â€śThere are so many transgendered teens living on the streets hustling, using illegal hormones, getting pumped full of silicone and doing all sorts of drugs,â€ť complains Madison â€śMekâ€ť Potts. â€śA lot of them back themselves into a cycle that can be really hard to get out of. Many [people] who have it better just turn a blind eye.â€ť
Frustrated by the dearth of realistic portrayals with disenfranchised trans youth, the artist created Between the Lines, a graphic comic strip that follows the struggles of two young transgender women, Dani and Shay, who are best friends.
â€śNothing comes easy for them,â€ť Potts explains. â€śBut they try to be who they are despite the ostracism they face from society. As for the plot lineâ€¦things will get darker before they get lighter.â€ť
Potts decided to showcase the comic online, where it didnâ€™t limit readership to those with the luxury of affording a paper version. â€śI got into online comics back when I was a kid because they are free and some of them are better than anything the big comic companies can come up with. [Still], for every great online comic out there, there are 15 others that will want to make you take a shotgun and put a hole through your monitor.â€ť
Potts says she was drawn to graphic comic storytelling because, â€śItâ€™s the marriage of words and pictures and you can show things in a different way that will have a different emotional impact than when youâ€™re working with video or prose.â€ť
Some of the characters in Between the Lines (betweenthelines.sosdg.org)are composites, drawn from people Potts has known and the character Savvas is based directly on a friend with the same name.
â€śThere are bits and pieces of real life in the comic, like when Shay is talking about the skirt rebellion - that was a joke me and a friend had between us when we started transition. There are a few more instances in chapter one taken from real life, like the window shopping and the love for hot dog vendors, which is something I canâ€™t resist.â€ť
While some of her own experiences are reflected in the comic, Potts - who grew up in Lexington, NC - says she was fortunate not to end up on the streets. â€śI came out when I was 17 even though I had an intense fear of them kicking me out. That never happened. I was lucky that I just had to endure a few years of doing nothing but arguing with my mother. She came around eventually.â€ť
Still the 24-year-old feels a commonality with her characters and relates to the problems faced by trans teens.
As an artist, Potts mixes traditional methods with the benefits of computer graphics; drawing and inking each panel by hand before scanning them into Photoshop, where she puts the panels together and completes the coloring. Itâ€™s time consuming, and although she tries to update the comic every week, Potts says, real life sometimes gets in the way.
Fortunately she doesnâ€™t have to do it all alone. Potts is sharing Between the Lines artistic duties with a handful of other trans cartoonists - Katt, Maddy and Moria - each of who will draw one or more chapters. â€śA wonderful new artist named Katt will be drawing chapters two and three,â€ť Potts says. â€śHer styleâ€¦leans heavily toward a detailed manga style. The editor will still be Dana and Iâ€™ll still be coloring.â€ť
â€śIâ€™ve always wanted to make art my life,â€ť says Potts, who doesnâ€™t think trans artists get the kind of visibility they deserve. That needs to change, she argues, â€śBecauseâ€¦art and story can be a major component to [cultural] change.â€ť
She hopes Between the Lines will have that kind of impact, opening peopleâ€™s eye to the real struggles trans teenagers face, especially when theyâ€™ve been forced from their homes. By working with a collective, Potts is enhancing the visibility of other trans artists as well as herself - and thatâ€™s a refreshing change in itself.â€ť
Trans author Jacob Anderson-Minshall has an essay in the anthology, Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex and Power, which examines his transition from lesbian feminist to straight white guy.