Matt Ligeti, Comic Book Yeti: Hello, hello, and welcome to ComicBookYeti.com! Today, in the cave, we have Damon Barret Roe (AKA “Rho”) – author, poet, editor. Rho, thanks for making the trip to this undisclosed location to talk about The Dark Side of Purity! You’ve written for this collection a poem and a comic, both of which I have read. However, I’m going to pretend that I haven’t – can you tell me about them?
Damon Barret Roe: Thank you for having me!
Nice place you have here, love the drapes, love the manacles.
So, my pieces for The Dark Side of Purity are wildly different. The poem, which reads a bit like a nursery rhyme, traverses eras in an accessible way; the lines are simple, the rhymes as well, and the imagery will be clear and concise. It won’t be particularly long, but I’m hoping it’ll be particularly poignant.
The comic is the opposite. It’s an allegory of many experiences, but to pin an underlying theme, I would say it’s about oppression and opposition. It’s about a seed (very creatively named ‘The Seed’) carried by the wind and buried in a field plowed by humans. These humans, unaware of the seed, plant their own, intending to cultivate bushes of pristine pale roses. It sounds obvious and derivative, I know, but hear me out. As much as the comic will be from the Seed’s perspective, the human characters are who will carry the story. There will be questionable decisions—from violence to silence—and a variety of motivations. It will take place over months, and we’ll see families grow and disintegrate. The wild Seed will grow too, and perhaps disintegrate some enemies. Nature and humanity will clash.
Trigger warnings will be necessary for this one, of virtually everything you can imagine, although most of the heavy content will be implied rather than blatant.
Except for the gore. There’s always space for gore.
"There’s not one woman or non-binary person I know who hasn’t experienced something hideous at the hands of someone brainwashed by the patriarchy, but I’ve mostly only discovered their stories in quiet, secret conversations."
CBY: You recently had a Twitter thread detailing many, many (but not all!) of your experiences growing up that are tied to sexist culture and patriarchal society. Can I just say, it was overwhelming and heartbreaking for me just as a reader, and I am so, so sorry you’ve been forced to go through this. So many other contributors to this collection have tweeted their own stories. Some similar. Some different. Tell us: how many people do you think share stories similar to these? How many have been hurt by this culture and the people who defend it or do nothing to stop it? And are you at all scared of speaking up because of the negative attention people who do speak up generally attract?
DBR: I appreciate that, thank you, Matt.
Ooft, well, I’d bet the percentage of people who suffer these experiences is significantly larger than those who talk about it, because shame and purity culture go hand-in-hand. They’re equals to the point of being synonymous. There’s such an intense stigma forced onto anyone who shares ‘private matters’—I’m sure you’ve heard of keeping up appearances, and maybe you’ve been told not to air your dirty laundry? Yeah, that—it just becomes the norm to bite your tongue. There’s not one woman or non-binary person I know who hasn’t experienced something hideous at the hands of someone brainwashed by the patriarchy, but I’ve mostly only discovered their stories in quiet, secret conversations.
Honestly, I truly believe that everyone loses in this. Everyone, some way, sometime. The problem is that people turn a blind eye to, or enable, these issues. Inadvertently, they turn a blind eye to themselves as well, and if they can’t see beyond that, there’s very little chance of breaking through. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, because the truth is I’m an optimist, a naïve idealist, but I’m also keyed in to reality. I’m hoping that having the stories told in varied mediums, through varied voices, might break through the din of the patriarchy. Maybe someone just hasn’t heard the story in the way that hits them hardest, and maybe this is our chance. Their chance. For example, I’m sure you’ve experienced misguided adults telling you that strong men don’t cry, or maybe you’ve been shamed for needing help, or something as banal but insidious as that. That kind of thing can grow (like a seed, hah) into rotting perspectives that eat away at you as much as anyone else. But something or someone (maybe you yourself) did the work to teach you there’s a better way, but I don’t doubt you’ve suffered in this culture, too. And if you, a straight white man, can suffer because of it, what of the people treated as lesser? If not even you can win, how badly do the rest of us lose?
