Finding yourself and expressing your identity are harrowing prospects at any age, but demands from society and family have the potential to make those processes a minefield of expectation and compromise. However, star-crossed lovers can have happy endings, as writer Tee Franklin and artist Jenn St-Onge remind us in their new original graphic novel Bingo Love, on sale today from Image comics.

The release of Bingo Love comes off the success of a Kickstarter campaign for the book and eventually landing a publishing home with Image, Bingo Love is both an inspirational and grounded look at love, queerness, and the struggle to be who you are and with whom you love when life’s stressors and constrictions are constantly pushing and pulling you otherwise. The book follows the lives of Mari and Elle, two African Americans who find love with one another at an early age, but must struggle with society’s demands when the calls of life threaten to pull them apart forever. What follows is a love that spans the decades and various cycles of life that Mari and Elle lead separately, eventually leading to a reunion… and maybe the possibility of rekindled love.

Ms. Franklin spoke with us recently about the conceit of Bingo Love, the inspiration for the graphic novel, and why the message “Love is love” is a timeless one.

FreakSugar: For folks considering picking up the book, what is the conceit of Bingo Love?

Tee Franklin: Bingo Love is Academy Award winning Moonlight meets Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” episode, with a dollop of bingo.

FS: The world and characters that you have fleshed out in Bingo Love feel so fully-formed right out of the gate. How long has the idea for the yarn been gestating?

TF: Thanks for that. Honestly, the idea for Bingo Love came early January 2017; by February 14th, 2017, I had written about 30 pages and Jenn St-Onge was already drawing pages for our Kickstarter which was launched in March.

FS: What can you tell us about the main characters of the book, Mari and Hazel? What was the impetus for beginning their tale in the 1960s?

TF: When we meet Hazel and Mari are two beautiful young Black teenage girls in 1963. I wanted to tell their story with an emphasis on there being a happily-ever-after. Growing up Queer and Black there just aren’t that many stories as it is, and there definitely aren’t many where Queer protagonists aren’t killed. Bingo Love was created to show the youth that they can have a happily-ever-after, no matter how long it takes them.

FS: Speaking for myself, Bingo Love was personally affecting for me in ways that I didn’t expect. What was the emotional process like for mapping out and ultimately writing the story?

TF: Since some of Bingo Love was inspired from my life, seeing the possibilities of a future full of love was hard, but not as hard as when I wrote about Mari’s grandmother catching the girls kissing. It broke my heart in two. I remember not being able to write for maybe a month – I was so mad at myself. Nah, scratch that, I hated myself for writing that. I knew people were going to be so upset with me, because I did that to the girls, right after when they finally proclaimed their feelings to one another.

That was a doozy.

FS: Jenn St-Onge’s linework is just stunning and ebullient, marrying with your words perfectly. What was the collaboration process like with Jenn? Did the back-and-forth between you two make the story evolve in ways that you weren’t expecting or hadn’t intended when you first began the tale?

TF: Jenn is a fantabulous artist. I honestly cannot say enough how much I enjoyed working with her. There were some things that Jenn was unsure about,  and when I directed her to certain websites to show her what I mean, she went above and beyond and knocked out some fantastic art. For example, in comics most white artists just don’t know how to draw Black hair. I gave her examples on how to do Hazel’s granddaughter’s hair as it was a significant piece to the story, Jenn went on YouTube and started watching videos on how to do Black hair. The page she presented to me made me cry. It was a thing of beauty!

The whole team worked together so perfectly – I hate to compare it to an assembly line, but the whole team was a well-oiled machine. Joy San’s colors accentuated Jenn’s inks, Cardinal Rae’s lettering was extremely important and made the reading flow perfectly, and of course, the book wouldn’t be as great as it is without Erica Schultz and her editing skills. I couldn’t have pictured anyone else working on Bingo Love, besides those 4 individuals. Each brought their A-game to Bingo Love.

FS: I always hate asking this question, because I feel like we should focus on this project, but I loved your writing so much that I have to ask: do you have more projects coming down the pike?

TF: Awww shucks! Well, I’m so glad that you enjoyed my writing. And yes, I do have more projects on the way – I will be at Image Expo on the 21st of this month, stay tuned for something fandamntastic from me and some badass creators!

FS: Do you have a takeaway you’d like readers to have after completing Bingo Love?

TF: Bingo Love is an all-ages book and it can be read to children, or they can read it themselves. Love is love is love, and it doesn’t matter how old you are to be in love – just make sure that whoever they are, they’re worthy of your love.

Remember: Happily-ever-after’s aren’t just for straight people.

Bingo Love, written by Tee Franklin with linework by Jenn St-Onge, colors by Joy San, letters by Cardinal Rae, and edited by Erica Schultz, is on sale now from Image Comics.

From the official graphic novel description:

When Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray met at church bingo in 1963, it was love at first sight. Forced apart by their families and society, Hazel and Mari both married young men and had families. Decades later, now in their mid-’60s, Hazel and Mari reunite again at a church bingo hall. Realizing their love for each other is still alive, what these grandmothers do next takes absolute strength and courage. From TEE FRANKLIN (NAILBITER’s “THE OUTFIT,” Love is Love) and JENN ST-ONGE (Jem & The Misfits), BINGO LOVE is a touching story of love, family, and resiliency that spans over 60 years.