Twitter, HIV, Superheroes & Me
Writer and influential tweeter Kristian Johns has transformed his own experience of HIV into a superhero epic
In 2011, the UK website Pink News compiled a list of the 50 most influential LGBT people on Twitter. There, along with the likes of George Michael, was a gay writer and blogger from south London named Kristian Johns.
'I was number 49, but that's pretty good for a relative nobody, isn't it?' he says with a grin. 'Especially as the others in the list were people like Stephen Fry and Ellen DeGeneres. The “influential” tag can have its drawbacks though. I get brands following me just because they want me to flog their stuff for them, or people just asking for retweets. I'm on there for conversation and interaction, not marketing.'
Johns currently has 7,265 followers on Twitter - not bad, but nothing compared to Fry's 4 million or Ellen's 11 million. So why does he think he made the grade? 'At the risk of sounding like a cliché, I think you just have to be real,' he says. 'On a platform like social media, if you're constantly self-promoting and trying to get followers because it boosts your ego, then people just see straight through it. You've got to give to get back. Listen as well as talk and find common ground with people.'
Among the things Johns talks about is his HIV status. 'I've had HIV for ten years,' he says. 'And I'm healthy, happy and totally at ease with my status. But it was apparent that a lot of people weren't. I guess they looked up to me in a way, and I realised I could use writing to help people. Sometimes it feels like a big responsibility. But to be told you're a role model, or an inspiration - it gave me self-esteem at a time when I really didn't have much of my own.'
HIV also features in his first published work of fiction, 'Dying, and Other Superpowers' , which won critical praise and has now been turned into a short film. The story was published in an anthology, 'Boys and Girls', edited by yours truly. In it, a young gay man receives the news that he is HIV positive. At the same time, he discovers that he has developed superhuman abilities.
'Certain elements of the story are autobiographical,' says Johns. 'My character Josh's HIV diagnosis was a blow-by-blow account of how I felt and reacted when I received mine. Other elements, like the affair with his mother's boyfriend aren't! I grew up reading comics like X-Men and Spider-Man. I wanted to create a flawed hero, and I love the dichotomy of someone who has superhuman powers, but is limited by a very human condition. The impact on Josh's immune system when he uses his abilities is catastrophic. The HIV acts as his own inbuilt Kryptonite. It was a way of bringing HIV into the storyline, but it's really about his powers and what he decides to do when he realises it's a choice between saving himself or saving the world.'
The story was published in 2010. Soon afterwards, Johns was approached by film director Elias Ribeiro. 'He tracked me down on Facebook to say he loved the story, and asked if I'd be interested in meeting to discuss the possibility of turning it into a screenplay. Two days after the meeting I had the first few pages of the script.'
Johns worked closely with the production team throughout filming. 'But at the end of the day,the film looks and sounds completely different to how I imagined. What Elias has done is take a high-octane story and give it a very human twist. It might be my story, but it's 100 per cent his film.'
'Dying, and Other Superpowers' has been shortlisted for the Soho Rushes Film Festival and the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. 'We aim to take it to Cannes and the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival next year,' says Johns. 'I'm in discussions with several parties about selling the rights to develop it into a full-length feature. I'm a bit gobsmacked by it all, to be honest.'
Meanwhile, Johns is working on a prequel to the story, called 'The 'Beginner's Guide to Saving the World'. 'I poured my heart and soul into those characters,' he says. 'And I'm not done with them yet.'
Kristian Johns reads at Polari on June 11. The Soho Rushes Film Festival runs July 11-20. See the trailer at www.urucumedia.com/dyingandothersuperpowers