Tag Archives: Gay Studies

Book Review: SENSE OF WONDER: MY LIFE IN COMIC FANDOM – THE WHOLE STORY by Bill Schelly

Sense of Wonder by Bill Schelly

What has a superhero ever really done for you? That’s a tricky question. It depends upon who you ask. First, superheroes aren’t real and are owned by corporations, at least all of the household names. It’s a cold-blooded business when you look at it from the perspective of co-creators who were not given credit or a fair share of the profits, like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster. Comic books are a mass entertainment focused on profit, right? And then there’s the perspective of thoughtful and dedicated fans, the ones who take it to heart, who even write and draw in tribute to beloved characters. Bill Schelly is among that group of fans who know, despite any ugly realities, how to harness the super powers of the likes of Superman and Spider-Man. If you believe enough, especially in yourself, all sorts of dreams can come true. Bill Schelly set out to be an author, a “writer of books,” and buoyed up by the power of fandom, achieved his wildest dreams, including a respectable fanzine while still a youth, A Sense of Wonder, all the way to a memoir of the same name that has recently been expanded, A Sense of Wonder: My Life in Comic Fandom – The Whole Story, published by North Atlantic Books. It is like the most compelling of pop culture scrapbooks come to life.

Do people still even keep scrapbooks? Thankfully, some do. Yes, even digital files count. There will always be those who are compelled to document, dig deeper, and pay it forward. In the case of Bill Schelly, it all began with a fateful train ride. The Schelly family was on a trip to visit relatives back in 1960. To help keep nine-year-old Bill preoccupied on the long ride ahead, his father bought him a comic book. But it wasn’t just any comic book. His two brothers chose regular issues of ten cents each. Bill was excited about a special issue, Giant Superman Annual #1 with its enticing cover promising numerous thrills. It cost a whole quarter. At first, his father balked but ultimately relented. Schelly’s recollection of this scene is quite moving. He goes on to describe a boy besotted by all the larger-than-life stories found in the brightly colored pages. This is the pivotal moment that set young Bill on a lifelong journey. He already knew that he wanted to be a “writer of books” and, only a few years later, he would discover his ability to draw. What really set Schelly apart was a specific interest to better understand the underpinnings of comics. As much as Schelly wanted to become just like the comic book creators he so admired, he was driven by an intellectual need to know and a compelling desire to share his findings with other enthusiasts. This led to a number of boyhood fanzines, home-made magazines with a focus on a fan’s passion. And the best iteration of this process was a fanzine he called, Sense of Wonder. He became a teenage editor and publisher with subscribers all across the country. Young Bill confidently knew that he had set the stage for big things ahead but had no clue as to what exactly he would achieve or how he would get there.

Giant Superman Annual #1

Over the years, Schelly pushed himself to evolve as a writer and, in turn, as a person. As he had done with his boyhood fanzines, he learned from his mistakes and was driven to improve. While he honored the egalitarian spirit of fandom where every fan was an equal, he also wanted to lead the way and make his distinctive mark. As he had discovered early on in life, fandom is a close-knit network of like-minded souls and, in general, fans support fans. You never knew which friend you made today might lend a hand in some unexpected way in the future. It was through the world of fandom that Schelly found his way. And it is around the age of 21 that the first version of Schelly’s book, A Sense of Wonder, ends. This new version picks up from there and unveils what lay ahead. For one thing, the reader learns how the Sense of Wonder book evolved and how it was a building block towards other books. It’s surprising, with hindsight, to discover that Schelly did not reveal being gay in the first version of his coming-of-age book. In fact, he had given Howard Cruse, one of the most notable gay cartoonists, an advance copy in hopes of getting a back cover blurb. Cruse expressed regret that Schelly wasn’t ready to come out but was more than happy to provide a blurb. It was in a later version of Sense of Wonder, when Schelly was ready, that he added some of his best writing on growing up gay. And it is this latest version that beautifully brings it all together: Schelly’s dreams, his passions, the arc of a life. In the book, the reader follows Schelly as he relentlessly strives to create his magnum opus. As a young man, he hitches his wagon to the star of silent movie comedian Harry Langdon and creates his first attempt at a biography. Later on, he tackles the life of legendary cartoonist Joe Kubert. Finally, he achieves mainstream success with quite a substantial biography of another pop culture legend, Harvey Kurtzman. But, when it is all said and done and there’s finally time to take a breath and look back, Bill Schelly’s memoir is what rises to the top, a book that shares the trials and tribulations of a man who just wanted to dream and be a “writer of books.”

