Joining me for the Drag Race’s final week is Ariel Italic, a friend of mine from NYC! She performs there and writes RPDR recaps for Queerty!
Chad: So, it’s been a long season. Or, at least, that’s what it feels like to me. After drawing and discussing the show week after week, I’m usually pretty burnt out by the end. How are you feeling about it?
Ariel: Similarly. I host AND recap, so I watch every episode at least twice. There were a lot of queens, but also this season didn’t have the punch of some of the others, so it felt even longer than it was.
Chad: Yeah, and the pacing is always weird — the way that the “RuCap Week” slows things down, the long wait to find out who actually won. The show has more padding than Pearl ever did on the runway!
Ariel: Having the clip show right before the reunion is a terrible choice, honestly. Like, we spend a whole hour recapping the past ten weeks, and then… bring the eliminated queens back to recap the past ten weeks again.
Chad: Yeah, that’s totally true. SO MANY MONTAGES! I mean, some of them are fun, but still. How many times do we need to hear “WAKE UP, PEARL?”
Ariel: I think this season was trying to impose storylines where there were none. Like, there were so many attempts at manufacturing feuds, or giving Pearl that “growth” plotline even though she’s clearly just as sleepy as ever, or making Violet a horrendous villain early on only to steer her toward quick, friendly redemption… it all felt much more forced than usual.
Chad: Yeah, everyone talks about how Pearl “came out of her shell,” but she’s still the same as ever, for better or worse. She DID get a little more energetic and earnest with the challenges, but she’s the same quirky queen we love and ridicule.
Ariel: That really shows the divide between reality and reality TV. Pearl is extremely fashionable and has a weird sense of humor and is a fantastic drag queen overall, but she doesn’t come across to the audience in the structure of the series. Jasmine Masters may not have the same eye for fashion, but she’s so much more watchable.
Chad: Yes, absolutely. And it’s just not clear whether America’s Next Drag Superstar is supposed to be the queen who makes the best TV, the fan favorite, or the queen who is actually just… the best.
Ariel: Exactly. Like, the challenges this season were almost all performance-related, which made Ginger seem like the clear front-runner. Then the clip show made this “the season of fashion” and all of a sudden Violet was the one to beat, even though the sewing challenges were minimal, and the ones that they did have were often edited almost completely out.
Chad: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I wonder why they went back and forth like that. Because Ginger seemed like the strongest contender from early on — she was charismatic, funny, and a great performer! What went wrong for Ginger?
Ariel: For me, it seemed unfair to give Ginger the win when Katya exceeds her in pretty much every area except singing. Katya is funny, a great dancer, and has a phenomenal eye for fashion. You could tell by the audience reaction to her that she was the true winner this season. Violet, I think, took the win because she is different from Katya. Ginger is just LESS than Katya.
Chad: I see. A harsh comparison, but… I see it.
Ariel: I don’t mean to be anti-Ginger, I’m still bitter about Katya’s elimination.
Chad: The show has developed SUCH a strange, incestuous relationship with its fans. From the constant call-outs to reddit, to the social media whoring for the crown, to the jaw-dropping moment when Ru called out Katya to the stage. It was a clear acknowledgment that, ultimately, her winning would have been the most satisfying!
Ariel: I think this season must have been difficult for the producers in that sense, because the fan reactions seem to have been wildly different from what was predicted. Plus, the eliminated queens got so much hatred on social media that Ru even called it out during the finale. And I’ll admit, it was stuff like that that kept me from making an audition tape for next season.
Chad: Here’s something that I’ve been thinking about: the last few seasons, the generational divide between the older (pre-RPDR) queens and the younger ones has been a constant source of tension and drama. Do you think there might be a similar generational gap between the show’s creators and its fans?
Ariel: Oh definitely. The fans get younger every year as a new group gets interested in drag and as acceptance for gay culture permeates further into the mainstream. It says a lot that the two oldest queens were eliminated quite early, and the remaining elders were positioned as bitter villains.
Chad: Well, with Katya caught in the middle! She stood apart — although she seemed closest with the older queens, she never threw the younger ones any shade. I think the Drag Race is fostering a whole new fandom of drag culture, and the art form might go in new directions faster than the show can keep up with. Or has that already happened?
