Back in May, I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural Queers & Comics conference in NYC. At the very end, as a panelist, I was given a copy of the definitive collected edition of Keynote Speaker Howard Cruse’s serial Wendel. Originally begun back when The Advocate was a tabloid, Wendel ran in the pages of the magazine through the 1980s (a decade that I spent mostly without a TV or car, working 2 or 3 jobs at a time and therefore somewhat limited in my participation in the world.)
I have just finished The Complete Wendel and both liked and disliked it in equal measure. It’s important to remember that while this was the Gay Community of the 1980s, I was not ever part of this community, so reading it is as alien to me as reading a book on being a mother of 5 children.
Wendle is a young guy, with a supportive family, working at a small tabloid magazine. He meets Ollie, an aspiring actor and, through the pages of the story, their relationship develops through years of political crisis, AIDS, and regular family and friend nuttiness.
The early stories were the hardest for me to enjoy. They are supposed to be funny, but there are not my sense of humor and so left me sort of “meh.” Wendel is earnest and openly feminist and progressive, but the actual female characters we meet are abrasive and irritating. Particularly Tina, the butch lesbian girlfriend of Deb, one of Wendel’s coworkers who, as the comic pointed out, if you didn’t hope she was being ironic, was a horrible person. Ollie’s ex-wife, father of his child Farley, is pretty much a one-note neurotic rant from the beginning to the very final page.
It’s not just the women who are irritating. Ollie’s best friend Sterno, an out-of-control hedonist is tedious. So, here we have Wendel and Ollie, whose main schtick is to be neurotic out loud and adorably in love and their terrible friends. ^_^ It took me a while to warm up to them. But…I did warm up to them.
They lived through the Reagan years, during which I came into being. Had I been 5 years older, I might well have been a lesbian Wendel. In a moment of complete irony, the book ends with some promotional posters featuring Wendel after the comic had ended, one of which was the March on Washington in 1993, which I attended (and wow, what a day that was). So Wendel ends as I began, in a sense. And that, in a nutshell describes my feelings about it.
Lesbian and gay comics have been with us since the beginning. Queer & Comics was about those comics and about the people who drew them. We’re incredibly lucky to have so many of them still alive and willing and able to tell their tales. It’s up to us to read them and remember them and pass them along.
The world of the bathhouses and the early Gay Liberation marches, are the history I read about, the shoulders that I stood upon. Wendel is my fictitious older brother’s age, never my own. But once I got to know him and Ollie and his friends, they came to have meaning to me.
Art – 8 (It’s a style that is so wholly unlike manga, it’s fascinating to delve into. Every background, every cross-hatched shadow was done by hand.)
Story – 7 Slice of life with “silly” filter
Characters – 8
Service – Lots of male nudity and sexual situations, no explicit sex shown
LGBTQ – 10
Overall – 8
I’d never have Sterno stay the night and would probably have told Tina to shut the fuck up, but I could see myself sitting and listening to their stories and understand that without them, I might not have been here.