Not all superheroes wear capes. Some prefer dresses, like August Crimp who becomes “Dragman” when he dresses as a woman, a character inspired by the past of its author, the Briton Steven Appleby.
For this first graphic novel full of humor and suspense, Steven Appleby, originally a cartoonist, won the special jury prize at the Angoulême international comics festival at the end of January.
Dragman features a man who discovers he has the power to fly when he dresses as a woman – and he loves it more. But, ashamed of this secret passion, August puts aside dresses and accessories, determined to lead a tidy life as a father.
When his young neighbor calls for help, however, he will have to take out his makeup bag and resume service.
“I put a lot of my experience into the book,” Steven Appleby, 65, who receives a blonde wig and elegant black and gold dress in his studio in south London, told AFP.
A few candles, large drawings often naked hanging on the wall, soaring music… The place, warm and crowded, looks like a cocoon.
Like his character, Steven discovered when he was young that he liked to cross-dress. He was then a student.
“I found a bottom behind a sofa and suddenly thought I could dress up and look like a girl,” he says. An experience that amused him as much as it left him “full of shame and fear that one of my roommates would find out”.
In the book, August’s wife, Mary, is a carpenter, like Steven’s wife, Nicola Sherring, when he met her. Together, they had two sons and even though they are no longer a couple, she remains his “best friend”. It was she who made the colors for Dragman.
“The big difference between August and me is that I told him that I liked to cross-dress when we met,” he compares.
“She didn’t care and we went shopping, we were the same size and I put on some of her clothes. She thought it was funny but she realized that it was also an obsession and it got more complicated, ”he said gently.
Still married, but separated, they live under the same roof with Nicola’s new partner, having raised together their two sons and Nicola’s children from other unions.
Although his family supported him, he took a long time to come to terms with his identity. He took the plunge a dozen years ago, dressing only as a woman ever since. “I think it was fear that prevented me,” he testifies. Finally, her children did not flinch.
Now, Steven sometimes calls himself “Nancy” and says he accepts the use of the pronoun “he” or “she” indifferently.
Steven Appleby created the character of “Dragman” in 2002 when he drew every week in the daily The Guardian, a kind of “outing”: “It was a way for me to play with that without having to say: I am a transvestite ”.
However, he never told his parents, a Canadian mother and an English father who raised him in an old rectory in the north of England.
Young Steven was then sent to boarding school, before studying art. For two years he played the keyboard in a pop group – “a disaster but it was fun” and eventually ended up in the Royal College of Art, with Quentin Blake, famous children’s book illustrator, as tutor. The latter encourages him to “find his own style”.
Since the publication of Dragman, Steven Appleby says he has received thank-you messages from trans women. “Someone even wrote to me to tell me that he had just told his wife that he liked to dress like a woman,” he says, adding that the wife had taken it well.
With Dragman, he returned to the super heroes and science fiction that rocked his childhood. Steven Appleby admits a preference for Batman. “And I think Catwoman influenced the way I dress,” he adds with a smile highlighted with crimson lipstick.