CHAT WITH: Lewis Hancox, Author, Illustrator & Film-Maker

LCR Pride Foundation’s “Chats With” are back and this week we catch up with Lewis Hancox, a film-maker, comedy creator and now illustrator and author from the North West. His first book – a graphic memoir called Welcome to St Hell is published next week, but Lewis is also known for his online impersonations of his Mum “British Mum” and sassy lass “Prinny Queen”. He also co-founded “My Genderation” – an ongoing film project celebrating trans lives – with trans activist Fox Fisher.

You are from St Helens – can you tell us a little bit about your experience growing up there? 

“Growing up in St Helens back in the early noughties wasn’t fun for misfits like me. There certainly wasn’t much awareness or tolerance for anyone LGBTQ. If I had a penny for every time someone shouted ‘ere, is that a boy in a skirt?!’ at me in high school… 

By the time I got to college, things had already started progressing, albeit slowly. I discovered the St Helens gay scene and unexpectedly found myself fully accepted as a “lesbian”. And yet there were still no trans people around, nobody I could relate to or learn from. Nowadays, I get a myriad of messages from other trans people in or around St Helens, wanting to connect, and St Helens has its own Pride. It’s amazing to see how far the town has come and I’m proud to be from there.

You are due to publish your first book in June, a graphic memoir called “Welcome to St Hell” – how did that come about?

“I’ve been drawing cartoons since I was a kid, and in the first lockdown I had this sudden surge of inspiration to start telling my own transition story in comic form. Little did I know that would lead to a published book with Scholastic!”

So, can you tell us a bit about the story and how did your experience influence the book?

“I wanted to tell the story of my teen years with no holds barred, every nitty gritty detail, letting people into my life on a whole new level. This isn’t just a trans story, though – it’s for anyone who’s ever been an awkward teenager going through awkward puberty, having high school dramas and trying to get a snog. 

In the latter part of the book it’s about discovering your sexuality and relationships, all the while having mad parties and drunken nights out. I knew from the beginning I wanted to bring my story to the mainstream, making it relatable and as humorous as it is heartfelt. This is the book I wish I’d had as a teenager, to open my eyes in a fun and totally non-political way.”

As well as trans youth and awkward teenagers, who else do you want to see read the book?

“I think it’s important to note this book isn’t just for queer teens but for their friends, family, teachers and allies. They will enjoy the nostalgia and learn more about trans people. My mum says having a book like this when I was growing up would’ve helped her massively, to know that other families had the same apprehensions but made it through in the end.”

Why did you choose to tell your story through a graphic memoir? 

“I’ve always loved cartoons and drawing definitely comes more naturally to me than writing. I see it like a storyboard to a film. This way, people get to visually see my world and the people in it through my eyes. In my opinion it makes my story more accessible for people who don’t normally like to read a lot of text. I love that people can sit and stare at a page, noticing new things like little side notes or items in the background. Of course there are a lot of important words in there too – especially when it comes to the interviews with family and friends. Drawing these interviews is so fun because I get to show their expressions and body language as they speak. I guess having my book hand illustrated feels like I’m giving people a very personal part of me, which I hope will make the reader feel more invested in me and my story.”

Did you read comics when you were growing up and did this influence your book?

“When I was a little kid my Granddad, who sadly passed away in lockdown, would buy me The Dandy comic every Friday. I couldn’t get enough and wanted to create my own wacky characters like that. I was obsessed with anything on Cartoon Network, and the Calvin and Hobbes books.  All of this totally influenced my dream of being a comic creator. Even now as an adult I adore graphic novels, in particular the ones that are rooted in real life like Scott Pilgrim vs the World. What I’ve learned over time is that it’s not so much about the quality of the artwork, but more the story it tells. The imperfections bring the personality.” 

What impact do you want the book to have?

“My hope is that young people read this book and learn it’s okay to be different, to have confidence in who you really are. The reason I have my future self narrate the book is so that teens can see things do get better. If it was told through the perspective of teen me, it would be a much more angsty and depressing vibe, to say the least!

There’s also a real lack of trans men representation out there so I want to give young trans guys in particular something to connect with. I want to fill trans teens with hope, and for anyone who isn’t trans they get to learn about it while also hopefully seeing a part of themselves in my character. I think every teen has had those feelings of being misunderstood and wanting to fit in. 

I also just hope that the fact this book even exists will inspire people to follow their dreams. If I told my troubled teen self that one day I’d be the bloke I should be AND have a graphic novel being published (double dream), I would NEVER have believed it! Thank you to every single person who has supported me along the way.

So apart from your book – which is enormously exciting – what else are you working on?

“I’m always creating comedy sketches for my socials, alongside working on trans-themed films and docs with ‘My Genderation’. This year I’ll be doing a lot of book signing events, touring around the country, which makes me nervous and excited in equal measures! Welcome to St Hell definitely won’t be the last graphic novel from me, but I can’t say more than that for now.”

Welcome to St Hell is out on 3rd June but you can pre-order on Amazon (https://amzn.to/3HzTLN1), in any mainstream bookshop like Waterstones and from your local bookshop (if they don’t have it, you can ask them to stock it!)

You can follow the book on Instagram for sneak peeks and special video content – @welcometosthell – and you can follow Lewis on Tiktok, Facebook and Instagram at @lewishancoxfilms and on Twitter @lewishancox.  

 

Photo credit: Sharon Kilgannon