Bill Schelly (1951-2019)

Sense of Wonder: My Life in Comic Fandom – The Whole Story is a 392-page trade paperback published by North Atlantic Books.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Comics

Review: ‘The Chronicles of Era: Book I’ by Scott B. Henderson

The Chronicles of Era: Whispers of Redemption (Book 1) by Scott B Henderson

The Chronicles of Era: Whispers of Redemption (Book 1)
by Scott B Henderson

The first thing that will impress you about this comic is the beautifully rendered work, finely detailed and full of energy. “The Chronicles of Era” is Scott B. Henderson‘s visionary epic, the work he’s likely most proud of, I would imagine, and he should be. Whether or not you’re a fan of sci-fi/fantasy, there’s much to enjoy here. We have a striking hero, Seth, a young guy with a distinctive swagger. When your main character comes across as alive and interesting, you’re off to a very good start.

A dream within a dream?

A dream within a dream?

Henderson has a relatively rigid style that actually works well here to convey a sense of urgency. This is a harsh brave new world, a fantasy akin to the work of George R. R. Martin. Gods from a different time and place seem to be lurking in the background. You know, that sort of thing. That said, I was intrigued by the fact that Henderson’s characters, while depicted in a tight manner, have a lot of life to them. And I was impressed with Henderson’s use of some gay subtext. It is one of those blink-and-you-miss-it things. Our hero, Seth, having gotten to know Sid a little better, takes his hand and leads them off to bed.

Let's Go To Bed...

Let’s Go To Bed…

A blink-and-you-miss-it moment. That makes total sense given that Seth is of a low station with limited freedom in a hostile environment. It mirrors real life and what other art forms can do with revealing only certain bits of information. Seth’s elastic sexuality is in clear view as well as sort of a secret within this book. Besides that one moment, there is nothing else quite like it, although Seth does enjoy wandering about in just a pear of jeans and leather sandals like a teen heartthrob. And the stage does seem to be set for him to become involved with, Caitleth, a beautiful aristocratic young woman. So, while Henderson gives ample time to war games and fantasy worldbuilding, he is also quite capable of evoking the oozing sexuality of youth. Henderson proves to be an interesting and insightful storyteller.

Reading "The Chronicles of Era"

Reading “The Chronicles of Era”

Book I covers the first three chapters to this epic fantasy graphic novel under the story arc, “Whispers of Redemption.” For more details, visit Scott B. Henderson right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comics, fantasy, George R.R. Martin, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Sex

Review: THE COMPLETELY UNFABULOUS SOCIAL LIFE OF ETHAN GREEN

Ethan-Green-Eric-Orner

Eric Orner is one of the pioneers in LGBT comics. “The Completely Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,” published by Northwest Press, is a great way to not only further establish him in the canon of LGBT comics, but simply to showcase the work of an excellent cartoonist.

Eric-Orner-Northwest-Press

All of us cartoonists can learn from Eric Orner. Just when you get that first wave of resistance, that’s when you push back a little harder. Orner had tales to tell, just like Howard Cruse before him and Alison Bechdel right alongside him, and they could not wait.

Unfabulous-Social-Life-Ethan-Green

Orner’s comic strip ran in that fuzzy, chaotic, and bubbling time (1989-2005), before the internet and digital and then well into it. Orner grew as a person and as an artist. Collected here are some 300 of his groundbreaking comic strips. Well before Ellen DeGeneres was ready to come out, and perhaps a mainstream audience was ready to accept her, there was this comic strip. And casting the longest shadow, the less understood epidemic of AIDS, which Orner would address with both grace and thoughtful humor. Bit by bit, Orner was there to chronicle, in retrospect, a most confused and dangerous time–and it wasn’t that long ago and it’s still unfolding before us.

Northwest-Press-Eric-Orner-2015

By 1997, the Ethan Green comic strip appeared in every large city and most mid-sized cities in the United States, as well as running in Canada and overseas. As Orner states in one of the section introductions, “Given that I wasn’t watering down the content, the fact that this very gay comic strip seemed to be building a readership among straight folks was a source of pride.”

Still, controversy could easily arise when least expected. It was also in 1997 that Baltimore’s alt-weekly, City Paper, had to fend off a church group that took great offense over a mild sex scene in the comic strip, something akin to soap opera content. Maybe they were just waiting for the very next depiction of two men making love anywhere to set them off.

