Fantagraphics to publish Ed Luce's 'Wuvable Oaf': An interview with the author

As was revealed Friday on The Comics Reporter, Fantagraphics has announced plans to publish Wuvable Oaf, the heretofore self-published gay romance comic by Ed Luce.

Described in the press release as "Sex and the City but with adorable, ex-wrestler hairy gay men," the series follows the adventures of Oaf, a former wrestler and multiple cat owner who falls for Eiffel, the lead singer of a black metal band called Ejaculoid. With five issues published so far (in addition to various minis) Wuvable Oaf has been compared to Love and Rockets and Scott Pilgrim.

The book, collecting Wuvable Oaf #0-4, will cost $29.99 and be available in March 2015.

Wanting to learn more about the collection and Luce's work in general, I chatted with with the artist over a Google doc the other evening about Oaf, how he got into comics, his background as a painter, and the perils of being stereotyped.

Chris Mautner: Give me a little bit of your background. How old are you, where are you from and how did you first become interested in making comics?

Ed Luce: I’m 38, so I kind of came to comics a little later than most.  I spent the better part of 12 years painting and drawing in a more fine arts context.  I was also a college art professor during that time.

How did you make the move from fine art to comics?

I’d moved to San Francisco and found I didn’t have a lot of space for large-scale painting in my shared studio apartment. At the same time, I was meeting cartoonists like Justin Hall and Mari Naomi, rediscovering indie comics at stores like Isotope Comics Lounge. So suddenly it seemed like an option for expressing myself creatively.

I’d bought superhero comics from a very young age, but since I don’t exactly draw with that level of discipline, it was something I didn’t pursue. Going to APE for the first time in 2007 changed my mind.  I was already into the Hernandez Brothers and Daniel Clowes, but going to an indie comics show with a much broader range of subject matter and styles opened up possibilities for finding my own voice.

Do you think your background as a teacher and painter gave you an advantage in approaching making comics and if so in what way?

Definitely, from both a technical and conceptual level. I already had a really strong work ethic in place and a fairly disciplined eye and hand. The learning curve came more in adjusting my skills to a more sequential narrative approach, rather than just one painting or drawing at a time, that stood on its own.

From the beginning, I thought of Wuvable Oaf as more of an art project than a stand-alone book. I’m sure my teaching and art school background contributed to the multimedia approach I eventually adopted. I wanted to bring elements of the comic into the real world whenever possible. That meant creating music (in the tradition of cartoon bands like Jem and the Holograms and Gorillaz), making clothes (including the kitty underwear Oaf is pictured in), even scratch and sniff cards that represented certain characters’ scents.

What do you think those added, interactive elements bring to the comic? How do they enrich the experience for the reader?  

Since so much of the comics world is gravitating toward digital, I’m trying to present these tangible, tactile items from an otherwise fictitious comic book world. I always try to transcend novelty and make things I’d actually want to buy.  Sort of the same philosophy many bands use in their merchandising.  It just makes the experience of the comic more engaging and fun.

For those that aren’t familiar with Wuvable Oaf, how would you describe the series?

I always say it’s a book about big, hairy, scary-looking dudes and the people who love them.  And cats. Everyone has a wuvable oaf in their life, whether father, brother, boyfriend, best friend.  I’m very interested in the type and how I can surprise and subvert peoples’ notions of masculinity.

Will the upcoming book from Fantagraphics contain all-new material, collect the previous issues or be a mix of both?

It’s mainly going to be previously released material.  Issues #0-4 contain a sequential narrative that focuses on the titular character. The rest of the book is gathering the last four years of short stories I’ve released as mini-comics. These were handmade, so their runs were extremely limited and mainly available online or at shows. I think the short stories are going to be the real selling point of the collection. I’m sure there will be a new short story or two in there. I have some material that hasn’t seen the light of day yet. The book will close with a series of Marvel Universe Handbook-style profiles on all the major characters’ histories prior to the start of the series. So there’s a wealth of diverse material to be experienced.

Give me a bit of a timeline if you can, when did the first issue of Wuvable Oaf come out?

The first issue, WO #0,  came out in late 2008. It was a series of short stories that introduce the main oaf characters, the band Ejaculoid and the cast of cats.  Issue #1 starts to weave together these various plotlines, as Oaf encounters Eiffel and his bandmates. And the cats have their own “Oz” (as in the HBO prison drama) type of environment and dynamic going on.

From a practical standpoint, how big a challenge was self-publishing Oaf, at least initially? What do you feel you’ve gained as a cartoonist from being in control of you work in this manner and how important is being able to self-publish to you as an artist?

I was an absolute beginner when it came to self-publishing. I went to several shows, watched those that were successful and those that were bitter ... and tried to figure out what I could do to avoid the latter. One thing I decided to do early on was print my own short-form content, on a large-format inkjet. That allowed me to make contemporary sized-comics (the scale of Marvel/DC books), which enhanced their collectability. People love that format, it’s so substantial and recognizable. I could also do small batches and not break the bank with each new release.  I generated a significant amount of content, relatively quickly and at a low material cost.  My longer issues have been produced by professional printing houses, but I’ve staggered them so I’m not always trying to recoup exorbitant printing costs, $4 at a time.

