Galactic Deer, a nonbinary artist originally from Russia who now lives in Iceland, is on a mission. Their new autobiographical comics series is, at first glance, very cute and charmingly drawn. But the issues it explores run deeper than this, and for good reason: they expressly want to draw attention to the reality of queer youth in Russia, for the sake of other Russians, Icelanders, and the rest of the world alike.
“I draw myself as a child, and I draw real stories, and the style of the book and colours are pretty simple, like a child is telling the story,” they tell the Grapevine. “I want it to be very close to people, like ‘Here we go, this is just a normal child and its life’ and you start to feel what this person is going through, even though you’re not a part of it and you never experienced it.”
Why ‘Galactic Deer’?
The name Galactic Deer is drawn directly from their life, and their struggles over their gender identity.
“Until I think was about 22 years old, it was always a struggle over who I was. I wanted to be a boy,” they say, recounting being in a relationship with a trans man, witnessing the beginnings of the transition process, but deciding it wasn’t for them. “It was a struggle, these questions about who I was, and I wasn’t sure. I thought I had to choose if I’m a girl or a boy. With time, I realised I’m both or neither, and that’s how Galactic Deer came to be. A deer is just a neutral thing, and when people ask me, ‘So who are you?’, I say, ‘I don’t know; I’m galactic.’ I’m nonbinary, but I went through a lot of things to get to where I am now. So in this book there will be a lot of questions as I grow up.”
Galactic Deer is entirely self-taught, having taken up art while studying international relations, something they describe as “four years of tears and pain”.
“And that’s how it started: learning things on the internet, trying, making mistakes and trying again and again,” they say. “I can’t say that I have a big experience, but I learn really fast. It’s my superpower, you could say.”
Hope for Russian youth
There are many intended audiences for these comics, to serve different purposes; for example, queer Russian youth, they aspire, may find hope in these comics, given the dire state of things for these kids.
“For Russian people, I want them to actually understand what LGBT kids and teenagers go through, because this November, the Russian internet will be closed off from the rest of the world,” they say, pointing out how Russian authorities have shut down websites and help lines that have always been the last hope for queer youth in the country. “So I want this book to tell Russia: this is the story of a real person, this is what I went through. If you’re going through the same thing you can actually relate, in the end you can see how everything turned out. I want it to give hope to children and teenagers in Russia, and I want adults to understand their kids and the younger generation as a whole goal through.”
Bursting Icelanders’ bubble
At the same time, they hope Icelanders might become aware of what’s happening in Russia, and take part in a larger movement to exert change.
“As I understand it, Icelanders live in a bubble, and they don’t really know what’s happening out there,” they say. “They fight for equal rights inside the country, even though it’s already awesome here. And I understand it’s very cool that you should never give up and always try to do better, but they don’t really pay attention to the rest of the world, I would say. I want them to know how it is in other countries that are not as far along in this fight as Iceland is. I believe the international community can change something. I want the story to be everywhere. I want people to understand what children and teenagers in eastern Europe or other countries go through.”
This desire is informed in part by experiencing the stark differences between Icelandic and Russian attitudes towards queer people.
“When I moved here, I realised that Iceland is weird enough for me to stay here,” they tell the Grapevine. “It’s just so different from the rest of the world, and it just feels awesome. The society and the community is so different from what I’m used to, because it’s so tolerant and people don’t really care about who you love, what you wear and what you are.”
However, that contrast also had its dark side.
“For the first year in Iceland, I had severe depression and I didn’t understand why,” they tell us. “I was thinking, ‘I’m in a good country, everything is fine, I should be happy.’ But I couldn’t be happy because I knew what’s in Russia and what’s happening to my friends. They’re still there. Everything is not really good, and I can’t just be happy. But now I feel like this anger can help me to do something.”
Anyone can make a difference
If there were any doubt that bringing attention to what is happening in as formidable a country as Russia can actually make a difference, Galactic Deer points to one notable example: the Khachaturyan sisters, who killed their own father after years of sexual abuse from him. While Russian authorities initially sought to imprison them, activists within Russia and beyond raised awareness to the greater world, exerting external pressure, and now the courts are reconsidering the criminal charges against the sisters.
“I saw this, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, if it’s out there on the internet and it’s popular enough for many people to follow to react than we can actually change something, even in countries that are very closed like Russia,” they recount. “I know that many Russian people who are in positions of authority are very afraid of a critical eye on the country on the internet; that other people will see and hear bad things about Russia, so they try to be very careful with us.”
As it stands now, Galactic Deer is sharing pages from the comic series, as it progresses, through their social media platforms. The question of where and how to publish has not been decided yet, though they are being mentored by Atla Hrafney, an acclaimed comics editor and comics writer.
“She’s been helping me with ideas and helping me make things, because she’s a comics editor,” they say. “Basically, I’m the art part, but all the other stuff is her department. All the adults things aren’t my thing.”
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