Just as a comic strip unfraid to grow, Ethan Green stands out. As anyone who does a webcomic today can attest, there is an unrelenting grind that a cartoonist can succumb to. But, even in the earliest years, Orner was willing to push his artistic and literary limits. Right from the start, he aspired to reach greater heights of insight and downright zaniness. In one strip, circa 1990, he has The Hat Sisters attempt to save lives through time travel. For every vulnerable penis they find, they sheath it with a condom. Everything in the strip is in balance and it speaks volumes.

Ethan-Green-Hat-Sisters-LGBT-Comics

Towards the end of Ethan Green’s run, in 2005, a couple of young independent filmmakers from Hollywood adapted the comic strip into a movie. It premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival and enjoyed a 19-city theatrical release in 2006.

Ultimately, Eric Orner’s comic strip enjoyed a great run. And now it is collected in this deluxe edition and off to begin a whole new life with old fans and new readers.

“The Completely Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green” is a 228-page trade paperback, black & white and in color, priced at $24.99, and available now. For more details, visit our friends at Northwest Press right here.

3 Comments

Filed under Alison Bechdel, Comic Strips, Comics, Eric Orner, Gay, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Howard Cruse, LGBT, Northwest Press

Review: THIS IS BACON, published by Laurence King Publishing

This-is-Francis-Bacon

Francis Bacon is a little bit less well known to the general public than Warhol and Pollock but every bit as powerful. Bacon was the product of the vibrant and gritty London Soho scene of the ’50s and ’60s. It was a world of rough trade and intellectuals. It was a bubbling cauldron of sexual liberation and creative abandon. Bacon quite naturally exemplified the zeitgeist. Having been caught by his father as he was reveling in wearing his mother’s underwear, he was summarily kicked out of the home at age 16, left to fend for himself. He wasn’t involved with art at the time, never had formal training, but art became his outlet, and he mastered it.

Francis-Bacon-Laurence-King

The British contemporary art scene was more introverted than the American. It really wasn’t pop as much as personal. Its answer to Abstract Expressionism was a return to the figure and to the self. Along with various other artists exploring the inner life, like David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, it was Bacon who took this soulful approach to some of its greatest heights.

Laurence-King-Francis-Bacon

Funny how some people mistake Francis Bacon with the great philosopher. And how ironic that this artist, by the name of Bacon, would come to paint on, in part, the theme of meat.

Part of Laurence King Publishing’s This is Art series, this little book packs a lot of valuable information. It is quite a compelling narrative, written by Kitty Hauser with illustrations by Christina Christoforou. It will prove inspiring to any artist working today. Here’s a little taste of the text:

Bacon’s training took place not at art school but through the voraciousness of his eye, and the extremity of his experiences. He liked to observe human behaviour, especially when it was governed by instinct rather than convention. His relative lack of a formal education meant he did not make the usual kinds of distinctions between life and art, or between high culture and low. His mind and his studio were well stocked with images from a multitude of sources – cinema, medical literature, art galleries, everyday life – and some of these images inevitably found their way, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, into his paintings. ‘Don’t forget that I look at everything’, he said. ‘And everything I see gets ground up very fine. In the end one never knows, certainly I myself never know, what the images in my paintings are made up of.’

Francis-Bacon-art

Learn more about this fun and informative new artist series by visiting our friends at Laurence King Publishing right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Art books, Francis Bacon, Laurence King Publishing

Review: QU33R and ANYTHING THAT LOVES, published by Northwest Press

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Northwest Press has recently published two excellent anthologies that feature a stellar roster of cartoonists exploring issues of sexuality. Both are highly recommended as showcases of comics discourse. It can be a challenge to find the right balance when putting together any anthology, especially one collecting works in comics. You want to find a way for each work to compliment the other in a medium that quickly signals the reader. In both these cases here, you have two books worthy of exploration, one a recent entry and the other from last year.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Anthologies, Comics, Comics Reviews, Gay, LGBT, Northwest Press, Sex, Sexual Politics, Sexual Studies, Sexuality

Review: THE LENGTHS by Howard Hardiman, published by Soaring Penguin Press

The-Lengths-Howard-Hardiman-2013

“The Lengths” is a graphic novel about addiction, published by Soaring Penguin Press. The title refers to the lenghts to which a young man, Eddie, will go to feed his desire. Howard Hardiman has written and drawn a graphic novel about a youth out of control and in conflict. It is a very rough story about a rough subject that Hardiman navigates quite well. His character, Eddie, is a 24-year-old art school drop out who is gay and unsure about what he wants. He may want a relationship but he is also attracted to what he gets from his role as Ford, an escort. It’s a pretty lurid and gritty premise. Something like this could easily fall apart, as can happen with any story that deals with sex. But sex is only part of what Hardiman has to talk about. And to create some distance to better address and understand the content, he represents all his characters as dogs. It may seem odd at first, but it turns out to be a wonderful narrative device.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under British Comics, Comics, European Comics, Gay, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, LGBT, Soaring Penguin, Soaring Penguin Press

