Basically, I am an artist hanger-on who ended up writing and art directing (and now, licensing) graphic novels. What I would do to see beautiful sequential and/or gay art and become friends with interesting and talented people who create it is what led me to collaborate on graphic novels. I love and value, with a geeky intimacy with nuance and texture and steadfast optimism, both gay art and sequential art. In this world that’s stingy with validation (if not overabundant with crass hostility and entitlement), which rewards mercenary and utilitarian stances towards narrative art, I have an incandescent love for the medium and its potential to bring joy and comfort, kicks and laughs, thoughtfulness, courage and kindness to both creators and readers. Artists respond to that sincerity by rewarding me with comics pages that are as significant to the quality of my life as the fan mail we get from the readers who appreciate it.
In practical terms, how exactly do I meet my collaborators? It’s very much like how you met friends and lovers back in the day of social fluidity in the gay bar scene: you make yourself visible, be generous AND sincere with your validation, and make a reputation for yourself. The more prescriptive and limited the social medium, the less it works for meeting collaborators because chance has so much to do with it. You have to cast your bread upon the waters and sometimes it comes back to you with an artist riding it, eager to make something distinctive and evocative in collaboration. I met Michael Broderick through Facebook after years of following his work since we were both (as they say in the platter biz) labelmates. Michael Broderick had never done a graphic novel — I know, totally hard to believe! — but I got the sense he had it in him because his pin-up art always implied narrative, like the best midcentury “homovague” advertising art, and he can do period art that reads as authentic because he does his homework. So he was perfect casting for FAST FRIENDS, which I’d written for an unfortunately-capricious colleague and had been sitting in a trunk, unproduced, for five years.
You have your needs and boundaries, still — if an artist needs to work on his or her craft and knowledge-base, I will say so — but leave the door open for them to come back to you once they have matured as artists. Say, Janos Janecki first approached me when he was too young and undeveloped. But he’s as persistent as I am and came back to me with a level of exquisite craft as a colorist that is breathtaking. Then, he levelled up by asking me to work with him on full art (both the linework and the colors) on a mini-comic to see if he could do it. And he did. And now we’re working on a graphic novel project that’s going to be visually spectacular, conceptually ambitious and achingly intimate...and only someone with Janos’ immediate cultural experience can do it.
You have to write for the artist’s skill set and knowledge base and also speculate about where it could go because you don’t want just to affirm what they can already do. Say, when I wrote VIKING LOVE, I was thinking “oh, this is totally a Jeff Jacklin panel”. So when he was free to collaborate with me, I caused a space-time continuum distortion with the speed in which I e-mailed him the script. I also wrote material in the script that challenges him creatively and takes him to new places he hasn’t gone to as an artist. I so want to see him draw a Kirbyesque space scene employed as a setting for viking/deity/deity fornication.
You also have to put in the time to scout people’s work and see opportunities for collaboration. You have to look at people’s work and figure out what they want to draw. Say, Mauro Mariotti is someone I met through my Italian gay cartoonist network of friends. I correctly ascertained, while wearing my art director’s hat, that his work has a certain Los Bros Hernandez influence to it. I offered him PEACOCK PUNKS (digital edition / hardcover edition), a book which would exploit that indy comix style. I totally called it because it absolutely did, and it made the 12 years that this script spent in my trunk worth it.
Mauro Mariotti sneaked in the Easter eggs for Tezuka and Tom of Finland that I wrote into PEACOCK PUNKS as well as nailed the alternacub sexycuteness of the protagonists. Janos Janecki perfectly nailed the textures of a rainy night, and I can almost feel the plastic of the bus seats against my skin because of their evocative coloring.
The approach that’s most ineffective, I think, is to demand the world provide the artist you’re looking for. The world is collaborative, not about unilateral demands. But you can listen to what the universe is offering you. One week a couple of years ago, as if by magic, a whole bunch of gay guys from Nashville who read comics appeared to discover me and send me friend requests. I thought that can’t be a coincidence. It hit me that it would be amazing to see a gay graphic novel set in the Nashville country music scene and that we could play with the manliness of old school country guys and the flamboyance of new school country guys. And it would be so subversive since the culture, as you may know, is not exactly gay-affirming. So, after chatting with my new Nashville friends for a bit, I started to ask them if they knew a homoerotic cartoonist who would be interested in working on a Nashville-themed graphic novel. They delivered Bo Revel to me with such precision of wish-fulfillment that he should have been wearing giftwrapping when we connected.
Yep, those two are fuckin’. Dobros are sexy. A page from PARDNERS (digital edition).
I wrote PARDNERS explicitly for Bo Revel and it went so well for both of us that Bo, within days of finishing it, was already working on a new graphic novel with me.
So, yeah, you too can make comixfriends to collaborate with you on artsy-fartsy kissyface homoerotic graphic novels if you see it as a relationship-based enterprise rather than a utilitarian one.
I hope you get as lucky as I have because I need comics to read, too!
Dale Lazarov writes, art directs and licenses wordless, gay character-based, sex-positive graphic novels published under the Sticky Graphic Novels imprint: PEACOCK PUNKS (drawn by Mauro Mariotti), FAST FRIENDS (drawn by Michael Broderick), GREEK LOVE (drawn by Adam Graphite), GOOD SPORTS (drawn by Alessio Slonimsky), NIGHTLIFE (drawn by Bastian Jonsson), MANLY (drawn by Amy Colburn), and STICKY (drawn by Steve MacIsaac). Sticky Graphic Novels are published in hardcover by Bruno Gmünder GmbH and in digital format through Class Comics. He lives in Chicago. His website is at DaleLazarov.com.