For years, Tee Franklin has been one of the most outspoken voices on social media when it comes to arguing for more diversity in the comic book industry. She created the hashtag #blackcomicsmonth to make comic book fans of color more aware of the diverse comic book characters and superheroes that already exist in the industry, and promoted it to her 30,000 Twitter followers.
Now, Franklin is writing her own comic books. “Bingo Love,” a graphic novel from Inclusive Press, is about two gay black women and the love between them that spans decades. Franklin recently began a Kickstarter campaign that aims to get the love story published by the end of this year.
Franklin also recently wrote her first comic book short-story, which appeared in the 27th issue of “Nailbiter” from Image Comics. It led many of Franklin’s professional peers to encourage her to pursue more comic-book opportunities.
But that’s not what inspired her to create “Bingo Love.” Instead, Franklin credits a television commercial, in which two older black women are enjoying a conversation on the steps of a brownstone, when an older gentleman comes their way. Glances are made. Giggling begins between the two women. The commercial was, oddly, for a heart hospital, but it instantly sparked an idea in Franklin’s head about more personal matters of the heart.
The resulting “Bingo Love” centers on two 13-year-old girls, Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray, who meet when their grandmothers bring them along to a church bingo night. They become best friends in the 1960s, fall in love and are forbidden to see each other by their families. Over the next few decades, the two friends reconnect and become closer as they get older.
To make the comic book happen, the New Jersey-based Franklin set a Kickstarter goal of $19,999. “Bingo Love” isn’t the type of comic book she’s used to seeing. But she received praise from social media followers who admired the story she was trying to tell, and just as many who loved the bingo angle because of memories of playing the game with their grandparents. Others weren’t so happy.
“Having two older black women, especially one [Hazel] who is darker skinned and plus-sized, I was told that I was ruining comics by having this,” Franklin said. “Hazel was called very derogatory names.”
“It’s not hurtful to me because I expect this,” she added. “In being a queer, black, disabled woman myself, I get it, period. I get this negativity all the time. So it’s something that I’m used to. Calling it out, it’s just putting it out there. If you’re trying to hurt my feelings, good luck, because it’s just not going to happen.”
The Kickstarter went live on March 15. Five days later the project was fully funded.
“It was so surreal watching those numbers tick towards 19,999,” Franklin said. “We hear how diversity doesn’t sell, but this book is proof that people want to read these stories.”
Franklin is now focused on production of “Bingo Love” (the 80-page comic book will be illustrated by artist Jenn St-Onge) and gaining more backers (the Kickstarter is now over $44,000) before the Kickstarter drive ends April 17.
“I just want this book in as many hands as possible,” Franklin said. “Because this is a story that is vital and that isn’t told in comics, period.”