Review: ‘Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York’ by Samuel R. Delany and Mia Wolff

Bread-Wine-Samuel-Delany-2013

“Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York” is a curiously disarming story about love. There is sex but there is also love. The matter-of-fact quality of this graphic novel reassures us in an offbeat and mysterious way. It is the story described by the great contemporary writer Samuel R. Delany and interpreted and drawn by fine artist Mia Wolff. Because this is a graphic novel we get a unique perspective on events. Ms. Wolff reveals some things left unsaid and emphasizes other things left understated. This 64-page hardcover book is now back in print, published by Fantagraphics Books which you can view here.

Bread-Wine-Samuel-Delany-Fantagraphics-2013

Samuel R. Delany has been in the literary spotlight since the publication of his work, “The Jewels of Aptor,” in 1962, at age 20. Author, professor and literary critic, Mr. Delany’s work includes science fiction novels, memoir, criticism, and essays on sexuality and society. This graphic novel, originally published in 1999, springs from a memoir and stands alone as engaging and insightful. Much has been written about Mr. Delany’s relationship with Dennis Rickett, a homeless man near Mr. Delany’s New York apartment on the Upper West Side. For such a celebrated author, who often writes on issues of class, one can only wonder what Mr. Delany was thinking as his relationship with Mr. Rickett blossomed. But, read carefully, and you’ll find some answers. The short answer is that it all boils down to honest affection.

For a book that promises an erotic tale, there are even more scenes that speak to the great divide between the two men which they will either struggle with or overcome. All signs appear to point to a relationship that continues to grow. We are free to give shape and meaning to our lives as we see fit. For this book, Mr. Delany weaves lines from the great German Romantic lyric poet, Friedrich Hölderlin. His poem, “Bread and Wine,” is freely quoted throughout. It is a poem about the inevitable failure of reconciling the classic past to the present. Perhaps it is there that Mr. Delany reveals himself most naked and raw. An appreciation for the finer points in life make the present all the sweeter. As written in “Bread & Wine,” towards the end of the poem: “Bread is a fruit of Earth, yet touched by the blessing of sunlight, from the thundering god issues the gladness of wine.”

Bread-and-Wine-Delany-Wolff

“Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York” is available now. Visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books here.

1 Comment

Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Memoir, New York City, Samuel R. Delany

Interview: Charles “Zan” Christensen and Looking Beyond Gay and Straight

A draft for the cover to ANYTHING THAT LOVES

A draft for the cover to ANYTHING THAT LOVES

Gay is a powerful term, particularly in its use in a political movement. However, as Charles “Zan” Christensen points out, it is not as useful when describing the complexities of an individual. The categories of “gay” and “straight” just aren’t enough. What about everything in between? Christensen, publisher of Northwest Press, which specializes in comics with LGBT themes, is preparing to launch a new comics anthology that explores these issues of sexuality. “Anything That Loves,” brings together a roster of excellent cartoonists creating works that explore their unique observations on the sexual spectrum.

It was a pleasure to get a chance to interview Zan. He’s very passionate and articulate about what he believes in, as is evident in our conversation.

“Anything That Loves” has achieved phenomenal success as a Kickstarter project. And the party isn’t over yet. This campaign runs through April 28. It has already reached over twice its funding goal. Additional funds mean more money reaching the creators of the anthology. You can view the campaign here. Since I have launched my own Kickstarter project, which you can view here, I have come to more fully appreciate the work and dedication behind such projects.

From the Northwest Press website:

The Northwest Press anthology Anything That Loves will be released this July, just in time for Comic-Con in San Diego, and features a variety of wonderful artists exploring the seldom-seen world between “gay” and “straight”. The anthology features work from artists Erika Moen, Ellen Forney, Randall Kirby, Jason Thompson, Kate Leth, Leia Weathington, MariNaomi and lots more, and is currently the subject of a Kickstarter fundraising drive.

Visit Northwest Press here.

2 Comments

Filed under Anthologies, Books, Charles Zan Christensen, comic books, Comic-Con, Comics, graphic novels, LGBT, Northwest Press, Publishing, Sex, Sexual Studies