By Michael Monroe
The fabulous pink-haired Tiggy, former advice columnist for BWQ, is back in a new form. Here is an interview by Michael Monroe of Tiggy’s creator and mentor, Jen Bonardi.
MM: Who is Tiggy Upland, and what circumstances surrounded the genesis of this character?
JB: Tiggy Upland is a pseudonym for the highly successful advice column I created for the Bisexual Resource Center. Later that year, Susannah Layton was producing the second Bilicious Boston and asked if I would MC the event as Tiggy. I explained this was just a pen name, but she helped me develop a very detailed backstory and from there it just snowballed. The name Tiggy Upland came from the schoolyard game of divining your “porn name” using the name of your first pet plus the name of the street you grew up on. I had a hamster in high school named Antigone, and that’s Tiggy’s full first name. After MC-ing for Bilicious four times, speaking at the 2012 Dyke March, and starting the You Might Be a Bisexual Tumblr, plus the advice column – I just found myself wanting to talk more about Tiggy’s history, since she’s become more and more like a real person.
Now we have this enchanting new webcomic starring Tiggy and friends – but with a twist. What exactly is Upland, and how did you get the idea for this world?
Upland is a webcomic of miniatures based on Tiggy Upland’s life in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston in the hostel where she works. We’re using miniatures because I can’t draw worth a damn, and I like to think of Upland, which is also her last name, as a state of mind. Although we toss the idea out of the characters being bi, it does seem to be an alternate reality where bisexual issues are lived and discussed and facilitated in a way that everyone can experience for themselves. I originally started the advice column, Ask Tiggy, because I’m a huge fan of advice columns and have been an avid reader of them for over 25 years. It’s always been a great resource for people – especially a minority community – for someone to answer burning questions. So I did Ask Tiggy to drive more interest to the BRC website, and started the You Might Be a Bisexual Tumblr to celebrate bi culture – customs, rituals, etc. I wanted to give short spoonfuls of our inside jokes, our lamentations, our history – and also because I really like animated gifs. Someone recently asked why I started Upland, and if I was going to monetize it. I’m not sure why I started Upland. I do like tiny things, and I love Tiggy – I think somehow it’s just one more avenue to give bisexuals something to relate to while opening a window on our lives for other people.
What need do you think Upland fills in the Bi+ community, and the LGBTQIA community at large?
For the LGBTQIA community, that’s easy – there’s nothing like it. And that’s not me bragging, that’s me speaking to the dearth of bi art provided on a regular basis. Just read Eliel Cruz’s essays on how few bi characters there are who are really allowed to be bisexual in TV shows, movies and books. We’re doing better than we used to, but filling that hole for the queer community is pretty easy.
The two main characters we’ve established in Upland, Tiggy and her best friend Byron, have identified as bisexual for quite some time. I think often, what Bisexuals are allowed to express in creative media is most often their coming-out narrative, but there’s so much more to being bi – so many more stories to tell. With Tiggy and Byron you see two people who represent the richer aspects of our lives, the issues and struggles that come up that most people have no understanding of. With all these projects, the main point is for bi people to say, “I get that! You’re telling my story.”
Do you think there’s crossover appeal to mainstream culture? Will just anyone find it interesting, humorous, germane, etc.?
There’s at least one member of team Upland who thinks this is going to blow up and be a major success. That person is not me because I’m too cynical for that, but in the 40-day GoFundMe campaign prior to Upland’s unveiling, I was so surprised to see so many monosexuals getting excited about it. We were sending out prizes and I realized that the majority of recipients were not bisexual at all. It speaks to their support for Team Upland as people, but it also speaks to the fact that they expect to find this interesting no matter their own sexuality. I kind of think it’s interesting, too, for people who like webcomics, who like miniatures, people who are interested in hostels and travel – it’s got a lot of different aspects.
Also, people from different walks of life may find they relate to bisexual issues more than they ever knew. Byron, for example, is multiracial, and I think some of his challenges as somebody who’s half white and half Asian are very similar to some of his challenges as a bi-identified person.
And finally, it’s a sitcom set in a quirky hostel with all kinds of hilarious shenanigans.
Did you have any considerations as you geared up by purchasing these expensive props and dolls, in terms of the cast of characters?
Really the only three characters I had in mind at the beginning were Tiggy, Byron and Estella – who owns the hostel and Beans the beagle. If you only knew what we went through to get a pink bob wig for a 1/12-scale doll…some special considerations that we’ve stumbled upon include the fact that for dolls this size, it’s expected that you use the clothes they already have (or make your own). Buying clothes for them is very difficult because they’re not available. In addition, buying a non-white doll is more than a little challenging. And getting a male doll with a reasonable haircut is apparently too much to ask. We also had to factor in the fact that some dolls are moveable and some aren’t. Moreover, many are fashioned according to the Victorian era, so that’s the kind of mindset you need to have when you go look for a doll that’s, for example, genderqueer. Tough to make happen!
Beans is actually two static figures – soon to be three – we’ve got lying down Beans, standing Beans, and we’ll soon have sitting Beans, but that’s how we got around the obstacle of getting a really excellent-looking beagle that needs to move.
Where would you like to see Upland in a few months, or years – is there a specific goal?
I just want to make something entertaining and resonant. In terms of advertising and doing quality work, we’re hustling, but the fact remains, I don’t have a specific goal. Doing it is a goal. The journey is the destination.
Finally, how much of you is in Tiggy? Where does Jennifer Bonardi end and Tiggy Upland begin?
I like to think that Tiggy is the most whimsical version of myself. She was born and left in a hot air balloon, she rides the rails like a hobo, she’s a writer and works in a hostel – I mean, this is essentially my dream life. But she’s actually so different from me, that when I write the episodes, I write out her part, and then I have to go back to the beginning of each episode and completely re-write her once I get in the mindset of being in her voice. I can’t even write her in real time, is what I mean. I’m beginning to think I’m more like Byron – I might have to keep an eye on that. Having a detailed personal history on Tiggy makes it easier to keep my eye on the ball and differentiate her from myself. It enables me to ask, What Would Tiggy Do?
Michael Monroe is a bisexual person who likes cheese and thinks playing with dolls is great because he wasn’t allowed to as a child and who’s laughing now, patriarchy! Now that his mostly-bisexual-owned solar panel installation start-up is stable, he’s back on the board of the Bisexual Resource Center after a three-year hiatus. Michael also juggles flaming basketballs (if necessary) and can cobble a few good metaphors together as a spoken word poet.