Ask yourself this: Who wouldn’t want to read a gay centaur Western?
Hotblood! hasn’t been around for long, but it’s already capturing hearts and minds on Tumblr thanks to its combination of snappy dialogue, classic gritty Western tropes, and foreshadowing toward queer romance.
Written and drawn by webcomic artist Toril Orlesky, it tells the story of a pair of 19th century adventurers, James Rook and Asa Langley. Asa is an obnoxious, money-obsessed steel magnate, while Rook is the curmudgeonly Civil War veteran he accidentally hired to be his secretary. Oh, and Rook’s a centaur.
The comic takes place in an alternate universe where centaurs coexist with humans, leading to a whole lot of subtle but significant differences in the way American society developed. Despite the whole centaur thing, this version of the Old West is surprisingly realistic and has a solid basis in historical fact. It’s just that along with the typical prejudices of rural 19th century life, Asa has the option of making racist jokes about his secretary looking like a horse.
Illustration via Hotblood!
Part of the reason why Hotblood! has caught on so quickly is Orlesky’s awesome Tumblr, where she answers questions about the characters and setting. She also reblogs a multitude of fanart from her readers—including the NSFW stuff, because while Hotblood! is going to retain a strictly PG-13 rating in canon, Orlesky has made it clear that Rook and Asa will eventually end up together. This pairing has already inspired a dedicated following of shippers, and with shipping comes NC-17 fanart, which Orlesky welcomes with open arms … while gently pointing out that there will never be any explicit human-on-centaur action in the comic itself.
She has, however, begun to draw a few cute Asa/Rook mini-comics, on the grounds that because they’re a pair of socially maladjusted dicks who argue all the time, Hotblood! is unlikely to include many adorable romance moments in canon. Orlesky refers to her approach as “sticking it to the bromance genre,” writing a Western outlaw adventure where the two main dudes really do make out at the end, rather than riding platonically off into the sunset.
Illustration via starlock/Tumblr
Speaking to the Daily Dot, Orlesky explained a few of her philosophies on fandom, Asa/Rook shipping, and her storytelling process.
This sounds a little “are you now, or have you ever been...” but were you a fanartist before you started writing Hotblood? Your blog reminds me a little of Noelle Stevenson (Gingerhaze), because you reblog so much fanart and discuss fanfic-like concepts that probably won’t show up in the actual canon of the comic. Also, you seem really accepting of fanart, even when it's NSFW.
Back in 2009 I was pretty active in the ONTD_StarTrek community on Livejournal, and I owe a lot of my Tumblr presence to the early days of the Welcome to Night Vale fandom, before it exploded. I actually don't participate in any fandom much currently, though—everyone gets so angry over the most absurd things, all the time. Hannibal, Breaking Bad, and Kuroko no Basuke, however, are shows that I've been able to quietly enjoy with my friends, to great success. And that's why I encourage fanwork for my comic: I want people to have fun if they like my story enough to create something for it. Fan art and fan fiction take time, effort, and commitment, and I'd never want to brush that off! It's a huge honor, really. I hoard every piece of fan art I've gotten like a dragon.
Illustration via getyourman/Tumblr
Could you extrapolate a bit on what you mean by “sticking it to the bromance genre”?
There are a lot of people who can say this better than I can, but I'm sick and tired of seeing the term "bromance" slapped onto a relationship between two men—usually the two lead characters of a show—as a "no homo" disclaimer. It's a simple way to erase the possibility of a queer relationship while also implying that the word "friendship" would be too tender and wimpy for these particular leading men. Asa and Rook do some fairly despicable things over the course of the story, but investing in a relationship with each other is not one of them, and I don't want to understate that.
It’s clear from your blog that you’ve put a lot of thought into the world-building of a universe where humans and centaurs coexist. Could you tell us a few of your favorite world-building details?
The truth is, I actually don't do much worldbuilding! I do a ton of research and let history do the worldbuilding for me. There is very little in Hotblood! that isn't founded—however distantly—in either history or horse physiology, and with everything else I take the path of least resistance. For example: in a society partially comprised of ungulates, most stairwells are going to be of a shallower grade than they are in the real world.
In a similar vein, I am adamant about the fact that centaurs don't wear pants. There's nothing practical about that concept at all.
Illustration via mcsnazzier/Tumblr
You seem to answer a lot of questions on Tumblr, often (unsurprisingly) about centaur dongs. But I was wondering: If you pat a centaur on the flank, is it like patting a human on the butt?
Worse—it's a combo of sexual harassment and implying, on a certain level, that you think of that centaur as a horse.
Orlesky’s Tumblr is a goldmine of Hotblood! details, from lengthy Q&As about Asa and Rook’s relationship, to fanmixes for the main characters. The webcomic has even inspired that infallible marker of fandom success, a TV Tropes page. Not bad for six months’ work.
It’s interesting to see the way Orlesky discusses the characters outside of the comic, because it’s almost as if she’s in the fandom for her own work. Obviously she controls the canon narrative of Asa and Rook as a pair of slightly dickish Civil War-era guys who (at the moment, at any rate) don’t even like each other very much. But take a look at her blog, with its plethora of Asa/Rook art and speculation about their relationship, and it’s seems pretty clear that she’s also a shipper. She’s already hinted that in canon, the path to true love is going to be far from smooth, so Hotblood! fans are lucky to be in the position of having the comic’s author draw what basically amounts to fanart for her own characters.
Illustration via Hotblood!