Guest Opinion: Graphic novelist shares his SF story

  • by Jonah Newman
  • Wednesday April 3, 2024
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Some scenes of the Castro in Jonah Newman's graphic novel, "Out of Left Field." Image: (c) 2024 Jonah Newman from "Out of Left Field," published by Andrews McMeel and reprinted with permission
Some scenes of the Castro in Jonah Newman's graphic novel, "Out of Left Field." Image: (c) 2024 Jonah Newman from "Out of Left Field," published by Andrews McMeel and reprinted with permission

I'm an author, illustrator, and editor who grew up in the Bay Area. My debut graphic novel "Out of Left Field," published by Andrews McMeel in March, is based on my experiences playing baseball as a gay kid in San Francisco.

It's a story I've wanted to tell ever since the events that inspired it ended. As early as freshman year of college, I wrote a short story based on my final season of high school baseball. I remember it pouring out of me; I was "in the zone" and tapping easily into those memories and emotions. That sort of creative energy is rare and not to be neglected. A couple of years later, I made a short memoir comic called "The Last Season." But I felt I had still not done justice to my baseball story, and — inspired by queer graphic memoirs like Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" and Tillie Walden's "Spinning" — I wanted to include the discovery and embrace of my gay identity. I began to write "Out of Left Field" in 2018.

As the creative process progressed, and thanks in part to some great editorial feedback, what began as a graphic memoir evolved into semi-autobiographical fiction. Real life is messy and difficult to fit into a book, and others are unlikely to find your life as meaningful as you do. So in the hopes of making it easier for readers to connect with my story, I focused on distilling and conveying the emotional truth of what I went through. Taking creative liberties with the plot — reorganizing, exaggerating, and even inventing in places — allowed me to better capture the essentials and emotions of my high school experience: secretly crushing on boys, trying hopelessly to be cool, and then (once I wised up a bit) building genuine friendships and accepting my nerdy, gay self. With its focus on emotional truth above truthful detail, "Out of Left Field" turned out, I think, more compelling and relatable than a true memoir would have been.

That said, many aspects of the graphic novel are 100% true, including the Bay Area setting. I relished drawing the Golden Gate Bridge, Pacific Heights, Castro Street, Corona Heights Park, Marin County, and more.

There are a few messages that I hope readers will take away from my book. First and foremost, I hope my book makes LGBTQ+ teens, especially those who play sports, feel comforted and seen. There's a lot more queer representation in young adult literature than there used to be, but not a ton of queer sports representation. While I think that in some contexts, it's easier to be a queer athlete now than it was when I was in high school in the early 2010s, I know that many athletes — especially trans athletes — still walk an extremely tough road. I hope my book emboldens them to live and compete fearlessly. Perhaps the most important message of the graphic novel is to be your authentic self, no matter what others might think. This is a message that anyone can connect with, whether or not they play sports or identify as LGBTQ+.

Another key takeaway is that it's OK to make mistakes as long as you own up to them and learn and grow from the experiences. In the book, Jonah the character screws up a lot, from laughing along with his teammates' offensive jokes to failing to be emotionally attentive to people close to him. These mistakes and what follows are crucial parts of Jonah's journey. It was important to me to depict not just mistakes, but their aftermath — consequences, apologies, and growth — because I wanted to show that selfhood is determined in part by how we respond to screwing up or being called out. Everyone makes mistakes, but it's the choices we make afterward that define us. In today's cruel and divided world, we could all be more forgiving and graceful toward others and ourselves when we inevitably make mistakes.

Serious themes aside, I strove to keep "Out of Left Field" sweet and light-hearted, with plenty of humor. I hope you find it relatable and entertaining.

Jonah Newman, a gay man, will be in the Bay Area April 8-19 doing bookstore, library, and community events. For a schedule, go to

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