BLOG POST SUMMARY: I may be a gay erotic comics writer/editor but I don't fuck around. :-D I seriously think that, even when I make and pimp absolutely frivolous entertainments, I have to pursue a level of expertise in the specific and general aspects of what I do as a gay erotic comics writer/editor. Plus, it’s fun for me to do.
Acknowledgments: I must take a moment to thank +Arthur Schenk for suggesting I make long, LiveJournal-style bloggings about my areas of expertise and interest.
I know I could totally wing it when it comes to making gay erotic comics. It’s not a field that requires certification, peer review, pleasing a population of professional or amateur critics, or a fan culture of demanding, vocal, engaged consumers with blogs and social media networks. As far as I know, there is no guild for erotic writers, gay or otherwise, and if there is one, they haven’t invited me to join. Gay erotic comics not a professional field by any means or terms.
I don’t think my work has even considered for an award had I not submitted it for consideration that one time. The one anthology series that’s included my collaborations several times – Best Gay Erotica
– happened because I had known Richard Labonté online since the days of AOL chatrooms and he wanted to start including comics in the BGE series so he asked me to send him something from one of my collaborations.
So, no, expertise is not required to be a gay erotic comics writer/editor. But I like having it.***
Sidebar: Another gay erotic anthology series editor contacted me to contribute to his books via a Tumblr comment after my 2nd appearance in a Labonté anthology. But he never answers my e-mail when I write back so I stopped pursuing this opportunity. :: shrug :: ***
Another Sidebar: The single “best of” erotic comics anthology series is edited by someone who shall remain nameless who hasn’t asked me to contribute past the first volume and yet she keeps asking my artist collaborators for reprint rights to their solo work. I know my books are everywhere present in gay and gay-supportive bookstores in the city where she lives so it’s unlikely that she hasn’t stumbled on them. I don’t know if this is personal bias for writer/artist work or that she genuinely lost the copies of MANLY and NIGHTLIFE stories that I sent her for consideration.
By all accounts of people I know that have been in 2nd and 3rd volume of her series, misplacing things is not an uncommon event with her. The 2nd volume of that series came out and contributors had received neither payment nor copies of the book. Contributors had to confront the publisher at the San Diego Comic Con. So I know it’s not only me. Also, when I asked her about what had happened to the stories I sent her when the 2nd volume's content list was announced, she sent me a letter of apology, writing as if she thought I was someone else and addressing me as him, singing the praises of that person’s submission, which I was familiar with because I’d read it when it was first published in his comic series.
Added Value Incident: when she wrote to me about including a story from STICKY in the first volume, she said that our comic had inspired her to start the anthology series. She apparently had forgotten this when she wrote the introduction of the first volume; she claimed Alan Moore’s Lost Girls
was her inspiration to anthologize erotic comics.
I fail to find a descriptor for this person that doesn't sound judgmental.***
Back On Topic: The thing is, I honestly care for expertise for its own sake; having expertise makes me happy and gathering it makes me happy. It enriches the experience of what I do and builds a sense of mastery in doing it that I find very satisfying. When I am building and documenting my expertise, it makes me feel I need no one else to reaffirm that they think I know what I am doing. It also makes me understand and enjoy what I’ve accomplished in the genre and try new things in it. I share my findings with my collaborators and peers who will appreciate it. It may have an effect on the work and how the work is perceived by fans or casual readers, but, ultimately, I do it for myself.
Here are five ways in which I continually build my expertise in homosexy comics:1)
I devote time to looking at lots of new gay erotic comics to see what people are doing. (And, no, not just for kicks.) This used to be a lot easier five years ago or so, when the signal-to-noise ratio was much more reasonable, and one could see the work of creators, both online and offline, without having to go through a lot of trouble and/or aesthetic pain. Nowadays, I really have to make myself go through, say, lots of inexpert, repetitive fey yaoi elf or musclebear troll comics to get to a quality piece of, say, fey yaoi elf or musclebear troll comics.
One of the aspects that I really like about this task is that it opens up for me new definitions of what is homosexy and what I can explore in my comics collaborations. Say, looking at yaoi – Japanese or Japanese-influenced gay erotic comics that are primarily made for women by women – validated my instincts for giving a relational context to the gay erotic comics in STICKY. It led me to more openly pursue character-based stories for gay erotic comics in MANLY and NIGHTLIFE. Looking at yaoi also led me to look at old romance comics (more on looking at old comics later!) because it became obvious to me that my sisters’ romance comics, which I had read in secret as a kid, had a previously-unconscious influence on the scripts I wrote for STICKY, and that the enthusiastic response of women comics’ readers to STICKY had an origin.
