Comics Corner – Ambrosia anthology pioneers queer comic erotica with a trans male focus

Let’s face it: trans male representation in almost all media is pretty awful, ranging from the offensive to the non-existent. While DONTNOD’s upcoming game  Tell Me Why  starts to address the lack of representation in a broader sense by having a trans male lead, one area in particular is notoriously overlooked in wider media: sex. Be it down to prudishness or just a complete lack of understanding, the sex lives, sensuality, and importantly agency of trans men is drastically underserved.

That’s something the upcoming comic anthology  Ambrosia  aims to address, offering an assortment of full-colour stories focussing on trans masc and non binary characters enjoying and exploring sex and sexuality. Co-edited by  Tab Kimpton  and  Jade Sarson, it’s all wrapped around the theme “Food of the Gods”, leading to a feast of tales tapping into myths and legends from around the world.

“Ambrosia” cover, by Feardeer (Image courtesy Tab Kimpton)

Unapologetically erotic, the collection describes itself as full of “delicious, nourishing naughtiness, where each comic has at least one trans masculine or non binary main character”. It also champions trans and non-binary creators, with many of the included stories coming from own-voice artists and writers.

Here, we speak with project editor Tab Kimpton on the genesis of the project, why work like this is so overdue, and how Tumblr’s “porn ban” played a part.

Gayming Mag: Let’s start at the beginning – what are the origins of Ambrosia as a project?

Tab Kimpton: Ambrosia started during the selection process of the previous anthology I worked on called Come Together: A European Anthology of Erotic Comics. We took open submissions for Come Together and there were so many high quality pitches with trans masculine or non binary characters that we realised that there was enough to make an entire book if we wanted.

There’s some excellent anthologies with sex positive style stories in them, but even in very diverse ones it’s common to have maybe one or two trans stories. This can put a lot of pressure on that one story to bear the brunt of trying to represent what is a very diverse group of people. Even our anthology, where every single story has at least one trans masc or non binary character, there’s so much left to explore on the topic!

Gayming Mag: Your theme for the collection – if the title didn’t give it away for any classics readers – is “Food of the Gods”. How did you settle on that? Were there any other concepts you workshopped before coming to “ambrosia”?

Tab Kimpton: Are you familiar with the Gordon Ramsay meme “finally some good fucking food“? It was a bit like that. We went in with the idea that no longer did readers have to settle for the crumbs they find, this book was going to be a full on banquet of delights. The gods concept came with that, there’s something very powerful in letting people do queer retellings of myths that now include them.

There’s also the idea of challenging what people define as perfect or divine bodies. Some of the stories in the anthology the humans are trans, some of them it’s gods, sometimes both, sometimes different spectrums completely.

“The Temple of Kneeling” by Feardeer (Image courtesy Tab Kimpton)
Gayming Mag: Do you feel the mythological theme better reflects trans identities and/or experiences? The Greek gods in particular weren’t terribly committed to specific forms, for instance.

Tab Kimpton: It’s a tricky one, as non-binary people are often shown in TV and media as non-humans, supernatural, aliens, monsters etc so we did have to be careful not to perpetuate that trope in the anthology. But I think one thing using these themes give us is a feeling of history. Our modern concepts of gender and sexuality are very different to how they were in the past, but people like this have always existed and often been erased out of history books.

Gayming Mag: You touch on this above, but there’s a sad tendency in some quarters to fetishise trans bodies. Where’s the line for you, between fetishisation and erotica?

Tab Kimpton: I think with fetishisation comes objectification, and it’s good to look at how you can make sure that celebrating trans bodies in all shapes doesn’t turn into making them just about those bodies. Beyond the obvious use of sensitivity readers, it’s one of the reasons we’re an anthology of comics, not one off pin up artwork. Writers get the opportunity to show the characters behind the situations, their emotions and what drives them.

Our stories are also a vast mix of “very explicit, holy hot damn”, to sensuous and romantic. The goal was to make something aimed at trans and non binary readers – obviously anyone else can read and enjoy it, but it’s their opinions we care about first and foremost.

Gayming Mag: How did you go about seeking out and selecting contributors for the project? What were you looking for as editor, or that really turned your head in submissions?

Tab Kimpton: We did an open call for submissions as well as approaching a few artists who we thought could really bring something interesting to the table. As well as Jade and myself we had a couple of sensitivity readers help us go through and make the final choices.

Submissions day is genuinely one of the hardest moments when editing anthologies, weighing up the experience of the creators pitching to you vs the story idea they’re putting forth. Then having to keep in mind that you’ve already got a story with XX in, or we don’t want two stories set in the exact same place and so forth. Personally I’m an absolute sucker for angsty stories, but I also know people don’t want to read a smut anthology that makes them sad so the rest of the team helped reel me in!

Gayming Mag: What makes good erotica for an anthology like Ambrosia?

Tab Kimpton: Beyond emotive artwork, gorgeous settings and emotional arcs that sweep you up…? I enjoy a lot of comedy stories. I think there’s so much laughter to be had about sex that you never get to see in mainstream porn.

