Growing up on a diet of sci-fi and fantasy, transformation stories were the ones I loved and could always rely on the writers of most shows to fall back on one of it’s most loved tropes. For me they were always the most frustrating though, as characters spent their time trying either freaking or trying to change back, usually both. Frustratingly they almost never explored a person staying that way, gaining a new perspective on the world. It’s something I’d find renewed interest in when encountering the Furry Fandom and finally found quite literally in the works of Lobst, a furry comics artist who uses their anthropomorphic characters and an individual take on magical realism to express their unique experiences as a trans person.
As with the bulk of their work two of my favourites, both adult comics, prominently feature transgender characters and story lines. A Slightly Different Role follows the exploits of two huskies, Connor and Alex, the latter of which with the aid of a suitably gothic book of curses, magically endows the other with a vagina. The second, more science-fiction orientated That Curious Sensation takes the subject in an entirely different, rarely explored direction. Distracted from work by unwanted erections red panda Clover strikes upon the idea of nullification, quickly achieving his goal with an easily obtainable injection. In both instances the initial transformation is dealt with quickly and often humorously, instead shifting the focus onto how characters react and adapt to the changes, rather than the change itself as a way to explore other parts of a trans individuals experiences and struggles beyond the post surgery aspects that a lot of mainstream representations fixate upon.
Lobst tells stories and presents her trans and gender fluid characters in an interesting and entertaining manner without the fetishization often present in a lot furry comics staring trans characters. Their artwork explores them in entirely different ways ,and using the fantasy elements as a springboard to ask more intimate and rarely asked questions about individuals in the trans community through anthropomorphic characters. Despite the ears, tails and fur, her extended cast appear on the page fully rounded and human. Ultimately what sets Lobst’s work apart is the warmth and tenderness it exudes in both the ways their characters interact and the playful way they write about a complicated and multifaceted subject, tackled both playfully and honestly.
Has art always been a part of you life or something picked up later? How did your art change after coming into contact with the furry fandom?
I’ve always drawn artwork, although it took quite a while for me to start developing original ideas that spread out into stories. I was a furry-in-denial for a very long time, since the “mainstream” of it — at the time, comics like Sabrina Online and Jack — either seemed too cloying or edgy for my tastes. It took a long time for me to realise that like any other fandom, furries comprise a wide spectrum of interests, so there was a gradual shift from anthro-animal comics like Cigarro & Cerveja/Living In Greytown to Gene Catlow/Kit & Kay Boodle to Associated Student Bodies, Circles, and the webcomics by my friend Moult, after which I spent yet another very-long-time producing furry media “ironically” in groan worthy “extreme” ways. And I think it was only around 2007 or so (yes, seriously) when I started actually looking at furry art, that I learned how to successfully draw furry snouts; until that point a besnouted face was seriously just a box in front of the standard comic-artist human face shield.
When you first started out making comics did you feel there was a lack of them out there for, or about trans and non-binary genders? Do you feel there are more online webcomics than in mainstream comics?
Oh, one of my first inspirations was about the wealth of gender swap story arcs in webcomics, and how I felt they handled the subject inappropriately. Not that I considered them trans-phobic (even though many if them, in retrospect, probably were); it’s just that I was baffled at why none of the characters, at all, wanted to stay in their altered state. So I made my own story, which ended up being a total mess, but it also ended up inspiring my real-life transition in the first place, so.
When I first started my transition in 2004, I remember being severely disheartened at the apparent lack of trans voices in webcomics, considering how accessible the storytelling format is to anyone with pencil, paper, and a scanner. Thankfully, these days there are trans-assembled webcomics everywhere you look, due in no small part to how gender is discussed today compared to back then.
There are more trans-focused stories in webcomics today than there ever have been in mainstream comics. I don’t follow comics very closely, but you just have to look at the rest of media to see where depictions of trans people are at in the public consciousness. Netflix, the only major studio I’m aware of which hires trans actors to play trans people, focuses exclusively on the post-surgery experience of trans women who pass, when — compared to the rest of the trans experience — not only is it just one small part of a trans woman’s overall journey, but it’s also a situation most often occupied by trans women who can afford surgery, voice lessons, facial feminization, laser hair removal, and so on. And this isn’t to trivialise the struggles those women face, of course; it’s just one of the few pieces of transness that holds appeal for cis people. Compared to the proliferation of stories by and about trans/nonbinary people (like Drop-Out, Crossed Wires, Electricopolis, and Go Ye Dogs!), there’s really no contest.
What reaction do you get to your own comics either within the furry fandom or from readers in general?
I’d call it generally positive, with the caveat that I’ve long since stopped seeking approval from non-furry spaces, and even from furry spaces where trans-phobic language isn’t frowned upon; I essentially only post my art to my website and a few Twitter/Tumblr accounts: some private, some not. I’ve never been a popular artist, but I’ve gotten comfortable enough with occupying my specific niche that I’m fairly sure at this point I’d reject popularity if it was thrust upon me. (My chronic anxiety is a pretty big factor in this, too.)
My self-promotion skills are virtually nonexistent, but through sheer word-of-mouth I’ve gotten a couple of diehard fans, which — considering it’s been multiple years since I’ve committed to an ongoing webcomic project — is baffling to me. I was approached for the first time by one at BLFC this year; they requested an autograph, much to my surprise. I was so taken aback I responded by writing my name alongside “thanks for the company!”, which, in retrospect, is ludicrously depressing — but we laughed it off immediately afterwards, thankfully.
