When Emma Oosterhous (Span’17) was growing up in Colorado Springs, she longed for more resources and support related to gender and sexuality. She’s on a mission to make sure the next generation of queer youth has what she lacked — and she’s doing it one webcomic at a time.
Oosterhous is the creator of Alphabet Soup, a LGBTQ+ webcomic that illustrates the trials and triumphs of coming out. Her comics explore a wide array of experiences related to gender identity and fluidity, sexuality and relationships — topics like coming out to loved ones, navigating past traumas and feelings of love, rejection and acceptance.
“There is a lot of fear that comes along with growing up queer. I get a lot of variation in the coming out stories I receive, and I think it’s just important to get as much out there as possible so that people don’t have to flounder in the dark,” said Oosterhous, one of 43 Americans to win a Marshall Scholarship this year. It will fully fund her master’s degree in comics and graphic novels at the University of Dundee in Scotland this fall.
Oosterhous, who identifies as a lesbian, started her online comic in 2015 while she was interning at Inside/Out youth services, an LGBTQ+ nonprofit located in Colorado Springs. Her project design was simple: She asked kids to share their experiences, then transformed them into art. After the internship ended, she posted her comics to Tumblr, and within 30 minutes she had more than 100 followers.
It was extremely motivating,” said Oosterhous, who has been creating art since she could hold a crayon.
So far, she’s drawn 134 comics, and has more than 400 ideas waiting patiently in her inbox. She’s working on a graphic novel in which the protagonist, October, is followed around by the physical manifestation of trauma, which takes the shape of a goblin.
Oosterhous provides an online space for queer youth to share their experiences and to show support for each other — because, for many, online support is the only form available.
“Something really special that we have today in the digital age,” she said, “is that we can forge these connections with people that we may have never known existed and that we may never meet in real life, but they are just as important and just as influential and can be a lifesaving force of good.”