QWS Podcast S2E2 – Amee Wilson
In this episode Rob chats with Amee Wilson, creator of the TikTok sensation, Queer Chameleon. Amee shares her tips on digital storytelling, and they discuss her debut book, Queer Chameleon and Friends.
Full interview transcript below. Jo from Blarney Books and Art , reviews At Certain Points We Touch by Lauren John Joseph.
Amee Wilson links
LinkedIn: Amee Wilson
Queer Chameleon links
Amee Wilson’s Shout outs
Bi, by Julia Shaw
The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, by Shon Faye
QWS Podcast S2E2 – Amee Wilson interview transcript
Please note: this interview transcript has been modified for ease of reading.
Rob: Amee Wilson is a British-Australian illustrator and writer with a love of creativity for good. Born in the UK, she has recently returned after six years working in Australia and currently lives in London with her partner. By day, Amee works as an Art Director in advertising with a passion for ideas that tackle inequality. By night, she illustrates and animates the Queer Chameleon and Anxious Animals series. Queer Chameleon and Friends is her first publication.
Amee: Thanks for having me.
Rob: An opening question that we ask all our guests on QWS Podcast is, how has your work influenced your identity?
Amee: Massively. I didn’t realize how much it was going to, I think, until I got into the weeds of it. So I think even like the platform you mentioned, like the web comic has probably done as much of that itself. Um, but when I first started, I thought I knew it. I thought I knew my identity and I thought I knew a lot about it and my community. And then I think as we explored the different chapters that we were going to kind of build out, I found myself having to actually do quite a lot of education.
And the more education I did, the more I realised actually how much depth there is, and even sort of internal debate within the community about different types of labels and different definitions. And so I actually realized like there are parts of definitions that I have used for my labels since I was really young, that people have different experiences and opinions of. So that’s been quite fascinating, and I feel a lot more confident in my own identity now than I did before, which is pretty cool, I think.
Rob: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m obsessed with Queer Chameleon and Friends <laugh>, and congratulations. It is just such a beautiful book. But what I thought I’d do for the listeners is I’ll read the blurb, and you know, if anyone hasn’t been on TikTok and Instagram and is wondering what we’re doing, <laugh>, You need to get onto this.
“A vibrant and uplifting collection of comic illustrations about LGBTQ+ life, for the community and beyond, from the creator of the online sensation @queeeerchameleon that’s loved by millions.
Queer Chameleon and Friends reminds us that all experiences are valid, empowers us to accept and express our identities and those of others, and reassures us that even in challenging moments along the way, there’s light and humour to be found.
In this colourful, insightful and funny book, writer and illustrator Amee Wilson explores aspects of existing in a world not always designed for you – from silly questions and awkward-but-sometimes-accurate clichés, to the trials and tribulations of coming out (or choosing not to).
A collection of beautifully illustrated conversations between the beloved character Queer Chameleon and their friends from across the community, it’s a joyous celebration of life outside the boxes modern society has created.”
Oh, so true. <laugh>.
Amee: Oh, I’m glad, I’m glad. ‘Cause it’s so funny hearing it read out by other people that you’re like, I hope it actually is that? <laugh> Is it?
Rob: Yeah. Yeah. No, look, it is so joyful and gorgeous, and I think it’s a fantastic resource that you’ve created for everyone, for all humans. Educational and accessible, regardless of their sexuality, and for queer folks so validating and fun. And I love that it’s for all ages as well. I mean, I hope it makes its way to all school libraries. That would be incredible.
Amee: Wow. That would be a dream.
Rob: Yeah, I was just thinking imagine, you know, growing up and having that and seeing yourself reflected and your communities there. I think you’ve done a, a very, very good thing. Thank you, Amee. So how, how did the book, come about? So you were on socials? What’s the origin story?
Amee: So you obviously mentioned anxious animals, sort of briefly at the beginning. And that was a web comic that I’d started during Covid just to deal with like my own kind of mental health and anxiety. And at the same time as making that, I did a specific comic within that about a chameleon, it was coming out and it was sort of reflecting, my own experience. Fast forward a year, I set that up as a separate web comic and then thought, “What the hell, maybe I should get on TikTok,” because that’s really where everybody seems to be, so I kind of taught myself how to animate. And when I say taught myself how to animate, it’s like a really bad version of Pepper Pig. <laugh>.
It’s really very rudimentary because literally I am teaching myself as I go, but it really, it took off. I was not expecting to be fair any of, um, it to resonate as much as it did and to, to start to reach as many people as it did. And being completely honest, I actually never had a set ambition to make a book. There’s always, like, when you come across a really good idea, every so often if you’re a creative person or you’re like writing or you like stories, your mind sort of goes there. But I hadn’t. I would’ve had no idea where to start, and I think the immediate sort of growth of the audience catches people’s attention. And especially publishers at the moment are looking on TikTok, I think for, beacuse they’re like, “There’s an audience there. If there’s an audience ready for a particular idea, maybe it obviously gives us the opportunity to create something that will resonate.”
