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A Different Kind Of Conan: 'The Legend Of Bold Riley'

Portland-based author and graphic artist Leia Weathington invites a wide range of artists to illustrate her graphic novel series The Legend of Bold Riley.

“I didn’t set out to write the great American comic book novel,” says Portland-based author and graphic artist Leia Weathington. “I just wanted a Lord of the Rings or a Conan the Barbarian or a James Bond that depicted the people who were closest in my life and my own identity at the same time.”

Weathington is the author of The Legend of Bold Riley, an epic adventure graphic novel series featuring a sword-wielding, lesbian heroine. The series, already collected in one trade volume and moving into its second, follows the adventures of Rilavashana SanParite, called “Bold Riley,” as she gives up her royal rights in favor of the freedom to seek her own destiny.

The world of Bold Riley, known as the Realm of the Coin, is an amalgamation of cultural, architectural and artistic influences from around the world. Weathington’s desire to create a subcontinental world that is “non-European,” as she says, came from a respect for and love of art and architecture from around the world.

While attending the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, Weathington became frustrated with the focus of her studies.

Leia Weathington in her home studio in Portland, Oregon

Leia Weathington in her home studio in Portland, Oregon

Melanie Burke/ OPB

“When I was in school, pretty much the only thing that we studied in-depth was Western art,” says Weathington. “There’s an entire huge, huge swath of the globe, all of this artistry and craftsmanship and cultural input, [and it] was just completely ignored. That was, I thought, frustrating and disrespectful.”

“With Bold Riley, and pretty much any work that I do, any project that I have, and this is something you hear from pretty much every writer and artist, I’m producing the content that I wanted to see or that I think was valuable or missing,” Weathington adds.

One of the many unique aspects of the Bold Riley series is that a different artist, employing his or her own unique style, illustrates each story. Weathington believes this lends each book the sense that someone different is telling one part of a longer narrative.

“I just feel with the kind of story that Bold Riley is,” says Weathington, “it would be good to have it look like it’s being told by different people because it’s a book that, at the end of the day, is about narratives and the stories that we tell.”

Weathington enjoys both the chance to work with different artists on each story and the challenges that come with collaboration.

“When I pick out an artist … I’ve looked at their portfolios for long enough that I’m aware of what they would be suited for, so generally when I actually write the script I’ve picked out a good one for them,” says Weathington. “Then I can tailor it a little bit more specifically … I try to have a dialogue with them before the work really starts.”

This dialogue usually consists of what kind of information artists need to work best, how they prefer to have their scripts laid out, or, in the case of Joanna Estep, who illustrated Thrilling Adventure Hour, Fantastic Four, Roadsong and Timing: Expressions of Time in Sequential Art and Design, an apology for having to draw so many mounted horsemen.

Weathington’s collaborative work has also been a new experience for her publisher at Northwest Press, Charles “Zan” Christensen. Christensen has been running Northwest Press since 2010 and publishing Bold Riley since 2012.

“She does work with queer artists and trans artists and other non-straight non-cis people, but she also works with people who are straight, who are male … all different kinds of people, and she’s getting them all to work on her book,” says Christensen. “So I think that the blurring of the lines about who can be part of the queer comics community … I think that’s something that she brings to the project that I really appreciate.”

Page from "The Golden Trumpet Tree." Art and color by Kelly McClellan.

Page from “The Golden Trumpet Tree.” Art and color by Kelly McClellan.

Courtesy Leia Weathington/Northwest Press

The Legend of Bold Riley is Northwest Press’ first book with a lesbian heroine as the main character. Since its publication, Christensen says, it continues to find a diverse audience.

Both Christensen and Weathington make it a point to keep up on the reviews and criticisms that Bold Riley receives.

“There might be something in there that I could read that hurts my delicate, writerly fee-fees [feelings],” says Weathington. “And then I’ll cry about it for two hours and go, ‘Oh, they’re right’ and fix it. Or do better.”

There is one piece of criticism that Weathington refuses to acknowledge, however. “The ‘not-gay-enough thing’ is a criticism that I dismiss immediately, and right out of hand,” she says. “My frustration with that is that … I wanted to do a character who is a lesbian. That’s who they are. I can’t have her sexuality be belabored every single page or every single issue.”

Ben Saunders, the director of the undergraduate minor in comic studies at the University of Oregon, says that as both a fan and a professor studying the comic industry, he has seen a shift in LGBTQ representation, citing writers like Greg Rucka and Gail Simone who have worked to bring LGBTQ characters to mainstream publishing houses.

“Is there going to be more [representation]? Well, absolutely, because the culture is, I think, pretty radically shifting, in the last 20 or 30 years in particular, in its attitude toward this question,” says Saunders. “And just as Marvel and DC have figured out that girls like comics, they’re also now figuring out that [the LGTBQ community likes] comics and they’re gonna read them.”

For Weathington, the combination of the epic-fantasy world and LGBTQ representation is an important one.

“Everybody else gets a break, so we should, too,” says Weathington. “I wanted to do the book where when you’re done advocating for queer rights, or immigrant rights, [or] you’ve gone to school for hours of the day or you’re doing your first internship at the Boys and Girls Club of America office, you can come home and have a book where the incredibly bad, complicated real world maybe doesn’t exist for a little bit. That’s just my feeling on the topic. Everyone deserves their Conan the Barbarian.”

Other Books for Bold Riley Fans

If you like The Adventures of Bold Riley, you may also enjoy the following books.

  • No Straight Lines — Justin Hall
  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic — Alison Bechdel
  • Kissing the Witch — Emma Donoghue
  • Batwoman — Greg Rucka
  • The Movement — Gail Simone
  • Bone — Jeff Smith
  • Anything That Loves — Northwest Press
Leia Weathington graphic novel Legend of Bold Riley

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The Legend of Bold Riley