In 2008, Tab Kimpton took the internet by storm when he began his first comic, Khaos, detailing the intertwined lives and loves of eight college students. When the comic finished in 2013, he began again with Shades of A and is only gaining momentum. Although it began life as a parody, Kimpton researched the topics and themes by sending a general questionnaire out to his readers: what culture, sexual identifications, or ethnic characters do you want to see more of in comics? The response was overwhelming.
Shades of A is the story of asexual Muslim, Anwar Sardar, who tries to balance his traditional family and religious beliefs with the secular community. His best friend and ex-girlfriend, JD (who identifies as genderqueer), convinces Anwar to come with them to a kink club. Anwar doesn’t expect anything out of it, other than an uncomfortable night of awkward small talk about sex… until he meets Chris Slate, a recently divorced male transvestite (also known as Mr. Red Vixen). There’s a definite attraction, but one glaring feature that worries Anwar: Chris likes sex, Anwar doesn’t. From his “Dear Universe” blog, Anwar writes about the perils and trials of searching for one’s true love, no matter what or how a person identifies.
In Kimpton’s world, everything is exactly the same as ours: characters have fights with friends and family, deal with awkward situations, and just try to live, work, and have fun like everyone else. Only he focuses on those who don’t get much attention simply because they “don’t fit.” In particular to this comic, the asexual and genderqueer communities are front and center, along with showing a positive side of the kink scene. Rather than exploit, Kimpton uses the comic to educate about lesser-known demographics, aiming at showing “regular people” that those with different tastes are not so different in the rest of their lives.
The artwork has a “rough look” to it, almost as if viewing a friend’s sketchbook, and consists of a natural color scheme, including different skin tones and shading. The backgrounds are neutral, with little emphasized to keep focus on the action and dialogue. Kimpton also uses a 3-4 panel layout per page, simplifying the sequence flow for readers. Using a blog as the framing device brings a nice update to the epistolary narrative style. While the comic is never overly graphic, there are several instances of nudity and kink, as well as sex between partners. The sex scenes are minimal, allowing readers’ attention to remain on the characters’ emotional and verbal dialogue with each other. However, it is considered Not Safe For Work.
In addition to the main comic, Kimpton draws a side comic on the site titled Minority Monsters, which follows the journeys of Fred Aura, an explorer completing his research on the different inhabitants of Alphabet Soup Land. Each month he interviews a new resident and learns that stereotypes don’t apply to the Minority Monsters.
As the artist himself says, “I feel that if you’re fed up of stereotypes being terrible in media you should start writing your own media.” And Tab Kimpton is doing exactly that. What started out as a short, one-off story has grown into a widely read comic that is turning sex and gender identities upside-down. Follow the story at ShadesofA.com.