Image courtesy of comiXology / Provided by Superfan Promotions with permission.
The central conceit behind the new graphic novel Virtually Yours is wonderfully timed for these pandemic days, when dating has moved online and virtual apps have grown in popularity. In the comiXology Originals title, Eva Estrella is tired of dating in New York City and trying to find her partner in life in a city of 8 million residents, so instead of sweating the perpetual single status, she signs up for Virtually Yours, a new virtual dating app that provides proof of a relationship, even when there is none, according to press notes.
In addition to Eva’s story of using the Virtually Yours app, there’s also the tale of Max Kittridge, a former child star who is going through a divorce. His new gig is … drum roll … writing profiles for Virtually Yours, which puts him in direct contact with Eva, perhaps changing both of their destinies.
The ingenious idea for the new graphic novel comes courtesy of creators Jeremy Holt and Elizabeth Beals. Holt’s most recent works include Before Houdini, After Houdini and Skip to the End. Beals’ work includes Pride, Morning in America and Orphan Black. Together they have crafted a 100-page, full-color graphic novel that is now available from comiXology, the leading publisher of digital comics.
Recently Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Holt, a Vermont-based non-binary author who graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and Beals, who is also a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.
What inspired you to create the new graphic novel Virtually Yours? Did past dating experiences inspire some of the story?
HOLT: My extensive experience with online dating absolutely influenced the creation of this story. In the past 15 years, I’ve utilized Match, eHarmony, OkCupid, Tinder, Bumble and Hinge, and once went on 30 first dates in six weeks. However, it did take me a considerable amount of time to essentially reverse engineer a dating app.
What eventually led me to creating the Virtually Yours apps is the understanding that all dating apps are utilitarian at their core. With this in mind, I shifted focus away from facilitating a user’s romantic opportunities in life and towards facilitating a user’s life opportunities outside of romance.
The truth is not everyone shares a need or desire to be in a relationship. And many fall out of them pretty hard. I know I have. I also thought that a dating app that provides all the proof of being in [a] relationship without being beholden to familial and societal pressures that come with one was a unique take.
What do you feel the story says about dating and society in 2020? Do you feel like there are unfair pressures on people to be ‘settled down’?
HOLT: Honestly, I think there still exists an unfair amount of pressure on people to settle down. I see it being largely concentrated in heteronormative relationships. By in large, and this is strictly from my own personal experience, this type has normalized societal expectations regarding sex, gender roles within a relationship, marriage and child rearing. I came out as non-binary two years ago, and one aspect of my gender that I most value is a vital perspective shift that enabled me to liberate myself from the aforementioned topics by redefining what they mean to.
When I was married I spent a lot of time hanging out with other married men. Their views and opinions on these matters were identical to a disturbing degree. Sex or the lack thereof was a shared complaint, but many of them appeared to accept this as the price to pay for being married and raising a family. To frame what society deems to be a ‘healthy’ relationship — marriage, house and kids — by labeling it as ‘settling down’ is perpetuating the false notion that embracing comfortability requires sacrificing personal desires. I’ve come to learn that you can have both. It simply requires honest and clear communication of your wants and needs, and the ability to provide a safe and compassionate space for your partner to share theirs.
What do you like best about the main characters of Eva and Max?
HOLT: What I love most about both of them is their unique perspectives and opinions on romance. It’s no coincidence that Elizabeth and I developed two characters that come from dynamically different backgrounds and experiences, while also sharing the various burdens — whether it be sex, gender or ethnicity — that society presses upon them. What speaks volumes about their individual character are the people they consider their best friends. Patrick and Katie reflect the best aspects of Max and Eva.
BEALS: How much time do you have? If I had sum it up, I’d say I love how unique and fully formed they are. Eva and Max compliment each other very well, but more importantly could easily star in their own standalone series.
Was it important for you to have many diverse relationships and individuals represented in Virtually Yours?
HOLT: One-hundred percent. When Elizabeth and I originally developed the concepts and characters for this story back in 2015, we had settled on two white leads. The book saw two false-starts with publication, which I now see was a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to let the story rest for awhile in the pitch graveyard. At the beginning of 2017, I made an oath to myself that I would no longer be writing stories featuring white cis male protagonists. This enabled me to focus on incorporating more of my personal truths into my work. This revitalized several of my projects, and Virtually Yours saw the most signification transformation during its revamp. It’s become a personal mission of mine to provide POC and LGBTQIA+ visibility in my stories.
Do you feel there is increasingly better representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the comics world, or is there a lot more work that needs to be done?
HOLT: I think so. Can it always be better? Sure. But I’m quite happy with the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters, themes or stories in many facets of entertainment. Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe is perhaps my favorite example of this. Webtoons is also an excellent source for readers of all ages to be exposed to and fall in love with stories that transgress all aspects of heteronormative behavior.
BEALS: Going to parrot Jeremy on this one. It’s definitely been getting better, but it absolutely has room to grow and have even more accurate / loving / and diverse stories told.
Did you two work together on the ‘look’ of the graphic novel?
HOLT: I provided Elizabeth all of the narrative assets: characters sheet, character fashion references, location references, one-sheet pitch, full synopsis and full chapter scripts. She read it all and amplified everything by a degree that I can’t quantify. Her art will be the reason this stands out from the pack. She is primarily responsible for the gorgeous ‘look’ of the book. I simply provided the framework from which she designed, built and refined this exquisite artistic product that we hope resonates with readers.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Virtually Yours, by Jeremy Holt and Elizabeth Beals, is now available from comiXology. Click here for more information.