One Comic At a Time
Sophie Labelle Reflects on Her Career So Far and the Road Ahead
“Oh my god,” voiced Sophie Labelle subtly, realizing her first ever comic was published almost three years ago. “Feels like a lifetime now,” she continued.
With about 300 comics published online since, and a full-length novel and two children books to be released within the next two years, the candor and amazement Labelle felt from reflecting on her career’s trajectory was nothing but justified.
“I’m pretty sure it is the biggest web comic in Quebec,” she said when commenting on how her French and English Facebook pages for her series, Assigned Male, have over 140,000 likes combined.
Assigned Male follows the life of a trans girl named Stephie and her experiences with friends and family, as she grows up from fifth to seventh grade.
“I wasn’t ‘born a boy,’ just as much as I didn’t ‘become a girl.’ It’s just that nobody cared to ask me first,” says Stephie, eyes closed, with her hands gesturing confidently. “The only difference with cisgender people is that they agree with the gender they’re assigned.”
This was the first comic that Labelle published in 2014. Painted by hand, it only contained a single panel of the 11-year-old Stephie with text floating above her head.
“Most comics were born from discussions with other trans people,” Labelle explained. “I like to provide trans people with silly comebacks with questions that we get asked over and over
The inspiration for starting the series, she said, came from seeing the ignorance surrounding the activism she had been doing in the trans community for over a decade, from her home city of Montreal and elsewhere.
“The media was not conveying the right messages about trans bodies—especially for children,” Labelle said of her observations at the time.
Stephie and friends have been spreading the right messages ever since. From one comic to the next, Stephie speaks with an authoritative and confident voice almost uncharacteristic of someone her age, touching on everyday issues that trans people commonly experience.
Some of Stephie’s friends are trans or non-binary as well, like Ciel. In comic number 72, Stephie and Ciel are hanging out in one of their bedrooms. Ciel begins talking about how they want to find a name that combines “Sandro” and “Sandra” that would also refer to their identity as Latinx.
“Stephie,” Ciel says, lying on a bed with their legs crossed in the air. “Do you have any idea of when I’ll know if I’m a girl or boy?”
“As a trans artist, I can count on people all around the world.” —Sophie Labelle
In the next comic, Stephie explains that sometimes people can be boys or girls, or neither of the two. Comforted by her words, Ciel discovers they would prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns like they/them.
“The main audience for my comics are mostly trans people themselves,” Labelle said. “The idea was to give them tools to empower them.”
Ciel will be the main character of a full-length, youth novel she is currently working on, which will come out in 2018. Right now, Labelle is in northern Germany because fans of her comics reached out asking if she wanted to stay and work from there, as a DIY writing residency.
While her comics are free to read online and are encouraged to be shared as educational tools, Labelle has had no shortage of fans that want to support her financially, many of whom are trans. On the crowd funding website patreon.org, 697 patrons have pledged to donate anywhere from $1 to $150 per month to support her artistry. She said after her comics gained wider visibility near the beginning of 2015, she has been able to do her projects as a full-time job.
“As a trans artist, I can count on people all around the world,” Labelle said. “The emotional relationship that people have with my comics is very different.”
“[There are] very few [comics] about trans issues that spread positive messages about trans bodies and relationships,” she continued.