Since they started working together in 2012, Emily Willis and Ann Uland have been partners in work and in love. They founded Arbitrary Muse comics in an effort to bring more LGBTIQ and feminist stories to the world of comics. They recently finished a Kickstarter campaign for their book Cassius, a lesbian re-telling of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which is available for pre-order now. In addition, they’ve also created If the Shoe Fits, a queer re-telling of Cinderella, and Grave Impressions, their take on the hard-boiled film noir genre.
I got a chance to sit down with the couple at San Diego Comic-Con and learn all about their nerdy origin story.
AfterEllen: What’s it like working with your significant other? And what came first: love or work?
Ann Uland: Well, the relationship came first. We met through fandom online and fell in love, and then we were living together and had the idea for our first comic, Grave Impressions, so it spiraled from there—n a good way. I think it’s 95% really, really, really awesome to work with your SO, and then there’s that inevitable five percent where we’re both really strong, opinionated creative personalities so we have some really opinionated disagreements, sometimes.
Emily Willis: [laughs]
AU: But I honestly think we’ve come to the conclusion that it makes our comic better because we are self-editing. Essentially, we call each other on our crazy ideas. I think it kind of hammers it out so it turns it into a better product.
AU: I’m really pleased. I wouldn’t work with anyone else!
EW: She’s my favorite collaborator!
AU: Same here!
AE: You two are adorable and it’s grossing me out. What fandom did you meet through?
EW: The Hetalia: Axis Powers fandom!
AU: [It was 2010.] We were young and geeky at the time.
EW: I’m a trained historian—that was my degree—so the history of it appealed to me. So I started writing fan-fiction that was a little more history-based.
AU: I was attracted to your geeky fan fiction as a history nerd, and then I started drawing you geeky history things—geeky gay history things. And then we found out we loved other geeky things as well, like Sherlock.
EW: We have a lot of obscure interests together. We like opera as well.
AE: So Emily, you’re the writer, and Ann is the artist. Do you guys ever switch it up?
EW: I can’t draw, so for me that’s a no, but I sometimes do flat color for her. And she writes some things.
AU: And you’ve lettered for me, too. I don’t really write, per se, but I have ideas. We’ll create together, in a sense. She’s the dialogue master so she’ll do the writing.
EW: I’ll take some of the ideas she has and come up with the dialogue.
AU: We edit each other. You spot-check my art, I edit your writing, because it always helps to have a second set of eyes, no matter what kind of creator you are.
EW: Although she has a knack for zingy one-liners!
AE: Speaking of stories and fandoms, what are some books or artists that have inspired you?
AU: I’m a huge fan of The Wicked and the Divine, that’s my go-to for really cool complex work. Emily and I share the same taste in a lot of things, so we really love Rat Queens.
EW: I was gonna say Rat Queens if you didn’t! It’s amazing.
AU: I’m really into Saga right now. Art-wise, I’m really into French comics, too. I love Pierre Alary’s art. I have a lot of foreign comics I look at for more diverse art inspiration too.
AE: How long have you two been attending Cons together?
EW: This is our third year; our second SDCC together.
AE: How do you think queer visibility at cons has changed over the past few years?
EW: I think it’s getting better, which is not the same as “It’s all fine” yet, but it is getting better, which is such a positive hopeful feeling. I feel a swell of hope, although the Supreme Court decision could also have something to do with that! I feel this light at the end of the tunnel. I can sort of see it—this glow!
AU: It’s nice. Even when we were getting started three to four years ago, I was already reading gay webcomics as a fan, I think there was one or two here and there, but you had to like that genre/story/art style. There wasn’t a lot of choices for you, but here [at the PRISM booth] there’s a rainbow of art styles and different creators that are all along the QLTB spectrum. So much more than, “Here’s the token comic book for you gay people!” theres a huge amount on offer. It’s way more hopeful now.