Porcupine Cupid by Jason June is on sale now. Order it here!
By Jason June
What is love? No, I’m not talking about Haddaway hits (although that is an absolute bop), but my favorite emotion. Love fuels the best movie genre (rom-coms), my favorite holiday (I could go on and on about why Valentine’s Day is not just a commercial juggernaut), and the most important debates (if Rose really loved Jack why didn’t she let him up on that door?). But like, what is it?
“Liking something a lot” doesn’t do the emotion justice at all, especially when describing it to kids who are curious about the lovey dovey-ness and goo goo eyes they see all these teenagers and grown-ups acting out. So what is love? That’s the question I set out to explore when I wrote Porcupine Cupid. I didn’t just want to portray loving couples but show how they fall in love, and what that process feels and looks like. I wanted to show how love is an unpredictable emotion, how you can find yourself loving someone without entirely knowing how or when it happened, and that sudden realization can feel like a jolt, a poke if you will. And to show that, we’ve got Porcupine.
Our little matchmaker was my answer to showing the suddenness of love. How when you feel it, it can be physically jarring, struck by emotion so strongly it’s like someone literally prodded your heart. It’s where the term love-struck or the phrase ‘Love at first sight’ both come from. It’s this sudden, holy moly what is that feeling.
The best way I could explain that part of the process was to make Porcupine a physical manifestation of love. He goes around poking his forest neighbors with his quills, his friends quite literally experiencing a physical sensation that they don’t have control over. Just like how we fall in love (or experience any emotion, really), we don’t have control over it. We don’t ask to fall in love, we just do. That lack of control over when or with whom we fall in love is what so much of the romance industry is about: Those “this is my best friend, I can’t fall in love with them” but they inevitably do love stories. The “this is supposed to be a rebound, I can’t fall in love with them” but they inevitably do soulmates. The “I loathe this person entirely, I can’t fall in love with them” but they inevitably do written-in-the-stars lovers. So much about love is beyond our ability to control, and I thought a prickly porcupine poking his pals could be one way to explore the chaos of sorts that is those first inklings of love.
But I also wanted to be sure we explored what we can control about the emotion. That most of all, a relationship forms when folks have a conversation and agree to explore love together. This is the most important part of the beginning stages of love, what we do after we experience feelings that seemingly appear out of nowhere. We can’t simply say, “I love you!” and expect someone to just go along with it. It’s got to be a shared experience, so each of the characters Porcupine pokes has a conversation with someone who’s caught their eye. They ask if the other wants to spend more time together, wants to have some shared experiences, or explore a common interest, as Lori Richmond so wonderfully illustrates. This is where the magic happens. Not in Porcupine’s poke, not in that first prick of love, but in how you express that love and make sure everyone is on the same page. That’s where the bond is formed, where true love happens.
So as our couples in Porcupine Cupid have these conversations, we see the beginnings of true love blooming. But as a kid, even in elementary school, I knew that the examples mainstream media were showing me what my future would look like didn’t feel right. I never felt like the animated prince, or like masculine energy was anywhere in my future, honestly. So my favorite way we explored love comes through nothing I wrote but through Lori’s gorgeous art.
As Lori shows in all her illustrations, we can love anyone, regardless of labels. No matter your gender, no matter your sexuality, we can all feel love. Our couples that pair off showcase a variety of genders and sexualities through subtle cues. Two masculine bears walk hand-in-hand through the forest, one wearing a scarf of the trans flag. Two feminine bobcats sit together and bond over science and space. A genderqueer rabbit finds their perfect match while stretching over yoga. It’s mutual, it’s beautiful, it’s souls connecting.
That is love.
Jason June has been in love with love for as long as he can remember. When not writing, he’s sending Valentine’s cards to his husband, eating candy hearts, and officiating weddings. Jason June is the author of Whobert Whover, Owl Detective, and Porcupine Cupid, and can be found online at HeyJasonJune.com.