RuPaul's Drag Race: Season 9, Episode 7

Welcome, dear readers!

Unfortunately, my interview about this week's Drag Race episode didn't work out, so I'm going to be sharing some of my own thoughts alongside a Behind the Queens discussion of actually making the latest artwork – usually I post these exclusively for my Patreon supporters, so sign up if you'd like to hear more about my artistic insecurities and wrestling with expectations.

One of my favorite aspects of this show is being surprised by a queen – I often have early favorites, but it's nice to see other queens strut their stuff. This week, Trinity really emerged as a serious contender -- she's funny, she's competitive, and she's not afraid to read a queen. The real question, though: is she the new Cucu?

When she's bringing out her more pageant-y looks, I don't often feel compelled to draw her, but it was fun to capture her 90210-HO performance. I had initially thought about making this an animated GIF where she's gobbling the pills and flinging them from her mouth, but I worried that would dominate my entire day's work. For better or worse.

I mentioned my “early favorites,” and one of those for Season 9 has certainly been Shea. She was one of the first queens I met when I moved to Chicago several years ago, and I was entranced from the very first performance. Another delight of this show is seeing new sides of the queens you're already rooting for, particularly when they're showing off their comedy chops in unexpected roles.

These goofy little character illustrations are fun for me to do, and I was really feeling a chunky, cartoony style early in my day's work on this batch of art. I think it's probably because I'm putting the finishing touches on a kids' comic project, and it's fun to work in that colorful, exaggerated, adorable world.

I was worried that this week's runway theme “Big Hair” would be kind of boring, but I think it was actually loose enough to offer the queens lots of room to play. There were a ton of imaginative looks that I was excited to draw, but I struggled a lot with my first few pieces. Even if I love a look, I need to think it over until an image snaps into my mind, guiding me in how to actually depict it. But that process felt like a long, slow climb for my first few runway illustrations.

Nina's cartoonish sensibilities are really fun to capture, but they also present certain challenges for... a cartoonist. She looked great coming down the runway, but in drawing her, I was worried it would look like some knock-off ThunderCats character. I thought maybe going back to a very graphic, jagged color style (hearkening back to early RPDR stuff) could balance out the cartoonish elements of the makeup, and I think it mostly worked okay?

I also took the hard-edged, angular approach to Sasha's runway look... with mixed results. During the runway sections, I'm always snapping tons of screenshots of the queens, and I loved the slightly sinister smile Sasha was sporting. I thought the angle of her head would also show off her spikes of hair well, but it was also really, really hard to draw. I often avoid drawing this particular tilt of the head, and I suspect a lot of other cartoonists do, too-- there's something about how the eye rests on the very side of the face, and how the cheek comes in to meet the lips and teeth, which then form the contour of the face... it's like you're looking at a photograph, but thinking, “wait, that's not how the face works, is it?”

In any case, it was fun to see this side of Sasha, and I thought it was absurd that she was apparently in the bottom this week.

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I was initially a little underwhelmed by the silhouette of Shea's runway – Michelle described the look as "a swimsuit and a jacket,” but I agreed with Michelle's conflicted feelings, because during the judging, as we were given a closer up view of Shea, she looked goooooooood. The gorgeously styled wig, its cotton candy colors, and the pop of her black lipstick – all of it was just stunning. After agonizing over the art of Sasha and Nina this week, this one worked itself out really easily. (But I hope her floating hand doesn't look too weird. I shouldn't have pointed it out. Now it totally looks weird.)

Like I said, there were a lot of fun runway looks this week, but also a lot of artistic struggles on my part. I spent a fair amount of time illustrating Valentina's runway, but it was not looking good.

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Late in the day, I finally got around to summoning forth Alexis Michelle's sickening sea witch, and I was really happy with it from the earliest sketches. In fact, I really liked the rough, gestural look of it, and the final piece probably took me less than an hour. You win some, you lose some, right? 

I wasn't sure whether I would draw Aja this week, and so I saved this one for last. She had a rough week in the challenge, but she served up a really good lip sync, and I did think she looked amazing on the runway. Although some of her runway looks have been half-baked and underwhelming (thinking of last week's Madonna look....), I legitimately loved this avant garde gown, the big hair, and the pop of purple in her lips. I found myself agreeing with Michelle again that Aja's makeup was the best it's ever looked!

