Book launch

‘I never broke up with Halifax’: transgender cartoonist Labelle returns for book launch

Cartoonist and author back in Nova Scotia after threats derailed last year’s visit

As part of her Canadian book tour, Sophie Labelle stopped at Halifax’s Venus Envy.   Avi Jacob

Sophie Labelle began her event at Venus Envy on Thursday night with a few jokes about the way the media has covered her over the last week.

“The journalists got really into my story, so much so that they seem to have come up with this really romantic story,” she said with a dramatic swooning gesture. “But I never broke up with Halifax.”

Labelle is a cartoonist and author from Montreal. Last May, she was supposed to promote a new comic in Halifax, but when her plane landed she found a string of violent threats posted to the event’s Facebook page. After consulting with Venus Envy’s manager, Marshall Haywood, the event was cancelled.

When she announced she’d once again be visiting Halifax to promote her most recent series, Ciel, Labelle started getting media requests.

While many of the questions centred on last year’s derailed trip, for Labelle that isn’t the whole story.

“It wasn’t some big dramatic thing,” said Labelle. “It was a collective decision that just made sense at the time.”

Although there were no threats made this time around, several people attending the event said they were there, in part, to make sure no one acted disrespectfully or violently.

“Bigotry is not logical, so you never know,” said Ifo Ikede, a social activist in Halifax and fan of Labelle’s work.

Haywood said he had no hesitations running the event this time around. He felt confident that all those attending were there for positive reasons.

The rest of the event was an intimate and open discussion about Labelle’s work and experiences. It was a small gathering, but it still ended up being standing room only by the time the last attendee arrived.

Labelle’s sense of humour made for a lighthearted Q&A with audience members.   Avi Jacob

Her collection of comics and young adult novels, written in French and English, follow teenage characters through their experiences with microaggressions and transphobia. They’re sold online and in bookstores in Canada and Europe.

Labelle used to be a kindergarten teacher. She said her current work isn’t educational, even if some people feel it is.

“I started (the comics) with the explicit intent of making my trans friends laugh,” she said. “It’s a collateral consequence that non-trans people feel educated by it.”

Many of the comic strip punchlines are things she wishes she’d said in real conversations. If someone recognizes themselves in a character; she said that can be a good thing.

Her longest running series, Assigned Male, was started in 2014. Today, her portfolio includes dozens of comics and a series of novels.