We asked, and he answered. Chad Sell colors with every crayon in the box.
The world of Drag fandom is a nouveau-beast all its own. There seems to be something beyond just a competition show (RuPaul’s Drag Race) that draws us into this world of illusion and over-the-top personas. Perhaps the fantasy of being the world’s best performer or prancing in the world’s best pageant leaves us mesmerized.
Ditching capes for wigs (although we love a good cape) has become an act of self-defiance and cultural vigilantism. Not unlike the caped crusaders of Marvel and DC, drag has become the outright fantasy for all those queens who identified more with Selina Kyle than Bruce Wayne.
Over the years, Chicago illustrator Chad Sell has been freeze framing some of the most memorable drag moments in comic form, bringing to light the multitude of characters of the modern-day superhero.
Chad, a graphic novelist turned drag illustrator, took a moment to chat with Drag Star Diva about how his Comic Queens became widely popular, his equally popular coloring book pages, and a new graphic novel for kids set to spark more imagination for generations to come.
Drag Star Diva: How long have you been illustrating?
Chad Sell: I have been doing art since I was kid, really. I started doing Drag Race back in Season 3 (2012). After I did that season, I went back and did Season 1 and Season 2, and now I’ve done them all.
DSD: What exactly drew your attention to drag – that you found fascinating enough to illustrate?
CS: Prior to my Drag Race work, I had always been a huge comic book nerd, and there is something about drag queens and the over-the-top costumes and proportions and use of colors and that is so reminiscent of superhero costumes.
DSD: What kind of drag excites you?
CS: The ones who use big, bold colors and shapes, geometric patterns – the queens who have a lot of fun with their looks. Basically, someone who already is a walking cartoon [laughs].
DSD: Who have been some of your favorite queens?
CS: That is such a hard question. There are some queens who I have more of a personal connection through Chicago and there are some queens who visually catch my imagination. Being based in Chicago, I knew Kim Chi and Shea Coulee before they were on the show and adore them both, and I was such a huge fan them. I also knew Sasha Velour who I met in the comic book scene at a comic convention a few years ago. I actually went with her to a drag show, so seeing her and Shea becoming good friends on the show was completely mind blowing and exciting.
DSD: Sasha Velour is perhaps one the most memorable. I think she surpassed everyone there in the end.
CS: I totally agree. My guess is that their Balls (Ballroom) runway mini challenge was going in that direction of embracing the idea of live entertainment. I’m hoping that this season producers will see that there’s a lot of magic in live performances.
DSD: You have already started to dish on the current queens. How long does it take you to draw them out?
CS: I take screen shots as I’m watching at home, and I start drawing right after that show airs. Then I usually try to post them the next day as I’ve finished them. Lately it’s been for episode three and episode four, and I usually post around noon or by end of the day.
DSD: You clearly have to work really quickly then.
CS: It’s fun, but there’s goods and bad in having to be quick. But I think one of the really cool things about illustrating iconic moments of the show is that we as fans have such an emotional reaction to those high points of the show. Just a day after, by illustrating them and posting, I’m trying to capture that emotional intensity that people are still feeling.
DSD: Your coloring book pages online are so fun. Would you consider publishing a coloring book along with everything else?
CS: I have considered it but I’ve already been selling postcards, posters and book collections of each season. I’m handling more inventory than I would like to be at the moment [laughs]. But I really like the coloring book pages – something free that people can download and print as home and do whatever image they want. So it’s just a fun thing that I love to put out there and enjoy when people share them with me. My husband is very accommodating with the space the inventory takes up [laughs].
DSD: What does your husband think of everything?
CS: Its really funny because he really doesn’t watch the show (RPDR). When he comes home and I’m watching that week’s episode he’ll watch it with me, but prior to meeting me, he hadn’t even heard of the show. He thinks it’s really fun and he comes with me to special events that I do like DragCon. He actually has learned how to identify which queen is which with my art [laughs], because people will ask if I have any Alyssa Edwards or whomever, and he’s learned how to find Alyssa even though he might not know much about her.
DSD: Aside from the queens, you have a special project coming up called The Cardboard Kingdom. Tell me about it.
CS: Cardboard Kingdom will be an all-ages [book] coming out on June 5th from Knopf Random House children’s books. I made it with 10 collaborators who contributed to the story and characters and it’s all about a bunch of kids who use their imagination and creativity to form themselves into fantastical alter egos like glamour’s sorceress or the giant robot. The kids live in the same neighborhood and all play together. I think it’s such a wonderful collection of stories and there is even a beautiful boy-on-boy crush that plays out in the book.
DSD: Was publishing something you always looked ahead towards with illustrating?
CS: My singular goal was to be a graphic novelist, and I struggled for years and years. I did some self-published stuff, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t getting much attention at all. But then I started doing the Drag Race art like a fun fan art thing and then it blew up and became what I got known for. And all that time, basically my Drag Race illustrations sort of became my day job, and those illustrations allowed me to have some flexibility to devote to my graphic novel projects. I mean, I have been working on Cardboard Kingdom since 2015. The publishing process takes some time, so I’m very excited for it to come out.
DSD: Will you and the collaborators be doing a book tour?
CS: I will defiantly be doing some events in Chicago, and we are talking about doing other events, but because I’m a first-time author I don’t think anyone would show up [laughs].
DSD: Considering your following, we think you would have quite the audience.
CS: Honestly, I don’t know what kind of crossover there will be between the folks who like my queens and those who like my comics. There seems to be a colorful imaginative queer commonality between both, so I’ll continue doing both.
DSD: So, DragCon. Will you be there?
Check out all of the fabulousness on Chad’s Instagram and get your engines running all the way to DragCon LA in the artist alley where you can purchase all of his insanely amazing comics and queens. If you can’t make DragCon, Chad’s Etsy Shop is always open.