Friday, October 29, 2010

Loren and Sylvia do Don Giovanni

Kathy Sprague and I are both fans of opera.  We both developed our tastes because of our mother's backgrounds.  Kathy's mother once worked as an opera singer and my mother had the opportunity during her childhood in San Diego to appear on stage of a production of Aida, which has formed a life long interest in music and singing.

Still, this title isn't quite accurate because I've never done a sketch of Sylvia dressed as Don Giovanni and I'm not sure I'd cast her in the role because it would be odd to have Loren as Dona Elvira.  These sketches happened because I was watching a production of Don Giovanni on television (I think it was the Metropolitan Opera in New York) and really liked the detail of the women's costumes.  If you are unfamiliar with the storyline, Don Giovanni is quite the ladies man, but has been around the block a few too many times.  Eventually he encounters a ghost which calls on him to repent or face the fires of Hell.

This other sketch of Dona Anna features Jared from Loren and Sylvia.  After doing these I realized it could be a sequence for the comicbook, perhaps as a dream.  I so love the drama of opera.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Self portrait based on Tom of Finland

Perhaps the ultimate conceit for a gay man is to imagine himself as one of those models in a Tom of Finland drawing. Not that it is wrong, far from it, but Tom of Finland's men are so "other-worldly" it is rare to encounter anyone who resembles the idiom.  Still, I often dream of entering this world and after all these years of searching, I still get a charge out of looking at Touko Laaksonen's art.

Naturally it becomes something to emulate.  As Jon Macy commented on an earlier post, Tom of Finland's models are happy, which I think is ultimately the appeal.  As oppressed sexual minorities, we all dream of happiness, a happiness that is acceptable and accessible to everyone.

So this is a self portrait filtered through the Über-masculine.  Looking back at a photo taken around the same time, it is perhaps not so fantastic, although I drew my hat much smaller than it really was.  In fact, I have a big head and finding a used straw hat that actually fit was quite unusual. Okay, I really did cheat on the nose and the glasses.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Review: Romance, Heart and Soul

Teleny and CamilleTeleny and Camille by Jon Macy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not a fan of gay romance novels, but I've always loved gay romance comics.  From sitting on my friend's bed back in college reading the Gay Comix anthologies and the few other works available at the time, to recognizing my personal desires displayed on the movie screen when I watched Kiss of the Spiderwoman, even prior to coming out as a gay man; graphical stories of fighting against repression have always resonated with me.  Meeting my friend Jon Macy, back in the early Nineties when I managed a gay bookstore was the pinnacle of my gay life, but my joy has only seemed to rise from there.

Jon has put his heart and soul into Teleny and Camille (T&C) and I still love looking over the pages and finding all the little tidbits he put there.  The cherry blossoms, the gypsy on horseback, the gardens at Kew, the morgue and the page of absinthe are all favorites.  This enjoyment carries over to his new series Fearful Hunter (recipient of a PRISM comics grant) where coincidentally my own brush with madness mirrored his realization to honor his past with a personal story of love and redemption.  I really can't say anything against his wonderful stories, and why would I?  I envy his skill and dedication to his craft, but I also love that he shares it with the rest of us.  I think by doing so he asks us all to consider striving for better lives, despite opposition we may encounter.

Having watched this project begin with baby-steps back in the mid-nineties to Macy's full realization now, I cannot be happier to recommend T&C to all curious readers. (Check out previews at, and This is the real thing: explicit tales of sex, sumptuous graphics, torrid romance, Victorian virtues upheld, and then overturned. Bringing this material to the modern reader through personal storytelling and displaying the challenges he encountered, Macy "pulls-no-punches" resurrecting an underground world Oscar Wilde likely encountered sheltering a hidden nineteenth-century sexuality.

Praise must also be raised for his publisher, Northwest Press, not only taking on a controversial work, but placing it in such a handsome package. The design is understated and enhances what is inside. Everyone will be proud to display this modern novel of gay romance on their bookshelves. The interiors may shock and reveal the lurid nature of repression, but this is with good cause. Without questioning the social structures that allow prejudice to persist, how can we create a more peaceful world for all humanity? I think this is the purpose of retelling our personal stories, no matter how horrific.

