Kickstarters and ‘Lemonade’ stands


Courtesy Cow House Press

“Lemonade Summer,” by Gavi Mendez, is a comic book consisting of seven stories with characters representing  LGBTQ  people of color. 

By Kendrah Villiesse

Flipping through comic books as a child, Gabi Mendez, a first year graduate student at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, never found relatable characters. As a queer person of color, Mendez struggled to accept her identity because she did not see herself represented as her peers were. 

 Her concern led her to craft “Lemonade Summer,” a seven-story comic collection about kids and young adults of color within the LGBTQ community with everyday issues and adventures. 

“It is important for kids to see themselves in books, [to] see themselves having adventures that aren’t necessarily related to their identity but confirm it and celebrate it,” Mendez said. “My story is not being told, so I can’t relate, or you are forced to relate to whatever the norm is that isn’t you.” 

The book is in the final days of its kickstarter campaign and has raised more than $3,000 as of press time. The campaign was created to print extra books to donate to youth centers, schools and libraries, according to Sheika Lugtu, founder of Cow House Press, the book’s publisher. 

As an independent comic book creator for five years, Lugtu said she had noticed other independent creators struggling to reach a larger audience. She decided to create Cow House Press, a Chicago-based comic book publisher, in 2017.

Despite societal perceptions, Lugtu said most comic books are often marketed to adults. She often had young kids at her table during comic book festivals who wanted to read comics, but there were not many created for them. 

“I would have these conversations with [kids] where they don’t see themselves represented in these books. [I would say] ‘You are, but [you] can’t read them yet,’” she said. 

Along with a lack of representation of the LGBTQ community in books, Lugtu has also noticed a lack of representation in race.

Lugtu is also an art teacher at Lillstreet Art Center, 4401 N. Ravenswood Ave., and said she noticed several of her students would create characters based off stereotypes when they were asked to create a comic book because they are embedded in their consciousnesses. 

“I have had many experiences with younger kids who have these thoughts ingrained into them,” Lugtu said. “My students who are girls or people of color will create [comics of] superheroes or princesses and will create them as white. That it is natural, something that is normalized by the media we look at.” 

It was those experiences in the classroom combined with her life experiences that led Lugtu to want to publish Mendez’s “Lemonade Summer,” she said. 

Liv Hanson, content curator for youth at Chicago Public Library, said representation within the LGBTQ community has gotten better in young adult books, but there is still room for progress.

“There are kids who are LGBTQ, and it is important for them to see other kids who are like them,” Hanson said. “For kids who don’t fall into that spectrum, it is important for empathy and for understanding.” 

Lugtu said because of the wave of LGBTQ representation in books and film, she hopes children will now grow up seeing characters like them. 

“[Kids] will see these characters and people making work that are themselves and it will normalize to them that they too—queer kids, kids of color, or anyone—will see themselves and normalize that they too can make it,” she said.