Ariel: Gosh, I don’t even know. I do think it’s interesting that the contestants are increasingly constrained by the format. Fame has make-up and runway skills that set her miles ahead of the other girls, Violet can do aerial acrobatics on silks… even Katya’s Russian character had limited opportunity to come out and play. There’s a diversity to drag that the show has never been 100% equipped to represent. But again, this is the divide between reality and reality TV, and that’s always going to be a weird space they navigate.
Chad: The reunion shows are always interesting — the live presentation gives it a different kind of spontaneity, but then there are scripted elements that often do a disservice to some of the queens who are relegated to a punchline. Which queens *didn’t* want to be there?
Ariel: That’s tough to say, since everyone besides the top 3 was given precious little screen time. I think people seemed relatively game. Why, did you sense some lingering ambivalence in someone?
Chad: I thought, for the most part, the queens were treated fairly well. Fame doesn’t seem to mind the constant chicken jokes, and even Tempest doesn’t seem that ticked about her early departure. But I do wonder about Max. What do you make of her?
Ariel: I thought it was interesting that she got almost no screen time. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since the beginning, and was honestly hoping she’d make Top 3. She has a clear aesthetic and point of view, and I find her specialized nature more compelling than the producers do, apparently.
Chad: I adore her approach to fashion, to her conceptualizing of the runway challenges. But I wonder about her strategy on the show. It seemed like her character only served to distance the other queens from her, as well as a lot of fans. There are times when she comes across as eloquent and lovely (like when she was recounting boosting Jaidynn’s morale) and then others when she seems like an awkward teenager who’s over-compensating for something. Which could probably be summed up as… being a young artist.
Ariel: Yeah, that’s my take, too. She’s kind-hearted but ultimately kind of weird. I have known so many Maxes in my day. Sometimes I’m a Max myself. I think in a parallel universe she could have been given a whole arc about learning to interact with the other queens even though they initially found her tough to deal with. Like, she could have been a less villainous Violet if the editors felt like it.
Chad: Right. If you had been on a reality TV show at 21, 22, whatever age Max is, what would YOU have done?
Ariel: Oof, I shudder to think. I already spend too much time anticipating the many ways I would spectacularly fuck up if I were on the show NOW.
Chad: So, you’d be a Katya?
Ariel: I’d never make it that far.
Chad: I do have to say that my very most favoritest moment of the whole night was Katya talking with Ru. That was RIDICULOUS!
Ariel: Katya brings me infinite amounts of joy. I wish I understood what was going on in her brain. It literally does not matter what question you ask her, she will just respond with hilarious nonsense. It’s like if Miss Fame were possessed by Robin Williams.
Chad: Hearing Katya so crudely and creatively and candidly describe her feelings about Ru? Sheer gold.
Ariel: And Ru is equipped to roll with the joke, which is why she is the supreme leader.
Chad: Granted, Katya wants everyone and everything to pee on her. Still.
Ariel: Hey, everyone has a wheelhouse. Dumpster comedy works for Katya.
Chad: Yeah, she’s doing alright. If Katya couldn’t win, would Violet have been your next pick?
Ariel: Absolutely. I think she grew throughout the competition, she served incredible fashions (that she often sewed herself), she has legitimate performance talent, and against all odds I ended up kind of liking her. As a queen who started on the internet, I understand her personality.I have been mistaken for a jerk simply because I am socially awkward in front of other queens. It happens.
Chad: Yeah, I think she’s a flawless queen with impeccable taste. Her performances don’t always leave me gagging, but she deserved the crown. Part of me wants her to find a good financial planner and put away that prize money. But I’d also love to see her spend $100,000 on one REALLY amazing gown.
Ariel: HAHAHA she would pick a good one for sure. I think she’s the right choice after Bianca. Ginger would never have lived up to Bianca’s standard in terms of comedic performance, so they had to go with someone who wasn’t aiming to be funny. Plus, Bianca always gets called out on wearing the same dress in different fabrics, and Violet won’t have that problem.
Chad: I feel like the Drag Race takes over so much of queer pop culture each season. For good and bad. Now that it’s over, what are you going to be talking about with all your squirrelfriends?
Ariel: Well, Season 3 of Reddit’s LSFYL competition is about to get started, so that’ll hold me over for a few months. After that, my life will be empty again.
Chad: As the winner of its first season, what will your role be? Fangirl?