This publication sets the standard for erotic storytelling very high. I want to see more stories like this in the future, be they from the pen of Macy (did I mention he is publishing a new fantasy series?) or others working in the same market. Northwest Press already handles several quality titles and is set to become a leader in presenting new works of gay literature today. I am looking forward to more excellent work from Charles "Zan" Christensen at Northwest Press.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: Filtering Childhood Memories

Fun Home: A Family TragicomicFun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am amazed that after all these years, I still identify so strongly with Alison Bechdel. I always enjoyed her characters from "Dykes to Watch Out For" and found them quite appealing. Of course, I am a gay man and "Dykes" was written from a lesbian point-of-view, but I could still relate to the human drama of people struggling to live their lives with integrity. And besides, I have always aspired to create art and work in bookstores. I managed to even do that in my twenties, which has been very satisfying.

So I was very happy to hear about Bechdel publishing a personal and true story about her coming out as a sexual adult in "Fun Home" (FH) several years ago. It has taken me quite a long time to get to reading this book, but allow me to feign excuses based on my gender and sexual identity. What I did not expect was to find an even closer relationship with a fellow artist and storyteller.

In FH, Bechdel focuses almost exclusively on her relationship with her father, almost to the detriment of telling her own story. But I've always found her to be a fairly truthful and modest public personality. She does include herself in her stories but often presents her stand-in as self-effacing. Her "Dykes" author-character, exhibits the most neurotic and personal emotions that any artist might express in a confessional comicbook, even while fictionalizing her own life stories. Reminds me of Woody Allen, a bit. But Bechdel also understands enough about narrative to step away and allow the stories to develop without editorializing.

FH is a sober book, though, so you expect to find wistful reminisces about the high points of a personal life. You do get those reminisces but filtered through a very adult sexual sensibility that only comes from sifting very finely through old photographs, diaries and memories. I love that her main objective is to present herself and her family as baldly human as possible. Still, we see her adult self wrestle with the adolescent exhibition of an effected mental illness.

While a little madness throughout life effects us all, the truth Bechdel uncovers is not only disturbing but lies just under the surface of the facts. She neither recoils from them or waves them about like some emblem of sanity. At one point she even coolly describes her Fruedian childhood fear at encountering a snake in a pool of water. All the same, what she reveals is a very normal if still unique family portrait, which is all too common and from my own perspective, strangely familiar. I cannot help but identify with and ponder the various items on display.

My father was a closeted gay man, too and in FH, Bechdel shows her father as a divinely flawed human being, limited by his inability to grasp his desires and yet totally successful at sublimating them. I also remember the same emotional distance from my own father growing up that Bechdel states as such a particular element of her relationship with her own father. When it becomes clear towards the end of the book that he eventually drops his pretense, we can see how sometimes there are details even his own daughter can't scrape up from the clues he left behind.

Still, my father didn't exhibit the quintessential fussiness that Bechdel's father used to manipulate his children to his stereotypical will, and yet my father did manipulate us in his own way. We didn't need clues to know he was closeted; there always seemed to be plenty of information, but my mother and the other adults in our lives generally ignored it. Acknowledging a truth like this is always painful enough that you avoid using it, like a wounded limb.

And in the end, a short time after Bechdel comes out to her parents as a lesbian, her father is killed by a truck while crossing a road. Rather than make the whole book about this one incident, she mentions it again and again, almost in-passing, piling up the details, like a "macguffin" which allows her to reveal her personal memories of growing up. The difference for me is that my father is still alive and came out as a gay man soon after I came out to my parents in college.

The parallels between our two different lives are uncanny and yet speak to a larger truth about the combined narrowness and width of our generation, sometimes called the "lost" generation. There are several years between us, but at the same time our lives are both uniquely American and of a time between the Sixties and Seventies. I think this book is going to haunt me for a very long time. And if I ever meet Alison in person, I'm not sure I will know what to say. I might just give her a big hug and say simply, "thank you."

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tattoo designs III

I began to consider more Tod's background in costume.  Here you can see more ideas which play with the idea of costume in mind.  The feminine figure in the upper right hand corner got Tod's approval enough that I came up with the larger central figure in response.

