Why Comic Book Writer Tee Franklin Works To Empower LGBTQ People And Sexual Assault Survivors

"This is me, this is me."

It only took one commercial to inspire Tee Franklin.

Franklin was sitting on her couch watching TV one day when she saw a commercial for New York University's Langone Health. The commercial was about heart health and featured two older Black women preparing to get up from a brownstone they were sitting outside of. As they begin to speed walk through the neighborhood, they catch sight of an older man, turned to each other, and started giggling.

"I thought it was the cutest thing," she says to A Plus. 

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Franklin then asked herself why the women couldn't have acted that way over another woman instead. From there, Franklin stayed on her couch and jotted down ideas for what would eventually become Bingo Love, a comic book about two Black women who reunite years at a bingo hall after their parents forbid them from seeing each other again as teenagers, divorce their husbands, and start a relationship. Franklin would go on to find an artist to illustrate the comic and raise more than $57,000 on Kickstarter.

Franklin has been a comic book enthusiast since she was a kid, but as she grew up, got married, and had children, she said she had to "choose between feeding the kids and reading comics" because according to her, "comics don't feed kids."

That all changed once she got a divorce in 2011 and found herself getting back into the comic book scene. She slowly started doing interviews, writing reviews of comics, and fighting for inclusion in the industry. 

By then, Franklin says, "I started to get peer pressure from comic creators saying, 'Why don't you write?'"

And eventually, she did. In 2016, Franklin contributed to an issue of the comic Nailbiter before creating the world of Bingo Love in 2017.

Bingo Love finally came out this year and Franklin still can't believe the reaction she's received from readers.

"I took a huge chance, and when it started to pick up and people just wanted to read Bingo Love, it was so surreal," she says. "I had grandmas coming out to me."

In fact, Franklin remembers a woman she met at BookCon who immediately identified with the comic as soon as she laid eyes on it.

"She saw the cover, and she picked it up and grabbed it and hugged it, and was like, 'This is me, this is me,'" Franklin says.

As a Black, queer, and disabled woman, representation is everything to Franklin.

"I noticed that there was a lack of people who looked like me and I wanted to write about it," she says. 

But Bingo Love's universe is far from over. A second volume of the series comes out in 2020 and another book will be released in November, exploring sexual education with a visit to Planned Parenthood and reimagines the couple, Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray, as superheroes. 

When it comes to feedback on the comic, Franklin has received nothing but positivity from readers as she interacted with them at this year's New York Comic Con. 

Franklin also reflected on some of the reactions she's received from readers over the last year, such as a 10-year-old girl who told her that she had gotten her friend a copy after she attempted suicide, to even giving Viola Davis a copy of Bingo Love when she attended a talk at the American Library Association's annual conference and brought attention to the lack of dark-skinned women in comic books.

If there's one takeaway Franklin wants people to walk away with, it's that young people who identify within the LGBTQ community will feel hopeful after reading Bingo Love

"I just really hope that Bingo Love helps and that the youth know that it's OK," she says. "That happily ever afters exist. We need and we deserve happily ever afters. They exist for us as well. Just because we're different and we're queer, it doesn't mean that we're not allowed to grow old with our loved ones."  

Franklin's newest comic, Jook Joint, is what Franklin describes as what a mash-up of American Horror Story: Coven and Law & Order: SVU would look like if SVU's Olivia Benson was a Black woman who has supernatural abilities to kill men who have committed crimes.

The comic came out the week of New York Comic Con, but Franklin originally wrote the story in 2015 after her therapist encouraged her to write down her feelings after a failed suicide attempt.

"I wanted to take all of my trauma and my anger out," she says. 

And as the #MeToo movement became more publicized, Franklin knew Jook Joint needed to be published.

"It was just a 'Wow, this book needs to be out there,'" she says.  

Proceeds from the comic will go to Mariska Hargitay's nonprofit, the Joyful Heart Foundation, which helps educate and empower sexual assault survivors. Hargitay was inspired to start the organization by playing Olivia Benson on SVU

Giving back to Hargitay's organization is important to Franklin, who is a domestic abuse survivor and recalls a time in her life when she and her children had no money or a place to live.

"Charities helped us and I always knew that I would use my platform to help," she says.

And she only hopes that her work will continue to help those who need a light at the end of the tunnel.

"I just want to be able to help," she says. "I don't care how many books sell, but if I could just help one person, that means so, so much to me."  

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