sturdy. Costume and villain design also deserve special mention for their simple, but distinctive execution. The layout and pacing become progressively more sophisticated from issue to issue in the collection, which is always great to see in a collaboration like this. I expect future issues to continue to build upon the work on display here.
In a book where being turned into a zombie or vampire is less horrifying than being turned straight, Andersen and Hernandez succeed in building an LGBTQ-positive world where, if being gay really were a choice, everyone would choose it. It’s fun and silly, of course, but the marriage of hero’s journey and gay mythos make this a satisfying and effective story that works on more levels than you’d expect. Whenever you find yourself lost in minority translation with other comics or mainstream media, Reignbow & Dee-Va will take you on an adventure that’s been created especially for you.