Pro-Wrestling, Queer Culture and Cats Collide in Ed Luce's "Wuvable Oaf"

With "Wuvable Oaf," a series of comics and mini-comics starring an openly queer, bearish, San Francisco-based ex-wrestler turned doll maker and cat lover, cartoonist Ed Luce has developed a rather loyal fanbase. "Oaf" tells the story of how the title character was adopted as a child, why he loves cats, his strange dating adventures and more, but really, the stories are about his obsession with a local musician and their early, tentative steps towards building a relationship.

It's a sweet and touching story that somehow manages to simultaneously be a wild and over the top tale. It's the way Luce combines these two elements so well -- and so entertainingly -- that have made the book such a success. It doesn't hurt that the character of Oaf -- big and hairy, but also sensitive and emotional -- has struck a chord with readers of all sexualities.

With the release of a new hardcover volume from Fantagraphics collecting Luce's work to date with the character, we spoke with the rising star cartoonist about the project, exactly who Oaf is, the secret origin of his co-starring cat Pavel, and what's next for the Oafiverse.

CBR News: We know the "what" of your lead character is that he's a big, bearded pro wrestler-turned-dollmaker, but when you get beyond those surface characteristics, who is Wuvable Oaf? 

Ed Luce: There's many answers to this, depending on who you are. I guess that's a testament to the diversity of Oaf's audience at the moment. He started as my valentine to San Francisco's Bear community, even if not directly in name. Obviously he looks the part: Oaf is big, hairy, queer and a little intimidating, but ultimately approachable and cuddly. To others, his type is a little broader by definition: He reminds people of their own jovial and rotund father, brother, son, uncle, best friend, boyfriend. 

And to a growing portion of the traditionally straight male comics reading audience, he's an example of hyper-masculinity that is becoming more embraceable and relatable, perhaps because of his queerness. Currently, heterosexual masculinity/patriarchy/privilege has a huge target painted on it, especially on social media, and I think men that feel implicated in this critical discussion are starting to identify with both the character's physical qualities and emotional sensitivity. More so than say, Dwayne Johnson or Vin Diesel. And I think that's a good thing; I like the idea that these straight guys can feel this solidarity with gay men too. Dad bod unites all men, regardless of sexuality -- and that's a beautiful thing. 

Sorry to get all quasi-academic there, but I am an art professor, so I think a lot about these things. Especially as I try to explain how the book has crossed over in the wake of the Fantagraphics collection.

Don't apologize! So where did "Oaf" start?

Wuvable Oaf started as a paper doll design for a theme show at the Trunk Space Gallery in Phoenix, AZ. I drew him in nothing but a pair of kitty-faced skivvies, while all the outfits around him betrayed his somewhat brutal looks. Things like a Smiths' shirt, fuzzy pajamas, a sweat suit covered with clinging kitties. The concept was born there and grew as some of my close friends began asking me where this guy came from. A comic seemed like the most logical place to tell that story.

The book has two parts: The long story, "Music is my Boyfriend," and then there are short stories. For people who have followed your work, how much have they seen elsewhere and what's new for the collection?

That first long story comes from the #0-4 issues of the main comic, which was available at a few dozen stores in the US and abroad. But the rest of the collection is mostly mini-comics I handmade and really only sold at conventions and shows. All of these are out of print now, so the only place to get them is in the Fantagraphics book.

How much of this is you telling a weird story set in the Bay area about and within these subcultures, and how much is you just inventing wild stories?

I always say the book is an "exaggerated auto-bio" comic. Much of it is based on the experiences of myself and my friends, as are a good number of the characters. My real life just isn't that interesting, but I think my perspective is, so I take leaps of fancy in the storylines to keep things entertaining. There are kernels of truth throughout, some critique and lampooning of queer and music culture, some attempts to explain cat behavior. It's really a platform for me to talk about everything I'm passionate about.

You seem to really enjoy drawing cats. Are you a cat person? What's interesting about them for you as far as an artist?