And so I was actually approached, completely out of the blue by Penguin, who just sort of expressed that they absolutely loved the character. And they just asked the question, “Had I considered making a book?” I thought it was a spam email when I first got it. <laugh>. Being honest.
Rob: <laugh> Very clever spam email.
Amee: The thing is they’re getting so clever and to a certain extent I had to be like are the logos there? Like they had attached a few documents. I was like, “Actually maybe this is legit.” But I initially, and that also stemmed from just the lack of, I mean, complete disbelief. I think that someone had been like, oh cool, you’ve got something. Maybe we can turn it into something even better. And it sort of took off from there.
So we started to discuss about like what that would look like. It was quite lucky that I guess I had like a bank of content already with the Instagram platform. And so it was really a case of I thought I could just sort of lift off of that and put it into the book. But as I learned, knowing nothing about publishing, it’s a lot more complex than that. And so there was a bit of a process with working with the editor and doing a significant amount more work to come up with actually new content. Because obviously that’s what people want to see in a book, but also stitching it together for it to make a narrative, like a good narrative because, for people who don’t know they are sort of standalone comics generally, they don’t necessarily string together.
But I worked with an incredible editor who managed to kind of make it quite cohesive. We carved out the themes together. So there’s things like, “Beyond the binary,” and “Coming out,” and they kind of like a bucket essentially of content. But she did a wonderful job in kind of putting those together and it almost feels like it flows like a narrative even though they also exist on their own.
Rob: Yeah. No, it absolutely does. And I love, you know, you can still dip in and out. But if you wat to read from cover to cover, you can, and I think it, uh, listeners — this is your go-to birthday book present, for any age, if you thinking know what should I get someone get Queer Chameleon in print. Okay? You’ve heard it on the podcast. <laugh>
Amee: I love it. Great. It’s a good gift book.
Rob: Oh, it’s brilliant. It’s just such a good book, I think every house should have it because in terms of education, you know, I know that there are some fantastic allies out there. There are people who want to be better ally and don’t sort of quite know how to approach it. And you do it in such a beautiful, simple but clear way. “Yes? No? And the little chameleon on the tree.” <laugh>
<laugh> Going right back, were you always drawing from an early age, or creative? Like how did you sort of story tell?
Amee: So yeah, I was that kid in school who wasn’t really paying attention because they were just doodling in the margins throughout my entire school life, actually I’m surprised I managed to get through university because I don’t think I really paid much attention. But I never saw it as a career choice. I think that’s just one of those things that people tell you, you know? You can’t necessarily make money out of art and so I kept it as a hobby. But I’ve always just drawn on and off since I was as probably old enough to hold a crayon. But I think going into advertising is what led me into like being able to shape stories and take people on a journey, and come up with a concept or an idea. I probably wouldn’t have known how to guide that before then.
Rob: Yeah, that’s really interesting. A friend of mine in science, we would do cartoons, right?
Rob: Sorry, sorry family. Um, <laugh>. Now I’d like to talk about TikTok. So I have Gen Z kids and so they’ve been on it forever and are horrified if I ever got on it. And as authors, a lot of us get told to get onto TikTok, or as writers, but what has been your experience with the platform? And any tips for storytellers listening and noting this could be a whole podcast in itself.
Oh, hundred percent. Yeah. And let’s do that cause I would love to talk about it. I think it’s fascinating. So, well if it’s any consolation, I had no idea what I was doing when I started and I would say I only have a little bit more idea now. And that’s just learning from my responding to what people respond to.
But I went <laugh>, it’s funny that you mentioned sort of like having this generation perception of not really knowing what to do. One of the reasons, one of the first videos I ever made did well was because I made a mistake. So I used an audio, that I thought was quite funny, which was to do with, it just was a funny song with L G B T Q in it. Cause I was like, “Oh, that’s a great way to launch my chameleons.”
And the next day I woke up and it had gone viral. I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve nailed something. I must have done it right.” And then what I realized when I went to the comments section was everyone was ripping it to shreds because everybody hated that song. <laugh> And I was like, it was interesting because it was kind of like, sort of good and sort of bad because everyone was like, “Oh, I love the character and the animation. Terrible song choice though.” And I was like, “Oh God.” The first thing you should do is like, if you’re going to use an audio, check that it’s not been like canceled. <laugh>
Because that, I was like, oh no, I’ve made the, like in my case like the millennial mistake of not really understanding how the platform worked. But I guess like in terms of actual tips;
I think don’t be afraid to test things. Because I think when I first started I was very like, I’m just going to animate my comics because I know what works on Instagram. And I was like, oh, I’ll just take those and I’ll animate them. But what I quickly realized was the audience is totally different. So it is, as you kind of mentioned, much younger and also the platform itself, while I do a lot more animation now that is a little bit closer to my comics, it was piggybacking on trends and using the right audios and then just tailoring those to my content. So, if there was a particular audio, I would see if there was a link to one of my characters or if it was a link to a topic about queer, the queer experience or something like that.
