BY NATASIA LANGFELDER
Dates is a queer historical anthology that debuted to much excitement in 2015. Dates was created by, for and about queer people. Filled with vibrant illustrations and poignant stories (that don’t end with the gratuitous death of all the queer characters), it’s no big surprise that it was successful. Dates is also kid friendly, and is a great tool for parents who want their children to read positive, hopeful stories about queer people in historical and global settings.
Now, editors Zora Gilbert and Cat Parra are back with Dates 2. They are currently running a kickstarter to get the project off the ground and are so, so, so close to their goal! We sat down with Parra and Gilbert to discuss how the Dates series came to be, the diverse themes and perspectives fans can look forward to in Dates 2, and remind us of the importance of community in this political climate.
How did the idea for Dates come about?
Zora Gilbert: In the spring of 2015, Cat and I were consuming like a lot of historical fiction (Cat more than me, to be honest), and we were both getting really bogged down in the a) lack of canonically queer characters and b) the abrupt and aggressive frequency of their deaths. Cat has a story about The Tudors in particular that’s just… a perfect example of what not to do in queer fiction. I think we were also both looking for something creative, productive, and challenging to do, and Cat suggested we do an anthology. Bolstered by all the amazing creative energy from HeroesCon and feeling like I had way more free time than I did, I said yes, and we launched into it.
Why do you think Dates was such a success? What is it about the series that resonates with readers?
Cat Parra: I think it’s something people haven’t seen a lot of. The happy endings in historical fiction. That was the whole reason we started it, but I think a lot of other people have found that it’s something they wanted too. People like reading new stories and they like stuff that gives them hope and I think Dates provides both.
Zora: I think everyone was just as bone tired as we were with queer tragedy, and we stumbled into a niche that was direly needed. We also made an effort to include perspectives outside of dry, anglo, western christianity, which seems to be the only viewpoint readily available in mass-produced historical fiction, and we’ve had folks tell us just how much that meant to them to see (though of course, full props to the creators of those stories–they deserve all the credit).
How did Dates 2 evolve from the first entry? Were you able to add any perspectives or voices that you weren’t able to fit into the first entry?
Zora: I think we really found our voice as editors, honestly. We made the book longer, we spaced out check-ins, we know what works and what doesn’t work from last year–though we’re still learning. Dates 1 was our first anthology, and though we’ve been around comics and had been paying attention for years, the learning curve was rapid. This year, we didn’t have to learn everything from the ground up, so we could focus on expanding the book.
In terms of things that didn’t fit into first book–we didn’t have any stories that took place in Africa in Dates 1, which we realized was a serious oversight and made sure to include in Dates 2. We also got a really cool pitch for a story about a kid in France who’s just found out that she’s intersex (shoutouts to creators Claudia Astorino and Jessica Trevino), which we were really excited about since that’s not something that was in Dates 1 at all. Jessica and Claudia hit it out of the park on that story, so look forward to it!
Cat: I think in general too the stories have a bit more depth and complexity to them this time around. The stories are on average 10 pages longer than the stories in the first volume so you can get a much more complete plot in there, although I am still astonished by what people fit in the story space they had for the first volume.
The Dates series feels more important than ever in this Trump-ian world. What message do you have to send to those artists who are dealing with creative blocks in response?
Cat: Take care of yourselves? It’s hard to make art when you’re in a bad situation so I mean first and foremost, do what you gotta do to be okay. And then I guess I’d say find something that empowers you. Some story, or character, or image, just something that makes you feel just that bit stronger and make that. Work with your friends too, if you can. Community is a very uplifting thing.
Conversely, what message do you want to send to readers who may be feeling marginalized and disenfranchised?
Cat: You’re not alone. There’s nothing those people can do that will ever make us go away because we’ve always been here and are always gonna be.
Zora: I feel like my advice to readers is a lot like Cat’s advice to creators–find something that lifts you up, and hold tight to it. Your community–our community–is powerful, and, we hope, a source of safety and encouragement. Remember that even though the government sucks and the world has unquestionably gotten more transparently scary, we–and queer creators in general–aren’t going anywhere, and we’ll keep creating. We’ve got your back.
Will there be a Dates 3?
Zora: Ahahaha, what a good question. Our hope is yes, but that’s not something we want to confirm or deny or really even plan in earnest until Dates 2 is totally wrapped. We did Dates 2 because the response to Dates 1 was so encouraging to us, so we want to be able to gauge the response once Dates 2 has debuted in the same way!
Cat: We definitely want to, but I think we’ll both need a little break after Dates 2 hits the shelves and we have some other projects we’ve been thinking about too. So I’d say it’s probably going to happen, but probably not immediately.
Need more? Click here to check out the kickstarter for Dates 2, which ends on March 25th. Donating just $10 will get you the entire PDF of Dates 2 and $25 will get you the actual book itself! Or buy Dates 1 here!