I was worried this piece would end up looking too much like my art of Katya's final runway from All Stars 2. But despite the stylistic similarities, I knew it would be a different color palette and a very different queen. Ultimately, I feel like the two drawings are companion pieces, and I could see them as two cards in a tarot deck.

I feel like we're getting into the “sweet spot” of the season, where we've gotten to know a lot of the queens, love some, and hate some. Every elimination will have impact, and every rivalry will have sparks. I'm excited.

As I mentioned, I do these “behind the scenes” write-ups over at my Patreon page every week! If you want to hear more about my process and support me directly, you can head over there.

Shameless self-promotion

I wanted to let you know that I've added a TON of new stuff to my Etsy store – new posters, postcards, prints, etc. In addition to lots of fun Season 9 images, I've also added a bunch of Alyssa Edwards art, which I'm very excited about. I'm going to hold off on posting this week's art on Etsy for a few days until I get it all printed up – I've been having some issues with my local print shop, and I want to make sure everything comes out well!

RuPaul's Drag Race, Season 9: Meet the Queens

As always, I'm very excited for the new season of the Drag Race to start, particularly because some of my favorite queens in the world will be on the show!

Shea Coulee has ruled Chicago for years, and she was one of my immediate favorites when I moved here in 2013.

Sasha Velour is a cartoonist friend of mine, and she brings an amazing avant garde energy to her looks and performances.

And finally, I went to summer camp with Alexis Michelle! I expect Broadway diva REALNESS from her!

I'm eager to see how these old pals of mine do on the show, and I'm just as excited to meet all of these new queens! 

 

ALL STARS 2: Episode 6

Brooklyn's Sasha Velour joins me this week to discuss All Stars! (Photo by David Ayllon)

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Chad: Sasha! You're a designer, a cartoonist, an illustrator, a magazine editor -- I'm not sure how you describe yourself and what scene you consider yourself in, but my impression is that you're on the avant garde of drag, largely active in the Brooklyn scene, is that right? How do you approach and respond to the Drag Race -- as a fanboy? As a critic? Eager to be on the show yourself? All of the above?

Sasha: I'm definitely in the weirder art-meets-horror-meets-fashion-meets-club-kid part of the drag spectrum... but one of the things I care most about is that drag keeps getting more and more varied. I think Drag Race is a wonderful show, but its focus is purposefully kind of narrow when it comes to the world of drag. And that's okay. For me, the question isn't "does Drag Race do a good job of representing the drag world?" (because it can't possibly... it's a brilliant and fun tv show) but rather "how else are we going to represent ourselves". It's our job to create new platforms to showcase different/weirder/queerer types of drag. And maybe, in response, the show will evolve, too. So my short answer is that I LOVE DRAG RACE. It's fun, it's informative, it makes the careers of so many new talents.... but we need more! Other! Different!

Chad: Cool, I think that's a really smart and productive approach to the show. It evokes such strong and varied responses in its fans, and I wanted to get a feel for your thoughts on it as a place to start off our discussion.

Sasha: Awesome! Yes! I know a lot of people who are really critical of the show... there's definitely a place for that, too :)

Chad: I'm someone who also, clearly, loves the show, even if I find myself criticizing aspects of it every week.

Sasha: I'm ultimately the same. I think we have to celebrate it for what it is, not expect it to be something different!

Chad: Regardless of my feelings about the production of the show, its diversity and representation, what keeps me drawing every episode is my unabiding love for these queens.

Sasha: I feel like one of the show's greatest strengths is that it helps us as audience members fall in love with these weirdo geniuses! I feel really attached to these queens I’ve never met!!

Chad: This week's "merchandising" challenge was pretty brilliant, and a fabulous callback to season 5's perfume challenge. I love seeing these queens' creativity at work.

Sasha: I think some of the most exciting Drag Race challenges are ones where the queens have to be creative from start to finish because we get a better sense of what they are going to be like outside of the show, how their minds work.

Chad: And truly, for a successful Drag Race queen, merchandising is FUNDAMENTAL!I think the whole point of this challenge was seeing the queens display some cunning and self awareness, figuring out how to capitalize on their image and cater to their fans. But were there any remotely marketable products, or were all the queens basically just orienting their items to make a good commercial?

Sasha: In the end, it wasn't really about the items (because none of them are REALLY marketable, aside from being gag gifts), it was about humorous videos.... and it really wasn’t surprising that Alaska, Katya, and Alyssa put together the most successful videos, because they are the three that have already successfully used videos to brand themselves as queens.

