I’m happy to be on the book tour with Hear Our Voices for the graphic novel Always Human by Ari North. I was chosen to do not only a review, but also an interview with the author and a mood board! Thanks for stopping by and checking it out!
For anyone new to Always Human, what is something that the readers might not know about the story?
Hmmmm, book readers might not know that there’s an original Always Human soundtrack you can find on spotify. I’ve composed a background track for almost every chapter 🙂
As someone who identifies as queer, I loved the beautiful sapphic relationship between Sunati and Austen – it just meant so much to me. What was the inspiration behind these characters?
Thank you so much! When I first started developing the idea that eventually became Always Human my plan was to draw a short (20 pages) practice webcomic as a way to develop my visual storytelling skills. I made this decision at around the time that Legend of Korra ended and Ruby and Sapphire were getting a strong focus in Steven Universe and I was absolutely delighted by everything. I really wanted to write about a sapphic couple and heartwarming, fluffy story, where the characters mutually inspired each other, and where any conflict was completely unrelated to the characters’ queer identities.
The artwork is as beautiful and soft as the story. What came first – the story or the artwork?
And thank you again, what a lovely thing to say! I’d say they developed together? When I first drew Sunati and Austen I didn’t know their names, or much about their personalities – only that my main character used bioaugmentation technology, and that she was very nervous about asking out her crush, who did not use this technology. After I drew them both I started to think properly about who they were, and how they grew up, and why they might choose to present in the way I’d drawn them etc. And as I thought about the characters, and tweaked the art, their personalities, and insecurities, and the shape of the story grew.
What has been the biggest difference between releasing Always Human as a webtoon and as a print edition? Was one more nerwracking?
I think the biggest difference is that a webcomic is serialised whereas a print book is not. Always Human the webcomic came out weekly, and I had weekly deadlines, and received weekly feedback from readers. Getting weekly reader feedback was reassuring and helpful, but a new deadline every week can be very stressful! And reading a story a few minutes at a time is a very different experience to reading it all in one go (I personally prefer the latter, which made updating Always Human with new content every week a strange experience, and I’m so happy to see it out in print!)
As for my nerves? Sharing the first chapter publicly, online, was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. There’s something incredibly vulnerable about sharing a story, and Always Human was my first real experience doing this.
In the story most of the characters use an advanced technology mod that can change just about everything about them. If you had the choice would you want to mod yourself out and what would be the first mod you’d apply?
I would try everything! I have no idea what sort of look I’d want to settle on but I’m keen to experiment with both practical mods (no more periods or pimples ever please and thank you) and fanciful mods (a prehensile tail would be so much fun!) and see what suits me best.
In terms of looks, I think I’d start with glittery, floor-length hair. My hair’s curly enough that I’ve never been able to grow it past my shoulder blades, and I tend to keep it shorter because it’s easier to manage. As a child I used to dream of long, flowing princess hair, and I’m still keen to see what it’s like 🙂
(I imagine it would actually be heavy and frustrating, and quite quickly I’d revert back to normal, but I’d still love to try it out!)
Do you think this story could ever be adapted to film? I think it would be a perfect Studio Ghibli type movie!
That would be a delightful dream come true. I doubt it will ever happen, but seeing the characters and the setting animated, with voices and music, would be too incredible for words!
Last and most important question! It says you are originally from Australia – what is your favorite Aussie animal?
Pademelons! They look like kangaroos, but they’re cat sized, and they’re super adorable. Also, ‘pademelon’ is a particularly charming word to say, it rolls off the tongue like a Dr. Seuss story.
I was pretty excited to see the description for this graphic novel because it promised lots of queer representation and on-top of that, pansexual representation. As someone who identifies as pansexual, I’m always looking for stories with positive rep in them and am so happy that we are seeing more and more all the time now.
Always Human is a very soft and sweet graphic novel. There is no giant adventure or plot, it’s just a nice slice-of-life story. It takes place in a futuristic Australia and now just about everyone can make modifications to themselves. This includes instantly changing your hair style, face, clothes, etc. It’s honestly cool as hell and I’d be modding myself out all the time. Our two main characters, Suntai and Austen, meet by happenstance and are complete opposites and start up the cutest little sapphic romance ever.
Suntai is drawn to Austen, at first by her cute looks and then completely fascinated when she realizes that Austen doesn’t use mods. It turns out that Austen can not use mods because of a disability, which Suntai finds incredibly brave and inspiring and makes her like Austen all the more. As someone who lives with chronic illness, I thought the author did a wonderful job handling the fact that Austen didn’t want to be called brave and didn’t want to feel like someone was interested in her because she was “different.” Lots of people don’t realize how they might make a person with a disability feel by constantly telling them they are so brave for just existing basically and the reactions and actions of both characters felt very authentic and thoughtful to me.
I really did love Suntai’s and Austen’s romance, it wasn’t perfect but was very lovely and just nice to read. It would be a perfect, safe book to read if I were feeling a little down and needed a good, queer, pick-me-up. I know most people love Suntai more because she is the sweeter and more calm of the two and that is very endearing but I honestly can’t relate to her at all. I have to say that I relate way more to the hot mess of emotions that is Austen. No, she is not always nice or rational or logical but I feel that on so many levels, so she is my girl .
I would highly recommend this graphic novel to anyone that loves a sweet, slice-of-life story with so much amazing POC, disability and LGBT+ representation all the way through it. If you aren’t a fan of sci-fi, no worries. This is sci-fi light, meaning it’s mostly just the setting, there isn’t any crazy concepts or whatnot. Just a sweet saphhic story.
-ABOUT THE BOOK –
Genre: YA Sci-Fi/LGBT+
Publisher: Little Bee Books
Published: June 2nd 2020
First serialized on the popular app and website WebToon, Always Human ran from 2015-2017 and amassed over 76,000 unique subscribers during its run. Now reformatted for a print edition in sponsorship with GLAAD, Always Human is a beautifully drawn graphic novel about a developing relationship between two young women in a near-future, soft sci-fi setting. Always Human is drawn in a manga-influenced style and with an incredible color palette that leaps off the page!
In the near-future, people use technology to give the illusion of all kinds of body modifications—but some people have “Egan’s Syndrome,” a highly sensitive immune system that rejects these “mods” and are unable to use them. Those who are affected maintain a “natural” appearance, reliant on cosmetics and hair dye at most to help them play with their looks.
Sunati is attracted to Austen the first time she sees her and is drawn to what she assumes is Austen’s bravery and confidence to live life unmodded. When Sunati learns the truth, she’s still attracted to Austen and asks her on a date. Gradually, their relationship unfolds as they deal with friends, family, and the emotional conflicts that come with every romance. Together, they will learn and grow in a story that reminds us no matter how technology evolves, we will remain . . . always human.
Rendered in beautiful detail and an extraordinary color palette, Always Human is a sweet love story told in a gentle sci-fi setting by a queer woman cartoonist, Ari North.
-ABOUT THE AUTHOR-
Ari North is a queer cartoonist who believes an entertaining story should also be full of diversity and inclusion. As a writer, an artist, and a musician, she wrote, drew, and composed the music for Always Human, a complete romance/sci-fi webcomic about two queer girls navigating maturity and finding happiness. She’s currently working on a second webcomic, Aerial Magic, which is about the everyday lives of the witches who work at a broomstick repair shop. She lives in Australia with her husband.