How did you hook up with Fantagraphics?

I’m pretty sure Fantagraphics folks started circling my booth at conventions a few years back, maybe 2010? At first, it was Mike Baehr and Jen Vaughn, who were helping run the Fanta booths at WonderCon, APE and Comic-Con. Then Jacq Cohen started making more prominent appearances; she was really charmed by the storyline and all the extraneous merchandise. After No Straight Lines came out, they finally asked me to submit. And the rest is history ...

The Oaf seems like a rather unique character, both visually and in terms of his personality. How did you come up with the character and how much, if any, of him is autobiographical or based on people you know?

I always say Oaf is based on my interior personality, my sweet side.  His music taste and playfulness are the best parts of me.  Eiffel, the lead singer of Ejaculoid, represents my less charming attributes and is more my physical type.  So when they finally get together in the book, they’re kind of a conceptual self-portrait. Many of the other characters are based on friends and Lil’ Papa is essentially my partner, Mark. He and my friend Matt Wobensmith always get collaborator credits in each book, since much of the action is exaggerated from real life situations.

I wanted to get back to your talking about your fine-art experience for a moment, specifically to ask about your influences. What people outside of the comics industry do you cite as strong influences on your work and on Oaf in particular?

I’m a huge fan of Pop Art, so much of my color palette and playful imagery spring from Warhol and Lichtenstein.  I was an illustration major in college and was obsessed with Aubrey Beardsley. His ink drawing compositions are filled with large, bold black and white shapes, accented with moments of intense pattern and texture. I think I subconsciously channeled him in my original Oaf design.

On the narrative side, I love sprawling episodic television, shows like Breaking Bad, the aforementioned Oz, Six Feet Under and Spaced. Any program that can make you root for a character one episode, then loathe them the next.  The new Golden Age of Television is full of complex characters and layered plotlines, which is something I’m trying to transpose into my comics.

Do you see Wuvable Oaf as being a continually ongoing series or do you have a definitive end point in mind?

I’d like Oaf to be something I always come back too.  I have another volume in mind, this one focusing more on his extended cast.  Matt is writing the next arc, which follows Smusherrrr and is still a kind of love story, albeit a much more unconventional one.  And we’ll be following Oaf and Eiffel as they take the first steps toward being a couple. That storyline is called YokOaf OnOaf, as it involves a very unhappy Ejaculoid.

I do have other, non-Oaf related projects in the wings, mainly two genre stories.  One is horror, the other is sci-fi.

You mentioned the “learning curve” earlier in talking about making the transition to comics. Can you give me a concrete example of what you’re referring to? Was there a specific obstacle or challenge in moving from static imagery like painting to a more narrative format like comics?

Oh gawd...word balloons!  I definitely struggled with the placement and spacing of those.  Eventually, I had to start breaking the panel edge to fit in my dialogue...which works aesthetically with the larger than life characters.

I also made the decision to use a digital font exclusively, as I hate my own handwriting.  Oaf would come out much more infrequently if I lettered.  This caused me to experience some occasional questioning of my credibility early on, mostly with diehard old school creators.  I’ve heard “You’ve GOT to do something about that DIGITAL FONT!” from more than a few people I respect.  If you’re paying attention though, you’ll notice I use a different, fairly organic font for each character.  It kind of conjures a “voice”.  And I always pick one whose name tells something about the individual;  Oaf is “Big Bloke” and Eiffel is “Indie Starr”.

Since I was already really familiar with the basic visual language of comics, I feel like I settled into a comfortable design philosophy early on, only to be challenged by having to render the same characters over and over.  That was difficult, given my “one and done” painting style. Basing the characters on people I loved really helped with that.  I started to feel like I was visiting them every time I drew; it eased the monotony.

To what degree, if at all, are you concerned about Oaf being typcast as a “gay” or “queer” comic, or that people might ignore it’s other qualities because the main character is homosexual?

That’s been the most unexpected, rewarding aspect to making this comic.  I created it thinking I would never reach beyond a bear/queer readership.  But because I eschew really explicit sexual content, a much broader audience started to pick it up at shows, all by themselves.  Both heterosexual women and men were attracted to the drawing, the cats, the music elements ... and they kept coming back for more.  In that way, I feel I’ve made something “post-gay” which I realize is a loaded term, especially as we continue to fight for equality.  I’d like to think Oaf represents a new, forward-thinking kind of queer comic, that with its very personal and unique perspective can educate and endear people who might not know much about the gay experience.

I’m also hoping Fantagraphics, and their highly respected reputation, will help me reach an even larger audience with this collection.  I feel like all I need to do is get it into peoples’ hands and let them react to it on their own terms.  The queer perspective is undeniable but the themes about body image, self-esteem and complicated relationships are universal.  And if you’re not so into that, there’s cats and heavy metal!

Todd McFarlane, Greg Capullo Spawn #301 Covers, Revealed

More in Comics