Chad: Right, you can't discount the ease and comfort that those three queens must have in front of the camera! I thought Katya's was an absurd masterpiece, and I'm so glad she completely ignored the criticism of her product in the workroom. It's gratifying to see her operating with a grounded sense of confidence this season -- she seems to be in a much healthier and less frantic place this time around!

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Sasha: Katya's was my favorite, actually. I still can't get over that her product's initials read KKK though...

Chad: Oh god, I didn't even notice that!

Sasha: But I'm an anxious person and I have stress-treatment sprays in every room.... so I would fully support her Krisis Kontrol product. I wonder what it smells like?

Chad: Wait, wait, wait, are stress treatment sprays a thing????

Sasha: YES!!! Aromatherapy, darling!!!! I love lavender and sandalwood, myself.

Chad: Okay, I think my gay card has just been revoked, I don't know if I can continue this conversation. What did you think of Katya's runway look?

Sasha: I LOVED THE RUNWAY! The yellow brown and gray late soviet depression-tracksuit was all so twisted and weirdly glamorous.

Chad: I was kind of waiting for a reveal under that tracksuit, but I thought she looked stunning. At least, from the neck up.

Sasha: For me…it was innovative. I’ve never seen a drag queen do a look like that! Katya often does pretty out-there stuff with silhouettes and textiles. She’s not a classic fashion queen, but for me she’s a true original…and that’s what fashion needs to be about.

Chad: Yes, very very true.

Sasha: I agree with RuPaul. It was so wrong...it was right

Chad: What are your thoughts about Detox? I feel like she consistently comes down the runway with stunning looks, but she's typically middle-of-the-road in the challenges. I don't know what's holding her back!

Sasha: I was surprised she wasn't in the bottom on this one. The video just really didn't make a strong impression, and the product makes no sense. I LOVE Detox, and I think she has the most brilliant VISUAL eye of the bunch.

Chad: I think her fashion speaks directly to both of us -- extremely sleek, graphic, bold. She's stunning on the runway!

Sasha: The Thierry Mugler pointy red/white fashion vacation look was sooooo pleasing.

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Chad: I thought her commercial was FINE, but not... exceptional. I may giving her the benefit of the doubt, though, because her trash talkin' trash receptacle bore a STRONG resemblance to one of my favorite Chicago queens, Imp Queen.

Sasha: Big PAPER eyelashes? Iconic. Chicago drag is so top notch. And there's some strong love between Brooklyn and Chicago queens, especially.

Chad: Yes, I've definitely been getting that impression! I feel like Detox excels at both the runway and in her stage performances, but she just isn't displaying the same creativity as Katya and Alaska in the challenges. I guess everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, eh?

Sasha: I kind of have the same complaint about all these commercials, though... which is that we've seen a lot of the jokes before. All these videos were REALLY self-referential. I think they are all equally guilty of that. Maybe that's the curse of "marketing".

Chad: I agree, but don't you think that a queen inevitably capitalizes on their most popular catchphrases and memorable moments when creating merch?

Sasha: I guess you're right! It's the curse of All Stars then, that we get a more "branded" contestant.

Chad: Honestly, that's part of what appealed to me about this challenge, and about this All Stars season in general -- how do you as a performer maintain a certain level of consistency and fan service without stagnating?

Sasha: Do you feel like some are doing better than others?

Chad: Well, I think Tati and Alaska are both very skilled at surprising us.

Sasha: Tatianna has been one of my favorite parts of the season because she really is giving us something new. Her drag is so different from what it was on season 2. And the show—really the whole audience of drag—has changed. I thought she has been nailing it.

Chad: I really felt like Tati was going to be a dark horse this season -- I mean, certainly, I think she came across very well on the show, but I wanted to see so much more of her!

Sasha: Everyone's jaws dropped at the bar where I was watching. We all wanted more Tati.

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Chad: She's not the kind of queen I normally find myself rooting for -- exceedingly fishy and beautiful, but delightfully bitchy when called for.

Sasha: She's really smart, though... it gives her such an interesting edge.

Chad: Yes, she displays an intelligence that should serve her well outside of the show. I hope she takes advantage of her increased visibility and runs with it!

Sasha: Me too! I want to see more content from her! Videos! Spoken word album!! Bring it on! See me with them hands!

