"This book is for every villain who ever inspired a queer awakening, and for every queer child who ever saw a piece of themself in the enemy."
My name is Emilia Swanberg, and I am completely obsessed with mythological monsters, dark folklore, and villains.
Growing up as a lesbian in a very conservative community, I heard my own people be described as "going straight to hell," "the real problem with our society," and many things which are too vulgar to say. One evening, my life changed forever when a teacher at my high school who attended the same church as I did overheard that I was gay. She convinced me (a very anxious, impressionable teen who saw her as a mentor) that there was either a demon inside me or I myself was of demonic nature. I was unprofessionally exorcised (Ed and Lorraine Warren would have done MUCH more research) in the back of a dark church theater. Regularly, I have nightmares of that place.
There has been a long history of villains being given stereotypical characteristics based from LGBT identities. Ursula from "The Little Mermaid," Jim Carrey's Riddler from "Batman Forever," Fegan Floop from the "Spy Kids" franchise (played by the wonderful bisexual actor Alan Cumming,) and Him from "Powerpuff Girls" are four childhood examples from this late 90's/early 2000's kid. Perhaps the greatest example is my favorite movie "Rocky Horror Picture Show" in which the antagonist Frank'n'Furter, a gender-ambiguous alien played by Tim Curry, is bent on sexually corrupting a church-going virgin couple. What happens if you raise a child in an environment where their only representation in media are villains? What if that only adds on to a narrative they are constantly fed about how queer people deserve to rot in hell?
As I grew from a teen to an adult, I recognized the impact that cartoon villains and horror monsters have had on me. I didn't find myself justifying any cruel acts they committed, but I had always been curious about their motivations; what drove them to do what they did? My deep love of Greek and Roman mythology added a historical, folkloric element. My beloved harpies, Celaeno, Aëllope, and Ocypete! They are called by Virgil to be the most foul of all monsters and men to this day will call a woman a harpy if they think of her as shrewd and unlikeable. Yet, I have searched and cannot find a single mythos-based example of a harpy actually killing anyone. The deeper I dove into their mythology, I realized it was the heart-breaking story of a family torn apart by war and scorned due to being monsters rather than gods.
I imagine that when Ocypete the harpy has nightmares of being rejected by the Olympians, forced into torment and isolation, robbed of resources, only to then be remembered in mythology as a foul beast, it is not so different from when I dream about that dark church theater.
Emilia Swanberg was born to a family of teachers in May of 1998. She was raised in California where she became interested in taking art seriously from watching Studio Ghibli movies and spent all her time drawing (including when she should have been doing chemistry homework, something she got scolded for.) Emilia moved to Washington to attend Seattle Pacific University where she served as leadership for the LGBT college group Haven. She graduated magna cum laude with two Bachelors in art with an illustration emphasis and special education. She currently lives in Seattle with her senior cat Herbie and video-game addict roommate. Emilia works as a preschool teacher and enjoys freelance illustration on the side. When she isn't teaching or creating art, she loves vintage fashion, thrifting for weird old dolls at Goodwill, playing Animal Crossing or Pokemon, and reading Stephen King novels.
Emilia's favorite mediums are watercolor and Procreate. She also has experience with Photoshop, Illustrator, Zbrush, oil, acrylic, gouache, Copic markers, and needle felting.