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Tuesday, January 22 Living

Being a cartoonist helps Mady G. explain what it means to be transgender

A young artist from Weston, who goes by the name Mady G., works in a kaleidoscope of comic styles and often deploys them to teach a kind of sex ed.

Just after Thanksgiving, Mady G. was teamed with Jill Soloway, creator of the television series “Transparent,” to do an animated video on why some transgender people use the pronoun “they” when referring to themselves as individuals.

Both Mady G. and Soloway have adopted the singular “they” to signal their own gender viewpoint. Their three-minute video ran in the December issue of Topic, a new digital magazine, called “Checking the Third Box.” It was inspired by the trend among states and cities to add a third gender option to the male and female boxes traditionally provided on birth certificates and drivers licenses.

Soloway, the writer and narrator, delivers a serious message about how the third box, or x box, can be a liberating and safe space for people who consider themselves neither male nor female.

But Mady G., who gets direction as well as animation credit, gives the message a playful, colorful treatment. Watched with the sound off, “Checking the Third Box” could be an instructional cartoon for pre-school voters. Some of the simply drawn authority figures look like upright fish.

“I was very flattered,” says Mady G. of the chance to work with Soloway. “I was assigned as transgender artist to work with another transgender person.”

Mady G. is just 25 and graduated from the Pratt Institute only in 2015. As a freelance cartoonist and illustrator, Mady G.’s resume lists two pronoun choices: they/them or he/him. Like Soloway, Mady has slowly moved away from the female identity he was born with.

“I feel more masculine at center, but I don’t feel like a man. I feel like I’m me,” he says. “My goal is not to present as a cis-gender (straight) man. My goal is to exist in the middle as myself and work through the world that way rather than, I guess, taking the easy way out and just picking another binary gender and being unhappy in a different way.”

Mady’s ongoing and open-ended transition informs much of his work. His video with Soloway was rewarding but minor compared to a book due out in April. Already listed on Amazon, it bears the self-explanatory title “A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities.”

Done in the style of a graphic novel, Mady says he did the more strictly educational sections of the 100-page book, while co-author J.R. Zuckerberg did sections that employ smurf-like characters to demonstrate its lessons. The cover art is a bright and innocent garden scene peopled by bug-eyed snails.

Mady also is a regular contributor to The Nib, an illustrated digital magazine devoted to social and political issues. Its contributors work in many styles (Tom Tomorrow is one familiar name). Some pieces appear as single panels, like traditional editorial cartoons, but others are multi-panel, reading from top to bottom. One 16-panel piece Mady did recently lampoons the gender policing of public restrooms. Instead of a Robocop, Mady has a Bathroombot enforcer that goes haywire.

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One style Mady avoids is the anatomical inflation seen in super-hero comics. He does, however, make art for gallery display. Last year he was in an important group show at Gallery 1988, a Los Angeles venue with a movie star following that focuses on pop culture. Mady’s psychedelic piece, “Phantom of the Paradise,” was a homage to a 1974 Brian De Palma movie with the same title. Now a cult favorite, it preceded the similar “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Mady’s work tends to appear in new venues, physical ones like Gallery 1988, or digital ones like “Topic” and “The Nib.” Both are organs of First Look Media, itself the creation of tech billionaire and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar.

Another highlight of Mady’s young career was doing an entire issue (No. 28) in the “Invader Zim” comic book series. Never heard of Invader Zim? He came from the planet Irk to conquer Earth and appeared originally in a short-lived animated series on Nickolodeon.

Mady was a big fan of the show. He laughs that it was deemed too scary for kids. It was an inspiration as were films by David Cronenberg and John Carpenter. So was the Beatles “Yellow Submarine” and Japanese comic art. He took Japanese in high school at the Center for Global Studies in Norwalk and spent one semester in Japan.

“I like cute stuff. I like scary stuff. I like psychedelic stuff. I like surreal stuff,” he says, “anything that has to do with unreality.”

He says his mother, Weston artist Leslie Giuliani, was also a “humongous” influence. Not so much because of her art, which is a form of mixed media collage, but because she introduced him to abstract art and surreal art. He says, however, that his very first tattoo was of a cartoon figure called a Bunyip his mother uses in her work.

Stories about the sufferings of transgender people have become so current that Mady’s own may be the least surprising thing about him. In elementary and middle school in Weston, he says he felt bullied, often by teachers. He was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He had a heightened sense of smell and balance so poor he had to sit in a special chair. He thinks his classmates probably viewed him as a “schlubby, weird girl,” if only because he wore unfashionable clothing.

Things got worse in high school, when he says he “presented very femininely because it was expected of me.” He wasn’t a man trapped in a woman’s body, he was somebody in between.

“I always identified myself as myself,” he says. “It’s weird I never felt like gender applied to me, which I guess is the whole non-binary thing.” His discovery of a third way was gradual, often from personal stories posted on social media. “It was like, Oh my God. This is it. This is who I am.”

Mady now lives in Kingston, N.Y., with a partner, a writer who he describes as a binary Cis-gender man. They’ve been together five years and are engaged. Mady made their dating experiences the subject of one of his comic columns for The Nib. It includes likenesses of both.

Mady has drawn a variety of self-portraits, which are a record of how he sees himself. Asked which he prefers, he says, “The more recent the better. I’m not quite out of the oven yet, so to speak.”

Joel Lang is a frequent contributor to Sunday Arts & Style.

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