Dimanche, 19 mai 2024
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    Cartoonist Jonah Newman hits a homerun

    Cartoonist and editor Jonah Newman has hit a homerun with his debut graphic novel Out of Left Field which is based on his experiences playing baseball as a gay teenager in San Francisco.

    The critically-acclaimed semi-autobiographical Out of Left Field (Andrews McMeel Publishing) tells the story of a nerdy ninth-grader – a gay teen also called Jonah – who navigates coming out in high school on and off the field when he joins his high school baseball team. The brilliantly illustrated Out of Left Field is a big-hearted and funny young-adult graphic novel about learning to be yourself.

    Now based in Brooklyn where he lives with his husband, Newman was inspired by his own experiences on the field and as an editor at Graphix, Scholastic’s graphic novel imprint where Newman has worked with such legendary authors and illustrators as Dav Pilkey, Jamar Nicholas and Angeli Rafer.

    Now 30, Newman loves baseball: he plays for team Arsenal in the LGBTQ Big Apple Softball League and is a devoted fan of his hometown Major League Baseball team, the San Francisco Giants. Jonah and I recently sat down for a candid Q&A which has been edited for length and clarity.

    How autobiographical is Out of Left Field?
    Jonah Newman : It began actually as a nonfiction memoir. Few graphic memoirs are 100 percent nonfiction anyway. I mean, at the very least, they have to invent dialogue. But as the creative process evolved, I strayed farther and farther from the factual events to make a more streamlined and compelling story. But a lot of what happens in my book is totally true: I was unathletic and did end up having a secret boyfriend in high school.

    How long did it take for you to write and illustrate Out of Left Field?
    Jonah Newman : I had the idea to write the book right after high school. I wrote a short story based on my senior season of baseball, then made a 10-page comic a couple of years later. But it wasn’t until 2018 that I started to really seriously work on this book. It took me five years, then the publisher got it coloured and I oversaw that process.

    Your book is for ages 12 and up.
    Jonah Newman : In high school I read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home which was inspirational and got me into the graphic-novel format. Now we’re in an era where there’s a lot more queer content out there, especially in the world of children’s and teen literature. But there’s still not a ton of queer sports representation. I wanted to write a book that a closeted teen playing sports could see themselves in.

    I am now far removed from my own coming out experience, so reading Out of Left Field was a good reminder of where we come from.
    Jonah Newman : Thank you for saying that. I think a lot of it is universally relatable. You also don’t have to be queer to relate to some of the experiences in this book, though I had queer teens front and centre in my mind when I wrote Out of Left Field.

    A key takeaway of your book is that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you own up to them and learn and grow from these experiences.
    Jonah Newman : I think that’s really important. We live in a culture where people are not forgiven for their mistakes. I’ve heard so many awful stories about teenagers making mistakes, saying or doing the wrong thing, then getting absolutely destroyed by their peers online. So I want to spread a message of grace. It’s not about NOT making mistakes – that shouldn’t be the goal. The goal should instead be to take those mistakes, learn and grow from them and be better.

    What was your real-life coming out like?
    Jonah Newman : I came out to my family when I was in high school, which is not in the book. I was maybe 15 and really blessed to be accepted and loved. It was still scary, though. Coming out to others afterwards was also hard. When I went to college I decided to be out from the start. I thought, “People might make wrongful assumptions and I’ll correct them when that happens. Eventually, I’ll be able to stop correcting them, and I will no longer have to come out because I will be out.” I was lucky I went to a college that was very pro-queer, then after college in 2016 I moved to New York City which of course is a fantastic place to be queer. The hardest time really was high school, playing baseball and being on that team. That is what I wanted to capture in the book.

    You are an editor at Scholastic’s Graphix imprint. I was happy to see Scholastic last October reversed its decision to exclude books about racism and LGBTQ lives from Scholastic book fairs in America. How did you feel when Scholastic reversed their decision?
    Jonah Newman : I celebrated it. Speaking from my own personal viewpoint, I also think Scholastic was put in an impossible position by the book banners. Laws in many states now restrict the content you can share with kids of certain ages, and teachers, librarians and people who run book fairs are at risk of getting fined, getting sued or going to prison. But with the blowback I think Scholastic realized how wrong their response was, so it was good that we scaled that back.

    How do you feel about LGBTQ books being targeted by right-wing conservatives in America?
    Jonah Newman : They want nothing less than to intellectually and emotionally starve these kids, as if preventing queer kids from reading queer books will stop them from being queer, which is ridiculous and cruel. It’s so important to maintain access to those books in our schools and libraries.

    Jackie Robinson played for the Montreal Royals in 1946 and was a hero in Montreal before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Does Jackie’s example resonate with you as well?
    Jonah Newman : He is such an iconic player. That he was able to play and persevere through racial hatred on and off the field, and still be as great a player as he was, is incredibly impressive and inspirational. His journey also makes me think about queer baseball players. To this day there has never been an active Major League Baseball player who has come out. It’s impossible that there isn’t a single Major League Baseball player who isn’t gay or bi.

    So there is still quite a culture of homophobia and repression in the majors. I hope a player feels courageous enough to become the gay Jackie Robinson one day soon.

    Why do you love baseball?
    Jonah Newman : Every year when the season approaches I start to get really excited. A well-executed pitch, a stolen base, a graceful home run – that stuff is just very visually appealing to me, so dramatic and compelling.

    What do you enjoy most about playing in your LGBTQ softball league?
    Jonah Newman : It’s the camaraderie. There are straight people who play in the league as well. My team is about 60 percent gay, but our straight teammates are wonderful allies. I love that I can play my favourite sport without all of the homophobic B-S. The absence of that toxicity is liberating.

    INFOS | Out of Left Field by Jonah Newman (Andrews McMeel Publishing) is distributed by Simon & Schuster.
    For more, visit https://www.jonahnewmancomics.com

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