Why Jen Vaughn is joining forces with comics superstars like Neil Gaiman and Gerard Way to raise money for Planned Parenthood

Last week, the founders of the website Comics Mix launched a Kickstarter for an anthology titled MINE!: A Comics Collection to Benefit Planned Parenthood. The anthology is star-studded, featuring writers like Neil Gaiman and Gerard Way and artists including Becky Cloonan and Jamaica Dyer. The project must reach $50,000 by September 15th to be published, though it’s already off to a great start. We talked with Seattle-area cartooning/inking/writing powerhouse Jen Vaughn about how she got involved with the project and why she’s such a passionate Planned Parenthood advocate.

Could you explain in your own words what Mine! is?

It’s a comics anthology featuring some of the best and brightest and then me. These stories turn their focus on a woman's right to her own body, the decisions she makes with it and the continuing struggle for women, especially women of color, to hold their agency. The title is derived from that ideology — it's MINE, so keep your fucking hands off it.

There are a lot of big names in this anthology. Are there any creators you're especially excited to share a pair of covers with?

Gabby Rivera, of Juliet Takes a Breath and America (the comic); Cecil Castelucci who writes Shade the Changing Girl — I just met her, she's fantastic. Tee Franklin is another writer who I'm excited about. She Kickstarted her new comic Bingo Love, and I'm ready to put my eyes on that book. Maia Kobabe and I traded comics at San Diego Comicon, they wrote and drew this moving comic on recognizing fascism through memory and books. I'm very ready to see their collaboration for Mine! And of course, Sarah Winifred Searle — I've always admired her work. We were both tabling at MeCAF (Maine Comic Arts Festival) in Portland, Maine back in, oh geez, 2011? It feels like we've been doing a lot of growing and drawing alongside each other, miles away and pages apart, so I'm pumped to be in another book with her.

You're a really busy freelancer. Why did you choose to get involved with this particular project? What does Planned Parenthood mean to you?

It's excellent that my facade of being busy is working! The timing was right when editor and organizer Joe Corallo contacted me, and I've had this story kicking around for awhile. Planned Parenthood has done a lot for me over the last 15 years.

I spent some formative high school and college years in Texas, and it's a very hostile place. There was a student group, VOX/Voices for Choice, I volunteered with at the University of Texas. We basically passed out free condoms, dental dams, taught people how to use them (to undo some of that religious health class BS about it being easier to not use condoms), and how to contact your Senators and Reps about Plan B.

Because we were in Austin, we occasionally went to committee meetings or public forums for healthcare. The reps on the healthcare boards would usually be five “old gray-faced white dudes with two dollar haircuts” and one young Catholic Latinx man. It was infuriating. It IS infuriating. I made a lot of bad college art about sexuality back then.

Also, because my mom's an intense baker, I had access to candy molds so I made LOTS of penis, vagina and birth control pill chocolates with all sales going to our college group and Planned Parenthood. If I didn't know people were racist by then, I certainly did when people only wanted to buy white guy penis chocolates — like anyone likes the taste of white chocolate.

I'm writing and drawing a bit of a fantasy piece so I'm not ruining any plot points by telling you Planned Parenthood was there for me during my abortion. I'd spent a year volunteering with Lillith Fund, a helpline which supported women emotionally and helped come up with ideas to crowdfund their clandestine abortions. It was wild, what could a 20 year old do to help a 35 year old desparate not to have yet another child, but their husband wouldn't use condoms or birth control.

Planned Parenthood has also been there for me every year when I go my engine checked out — so affordable compared to other places — and including this year when terrifyingly, I found a lump in my breast. (I'm fine, for now, though we're all moving closer to death).

Do you think artists have a responsibility to be political citizens? Do you think Trump changed that dynamic for you?

Artists cannot help but be political citizens, although it depends on the type of art, honestly. My idea behind every new project is to try something new — sometimes it’s art-related, sometimes it's writing-related. Part of my new goals, probably since moving to Seattle, have been to help lift up other people's voices, especially women of color — not that I'm monied or famous or in any position of power. This means drawing other people's stories or collaborating, not just owning the entire project, because it's a reflection of our society.

When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, it seems like comics tried to be apolitical. On the one side, you had corporate comics, which didn't stand up for anything, really. And on the alternative side, you had cartoonists like Dan Clowes and Chris Ware who didn't seem to be particularly political. (Of course there were cartoonists like Roberta Gregory who were fearless in portraying abortion as a reality, but even her comics seemed to walk up to a line and then stop, politically speaking.) Is that changing? Are American comics developing a social consciousness? Or do you disagree with my reading?

Hmm. I think there's a difference between gag comics/political comics that emotionally resonate immediately versus a graphic novel that can manipulate character development and create compassion within the reader.

Being political now in comics isn't necessarily writing about politics, but being more inclusive with the dynamics of everyone creating them. It's like editor Joe Hughes bringing in writer Nnedi Okorafor to Vertigo a few years back; it's Gene Luen Yang building an empire with First Second from American Born Chinese to Secret Coders AND encouraging kids to a summer reading program with Reading Without Walls bookmarks (they were VERY realistic in suggesting 3 books since not all kids loved the library as much as say, I did). It's Hope Nicholson creating The Secret Loves of Geek Girls book and the soon-to-be-released follow up at Dark Horse, The Secret Loves of Geeks, that includes all genders and genderqueer people. It's the company Black Mask printing a series written by a trans writer, Magdalene Visaggio, with trans characters, drawn by Mexico-based Eva Cabrera (if you haven't read Kim + Kim by now, just GO — get yourself to the bookstore or library).

But with that being said, the 'slow death' of newspapers, and especially staff cartoonists, has left a gap in the world — one that is being met online by many cartoonists, especially Matt Bors at The Nib, with Nomi Kane, Pia Guerra, Joey Allson Sayers, Maia Kobabe and more. The political cartoons once clipped and taped above the breakroom coffee pot or to the door of the bathroom are now shared via social media. It's amazing how technology changes and we still see the same behaviors. (I just said that with my best Neil deGrasse Tyson voice)

What else are you working on? How can our readers keep up with you?

I'm finishing up some SECRET comics and covers that should be announced soon. But you can still pre-order my other current Kickstarter project, Haunted Tales of Gothic Love, edited by Hope Nicholson. Mel Gillman wrote a delicious queer love story featuring gold miners and a ghost; it's been quite fun to draw and I'm very sure it will haunt readers.

I'm working on multiple projects with writer, Kat Kruger, including just turning in that application for the Georgetown Steam Plant graphic novel project!

Locals can see me at the Red Pencil Conference on September 23rd. I'll be tabling with Kat Kruger and on an editing panel with Kristy Valenti of Fantagraphics and mainstream artist Moritat. And in March of 2018, I'll be tabling at Emerald City Comicon!