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Chad: In all this discussion about branding, about expectations, and about playing the Drag Race game, we have to get around to Alaska. I think she's such an amazingly, hilariously, endlessly surprisingly contestant on this show. I think it must be profoundly difficult not only to operate within the confines of the shooting environment on this show and create anything remotely original and creative, but to create something that feels so edgy, strange, and stunning. I absolutely loved her commercial.

Sasha: She is SLAYING this competition every week. She clearly understands herself and her "brand" really really well... and that is the ticket to having success in ANYTHING, especially drag. I could tell that she was really organized and purposeful about designing her commercial--the shots, the voiceover... it was all really well planned out at a totally different level than the other girls. It was still quite simple... but just brilliantly and carefully conceived.Alaska is creative AND professional/business-minded...which is so intoxicating to watch. I was so inspired.

Chad: Yeah, I think Alaska is just wildly intelligent, creative, and focused. And she's so Thunderfucking fun to draw!!!!! Something about her weird, edgy looks pushes me in strange, strange directions.

Sasha: That makes me want to make some art of her!! Yours are always AMAZING!

Chad: Oh, thank you! I find myself using a rough, almost jagged and sparse technique when drawing her this season, more so than with any other queen! It suits her much more than the usually clean, simple style that works with the others.

Sasha: That totally fits! Alaska makes drag look really really fun and wild. That's so important. I think that's why drag queens love her so much, because it's a reminder of that passion and creativity that took us to drag in the first place.

Chad: Right, I think that's a great way of describing her appeal! Frankly, I think you bring a similar creativity and innovative edge to your performances, which is why I react so strongly to them!

Sasha: THANK YOU CHAD!!! <3<3 That really matters to me---to do something different, to be myself, to have fun. I always try to "say something" with drag... even if it's crazy or doesn't totally make sense or looks a little ugly. And I'm drawn to queens and kings with the same philosophy:)

Chad: I think it's that experimentation with the form that pushes it forward and explodes its boundaries!

Sasha: YES! DRAG REVOLUTION NOW!

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Chad: What are you hoping to see the rest of this All Stars season? I think there are only a few episodes left!

Sasha: Gladiator-style combat with Ru dressed as Nero? Esther Williams-style synchronized swimming challenge? Write minimalist operas based on your life and perform them with only the help of the pit crew? Create your own religion and try to get converts on the street? Pitch and teach a 300-level seminar at UCLA on the meaning and history of drag?

Chad: HA! Yes, please, ALL OF THEM. I think next week is a makeover episode, which is always fun. I have this feeling that a lot of the drama may be over for the season, or at least, I hope so.

Sasha: That's right! We haven't had a makeover, yet!

Chad: My guess is that the principal source of tension between the queens will be the question of Rolaskatox -- will one of them be forced to send another home? I think there will be some grueling, difficult decisions to make, but it will be some delicious drama!

Sasha: That storyline wasn't the most interesting the first time we got it.

Chad: Ha! True, but now that the queens' fates are in each others hands, it's interesting to see play out.

Sasha: But it's easy to forget when you are home watching through a screen just how intense and personal these decisions are! I have to remind myself how hard it would be if I was with my Brooklyn sisters, trying to make decisions like these.

Chad: Right, these are queens that care about each other and respect each other, so despite all the exciting drama surrounding it, this structure must be excruciating.I saw Willam speculating on Twitter that, at the finale, the queens will have to pick the winner! Which would be a lovely, affirming way to end the season, wouldn't it?

Sasha: All the eliminated queens? That's kind of beautiful.

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Sasha Velour is on Instagram, and she also has a shockingly beautiful website. I beg each and every one of you to watch this tour de force performance where Sasha unleashes a stunning multimedia extravaganza -- please, for the love of drag! Sasha's monthly show "NIGHTGOWNS" will be Thursday, October 13 at Bizarre Bushwick in Brooklyn! She's also currently exhibiting 6 new art pieces in a group show Coney Island Babies curated by Patti Spliff and Chris Bogia at the Bureau of General Services Queer Division (in the Manhattan LGBT Center). The second issue of VELOUR: The Drag Magazine (formerly VYM) debuts on October 21 (including a drawing by me!). (Photo by Marloes Haarmans)

You can find my own work on my Etsy shop where I have much of this week's art available as lovely prints, and I just posted tons of brand new All Stars postcards! You can also support me and request custom sketches on my  Patreon site!