With everything I’ve been through, I’m not scared of anybody anymore, and less scared of the consequences of speaking up. The only thing I can possibly do is grow with every interaction, even if I end up harassed for what I say.
Honestly though, even if I were scared, I’m too tired to worry about it.
"And if you, a straight white man, can suffer because of it, what of the people treated as lesser? If not even you can win, how badly do the rest of us lose?"
CBY: Does this patriarchal purity culture still affect your daily life? And would you say it’s been trending better or worse over the years?
DBR: Every day. From men telling me to stop posting goober selfies (you know the ones where I look like the world’s best Jabba the Hut cosplayer) because it’s not pretty, to them groping me in public when I wear dresses, yeah, I experience it every day. Even now, at 35, I have friends and family telling me not to wear, say, or do certain things. Gendered expectations run rampant in my life—I’m very unladylike, you see, and that angers people—but I have it much easier than most because I am, unashamedly, mouthy as hell. I push back, and people often back off when you do. Often, but not always…
As for the trend, I can’t say. Some days, I think maybe we’ve come a long way. But from the safety of Europe, I’m watching my fellow women and non-binary friends fear for their safety, and that of their families. I think, honestly, it’s just…different. Some parts of the world are going backwards, some forwards, and maybe it just recalibrated to something different. All I know is that we’re still dying out here simply for not being cis men. I can’t abide it. Nobody should.
CBY: OK, that was a lot of heaviness very early on in the interview, I’m sorry. Let’s go with something a bit lighter! Who is your team on your comic, "The Children with the Purple Posies," and how did you pair up with them?
DBR: My intensely talented artist is Giulia Lalli, and it was Elyse Russell, our project creator and curator, who put us together. Elyse is also scripting my comic, because I’m a completely nooby comic pleb.
I think I’ve convinced Elyse that I’m easy to work with and very kind, so she paired me with Giulia, a fellow foreigner. Most of our contributors are from/in North America so it’s really lovely to collaborate with someone else who isn’t steeped in American culture. I’m also incredibly pleased with how Giulia illustrated my promo page; she put a ton of detail and communicated with me through her process. I can’t wait to keep working together.
CBY: Now, you’re also the Assistant Editor at Quill and Crow and a friend of Elyse Russell, who’s curating this project. Are you bringing your editorial abilities in an official or unofficial capacity to TDSoP?
DBR: Mind ya business, Yeti.
But yes, yes, I am. I actually had the honor of editing Kristin Cleaveland’s short story for DSoP, In Sorrow and In Silk. I’ve offered my editing services as-needed, but since we had to speed up our timeline so much in the wake of the Roe V Wade leak, I’m not sure if or when I’ll be called upon again. Whatever the case, I’m excited!
CBY: Rho, thank you so much for stopping by the CBY cave. Where can people find you, what other projects are you working on, and how can people back The Dark Side of Purity?
DBR: Just look for ‘moonbornewriter’ and I’m sure your search engine will cough up one of my many lairs. I don’t have manacles in any of them, though. I should probably rectify that.
Most of my projects are directly related to Quill & Crow Publishing House, and the best way to keep up with those is on Twitter, either at my account or Q&C—preferably both. There’s also Starmaker, a short story I wrote based on Greek mythology that Elyse and I (and you, can I tell them that?) are working to turn it into a graphic novel. It’s dark and sexy, and with Dany Rivera illustrating it, well…let’s just say that I have a lot of faith in its potential.
And you can back The Dark Side of Purity on Kickstarter! Even if you can’t pledge, sharing the Kickstarter link or any of our creators’ posts helps our chances of being fully funded and making enough profit to present NARAL Pro-Choice America with a chunky check. Readers, please help however you can!
Thank you for having me, Matt, and thank you for taking such care in your questions. I appreciate it.