Rather than trying to just do completely original content. Which can be a bit weird if you do enjoy making your own stuff because you’re like, “Well I should just be completely created by me.”
So you have to be quite immersed in it because it’s sort of staying on top of what’s trending, or get getting inspiration from sorts of other creators. But it is a bizarre one because when you start getting it right, the reach is much greater than some of the other platforms. So it’s one that I recommend like, just experimenting on and don’t be discouraged if you don’t get huge reach immediately. It can be something that takes a little bit of time. My numbers fluctuate all the time.
Rob: Yeah, no, it’s fascinating. My daughter will tell me, “Oh this, you know, this is trending. You do this and this and, and, and with this.” And I’m just like, “What?” But then, you know, the next day or something, there’s something else. So do you have to spend a lot of time on it just to know what’s trending? How do you go about that?
Amee: Much to the distaste of my girlfriend I would describe myself like chronically online. <laugh>. I do and I’m a mixer — like I’m a doom scroller, so I’m on there anyway, because I was on the platform before I got on it to create in that sense so I kind of already knew my way around it. But now I try and limit my time just for my own mental health and have just not being forcing it, but I just try and go on with an aim of being like, “Oh, I’m going to find a funny sound that I want to save to use next time. Or I wanna find a new creator who sort of inspires me.” So I try and do it with a bit more purpose than maybe at the very beginning where I’d just be endlessly scrolling. To be a little bit more thoughtful.
Rob: Yeah. Oh, that’s great. And look, it’s work but also there’s just so much incredible content on there, which is just so entertaining and fantastic. Around socials, something that was raised was around censorship of LGBTIQA plus content and the challenges., have you had challenges promoting topics online? Has the algorithm sort of…
Amee: Yes. So certain words which just, I don’t know, somewhere in some computer-land there’s a tiny little red light that flashes. So literally simple terms like gay or lesbian, if they are in copy or if they are said in the video, sometimes, it’s not consistent. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it won’t. But I uploaded a video, it would’ve been early last year, I think, and it would’ve not have crossed any boundaries, any community guidelines or anything like that. It was literally talking about lesbians and it got removed for being inappropriate <laugh>.
Rob: And this is from TikTok?
Amee: Yeah. As in there’s a debate sometimes as to whether it is automatic by the algorithm because it’s just detected something that is labeled as inappropriate. Or whether it’s been heavily reported by homophobic people in trolls because that does also happen.
Rob: Oh, really?
Amee: So yeah, it can be quite challenging. And one of the other topics that you struggle to get reach by is sometimes when anything to do with trans, like trans words, just generally trans content has really limited reach. And I do believe it’s deliberate.
Rob: Yeah. Right. And do you find the same on Instagram or it’s mainly TikTok where (this happens)?
Amee: Less so, but still the same. So, yeah, I think Instagram has slightly better censorship in terms of the algorithm. So you can freely talk about most terms. I have a friend who is also a content creator who’s asexual, who has the opposite problem. Every time she does a live, or she does any post that say the word, “asexual”, she gets shadow banned or it gets removed. And so what we’re finding is it’s like there’s broad acceptance of probably some of the more commonly used terms.
And then the other parts of the algorithm, that probably need the most support at this point in time because the world, are being more heavily censored. So it’s a real frustration and it’s a constant battle because it’s the stuff that you want to get out there to help educate, to help prevent these sorts of things. You know, being encoded into technology, but then absolutely you don’t get visibility.
Rob: Yeah. And so do you get much of a response from, I don’t know, is it the moderators?
Amee: It is all automated so you never, ever talk to person. So you can, if something gets taken down, you can ask for a review essentially. So you can be like, “I think this taken down incorrectly. Please put it back up.” I did have that with a satirical pansexual video. The audio was done by a friend of mine and it’s hilarious. It was one of my best performing videos for a long time and it was taken down after a while because I think it was heavily reported by trolls. And I challenged it, I challenged the community guidelines violation. And I think at that point, because it had a lot, it had a significant amount of views, I think sometimes that’s when it does get reviewed, maybe by a person. Whereas if it doesn’t have that many views, I think sometimes they just let the algorithm do it automatically and you just can’t get that content back.
Rob: Wow. That’s really interesting. Thank you.
Now, what is your hope for Chameleon and Friends being out in the world? The book.
