“Bingo Love” isn’t the typical love story seen on comic-book store shelves, but then again, creator Tee Franklin, isn’t conventional either.
She’s female, black, disabled, and queer.
“ ‘Bingo Love’ is about two black, queer grannies,” Franklin says, laughing during an interview in Riverside, one of the stops on her book promotional tour. “I wanted to let people know that happily ever after isn’t just for straight people.”
While watching television in her New Jersey home, Franklin was inspired to write “Bingo Love” by a commercial for a heart hospital.
“There were these two little old black ladies sitting on the steps of a brownstone,” she says. “They got up and started sprint walking when a man walked past.”
Franklin recounted how the women in the commercial gazed at him in a flirty sort of way, then looked at each other, and giggled.
“I thought it was cute, but then I thought, What if it was a woman that went past?”
Franklin began to create a backstory for the older women, Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray, which became the jumping-off point for “Bingo Love.”
Hazel and Mari meet as teenagers in 1963, and it was love at first site, but they are kept apart by family and society. Decades later, now both grandmothers, they meet again at a church bingo hall and realize their love for each other is still alive.
Bypassing the gatekeepers
Franklin had worked in the comic book industry for several years as an advocate for marginalized writers and artists. She created the hashtag #BlackComicsMonth in 2015 to make readers more aware of black creators.
As a result, Franklin was well aware of the hurdles and roadblocks that could block her path to publish her romance novella. When she developed the idea in January 2017, she avoided shopping her comic book concept to large publishers, and went the route of a Kickstarter campaign.
“I didn’t want to give (the publishers) a chance to shut me down,” Franklin says. “I needed to prove to them these types of stories exist. By going through the Kickstarter, it was the people who were going to tell me if they wanted this story.”
In February 2017 — a mere month after she began crafting the lives of the black, queer grannies — Franklin started her fundraising campaign and waited.
‘What have I gotten myself into?’
During the first 15 minutes, as her Tweet for the crowdfunding campaign was being shared, and re-shared, and re-shared, nothing happened.
“Those were the longest 15 minutes of my life,” Franklin says. “I began wondering, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ ”
Then, after those initial excruciating moments, her first donation arrived.
“It was only $5, but I was so happy,” Franklin says, laughing.
Then another $5, then $22, and the donations kept coming one after another faster and faster as her campaign was shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media. In less than a week — five days to be exact — Franklin and her fellow artists Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, and Cardinal Rae reached their $19,999 goal, and eventually raised $57,148.
Help from her friends
A short time later, “Bingo Love” was picked up by Image Comics, and in the months that followed, the buzz around Franklin’s novella and a large number of pre-orders led the publishers to order a second printing before “Bingo Love” had even hit the shelves.
Days after it was released, “Bingo Love” sold out on Amazon.com.
One of the most heartbreaking critiques Franklin has received was from a an 11-year-old girl Franklin met during a comic-book signing in her native New Jersey.
The girl told Franklin about “her better half,” another young girl who was in the hospital recovering from a suicide attempt, which took place after she came out to her family.
“She thanked me for the book and said she wanted her friend to read it,” Franklin says, her eyes welling up. “I need her to read this book. They are why I wrote this book.
“I want all of these kids to read this book and know it’s OK to be different,” Franklin says, “and to love who you want to love as long as they are worthy of that love.”