It was a little over a year ago that queer writer and illustrator Tim Manley (pictured) launched his Tumblr-page Fairy Tales for 20-Somethings. The page quickly went viral and now he’s just released his first book, Alice in Tumblr-land, with Penguin Books. Manley wrote and illustrated the entire thing. He chatted with Queerty about why he decided to reimagine fairy tales.
Your book was released earlier this week.
It feels very surreal, to tell you the truth. It’s very strange. I passed by Shakespeare & Company, a bookstore here in New York, and the book was in the window. It’s very strange to see it out in the wild. It’s obviously very exciting. But it’s definitely weird.
Where did you get the inspiration for the book?
I started the Tumblr page in August of 2012. In November of 2012, I got an agent because of the Tumblr, because it had gone viral. Then in early February of this year we sold the book. And now it’s out. So it was unbelievably fast.
Basically you’ve reinvented a number of classic fairy tales for a modern audience.
I’m 28 now. When I started the Tumblr, I was 26 and I was trying to make sense of my life and the lives of people around me. And it just felt natural to return to fairy tales because fairy tales were such a large part of how I made sense of the world as a kid.
One thing that I like about rewriting the fairy tales as I do is that they can be both satirical and poke fun at the way a lot of people live their lives, but they can also still be really sweet. And I like that balance. Because somewhere the combination of those two things is what’s true.
Three of the characters in the book are gay: Rapunzel, King Arthur and Mulan.
Yeah. Mulan is actually transgender. She transitions to male by the end of the book.
Where was the inspiration for having those characters be LGBT?
The first one I wrote was Rapunzel. Her story was initially that she just she cuts her hair off. And then I was thinking of what might happen to her. And it just made sense that probably she would end up getting hit on by girls. And in my imagination she’d be like: “Okay, why not?”
She’s been stuck in a tower all her life. She wants to experiment.
[Laughs.] Yeah. Why not? Live it up! You don’t know until you try it.
I do think those three characters appear in my head as gay or LGBT because that’s a large number of the relationships I know in my life. It just made sense.
I agree. Especially with regards to Mulan. As I was reading the book, something clicked and I thought: “Of course Mulan is transgender. It’s all there in her original story.”
Right. I’m so glad to hear that because that’s exactly how it felt. That’s how it made sense to me. Somewhat similarly is King Arthur. In the old stories, he has that legendary love triangle between him, Lancelot, and Guinevere. And it’s usually that the two guys fall for Guinevere. But him falling for Lancelot just felt more true to my experience of life.
Which of the characters do you relate to most?
Hmmm… The silly answer is Peter Pan. I feel like my version of Peter Pan is that he’s kind of dumb. My serious answer is Cinderella. Although it might be Arthur, too.
I feel closest with Cinderella because I feel like she is trying very hard to believe in something, and I’ve tried my best to give her a realistic way for her dreams to come true and for things to work out for her.
You identify as bi, or sometimes queer. How does your sexual identity affect your writing?
I can’t help but write from my own experience. And so in this book many of the themes, including those about sexuality, come from my experience. I can’t help but see gender and sexuality in a nuanced way. I don’t see things as black and white. And maybe that’s because I consider myself bi or queer.
What I appreciate most about the book is that the parts about sexuality are, like you say, nuanced.
Yeah. It’s not really a “gay” book. But it’s inevitably in there.
Which is such a great reflection of where we are as a society. We’re at a point where being gay is becoming part of the fabric of who we are as a culture, and I think that’s how you represent it in the book. There are gay characters and gay story lines that exist among the rest of the fairytale world. It feels very natural and true.
I’m glad you say that because that is how it feels to me. My queerness is both a defining part of who I am and also not really at all. It’s a little bit of both.
I think that’s probably true for most LGBT people.
Right. Exactly. It makes sense.
So where can people go to learn more about you?
They can go to timmanleytimmanley.tumblr.com.
Timmanleytimmanley.tumblr.com? That’s a bit of a mouthful.
[Laughs.] It’s my name twice because timmanley.tumblr was already taken.