Learn Your ‘GAYBCs’

By Charles Purdy

Canadian graphic designer Rae Congdon’s new book, GAYBCs—scheduled to be released by Greystone Books on September 18—is a playful, slightly subversive picture book that aims to celebrate and demystify LGBTQ terminology. But before it hit Amazon.com’s shelves, it was a student project that earned Congdon an Adobe Design Achievement Award.

It all started with a student project in 2014, when Congdon was a university sophomore. Her idea for an updated ABC book sprang from a desire to educate people about new LGBTQ terms—words and ideas that were becoming more widely accepted. Congdon says, “I wanted to find a way that would be different from a dictionary or a textbook. I wanted something that would catch someone’s attention in a simple way, but that would also allow them to reflect on the ideas, with a humorous tone and some nice design elements.”

In Congdon’s re-imagined alphabet book, A, B, and C, stand for allybisexual, and cisgender, respectively. The book looks like a traditional ABC book that has been playfully edited: for instance, a ladybug gains a girlfriend to illustrate the word lesbian, and a tie gets a twist to illustrate the word transgender. GAYBCs also defines some less commonly known terms and puts LGBTQ-friendly spins on words like wedding. 

Congdon finished the project, and then set it aside for more than two years—until a teacher advised her to consider the project as a portfolio piece. That same teacher encouraged her to seek out design competitions that promote student work, and that led her to the Adobe Design Achievement Awards—she thought her GAYBCs project fit well in the Social Impact, Photography, Print, Illustration, Graphic category, so she entered the contest and, as she says, “everything turned out pretty nicely!”

After winning an Adobe Design Achievement Award in 2016, Congdon was invited to Adobe MAX, where a presentation by former Adobe Creative Resident Becky Simpson, on the topic of publishing illustrated books, led her to pursue getting GAYBCs published. With further guidance from Simpson, Congdon researched and found an agent, and then she went on to land a publisher for her project.

Congdon greatly enjoyed working with her publisher and editor, and she says that the finished book is very true to her original concept and drawings. “It’s exactly how the original was designed,” she explains. “The style—with pencil scratch-outs and the straightforward drawings—was very integral to the concept, and the publisher understood that.”

The publisher describes GAYBCs as “a queer ABCs for our modern world.”

Congdon says that the book is meant for all ages. She says, “It could be a coffee-table book or a learning tool for students, for instance in a school library. I got my author copies a few weeks ago, and I took a copy to a family gathering where I was able to show it both to my grandparents and to my cousins who are 10 and 11. It was very interesting to see both sides of that age range. My grandfather didn’t know a few of the terms, and it was refreshing to be able to talk to him about them—and teach him something he might not have known at all before. And then for my younger cousins, it’s interesting to see how they’re already familiar with many of the terms.”

GAYBCs will be available on September 18, 2018 (October 1, 2018, in Australia and New Zealand)—a portion of proceeds from book sales will be donated to Rainbow Railroad, a nonprofit organization that helps LGBTQ people around the world escape persecution. And Congdon is already developing concepts for her next book, while continuing to work as a freelance graphic designer and pursuing other passion projects, including a zine that explores the drag scene in Montréal, where she lives.

See more of Rae Congdon’s work on her portfolio site and on Instagram.  

September 11, 2018