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The creator of 'Heartstopper' talks about her work and demand for LGBTQ stories

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

"Heartstopper" is the U.K.'s fastest selling graphic novel ever. The young adult series follows the story of Nick Nelson and Charlie Spring, who meet and fall in love at an all-boys school. In 2022, it was adapted into a Netflix series.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HEARTSTOPPER")

KIT CONNOR: (As Nick Nelson) Do you want to go to Harry's party with me?

JOE LOCKE: (As Charlie Spring) Oh, I don't know. It doesn't really sound like my sort of thing.

CONNOR: (As Nick Nelson) Please come. I want you to be there.

LOCKE: (As Charlie Spring) OK.

MARTIN: NPR's Julie Depenbrock talked with "Heartstopper's" creator about her work and the demand for LGBTQ stories for and about young people.

JULIE DEPENBROCK, BYLINE: British author Alice Oseman still cannot quite comprehend the popularity of "Heartstopper," a comic series she launched just five years ago.

ALICE OSEMAN: It's really beyond my wildest dreams. It's extremely rare for authors to reach this level of popularity.

DEPENBROCK: Oseman, now 29 years old, published her first graphic novel, "Solitaire," when she was still a teenager, drawing from her own school life. "Heartstopper" is a spinoff of "Solitaire," which features the characters of Nick and Charlie already in a relationship. The second season of "Heartstopper's" Netflix adaptation came out last August. In its first week, it had 6.1 million viewers. The series tackles stories of queer romance, friendship, mental illness and coming out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HEARTSTOPPER")

LOCKE: (As Charlie Spring) Obviously, I want you to come out when and how you want to. And if that takes a long time, that's completely OK. But I guess part of me just wants everyone to know you're my boyfriend.

DEPENBROCK: But heavier storylines are always balanced with a tone of optimism. Oseman says it's not just the tone that's resonating.

OSEMAN: When I first released "Heartstopper" in the U.K., young adult graphic novels really weren't much of a thing. There weren't very many available, but teens have really loved that it's got pictures, it's really easy to read, it's very quick to read.

DEPENBROCK: And the success of the series makes a clear point about the demand for LGBTQ stories.

OSEMAN: It shows that they are mainstream. There are so many people who want queer stories, especially young people. There is absolutely a market for those stories in mainstream media.

DEPENBROCK: But with this popularity comes backlash. "Heartstopper" has been pulled from library shelves in several locations in the U.S.

OSEMAN: It saddens me, and I always feel quite helpless. You know, I always find myself thinking, what can I do? And I don't really know what I can do.

DEPENBROCK: In 2022, the American Library Association documented the highest number of attempted book bans since they began compiling data more than 20 years ago. Many of those titles were written by or about members of the LGBTQ community.

OSEMAN: Queer young people really need to see themselves in fiction and in the media that they're consuming. For that to be taken away is really scary and disheartening and upsetting.

DEPENBROCK: Especially since so many of the young people Oseman hears from discovered "Heartstopper" in their school library.

OSEMAN: It made me think back to being at school and hanging out in my school library, and there really weren't any queer books that - certainly that I saw or that I found.

DEPENBROCK: To know that she's helping young queer people feel seen in that way, Oseman says, is an honor.

Julie Depenbrock, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Julie Depenbrock
Julie Depenbrock (she/her) is an assistant producer on Morning Edition. Previously, she worked at The Washington Post and on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show. Depenbrock holds a master's in journalism with a focus in investigative reporting from the University of Maryland. Before she became a journalist, she was a first grade teacher in Rosebud, South Dakota. Depenbrock double-majored in French and English at Lafayette College. She has a particular interest in covering education, LGBTQ issues and the environment. She loves dogs, hiking, yoga and reading books for work (and pleasure).
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