High school can be an awkward time. Everything is changing: your friends, your teachers, your problems and even your relationship with your parents. Add to that a magical world underneath your school’s theatre where a group of stage crew members might have gone missing in 1987, and you’ve got the premise to James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh’s new comic series The Backstagers.
The Backstagers follows Jory, who has just started at St. Genesius, an all-boys high school. After an unpleasant interaction with the lead actors of the school musical, Jory wanders backstage where he meets underclassmen stage technicians Hunter, Beckett, Sasha and Aziz. Jory soon realizes that where he truly wants to be is behind the scenes with his newfound friends.
Much like Jory, Tynion, who serves as Backstagers’ writer, fell in love with technical theatre after not being cast in his high school musical as a freshman. He says that he has always wanted to center a comic book around his experiences with his high school tech crew.
“It always felt kind of magical down in those secret corridors under my high school,” he explains. “You’d go down, and there’d be doors that would open up into strange storage rooms that hadn’t been used in 20 years. It was just a secret magical world down there, and it was the first place I really felt at home—when I really felt like myself—so it felt like the perfect ground to build something [off of].”
Beyond creating a series for high school stage crews, present and past, both Tynion and transgender illustrator Sygh agreed that it was time for an all-ages comic series that prominently featured queer male youth. Both are members of the LGBTQ community (Sygh identifies as non-binary or androgynous, and Tynion is openly bisexual) and grew up feeling as though they were not represented in the comics they were reading.
“Both Rian and I are queer guys who have not seen a lot of ourselves in fiction, so this really means the world,” says Tynion. “I’d be reading these superhero comics, and [there would be] little moments where a supporting character might make a homophobic joke or something, and in that moment it proved that gay people existed in the same universe as the superheroes. I latched onto those moments because, even though I didn’t like those characters, it proved that somewhere behind the curtain there were queer characters. There’s been a wonderful ground-swelling of queer content both in the mainstream titles and in independent titles like this one [in recent years], but there still wasn’t an all-ages book that really showed me all the different types of queerness in young male characters.”
Tynion says The Backstagers will be upfront about its characters’ sexualities. “It’s not going to be a secret connect-the-dots for people to figure out at home,” he says. “We want people to know that they aren’t reading into something when they see themselves [in the characters]. There’s bisexuality, homosexuality, transgender kids… We want the full spectrum of queerness in this book, including in the female characters that will come from the all-girls school that we’ll be getting to in a few issues.”
However, the “Backstagers” will not be experiencing any sort of homophobia. “The point of the book isn’t about overcoming homophobia or anything,” explains Tynion. “[It’s about how] the backstage is magical and mysterious. They’re going to go on an adventure behind the scenes.”
Over the course of the series the underclassmen members of the tech crew will be led through the magical world underneath their high school’s theatre by Jamie and Timothy, two senior stage managers. They’ll flirt, have relationships, flee from giant spiders with enticing voices and search for a group of technicians who went missing almost 30 years ago, all while facing the trials and tribulations typical to the high-school experience.
“The biggest thing that we want to explore is the mysterious nature of this backstage world. It goes off of the truism that there’s magic to the theatre,” says Tynion. “When you sit in [a theatre and] you’re able to disconnect from reality it’s a kind of magical experience…the way that two chairs can sit on a stage and the audience will build a room around them. It’s a kind of magic, and the backstage is where the raw magic sits. I’m really excited for people to see all of that unfold as we move forward.”
Issues #1 and #2 of The Backstagers are available now by clicking here.
Joe Gambino is a writer, designer, performer, and Hamilton lottery loser who lives in New York. Follow him on Twitter @_joegambino_.