I grew up with dogs, but as an adult I've preferred the company of the relatively low-maintenance cat. As far as their involvement in the comic, I had ended a long-term relationship at the time I started the Oaf, and rather than break our cats up too, I left them behind. I missed them terribly and found myself including them in the earliest phases of writing. They also played so nicely off this big, scary dude from a visual standpoint. Their difference in scale is a large part of Oaf's "wuvableness." It gets the readers' pupils dilating, in that devotional kind of way. 

The cats allow me to explore other territory in the Oafiverse, so it isn't just love story or music hijinks all the time. 

What is up with Pavel?

I got this same question on a panel at TCAF 2015. He's brain-damaged. His origin story is coming up. As a kitten, he was found by Oaf in a porn store's dumpster, next to some smashed poppers bottles. He inhaled the fumes and started hallucinating monsters. Oaf has a calming effect on him. Eventually, he and Santino (another prominent cat in the story) will become companions. Their friendship will be very therapeutic for Pavel.

I have to ask, are we ever going to see more about Oaf's past as the infamous wrestler Goteblüd?

Goteblüd features prominently in the next issue of "OAFANTHOLOGY." He's the go-to character for creators who'd rather not draw the more cuddly aspects of the Oafiverse. Beyond that, I have an upcoming anthology story that focuses exclusively on him. And I'd like to release a wrestling one-shot in the not too distant future, that gets into the backstories of Goteblüd, his sidekick Blüdclot and some of the other wrestlers I've already introduced. Probably in early 2016.

I do enjoy how, throughout the book, you have cameos by other comic characters.

I'm a big fan of homage, especially in how it's used in shows like Edgar Wright's "Spaced." So many of those somewhat oddball cameos from TV, movies and other comics are my way of expressing love for others' creations. It's also a way to liven up boring crowd scenes, especially for me to draw. At first, these characters inserted themselves directly into the storyline, so you kind of had to get the reference to appreciate what was going on. As the stories progressed, I've tried to make the narrative be less dependent on audience recognition. The cameos are more like Easter eggs now.

Where did the idea for "Rage against the Cuisine" come from?

I think my behind-the-scenes collaborator, Matt Wobensmith, came up with the name. He and my partner Mark are vegetarian, so I've become much more sensitive to my own diet by association. Since Eiffel's evil ex-partner owns the "Rage" restaurant, I had to come up with a way to make their dining experience truly horrible, well beyond the usual ex drama. So I introduced the "kill what you eat" concept as a way to address how animals are abused by the food industry and how most meat-eaters probably wouldn't eat what they'd have to stare in the eye before slaughtering. I'm also a fan of food shows like "Chopped" and "Top Chef," so I'm aware of how conceptual haute cuisine can be. It was fun to play with those ideas, about what a rock star chef might come up with to be "edgy."

The book also includes "The Official Handbook to the Oafiverse." I get the feeling that you really enjoyed making those pages.

Definitely. I have fond memories of going over the various Handbooks to the Marvel Universe, so I ripped the format directly from them. Since my publication pace is so slow, this was a way for me to get at the characters' histories before the comic's storyline started. It also gives them fake "superpowers," describes their affiliations, gives vital stats on height, weight, etc. Just in case anyone is obsessed with a particular character and wants to know minutia.

Do you many more plans for Oaf and the Oafiverse?

The next story arc starts in issue #5, and will mainly focus on Oaf's friend Smusherrrr. Matt is the main writer (the character is based on him) with contributions from me, and of course I'll be drawing the whole thing. I just didn't want to get into a rut, writing the same story over and over, so I invited Matt to lend his unique perspective to this arc. The Oaf/Eiffel relationship will continue to be explored in a back-up feature titled "YOKOaf ONOaf," as Oaf joins the Ejaculoid tour and, well, you know what happened with the Beatles?

Beyond that, I've got another volume of "OAFANTHOLOGY" underway, which will feature Box Brown, Jim Rugg, Benjamin Marra, Kristina Collantes, Mari Naomi, Scott Wygmans, amongst others, drawing and/or writing Oaf stories. So look for that by the end of the year too!

Inferior Five #1 Subverts Expectation in a Post-Modern Superhero Tale

More in Comics