Amee: That is a great question because there are hopes I had before it launched, and hopes I have now it’s actually coming up to the launch. I think ultimately I just hope it gets read by people who maybe don’t know the platform. Because I think obviously if there are people who are really big fans, I’m sure they may seek it out, they may buy it. But I would really love to reach more people who maybe don’t have resources available, like you talked about like schools and things like that. Or places where social media is, you know, more heavily monitored. Like, you know, some kids won’t necessarily be allowed to have Instagram or TikTok, or things like that.
So, it was funny that you mentioned, you know, it be lovely to be in schools. I would say that that’s probably my hope for it, is that it actually gets into the hands of people who don’t have much available to just give them a little bit of like, hope that there’s visibility, or help them learn something that they didn’t know.
Rob: Yeah. Beautiful. No, that’s beautiful. And I think it just brings such light to the world. So thank you very much for creating it and I think that’s a fantastic hope.
A question we ask all our guests is a writing question. So, this could be around storytelling. So any advice or top tips, outside of your fantastic TikTok tips, for aspiring writers or storytellers out there who are perhaps wanting to create in that digital space?
Amee: I think my main tip would be to have a really strong idea in your mind. You don’t have to necessarily have the story formulated, but when I came up with the idea, it was very much, I’m going to use illustrated chameleons to talk about queer identity. It was like that one sentence that I could sum up what my idea was. Once you have that, you can spend time building around it, you know, taking things away, adding things in, but having that kind of locked in always is something you can refer to and just keeps you on track. Um, yeah, and then helped build my brand off the back of that cause I had a really clear, strong idea of what my whole thought was behind it.
Rob: Fantastic. That’s great advice. Thank you. On the show we also have a shout out question. So firstly how can listeners – and you should all be connected with Amee – but how can listeners connect with you on socials?
Amee: Professionally, if you do want to reach out to me, I, I do have LinkedIn, so I’m obviously Amee Wilson on LinkedIn. But then yeah, follow me on either Instagram or TikTok. If you actually want to get in contact, Instagram’s probably better because you can just send me a DM and my email information’s all on there as well. But I’d love for people to reach out. The more people I can meet in this kind of like area, the better.
Rob: Fantastic. And we have show notes, so we’ll have your Instagram and links in there. And also would you like to shout out any LGBTIQA plus artists, books, art show organizations, social media accounts? And I’ll just let the listeners know, you’ve got this great resource at the back of the book as well where you’ve got some fantastic organizations in there.
Amee: There’s two books that I personally just found like deeply useful, and one was personally for me and my own sexuality — bisexual. And I had never read a book about my sexuality until last year. And it’s Bi, by Julia Shaw. And it’s just a really deep dive into the sexuality, its history, the meanings, like pop culture and it’s just very thoughtfully written. And I think anybody who is either discovering their sexuality, or has even been very confident or comfortable with it for a while, it’s a really interesting read. I learned a lot of things about myself that I just had never really thought about before. And then the second one, I mean I’m still reading it currently, but words can’t really describe it, but The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, by Shon Faye. And just, if you are <laugh>, I was gonna say in the UK or the US, but I mean anywhere in the world, and you care about trans rights and you want to understand the political landscape, really, really, really important book. I can’t wait to finish devouring it.
And then one shout out for an Instagram channel. If you are interested in just knowing more about different sexualities, this particular creator just is a wealth of education. They’re called Zoe Stoller. They just make fantastic resources about every possible label that you could think exists. And they’re just done in a really easy to digest, completely unbiased, just giving information and just lots and lots of resources if you just want to learn more about the community.
Rob: Fantastic. Oh, that’s excellent. Yeah, so as I mentioned, we’ll put those in the show notes and definitely get our Instagram following Zoe. That’s great.
So, we have our closing question for you, Amee Wilson, is what is your hope for the LGBTIQA plus community?
Amee: I think, I hope that we can just keep building the momentum that we’ve started to build in the last few years. I think it can be really difficult to keep going sometimes, especially when it feels like we’re quite disparate and we’ve all got our own issues. But I do think we are starting to see a bit of a sea-change. The census data and things are coming out of different countries is there are more of us than ever, and so I just think it’s a case of like, if you are feeling like you want to stop fighting, or you just don’t have the energy to keep fighting for our rights, just to like reach out to somebody because I think we are doing such good work working together, and I think we just have to keep maintaining that.
Rob: That’s beautiful, thank you. And absolutely that stronger together, particularly when there are parts of our communities which are, you know, are really under attack. So, thank you. Thank you so much, Amee, I honestly could chat to you for hours.
Amee: We should definitely do that TikTok one, I’d love to chat more about it. It’s one of the things I’m so passionate about, so if you ever chat about it, feel free.
Rob: Absolutely. That sounds great. Thank you.
Check out our Season 1 QWS Podcast episodes here.