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Queering the Panel: How an Ohio Creative is Changing the World Through Her Comics

by Dakotah Kennedy, The Buckeye Flame

Split image: A person with light blond short hair smiles in a black button down shirt kneeling in front of a white background. On the other side, the cover of the book "Flung Out of Space."
Photo Credit: Grace Ellis & Hannah Templer / Courtesy The Buckeye Flame

Famed Columbus-based author Grace Ellis won an über-prestigious comics award for her work ‘Flung Out of Space’

This story was originally published in The Buckeye Flame, an online platform dedicated to amplifying the voices of LGBTQ+ Ohioans to support community and civic empowerment through the creation of engaging content that chronicles their triumphs, struggles, and lived experiences.

As a young queer girl growing up in Sandusky, Grace Ellis found herself devouring the comic strips in her local newspaper, The Sandusky Register.

Despite growing up reading comics, she never thought of comics as something she could actually do as a career. 

“When you read a comic, it’s just you consuming the story by yourself. It’s very, very personal,” said Ellis, who is now a multi-award winning author based in Columbus.

Ellis attended Ohio State University where she pursued both journalism and theater respectively. While comics weren’t initially on Ellis’ radar, her connections through the queer women-led publication, Autostraddle, opened an unexpected door for her to try her hand at writing comics.

Ten years later, Ellis’ is finding new ways to bring stories about complicated– and queer– women to the forefront. Her latest comic book, Flung Out of Space: Inspired by the Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmithwon the 2023 Eisner Award for Best Reality Based Work

Flung Out of Space also marks Ellis’ first foray into historical fiction. Highsmith— who checked Ellis’ boxes as both queer and complex character—is best known for writing The Price of Salt (also known as Carol, which earned a movie adaptation starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in 2015). 

Although her work is highly regarded in the lesbian canon, Highsmith often rejected her own queerness.

“Patricia Highsmith was a very complicated person, not a good one, but an interesting character.”

The Buckeye Flame caught up with Ellis to talk about her adventure into comics, her recent Eisner win and whether or not Peppermint Patty counts as queer representation.

Click play directly below to listen or read our conversation underneath.

As I understand it, you currently live in Columbus, but you’re actually also from Ohio? 

Yes, I currently live in Columbus. It’s the classic thing– where I went to Ohio State– but I’m from another part of Ohio. I’m originally from Sandusky, right on the water. 

Cedar Point Territory.

Oh, pure Cedar Point. That is your summer. Everyone’s got a pass and it’s a very charmed place to live in the summer.

I can only imagine. How did your journey in comics start? 

Oh man, okay, The Sandusky Register had a really robust comic section when I was a kid. I read a lot of daily and Sunday strips, but I never really thought of it as a thing you could do.

I went to school at Ohio State for theater and journalism, which was a tough sell because it was hard for people to wrap their heads around that combination. But really, journalism is about collecting information and theater is about presenting information in an interesting way, you know? 

I was writing a lot of different things and I was working for a website called Autostraddle– which is for queer women. I had made a bunch of friends through Autostraddle and one of them was a woman named Shannon Watters

It turned out that she was a comics editor at BOOM! Studios and she was starting a new imprint called BOOM! Box that needed content. So, Shannon asked me if I would be interested in trying my hand at writing comics and I said sure because it seemed like a good side project.

And here we are– 10 years later– still doing comics but full-time and I love it. 

You talked a little bit about how you got into comics and I really want to hear about representation in comics and specifically queer representation in comics. Because for me, growing up, I always thought that comic book writers seemed to be men and so many of the comic book heroes and main characters that I knew about that were mainstream were all men. Did that ever get in your head at all? At what point did you really see yourself in comics or decide that this was something you could really lend yourself to?

I really like the framing of this question. When I was growing up– I am in my early 30s now– comics for kids weren’t really a thing in the same way. So for me, my interaction with comics as a kid was daily strips. 