Tod really liked this design because it both captured the idea of a thistle and a figure.  It is the design he took to his tattoo artist, Vyvyn Lazonga, who's been doing tattoos in Seattle for almost four decades.  She had to alter it slightly, but in the following photos you can see it is basically the same design.

This last picture needs some explanation.  It was taken while Tod was attending Evergreen state college.  Tod held a "pink dress" party which was lots of fun.  The dress is of his own design and the wheel behind him is a roulette, which he was using to give gifts to the guests.  I'm not sure about the man to left baring his chest.  It was a pretty wild party.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tattoo designs II

Here is my second page of design ideas for Tod Streater's "dancing thistle" tattoo.  I was thinking more decoration than figure, so here were more interpretations that use symmetry and natural sources.  There is even a sense of the "Pineapple" character from "Paula and the Purple Rayz".  I've often thought these would be great designs for tee shirts.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tattoo designs I

When I first moved to Seattle I shared an artist's loft with a young man named Tod Streater. He was a costume designer and a very good person with big ideas. He admired my own design skills and asked me to design a tattoo for him.  I wrote a fictional account of our lives which appeared in my zine, Gaeraj and I've posted at my web page.

I'd never designed a tattoo before, so it was a great challenge for me, but also an opportunity to test myself and my design skills.  Tod and I had discussed it after seeing Disney's "Fantasia".  His favorite sequence was the dance between thistles and orchids, set to Tchaikovsky's "Trepak" music from the Nutcracker Suite.  He asked me to design a "dancing" thistle.

You can see above left a literal interpretation from the Disney film, and below right a stylized design that I think was based on art nouveau era wallpaper.  Some how a dandelion came into the picture, perhaps because they are similar.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tee Shirts available at!

All the more reason to remind the world that life can be better!  The wonder of the Internet allows me to offer your favorite designs printed on tee shirts.  See the selection of images at my web page: Tee Shirt Designs.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Starting a new sketchbook, October 13, 1990

So this begins my post college years.  Before this I'd almost always used a spiral bound notebook. Since my previous college sketchbook was a small bound 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 book with a blue paper slip cover and I liked the idea of a permanent record I couldn't alter without leaving some indication I'd removed a page, this time I went for a larger black leather-cloth 8 1/2 x 11 book by Strathmore available at most art supply.

I was very productive during this period, sketching and jotting down thoughts and ideas in pencil, inking them in later, inventing some new comic strips that never went anywhere.  There are some erotic images that I will post at when I get to them.  Notably I have ideas for a tattoo I designed for my friend Tod Streater, but there are a few Loren and Sylvia riffs too.  I also have cameo appearances from friends, as I almost always carried my sketchbook when I was out and about. 

Just one more note about the above image.  That straw hat I purchased off the street from someone doing a sidewalk garage sale.  At the same sale, I also bought a cheaply made blue enamelware pin in the form of a shield that I married to the hat ribbon.  It became iconic for me and I wore it around for most of that year.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Theo Portraits III

"Really Albert, you're so weird!"

This portrait of Theo is definitely in a modern mode.  We had a catalog of women's sweaters kicking around the house and a model in one photograph had such an imperious look that I needed to capture it.  It took me longer to come up with the caption, but it seems appropriate for the image.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Theo Portraits II

"Really darling, the guests will run away
 if you don't come out and greet them." 

I am posting these portraits in fairly quick succession because I want to get to posting pages from my next sketchbook which begins in 1990.  I'm including these under the sketchbook labels (below) because these images started out in sketchbooks and then took on a life of their own.  I hope to post t-shirt versions of them, although I have no idea if anyone will wear these images.

This Theo portrait is directly from my imagination.  I created it more consciously and the caption is something I said because of a real situation rather than just springing from my subconscious.  But it received such a reception that I thought it deserved a Theo portrait.

At the time I drew it, Auntie Mame was a newly discovered "favorite" movie, so there is likely quite a bit of inspiration from that, although I have to admit my notions about the artificiality of the nineteen fifties and the odd costumes of Orry-Kelly for the movie inspired me less. The costume for this drawing was based on the unlikely pairing of satin and fur which is something that could have been used in the nineteen fifties.  I liked that the wide edging of the coat works both at concealing and revealing the body underneath.