It’s June, dear readers! If you’re a member or ally of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s time to celebrate Pride month! This is a time to celebrate our identities and come together with friends to remind ourselves that we’re in this thing together. It’s also a time to see some of the cool creativity that comes from us and those close to us.
That very concept is what Frankie the Magicorn is all about. Produced and directed by Sketch MacQuinor, former co-lead animator of Adult Swim’s Squidbillies, the animated short tells the story of a young magicorn (we’ll explain in a moment) who was assigned female at birth. However, as Frankie enters adolescence, a journey of transition begins. Currently up on Kickstarter.com, this project looks like it’s going to be not only adorable, but something that could let a lot of people know that they’re not alone.
I got a chance to talk to Mr. MacQuinor about this project and learn about Frankie the Magicorn. Check out what he and his team had to say.
PCU: Tell us about you. How did you get your start in animation?
SM:I got my start in animation playing around with whatever programs were free and available in high school. In college I played around with a few professional programs and then switched my major to animation. After college, I ran into a classmate at the Borders I was working at and gave him my card. I became a compositor on Aqua Teen Hunger Force as a result. A couple of years later, they needed a new system to animate the new show Squidbillies in, and at the time I was one of only three people in Atlanta who knew Flash and so built a thirteen year career as lead animator off of that before resigning last year.
PCU: What made you decide to take on a project like Frankie the Magicorn, and where did the idea come from?
SM: I wanted to do something to make the world better — as we all do. I was telling one of my animation classes (I teach at KSU now) about the time Powerpuff Girls attempted to do a trans sensitivity episode about a horse that wanted to become a unicorn and how it ended up being tone deaf and working against that theme. They meant well, but they didn’t consult any trans writers so it became a standard PPG episode, “Horn, Sweet Horn,” where a monster is created and the Girls need to defeat it. Unfortunately, since that monster was somebody who needed to undergo a physical change to cure them of their physical dysphoria, the message of the show became, “If you change yourself, you’ll become a monster.” Unintentionally, it became trans-phobic. Again, they meant well, but when you intentionally work on a piece of media meant to tell the story of marginalized groups, you need to have, if not a team of writers from that group working with you, at least a consultant to tell you where your work may get problematic.
We at Heartsmith Studio decided that the trans community needed a good cartoon about a unicorn that transitions. Frankie is an homage to my friend Frankie Edwards, entertainer and barber at Atlanta-based Tiger’s Eye Barbershop, and a few other friends like Dorian Michael Grey (the actor voicing Frankie), Leonard (playing his friend Lenny), Zedith (another friend from cons), Ronan (our composer), and others.
PCU: At its heart, what is this project about, and what does it mean to you?
SM: Trans-visibility. Normalizing the trans experience. Unless you’re actively seeking out trans media like interviews with Laverne Cox, you don’t know much about trans life except:
- Refer to people by the pronouns they identify with.
- Don’t ask about genitals.
There are a few franchises out there that have trans characters (main or otherwise), but they tend to encounter a lot of criticism from the community, often in part because they cast cis-gendered actors in the roles. The trans community deserves a cartoon with real trans actors and trans writers at the helm. Also, it’ll rhyme because we’re amazing.
PCU: How would you describe Frankie himself, and what is a “magicorn”, exactly?
SM: Magicorns are a race of fantasy equines (Friendship is Magic-style) where the AFAB (assigned female at birth) magicorns have wings like pegasi and the AMABs (assigned males at birth) have unicorn horns. We created a new race including both. There’s an inherent problem of a pegasus wanting to be a unicorn, implying that the two are different species. This way, they’re just the same species with different sexual characteristics. If there were a male magicorn assigned female at birth, he would perform chest binding to bind down his wings the way trans men bind down their breasts because of the body dysphoria it creates. Frankie’s just an adorable soul. Helpful, gregarious, and cool. He has a lot of the traits of his human counterpart (Frankie the Namesake), like an interest in vinyls and hair-styling, but a lot of the charm and mannerisms of Dorian the voice actor. All of the guys who inspire the character are sweet fellas who work hard to be good men; something I aspire to be someday myself.
PCU: What challenges did you and the rest of the team encounter with putting Frankie the Magicorn together?
SM: Well, we’re encountering those challenges now: funding. Animation takes time. We made a budget for a small team of me and a handful of others to make a short animated film in the traditional eleven-minute-cartoon format. That would take eight months. While we would gladly do it for free if we could, we need to keep the lights on and pay our bills. We needed to pay tiny team of animators for eight months of work. That’s not even counting the writers’ team, the musicians, and any other media and post-production the project requires. Spread the word: http://www.frankieismagic.love. If you can’t donate, find someone with a bunch of followers to boost the signal. The biggest challenge for most producers with doing something like this right is having the right team to represent your character and their community properly. We didn’t have that problem because we reached out to trans writers to make sure this is done right, and who have the right sense of whimsy to work on a cartoon.