There was a great comic called Cleats that I was really into because I was a girl who played soccer and it had girls who played soccer in it and I was like– that’s me! Even the main girl on that strip had a really long blonde ponytail and so did I, so that was me 100%! Also, and this is terrible, but Peppermint Patty is representation in a way. It’s not, it doesn’t count, but you know you kinda see yourself a little bit in that. 

A three-panel comic strip features a coach speaking to a soccer team sitting on the ground. "Okay, let's try this scare chant: 'We don't play with Barbie Dolls, we just kick the soccer balls and we don't wear a miniskirt, we will stomp you in the --" one player interject, "Abby! Abby!" On the next panel the couch says "What!" and the player "I like to play with Barbie Dolls." On the next panel a chorus of text bubbles "Me too!" "Me too!" "Me too. I've got the whole Malibu Trophy doll collection!" One player sitting close to the couch looks up and says "Okay, we've skipped over scary to total gross-out."
Photo Credit: Grace Ellis / Courtesy The Buckeye Flame
Cleats by Bill Hinds

But the broader question is about comics creators, I never felt deterred by it. It never even really occurred to me to feel deterred by it. I think because my introduction to working in comics was with Shannon, who is a woman. I mean, the Lumberjanes team is not exclusively made up of women, I should say, but the people structurally– as far as I know– all women. I felt very, very welcomed and empowered to tell whatever kind of story I wanted to tell. 

Like the representation part of it was very secondary to just wanting to do an interesting story about interesting people. I am a lesbian, now there are lesbians in this book. It just flowed naturally from that. 

“I felt very, very welcomed and empowered to tell whatever kind of story I wanted to tell.”


That’s so special. I love that so much. I want to go back to something you were saying a moment ago about how comics for kids have changed since we were growing up. As someone who really likes comics and cartoons, I’m constantly hearing from folks that these mediums are only really for kids. What would you say to those people to maybe convince them otherwise?

It is like the question though. Comics have always been viewed as this lowbrow thing. There are five or six graphic novels that have kind of broken through into the mainstream. They’re the ones they teach in colleges: MausFun Home, stuff like that, those are like the vaunted graphic novels. I usually describe it as like, you wouldn’t say that you just don’t like movies, you know, because you understand that there are many kinds of movies. 

When you read a comic, it’s just you consuming a story by yourself. So, it’s very, very personal. You can go through it at your own speed. There are certain writing techniques you can use to control that speed, but if you wanna spend 10 minutes looking at a particularly beautiful two page spread– you can absolutely do that.

So comics are a really exciting medium especially for character driven stuff. Action as well, of course, who doesn’t wanna see somebody punch an alien or whatever? But the character driven stuff is the stuff that interests me the most. 

Comic book cover features a drawn person with chin-length hair smoking and looking intensely out of a large window onto a gloomy cityscape while a brown-and-white cat gazes up at them. Plumes of smoke surround the pair and become shapes: a train, a hand holding a gun, a snail.
Photo Credit: Grace Ellis & Hannah Templer / Courtesy The Buckeye Flame
“Flung Out of Space” cover

Speaking of, I feel like this is a great moment to transition into talking about your latest work, Flung Out of Space, which recently won an Eisner Award. Can you describe that work and tell us a little bit about how it came to be?

Oh man. Okay. So, the full title of the book is Flung Out of Space: Inspired by the Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmith. There’s a long story behind why it has a subtitle like that.

Patricia Highsmith was a suspense writer, notable for her work in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. I guess the shortest version of this is that she ended up writing this beautiful, very notorious, one of the most famous lesbian romance novels of all time, The Price of Salt (also known as Carol, which was turned into the movie Carol, starring Cate Blanchet and Rooney Mara in 2015).

But before all of that, Patricia Highsmith was a comics writer, and she was so embarrassed by it that she burned all the evidence that she ever wrote comics– literally burned it. Simultaneously, she was a lesbian, but she hated the fact that she was a lesbian because of all of the culture at the time. So she signed herself up for conversion therapy, which is really sad.