Ariel: I’m hoping to be the Michelle Visage. Each week I’ll throw on my judging wig and give some feedback on the performances. What about you? What happens to you when you stop drawing drag queens?
Chad: …I haven’t figured that out, yet.
Thanks so much to Ariel Italic for joining me this week, and thanks to all of you for sharing in Season 7 with me!
You can also get a sneak peek at all my other projects on my Patreon page!
Oh! And I’ll be at CAKE in Chicago THIS WEEKEND! It’s an amazing, free comics show catering to the quirky, queer side of the spectrum.
Thanks again, everyone! You’re the best!
So, the “RuCap” week of each season always offers a break from the frantic pace of the show. It’s a chance to reflect on the highs and lows of the past few months, and most importantly, to get a whole lot of catty commentary from all our favorite queens of past seasons.
Has Season 7 felt a little weird? Yes. Do most viewers really care who wins? I don’t, not really. But over the course of the season, we have gotten to meet some really stellar characters on this show, and I wanted to take some time this week to reflect on my own experience drawing them.
In past years, I’ve used the RuCap episode as a chance to go back and illustrate any of the important runway looks that I might have missed. But this season, I illustrated a lot of them, and there’s only one outfit left that I was dying to draw:
I actually had a ton of fun illustrating Kennedy’s look. Crazy feather/fur stuff! That mug! The blood! It may have been a totally crazy choice, and her story for the runway might not have made any sense, but it sure burned an image into our minds that will stay crystallized forever. (do you see what I did there?)
There have been plenty of complaints about this season’s emphasis on scripted acting challenges, and rightfully so. But looking back, there were some legendary runway themes, too. Both the “Death Becomes Her” and “Bearded Beauty” ones just gave me life, so many stunning concepts and costumes that inspired some of my favorite Drag Race illustrations ever!
The “Conjoined Queens” and “Dancing Queens” challenges were trickier for me to draw, but I loved them. Such crazy creativity and just, well, craziness on that runway.
With a season of so many stunning creations, I wish their actual construction would have been more of a priority. I wanted to see these queens come up with them, or discuss their collaborators at home. It seems to me like the emphasis in editing was on interpersonal conflict rather than costume construction, and that we rarely saw the best looks being put together in the workroom so that they’d be more of a surprise on the runway. Which is fair, but it seems like a disservice to queens like Max and Violet who display such extraordinary vision and skill in their craft.
I felt like the season’s focus on scripted comedy was a challenge for Trixie, too. Her strength is writing her own comedy, or improvising the bullshit and banter that’s so special about live drag performances. It seemed like the show never knew what to do with Trixie, but I’m so glad that she won over so many new fans in her time on it.
I adore the queen, and I love depicting her shrink-wrapped aesthetic. When she was kicked off (the first time), I wanted to really boil down the essence of Trixie, to commemorate the quirky, ridiculousness of it all. And I’m thrilled that she uses that image on her official tank tops, which you’ve gotta break out for Pride season!
Someone remarked that my best work this season has been of Pearl’s looks, and I can’t really disagree. Going into this season, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of Pearl — I knew her from her time in Chicago, and although I live for her look, I didn’t know whether she’d bring much diversity to the runway or character to the workroom.
But she delivered. I mean, not always. She wasn’t the most polished queen, and she didn’t have the most gorgeous gowns. But there’s something about her deranged approach to beauty that I find irresistible. She might not always pad, she might not always perform, but I always love what she’s going for.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, Katya was my BenDeLaCreme this year — my personal favorite, the one whose comedy and approach to drag just meshed with my own preferences the most. But in both cases, I struggled throughout the season trying to capture their likenesses! Katya’s usual look is so striking, but so hard to pin down — what makes her look like her? Obviously, it’s SO much easier to depict the crazy characters she embodies so well.
Whenever I tried to depict Katya seriously, I struggled. Especially when trying to draw her incredible “Jet Set Eleganza” lip sync performance.
In my first few hours working on that illustration, I was trying to capture both her emotional intensity and her legendary legs as they did those slow-motion splits. But it just looked more and more awkward, and I was sure the piece would be an embarrassment.
