Thursday, October 18, 2012


For all my artist and storyteller friends:  Did you ever have a character will himself into being with no deliberate effort on your part?  In the next post of Quantum Comics Blog, you'll see the color version of this master drawing of a character who did exactly that!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Today is National Coming Out Day, a day when gays and lesbians (and bisexuals and transgendered people) are encouraged to declare themselves bravely and proudly.  The first National Coming Out Day was October 11, 1988.  My own personal Coming Out Day was October 11, 1987, and I remember it to the day because the preceding day, October 10, is the wedding anniversary of my best friend from art school.  It’s true.  For this occasion, then--my 25th birthday, as it were--I thought it was well past time to get two particular characters together here on Quantum Comics Blog.  One of them you’ve already met, the intrepid Idol.  The other has also made a cameo appearance in that same post:  the senses-sizzling Sentinel, a.k.a. Pride!

The character of Pride, conceived by my friend Andy Mangels, is based on a design by an artist named Greg Phillips, who meant the character to be featured in the now-defunct Blueboy magazine.  Phillips originally christened his creation “The Sentry,” and I have the original Sentry design somewhere buried among my souvenirs.  When Andy latched onto the character for the indie-comics anthology Gay Comics, of which he was Editor, he redubbed Greg’s character as "Sentinel" and created his own origin for him.  He also called upon me to be Sentinel’s artist.  (I knew Andy’s work previously from Marvel Age, an in-house promotional magazine of Marvel Comics; it happened we were both members of ATDNSIN, The APA That Dares Now Speak Its Name, an Amateur Publishing Association for gays who read and work in comics.)  In this way a collaboration was struck.

With some modifications to Greg’s original design--some of which Andy wanted, like the forearm hair, and some of which were my idea, like the driving gloves with triangular cut-outs--we debuted Sentinel in Gay Comics #16, and the launch of the character was both my entrée into professional comics and my coming-out statement to the world.  Sentinel was kind of a landmark creation.  He was one of the first comic-book heroes who were cast in a very classically mainstream heroic mold; he was obviously the conceptual kin of Superman and Captain America.  His adventures were straightforward, serious, and dramatic, with humor used strictly for characterization.  His stories were not campy, not funny and frivolous, not a lark.  He was a traditional and conventionally masculine super-hero who happened to be romantically and sexually attracted to men only.  Today there are a number of such characters in mainstream comics; my favorites are the Wiccan and the Hulkling in The Young Avengers and Striker in Avengers Academy.  There’s also the very high-profile Canadian mutant Northstar in Alpha Flight and The X-Men, who actually preceded Sentinel but had a very tortured and convoluted storytelling history.  But Sentinel, at the time, was quite a unique creation; there weren’t many characters around like him.

I’ll tell you a couple of funny stories about the debut of Sentinel.  As I said, the debut of the character was my declaration of identity to the world.  When I was first Out, I decided I would just be myself and neither advertise nor hide who I was; if the subject came up I would deal honestly with it, and that was all.  Working in Gay Comics changed all that.  If you’re a contributing artist to a gay publication and you’re doing newspaper interviews and public appearances about it, as I was, you effectively do not have a closet.  So this was my way of claiming my gayness in the eyes of everyone, including my family and friends.  The consequence of all this was neither a bang nor a whimper.  

I’ll grant you my brother was curious and my aforementioned best friend from art school was set back on his heels a bit, but everyone else?  My mother looked at the first Sentinel story, thought it was wonderful, and was glad I was getting work.  That’s it.  My sister Janice went to Florida to visit my (now deceased) father on his birthday and came back with the story of how my father, at his birthday party, took out his copies of the Sentinel stories from Gay Comics and showed them to his neighbors, saying, “Look what my son did.”  This account tickled me because I remembered the story of what supposedly happened with one of my personal heroes, Gene Roddenberry, when Star Trek went on the air for the first time.  As Gene told it, after the show was over, his father went up and down the street apologizing to the neighbors for the foolishness they had just seen and promising them that Gene would be back to writing good old sensible All-American Westerns and crime shows straight away.  Hearing that my father had bragged to the neighbors about Sentinel, I couldn’t help thinking, Well, I’m one up on Gene...

There were six episodes of Sentinel in all, the first five of which I drew.  My work on these features represents a time when I was developing my own sensibility about super-heroes as something other than the cliché of the costumed mass of muscle and brawn who didn’t necessarily have to be beautiful or graceful or have any kind of sex appeal.  I wanted my characters to be different.  I wanted them to be masculine, strong, forceful, powerful, yes, by all means; they were super-heroes after all.  But darn it, I wanted them to be beautiful.  I wanted them to be graceful.  I wanted them to be sexy as all get-out.  And my rendering of the sententious Sentinel at the time reflected that.  In retrospect, what I should have done was to try to capture those same qualities in a character who was...well, at least bigger.  Sentinel should have been a physical specimen somewhere between Captain America and mighty Thor.  I made him more like a costumed Chippendales dancer instead.  It’s one thing I would change if I were working on the character today, and the drawing accompanying this post reflects that.  The artist who followed me on the final published episode of the character--Brandon McKinney, I think his name was--made him physically more of the kind of figure that I should have done, and I give him props for that.

And speaking of the later episodes of the character...

Our hero had a bit of a naming problem, owing to the usage of the same name(s) by larger comic book companies.  In other comics, “Sentry” was originally the name of a series of super-powerful robots created by the Kree Empire of the Greater Magellanic Cloud.  After Andy and I did our character, “The Sentry” was also used as the name of a powerful but psychotic super-hero who supposedly preceded the Fantastic Four.  “Sentinel” is the name of a series of giant robots that hunt mutants.  It is also a name briefly used by the first-generation Green Lantern, a character who of late has ironically been rewritten as gay!  Because of the issue of replication of names (and the fact that the other parties using the names were bigger gorillas than we were), Andy decided on a re-christening of our hero, and after some brainstorming he had our post-Stonewall paladin adopt a new monicker:  Pride!  And so he was called in his final installments.  

Idol is a character that I created in the same spirit as Pride.  He’s the same kind of character and stands for the same things.  If in some jaunt between comics universes the two of them ever crossed paths, they would recognize their kindred spirits and be great allies and friends.  (They would not hook up, because each has a non-super-hero boyfriend and is monogamous.)  It’s for that reason that on this National Coming Out Day I thought the two of them should meet in some fashion.  So, however Out you may be, take this drawing as a sign that there is a better life to be lived and greater strength and integrity to be found out of the closet than in.  Happy Coming Out Day, everyone.