A few of your more recent comics, definitely “Adjustment to an Emulated Brain” have felt very personal. Do you find making these kinds of stories to be cathartic for yourself?
Oh, catharsis is the main reason I produce media these days. The inspiration for the main character of that comic — my main fursona, these days — was my persistent desire, as a heavily dysphoric genderless trans person, to find some practical way out of the ill-proportioned body I’ve been stuck occupying for my entire life. Not that I consider myself a diehard transhumanist or anything; this fantasy has also been explored (in other media I’ve privately written and not fully developed yet, all starring different self-inserts) in the forms of virtual reality, magic bodyswapping rituals, reincarnation, and good old-fashioned TF.
An aside: Since Moments From My Adjustment is one of my most viral comics to date, I think I should note what I consider one of the most important rules of storytelling: If an idea resonates with you, as a creator, there’s absolutely an audience for it. Everything I’ve written and drawn since 2010 (and there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t make it out) has been for one reason: “This is a neat concept, and I want to draw it.”
Although your work has strong fantasy elements such as magic and TF triggers etc, the reactions and situations your characters find themselves in are often very grounded, what appeals to you about this when you are writing?
Magical realism has always appealed to me far more than fantasy or sci-fi settings, mostly because as fictional worlds get further removed from modern society, they start feeling smaller to me. There’s also a believably factor: setting a supernatural story in a realistic world begs all sorts of questions about why/how the supernatural elements are able to remain hidden, especially in the modern world where information is so easily spread. This sounds like a drawback, but if you’re able to pull off a convincing explanation, presto: the possibilities within your fictional world have suddenly expanded dramatically!
Settings like these also allow for your characters to undergo realistic struggles. The Persona series of videogames, for instance, make it a point to keep their protagonists as ordinary as possible, in the process incorporating fantasy-scary story elements like angry gods, shadow dimensions, and arcane magic (all of which are too heavily-caricatured to take seriously), side-by-side with actually-scary situations like family drama, academic success, and financial trouble. Even non-magical sci-fi benefits heavily if it takes place in the very near future, I think.
A lot of your characters come into contact with each other in various comics or pictures, how important is world building to you in this way and how do you go about it?
It’s important for me that internal crossovers remain plausible, by which I mean that there can’t be more than one connection between previously-separate groups of people, and multiple separate connections (e.g. people getting married) cannot form between those groups afterward — otherwise you run into the small-world situation I described earlier; where everyone’s related to each other and meaningful character change is impossible.
An example: I don’t think this has been formally revealed yet, but Grace (from FoRC) lives in the house That Curious Sensation takes place in. Supernatural stuff briefly happens in what little of FoRC I produced, and TCS hinges on the existence of a unique machine which, setting aside that it’s in a silly sex-comic, harbors significant implications for the fate of gender and physical sex in human society. For Grace to be present during both events, those two situations have to be connected for a narratively consistent reason, related to her in some way; otherwise, it’d be just too much of a coincidence to take seriously.
What would be your fave TF trigger? Do you have a preference for technology or magic or does it all depend on the story and characters?
As far as TF triggers go, a couple of favorites come to mind: first, the idea of being surrounded by people with body shapes that you either explicitly or implicitly desire for yourself, having them overwhelm you, and when they pull back, you’ve somehow become one of them. Another comes from a novel I read last year, “The Showroom: Relationships and Robotics”, where no physical shapeshifting takes place; rather, the person realizes they experience life more vividly with their consciousness processed through a robotic shell, which casts doubt on their own identity as a person. That kind of character dynamic and the internal identity struggle is what I love most about TF as a concept; without it (and there’s more than plenty of TF art that assumes watching the TF sequence itself is enough), TF isn’t nearly as interesting to me.
As for my own work, I definitely prefer technology to magic or spirituality, if only because sci-fi pop culture is in the DNA of actual scientific advancement. Not that I expect my work to play any kind of role in the development of real medical techniques, but well, it couldn’t hurt for an amateur like me to put the ideas out there in a format people might want to read, could it?
A few of your comics have characters only expressing themselves in pictographs, did you find it challenging to convey a story and characters reactions using only them? Were there any first draft ideas that you decided would be too difficult to express in this way?
Pictographs are a great way to set your storytelling apart from others, and a fun challenge; primarily in how it encourages you to tell your story economically/with as few word-balloons as possible. I have an awful habit of getting wordy with my dialogue, so it’s refreshing every now and then to pull away from a panel and see a critical concept expressed in a word balloon people can process in half a second.
I will say, however, that reader feedback is essential for this. That Curious Sensation features a moment where Clover is rejecting being touched; apparently a pictograph of a stop sign comes across as more playful (which is what I was going for) than a hand miming the “stop” signal.
Beyond your Patreon comic, are there any ideas you have for the future in terms of comics? Are there any subjects or ideas you’d like to explore in the future?
Oh, plenty! The most important thing I want to do in the future, however, is give people the tools and vocabulary to deal with various kinds of dysphoria; to let people, if they feel out-of-place in uncommon ways, know that it’s OK to explore, soak into, and even publicly express those feelings; that if this world feels like it wasn’t built for you, you’re not alone; you can find friendship and comfort in the company of others who feel the same.