Gayming Mag: For people who do know their classics, ambrosia refers specifically to the food of the Greek pantheon, but the previews on  Kickstarter show the book taps into various mythologies. Can you talk a bit about the different cultural representation in the book? Were you specifically looking to curate tales from different backgrounds, or did it just come about from the submissions?

Tab Kimpton: Yes, it was important to us that the anthology wasn’t too focused on the western world. Submissions that had concepts that we’d not seen much of before went to the top of the list. Also while a lot of it is historical, there’s some great ones in the anthology that use the supernatural in more modern settings, from luck deities to spirits of forgotten in between places. There’s still so many places I’d love to see stories from, I’m very much looking forward to what the next anthology brings.

“Arau” by Dante Luiz & H. Pueyo (Image courtesy Tab Kimpton)
Gayming Mag: In Arau by Dante Luiz & H. Pueyo, the art even seems to be taking a mythologised or perhaps metaphorical look at transition – were you expecting to see works that explore that facet of trans masculinity, alongside the sensuality of the scene?

Tab Kimpton: The Arau story introduces a god who cut off his own breasts and left the rule of the Parthenon, hiding in the jungle as a jaguar deity. However the story mainly focuses on him finding a perfect match of a partner, a peasant woman he frees after she’s left tied up as a sacrifice to him. One of the striking things about that story to me is that his past, while important, isn’t the focus of the story, it’s his happiness and the future with his wife.

Gayming Mag: This might be a bit like asking you to ‘pick your favourite child’, but what are some of your personal favourite comics from the anthology?

Tab Kimpton: One of my favourites is The Temple of Kneeling from our cover artist Feardeer, and one of the reasons we asked them to do the cover! It’s about a pent-up disciple who comes to pray at the shrine of an agender god of pleasure called Keen, telling his woes of trying to have sex but struggling with insensitive partners and what he thinks he ‘should’ like during sex. It hits on some hard feelings, but the climax (ha) and comedy during the story is just… *chef’s kiss* for me – particularly a moment in it where Keen reaches into a giant chest of sex toys like “…shall we try some of these?”

Besides that, I have a lot of love for some of our short and sweet stories, like from one of our duos David Orión & Guillermo Saavedra. Theirs has a mountain god who blushes red hot and has a lava wax play scene. Just creative, fun and a steamy good time!

“Roman Baths” by Tab Kimpton (Image courtesy Tab Kimpton)
Gayming Mag: Let’s talk about one of your own contributions to the anthology, The Roman Bath. What sparked that particular story?

Tab Kimpton: After getting submissions together, Jade and I discussed what sort of things we felt the anthology was missing, so I set out to do something with group sex where everyone was having a good time. There’s so much stuff out there where people just… aren’t.

I took the archetype of a god known for his hideousness, Vulcan the blacksmith god, and created a story where instead of being reviled for his so called ugliness, he is adored, worshipped and fulfilled. I’m probably doing an awful job here of advertising what’s supposed to be a sexy anthology, but one of the things I’ve begun to seriously question, especially as I’ve gotten older, is how much we only let sex or porn be for those we deem typically attractive.

Gayming Mag: Prior to Tumblr’s “porn ban”, the site was a haven for trans artists and creators to share their stories, experiences and perspectives through comics and other visual art. Did Tumblr’s removal of adult content contribute to the need for a book like Ambrosia?

Tab Kimpton: Absolutely. The first erotica anthology I worked on, Come Together, was a direct result of Tumblr’s NSFW ban. It’s so bizarre to me that in 2020 we’re having to resort back to publishing smut books because there’s no good place to put them on the internet, and sending them out in discrete brown paper envelopes.

Gayming Mag: Do you see things improving in the current political climate, especially as it stands in the UK and US?

Tab Kimpton: In its current state, no. I feel like large corporations and the sanitation of social media to appease payment companies [ed note: Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, et al, have been skittish over processing payments for sex-related projects] and advertisers is going to continue. But so much has happened this year which has been completely world changing, so I have hopes that I will be wrong. It’s been a rough fucking year for artists, and a risky one to run an anthology in when people clearly have better things to think about. But one thing that the pandemic has shown us is that when the world is horrible, we need the escapism comics can (hopefully) bring.

Gayming Mag: You’ve already smashed your  Kickstarter target, with a week left to back the project at time of publication. Do you have any plans for ‘slacker backers’ though, and given the success, are you already planning book two?

Tab Kimpton: We’d obviously encourage people to pledge now as all our stretch goals go to giving our artists payment bonuses, but if you miss it there will be a big button at the top of the kickstarter page which will show you where to order a copy.

As for a sequel, Ambrosia features characters, couples and pairings of many genders within the stories, absolutely including people on the trans femme spectrum. However next time we’d like to do a Trans Femme & Non Binary focused version, called Nectar. We’ve already opened submissions for that  here, which are open until November 1st 2020.

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Matt Kamen

Matt Kamen is a veteran media writer based in the UK, specialising in video games, film, and comics. If found, return to nearest coffee shop.