In this portrait for NPR’s Latino USA, acclaimed author, activist, and artist Gabby Rivera explores the importance of representation in the arts, dealing with hate, and her remarkable work and career.
“I must remember, it's not mainstream culture that I'm a part of. I'm part of these little pockets of good people everywhere, doing their best to just love themselves, and each other.”
— Gabby Rivera
Rivera’s first novel, Juliet Takes a Breath, is an unconventional coming-of-age—and coming out—story, based on her personal experience. Called the “dopest LGBTQA YA book ever” by Latina magazine, the novel captured not only critical acclaim and international attention, but also the imagination of Marvel Comics. By 2017, Rivera was writing America, Marvel’s first comic series with a queer Latina superhero—but underrepresentation of marginalized groups was still the industry norm. And as America exploded onto the scene, Rivera found herself targeted in a campaign of mass online harassment of those involved with the comic book industry's efforts to include more creators and characters of diverse backgrounds. With great success can come great backlash, and for a time Rivera thought she wouldn’t be able to keep creating comics. Fortunately, love and strength will always conquer hate and fear, and Rivera rose above the attacks—thanks in part to the comics community itself.
“What really saved me, and what really turned all of this into big love, was when I went to individual comic book shops and did signings,” she says to NPR’s Maria Hinojosa. “It was there, and in colleges also across the country, where I met really good, good human beings, who loved America Chavez, who loved that there were women and queer people and brown people in the comics. And yes, a lot of them look like me, and you know what? A lot of them look like a regular-ass white dude at the mall, coming up to me and being like, ‘I loved America, it was so nice, it was so refreshing.’”
And now, Rivera has her first original comic series, b.b. free, which debuted this month. “What's fun about b.b. free, is that it actually comes from a short story that I wrote,” she told NPR. “I wrote about…[a] plague of imbalance put out into the world by Mother Nature that eats greed, and ends up kind of killing everyone who is essentially greedy. It starts with the one percent and then kind of trickles its way down. So, what is that world? And so we plop a beautiful, chubby little fifteen-year-old Puerto-Rican girl from the Florida Swamps [there]. And she's b.b. free, and she wants to go on an adventure, she wants to go on a road trip.”
NPR’s interfiew closes with a discussion of Rivera’s upcoming podcast, Gabby Rivera's Joy Revolution. Hitting airwaves in 2020, it will feature interviews with revolutionary QTPOC humans and allies, and explore how they find, maintain, and nurture their joy in this chaotic world. So what brings Rivera joy?, Hinojosa asks. “Number one, this is a joy that is rooted in acknowledging pain and suffering and the reality of the world around us. I don't take it for granted that ten years ago, I didn't think I was gonna live. I was having panic attacks, I had no money, I had no future…So here now, ten years later, that I am a thriving, supported artist and writer making my way in the world, that is my joy. And I love myself. And I love myself enough to be like, I don’t need to give people who don’t love me, my energy. It’s all good. I’d rather be here talking to you, you know?”
You can listen to NPR’s Portrait Of: Gabby Rivera here.