PCU: Speaking of the cast & crew, you’ve gathered a lot of amazing trans talent here. Tell us about them.
SM: Mostly word of mouth. When you know a lot of great people, you know a lot of great trans people. I’ve always wanted to work with Dorian on a project and I finally found something perfect for his distinct, whimsical voice. Anybody who knows Sabrina Pandora loves her because she’s amazing. Also, she has better grammar and common sense than me and the rest of the writing team, so we lean on her as the foundation of doing this right. If we hit a certain budgeting goal, we’ll be hiring some KSU students in their off-season and other entry-level animators who want to help out. It’s experience and a paying gig and as somebody who struggled for years after college, one wants to pay it forward (even though you have to redo a lot of work). That’ll be another challenge, but we really want the next generation to succeed.
PCU: How did Sarah and the Safe Word come to do the music for this?
SM: We just asked them. We asked ourselves, who are some amazing trans musicians and our first thought was Atlanta-based, trans-fronted, cabaret rock band “Sarah and the Safe Word.” The fact that their new album, “Red, Hot, and Holy” just came out was pure serendipity (available now on iTunes, Amazon, and most other online music platforms). We messaged Sarah and she was immediately on board and excited about the project.
PCU: Finally, the Kickstarter mentions that 10% of the final fundraising will be matched & donated to trans charities. Which ones have been chosen, and why?
SM: Sketch: That’s going to be a tough one, but we’ll find a way to make it work. Kickstarter won’t let you donate your funds to charities because their objective is to raise funds specifically to develop projects, but we really wanted to do something that would have immediate tangible benefit to the trans community. Edutainment has great value, but so does food, shelter, legal aid, and proper binders so the young trans men of tomorrow don’t break their ribs or cause nerve damage. We’ve already got Point of Pride on board to receive our donations and get interviewed for our companion podcast, Frankie the Podcast. Point of Pride works to support transgender youth and adults who otherwise lack access through gender-affirming programs that empower them to live more authentically. We still need to reach out to others, but our next targets are The National Center for Transgender Equality, the Transgender Law Center, Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Lost-n-Found Youth Atlanta, and others. If you have suggestions, or are an organization working towards trans-equality and visibility, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PCU: What do you think Frankie would say to all of the trans folks out there who may be struggling with their identities?
SM: Let’s ask Frankie, or rather, his real-life counterparts:
Ronan Kohn: I know it can feel like a struggle, because sometimes there’s pressure to define ourselves for the sake of other people. But what this really is about is knowing yourself. So try not to think of it as a struggle. Think of it as getting to know yourself. Think of it as inviting yourself over for a long conversation. It can take as long as you need.
Sadi Ebon Askavi: There is no wrong answer. Explore everything you want to try. If you try something and you don’t like it, stop. Change your identity as often as you like. No one else can tell you who you are. If you decide that you’re cisgender later, that’s ok too. You can be anything that makes you feel most at home in your own body and mind. Take any label that makes you feel seen. No one’s story is exactly the same. Find the things that make you feel gender euphoria. Don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t do a thing or be a thing. They don’t know what’s in your head and heart. Trust yourself first and foremost.
For more advice, listen to Frankie the Podcast. We ask all of our interviews “What advice would you give to trans children?” among many other questions.
Matt: The only person who gets to decide who you are is you. As long as you aren’t hurting yourself or anyone else, wear what you want, do what you want, be what you want, and exist exactly as you are. You may want to look like a technicolor space alien and you should be the happiest technicolor space alien there ever was. Nothing else matters. The right people will stay, the audacity of your resolve will show the rest the door.
The Kickstarter for Frankie the Magicorn hopes to raise $40,000 by July 22, 2019, and this is one campaign that we here at PCU can really get behind. The animation is adorable, the voice acting is stellar, and the music is shaping up to add a wonderful flair to this short film. We’re certainly looking forward to seeing this project come to fruition, and seeing Frankie go through his journey.
Sometimes, it takes a magicorn to remind us all to get real.
PCU would like to thank Sketch MacQuinor and the Frankie the Magicorn team wholeheartedly for taking the time to talk with us about this incredible endeavor. For more information on Sketch and his body of work, check out his website at SketchMacQ.com. If you would like more information on transgender support, check out the links above, or contact the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).