In conjunction with Prism Comics, the preeminent website for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) comics and creators, every day this month I will be detailing one good comic book/graphic novel with LGBT themes.
We start the month with a look at an early work of a writer perhaps best known for his work at Milestone Comics.
Probably one of the most important things to note about Tales of the Closet right off the bat is that the Ivan Velez, Jr. drawing comics in 1987 was not the greatest sequential artist. He was actually quite adept at depicting faces and body language, but when it came to panel arrangement and storytelling - it's pretty mediocre to bad. WAY too cluttered panels with awkwardly placed word balloons. However, he does improve as the series goes on.
It is quite a compliment to his writing that Tales of the Closet is able to transcend that problem and work as an amazingly heartfelt examination of teenagers dealing with their sexuality in high school during the 1980s.
The comics originally came out in the late 80s as mini-comics paid for by an institute for gay youths (where Velez worked at the time, which lends a great amount of credence to his takes on teens here). In 2004, Velez won a Xeric Grant, allowing him to put out a collection of the series.
The story follows a group of eight friends, tied together mostly by their shared sexuality, and through such a large cast, Velez is able to examine essentially every different social and ethnic approach to dealing with homosexuality as a teenager. And, as Velez shows, it can be rough. There is no sugar coating the experience here, and yet, he makes sure to make it that the work can be read by a young adult audience, which is appreciated, as this is just the kind of work that should be read by people hoping to have a window of insight into the world of teenagers.
It's amazing how the work is very much of its time, but it still reverberates today, not just as a snapshot of the past, but as a look at very basic human emotions and interactions.
Here is the cast...
See what I mean about clutter?
Still, he nails characterizations and the dialogue is mostly spot on, as well.
Here is our introduction to two of the characters, Jenny Chin and Mary Ryan...
Heck, forget dealing with your sexuality, this book serves as a great look at dealing with high school life PERIOD.
One drawback I would note is that Volume 1 is sort of split a bit arbitrarily, as the collection has the first three issues, and the book really wasn't written to be split like this.
Velez later went on to co-create and write Blood Syndicate for Milestone Comics, which also featured a gay character. Blood Syndicate was awesome. I hope DC puts out a trade of it. Velez had a run on Static, as well, as well as a run on Ghost Rider at Marvel. You'll still see his name pop up occasionally on Jonni DC comics.