Flung Out of Space is the story of how those two things came together to create this beautiful romance story. She was a very complicated person, not a good one, but an interesting character.

Was this story one that you had been ruminating on or did someone approach you with it?

Okay, so the full backstory is that I saw this play called Indecent. It’s a beautiful play about the first lesbian kiss on Broadway. Highly recommend. I was so moved by it that for a second I was like, “Oh, I should adapt this into a comic book.” But the fact that it’s a play is what makes it so good because it’s the story of theater history and you’re watching it in a theater. There’s just like a cohesion in those ideas that makes a lot of sense.

So I was thinking to myself, “Is there a comics version of that where there’s like this part of comics history that we haven’t really gotten into?” And I remembered reading that Patricia Highsmith, who is an author that I already loved, had written comics. I went to her little Wikipedia, and there’s one line about it, and I was like, well, that’s not really sufficient.

I picked up the big biography that’s like 700 pages by Joan Schenkar, who is awesome. It’s a really uniquely written book rich in character details. As I’m reading these chapters on her comics history, my face is just like– oh my God, I have to do this.

One of the people that I had told that story to was Mariko Tamaki, who is another comics writer and she is literally a genius. I mean, it’s unreal the books that she’s written. If you’re looking for a good starting point in character driven comics, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is a really good entry.

I was at a convention and I was telling her the story of Patricia Highsmith writing comics and her face was really odd. And I was like, “Okay, if you’re not interested in hearing this story, I will just stop. It’s not that big a deal,” and she was like, “No, I am very interested in this story.”

It turned out she was starting an imprint called Surely Books that she was just getting started so I would have to wait a few years. But I really wanted to work with Mariko, so I would wait a decade if I had to. And it was really worth it. I don’t think this book would’ve been what it was if I had gone somewhere else.

So, that’s the full back story of where this really, really strange Patricia Highsmith book came from is just being willing to tell this story to everyone in the entire world.

“When you read a comic, it’s just you consuming a story by yourself. So, it’s very, very personal. You can go through it at your own speed.”


I love stories like that. All the tiny little moments that just build to this thing. 

This is why when people ask, “How are comics made in general?” The answer is, “I don’t really know, you just start down as many paths as possible and eventually you land at a book.”

Was this your first time doing nonfiction or had you always thought about doing nonfiction? 

Okay, so a little more backstory. Joan Schenkar, who wrote the big thick biography, was supposed to write the afterward for this book, but she unfortunately died in the middle of writing the afterward. It was really devastating. But she is the one who insisted on that subtitle because she didn’t want people to think that it was pure nonfiction. It’s a creative nonfiction, it’s like fiction that’s based on a true story. 

I’m not the kind of person who set out to write historical fiction and I only write historical fiction. Honestly, I just want to write interesting stories about interesting people. I am especially attracted to stories about very fallible women, I think what I am really interested in is women who are beyond imperfect and are actually quite difficult. That’s what I’m really interested in digging into.

What are you working on next, if I can ask?

I have a book coming out in October. It’s a young Wonder Woman book where she’s on the island with the Amazons and it’s called, Diana and the Hero’s Journey

The other big project I have going on right now is this play called, Explicit Content for Teens, about censorship. If you know of any high schools that wanna do a play, this is designed for high schools and it’s a lot of fun.

I know that there are some events coming up in the fall around comics. Do you have anything you’re looking forward to attending? 

Because I live in Columbus, my home show is Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC). It’s just like such a good show, it’s crazy. And I say that as someone who’s been to many, many comic shows, CXC is top tier. And it’s free to go to, which is also top tier. So no excuse– you should definitely check out CXC if you’re in the Central Ohio Area. 

I am not in the central Ohio area, and I plan on trekking myself down there!

It’s really fun. It’s gonna be a great show.

Learn more about Grace Ellis by visiting her website and giving her a follow on Instagram and Twitter.