I only turned it around at the very end when I realized I needed to crop her illustration differently, focusing solely on the arch of her back and her emotional intensity. But still, I was worried it was too simple, or the colors were too crazy, or…. I don’t know. It was one of those pieces that put me through the wringer, questioning whether I should even share it online. Aside from its own merits as a piece of art, Katya’s actual performance was so magnificent and memorable that it seems to have charged this fairly simple portrait with some of that same intensity. Or maybe it still sucks, I don’t know.
In any case, I wanted to make one last, iconic portrait of my dear Katya. Something befitting her stupid talents and talented stupidity. And this happened:
I collect my favorite art from each season in little art books, (you can see all the previous season collections here) so I’ve been working through some ideas for who and what should be on the cover for Season 7. One of the final 3? I love Ginger, but I’ve been having a hell of a time capturing her likeness this season. Maybe Pearl or Violet? But which one? And then my personal favorites are Trixie and Katya, so…. well, here, take a look at my different sketches and let me know which one you’d like to see on 70 QUEENS!
Right now, in all honesty, I’m leaning toward the Katya one.
Regardless, I’ll be putting together the book collection over the next two weeks, and I’ll make it available for pre-order soon! While you wait, you can check out all my other Drag Race art on Etsy!
Or, if you’d rather not cover your walls with drag queens, you can support me via Patreon! If you’re not familiar with how that works, it’s a way to support your favorite artists by sending a few bucks their way every month. I’ve just set it all up, so I’m going to keep it pretty simple right now, but I’m hoping to offer exclusive sneak peeks and sales to my supporters soon!
Patreon will be an ideal way to help me out once the Drag Race season wraps up, because I’ll be turning my attention to The Cardboard Kingdom, a new collaborative comics project! I’m currently taking story submissions until June 15, then I’ll pick a bunch of them to illustrate as fun, imaginative, socially-conscious kids’ comics!
And FINALLY! If you’re not sick of me after reading all this, you should come meet me at two shows coming up in June! CAKE in Chicago is a totally free and amazing indie comics show, full of talent, incredible art, and cool workshops! It will be June 6-7 at The Center on Halsted!
Darienne Lake joins me this week to discuss the Drag Race! Darienne and I caught up at DragCon this past weekend, which was completely crazy and fabulous.
Darienne: People always wonder why this or that person got on the show when they know someone who is so much better. I try to explain that, for example, if you were going to cast a remake of Steel Magnolias, you wouldn’t have 8 Ouisers.
Chad: Right, and the question is: what does “better” mean? More polished? A better performer?
Darienne: There are so many facets of what makes one performer “better” in a fan’s eye. Some people live for fashion queens, some love camp. Some love the dancing divas. I think this year has a great variety of that.
Chad: It seems like a good season is all about finding the right cast of queens who will have the right amount of chemistry and drama. How do you think Season 7 fared in that regard?
Darienne: This year, I think the contestants take the competition very seriously, so it may come across as cutthroat.
Chad: Did you see this week’s Untucked? I thought that came through so much — the older queens, Ginger and Kennedy, made it clear that they would do whatever it took to win. Pearl and Violet were like, “why does this have to be a competition?” Do you think it’s naive of Violet and Pearl to think they can get away with that approach?
Darienne: No. I think it helps us see their point of view.
Chad: Who do you sympathize with? Because you’ve done pageants in the past, right?
Darienne: I have. I never liked the feelings pageants brought out in me.
Chad: Did the Drag Race bring out your competitive edge, or was that different?
Darienne: Drag Race brought out the competitive side in me, but part of my competition style is alliances. I’ve always been a lover of reality competitions, and I’ve always known that nobody gets to the end without forming an alliance.
Chad: What alliance do you think helped you make it to the final challenge?
Darienne: In my case, I knew I had to listen and watch what was working with the judges.
Chad: In terms of your fashion? Or your personality?
Darienne: My fashion is shit and always has been.
Chad: I wouldn’t agree with that, but I can see that you probably prioritize performance and comedy, right?
Darienne: As an overweight child, I never read fashion magazines because those looks were unattainable to me. I felt more importance should be in my entertainment value.
Chad: Sure, I can understand that.
Darienne: When I was picked on, it lessened when I could make the bullies laugh.
Chad: Do you see some of that same approach in Ginger Minj? Her focus on self-deprecating humor and entertainment?
Darienne: I do see that with Ginger, but I see she has such a strong desire to win.