There are other consequences to this kind of homosexy comics expertise. I used to not be turned on by chubby gay erotic art – which is a fairly new thread in the genre -- but there are some folks that make scorchingly hot chubby dude art. This has had the unexpected effect of me looking at chubby guys in real life and wanting to, at the very least, have sex with them. I would call this a life-enhancing consequence of expertise.2)
I devote time to looking at lots of older gay erotic comics to see what’s been done. This is very easy if you know where to look. New users and pic-posting networks do not have a lot of older material in their streams. But if you go to an older social network – say, a Yahoo Group – you will find tons and tons of gay erotic art and comics that have been posted to their photo folders. What’s most interesting in looking at “classic” gay comics filth is that it confirms that they served (and serve) as models for me and they offer inspiration for either recreating or reinventing things in those older gay erotic comics that I like.
People think I/we invented “silent” erotic comics. If you go far back enough in the history of the homoerotic sequential art, you'll find a lot of gay erotic comics didn’t have dialogue or captions. We didn't do it first but neither did Dave McKean, whose latest work is a silent erotic comic who everyone appears to think is unique as a narrative strategy for erotic sequential art.
Here's another example of something I gained from looking at old-timey gay erotic comics. The “hot jocks” gay erotic comics and art trope is extremely well represented in work from the 70s and 80s; seeing the antecedents to today’s “hot jocks” work gave me permission to try my own spin on it despite the superfluity of contemporary “hot jock” erotic art. My next book out, GOOD SPORTS, is a spin on that gay erotic trope within the context of “slice of life”, character-based gay erotic comics.3)
I devote time to reading new comics and books of all kinds. “Brand loyalty” or “blind fan allegiance” to genre either does nothing for you or calcifies your experience of what you do and what you can do.
My favorite new comics series, Chew
, uses some funky narrative design and disrupted narrative sequence tricks that aren’t really necessary for writing a good comic but allow the book to do some very clever and fun things within its “police procedural meets horror sci-fi meets alternate history” context. I tried similar tricks in GOOD SPORTS; the book flashes back and forth between three separate periods in the guys’ relationship (1. how they met, 2. the day in which they’re fucking like crazed weasels, and 3. what happened the day before they fucked like crazed weasels which motivated them to fuck like crazed weasels). You can imagine was a bit of a challenge both for me as a writer and Alessio Slonimsky as artist and colorist interpreting the script. But I think we made it work without the use of dialogue or captions.
Certainly, if I only read a slim selection of comics, my inspirations and models would be limited. Part of being an expert is to open yourself up to things that are only incidentally related to your labor in order to expand your expertise, your craft and even the emotional or aesthetic possibilities of what you do.
Back in the early 90s, they used to say that Vertigo wanted to work with comics writers who read more than comics. I think this is why.4)
I devote time to reading old comics. Nowadays, with both free web and high-quality print publications of a plethora of old-timey comics, this is extremely easy and pleasurable to do. I started reading old-timey comics again because I wanted to confirm my intuition that romance comics were as much of an inspiration for me than, say, Tom of Finland.
Reading old-timey true crime, horror, humor and romance comics remind me of how wonderful it is to read something that is done in 8 pages and make me aware that people make deliberate narrative design and storytelling choices involved in making a short piece work. They use an economy and/or density of means to portray character and incident. This is leading me to think of how to make gay erotic mini-comics with artist friends who don’t have time to devote to a whole book and figure out how to publish them outside of anthologies.
Another thing that’s very inspiring about old-timey comics is how so many of those old-timey comics are just beautifully and/or cleverly drawn. They often, if not always, sneak in racy illustrative work that’s rather provocative in context as well as jokes that only an adult could get. They give me an insight into what the illustrators thought was sexy in comics. Say, apparently, back in the 40s and 50s, women’s legs in comics were erotic triggers more often than breasts, and aspirational “manly man” figures had elongated swimmers’ builds that were torrid with ropey muscularity.
Ultimately, reading old-timey comics shows me that comics have always represented erotic material, directly or indirectly, and all I/we are doing is moving an aspect of the form to the front of the story.
I’d like to see more torrid, ropey muscles in gay erotic comics, now that I think about it…5)
I devote time to building a knowledge base of these discoveries in one medium or another. I choose to make some of what I’ve gathered during my expertise-building projects through my Tumblrs and my G+ posts, both to share with others and to keep for myself. Every once in a while, I review and reread my postings if I need inspiration for writing, editorial problem solving or feeling I am actually accomplishing something after I am reminded, in one way or another, of my outlier status as a 1) gay, 2) erotic, 3) comics, 4) writer/editor.
This posting, for example, is an entry on my knowledge base. And it was fun to write. And I cannot wait what you have to say about it and learn something new.
So, yeah, taking something seriously in order to build expertise is fun for me.