Chad: Do you get the feeling that she’s trying TOO hard? It seemed like she was really pleading her case to the judges this week. Do you think it’s a fair point that it’s time for a bigger queen to be crowned?
Darienne: I don’t think there is ever a time for a big girl to be crowned. If you’re well rounded, motivated, entertaining, and professional, you should represent the brand of America’s next drag superstar.
Chad: Well, so there’s the question: Who do you think WILL win this season, and who SHOULD?
Darienne: The final 3 all have reasons to be there. Ginger could win, because she has the chops to make it in this business. She’s funny, engaging, talented, and direct.
Darienne: Violet could win, because she has something new and exciting for the audience. She also takes her craft very seriously and is very polished for someone who was 16 when RuPaul’s Drag Race first came on TV.
Chad: ….and Pearl?
Darienne: Pearl could win, because she is that diamond in the rough that has been polished by the machine of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She has grown emotionally on the show. She has had her spirit tested, broken, and rebuilt.
Chad: Yeah, I really have no idea who will or should win. I seriously think at the Reunion that Ru should announce “The winner of Season 7 is…… KATYA!” That would be the most surprising and rewarding ending.
Darienne: I met Katya at DragCon, and she is exactly what you want and hope for.
Chad: (Yes, I know.)
Chad: Last year, there was a TON of discussion about your “edit,” about whether you were depicted as much shadier than you really are. Do you feel like any of the top four queens got a particularly positive or negative edit this season?
Darienne: Violet may have gotten a little of the Courtney edit. Which was: fierce, but arrogant. Which, Courtney is anything but. She was and is so dear to me.
Chad: Yeah, all of my interactions with Courtney have been absolutely delightful. The same is true for you, too, which is why I’m so suspicious of those damn editors!
Darienne: I performed at Tracks in Denver on NYE, and Violet was a delight.
Chad: I feel like Pearl really got the “Adore” edit, where she’s rough and inconsistent, and she’s given second and third chances, but she fights her way to the finish line.
Darienne: Exactly my thoughts.
Chad: I don’t know WHAT to make of Ginger’s depiction on the show. I’ve had the feeling all along that she’ll win, but not necessarily from her edit. I actually prefer her in interviews and on YouTube videos to her performances on the show.
Darienne: I think Kennedy came across as too stuck in her beliefs.
Chad: Sure. I do like her, and I think she’s a complicated character. Brilliant performer, definitely knows what she’s doing. Hearing about her family and her caregiving role really struck a chord for me.
Darienne: Yes, and Kennedy entertained me out of my seat when I saw her at the premier party.
Chad: Same with us! My boyfriend doesn’t watch the show, but he came with me, and afterward, Kennedy was his favorite.
Darienne: I would probably put my money on Ginger to win. I think that she could handle the pressure, adoration, and critiques it takes.
Chad: Aside from the cash prize, do you think the crown matters a whole lot to the queens’ careers?
Darienne: Not at all. Look at Milk and BenDela. Adore and Courtey. Katya and Trixie.
Chad: Yeah, I do think Ginger is the most grounded and professional queen to serve as the face of the show.
Darienne: Whoever it is, they have some big footsteps to follow. Bianca has been a trailblazer.
Chad: The one other thing I wanted to ask you was about internet fandom and backlash. It seems like Kennedy has gotten the brunt of it this season, without really deserving the negative attention she’s gotten. How do you shrug off the haters?
Darienne: Mind over matter. Pay them no mind, because they don’t matter. There is no way their comments will affect my life. I dealt with real bullies. With fists. I can deal with someone with an Internet connection.
Chad: Ha! Did you have any other thoughts on the Drag Race, drag in general, or on being Darienne Lake?
Darienne: RuPaul’s Drag Race continues to keep me as a fan. Bringing more people to the shows in every bar around the world. It’s children, parents, and grandparents who are coming to Battle of the Seasons tours and DragCon.
Chad: Yeah, you’re right! That’s so great to see! I had a lot of all-ages groups coming by my table at DragCon. It’s so incredible to see whole families opening up and becoming more accepting.
Darienne: I’m blessed to be part of a groundbreaking television series.
Darienne will be performing in Cleveland May 30th, Ann Arbor, MI on June 5th, and Detroit on the 6th!
And be sure to find all your favorite Drag Race prints, posters, and postcards at my Etsy Store!