|The History of "Jayson" Comics
April 6 - May 11, 2010
My new book's title
I am halfway through writing my next graphic novel in the "Jayson" series. It is a sequel (of sorts) to "Jayson Goes to Hollywood," but I try to make each book stand on its own. I thought I'd start using this space to ruminate on some of the decisions that go into extending a series that has been running for 27 years now.
The first thing you should know is that the new book is called "Jayson Gets a Job." It may not sound as sexy as "Jayson Goes to Hollywood," and I considered other titles, but the more I got into it, and the more the economy tanked, the more timely it seemed. If you've read "Jayson" stories before, you know that Jayson -- and his gal-pal Arena and his neighbor Robyn -- have always struggled to find meaningful employment. So it made perfect sense for me to explore this theme in one graphic novel with three intertwined stories. But it all started with a Big Idea -- which I'll tell you about tomorrow.
The “Big Idea”
Every story starts -- or should start -- with a Big Idea. In "Jayson Goes to Hollywood," the Big Idea was not, as you might suspect, sending the cast to Hollywood. It was the realization that Arena's sister Meryl is a lesbian. Notice I said "realization" and not "decision to make Meryl a lesbian." Though Meryl is merely a character who resides in my head, she does not do what I want her to do just because I say so. In this case, she told me quite clearly (on a plane about five years ago) that she had just realized she was gay. Her response to this realization sets the "Hollywood" plot in motion in ways that you'll just have to read it to discover.
In "Jayson Gets a Job," the Big Idea -- the one that made me suddenly envision a whole book's worth of possibilities -- is the idea that Jayson's ex-boyfriend Walter, the only successful person Jayson knows, could help him land a job -- if only Jayson (and Arena) would learn to play nice with him. As an added bonus, this storyline would allow Walter to return to the forefront after spending a good 20 years on the back burner. Tomorrow I'll tell you how Walter landed on the back burner in the first place.
How Robyn replaced Walter
When I created "Jayson" on Christmas Day in 1982, there were three main characters: Jayson, Arena (she was called A.J. then), and Walter. All three were based on real people: Jayson was me, Arena was my gal-pal Andrea, and Walter was my ex-boyfriend Scott. (Sir Walter Scott, get it?) Many of the early strips examined the fresh wound of Jayson's breakup with Walter.
When I graduated from six-panel strips in the Philadelphia Gay News to six-page stories in Gay Comix, I looked for fresh conflicts to write about. My friend Tim, who lived in the D.C. area, presented such a conflict. Whenever he visited, he clashed famously with Andrea. Their catfights inspired "Jayson Gets a Visitor," which appeared in issue 7 of Gay Comix -- and changed the strip forever. Robyn Ricketts, the character based on Tim, soon moved to Philadelphia and established the dynamic of the strip that exists to this day. As a consequence, Walter receded into the background, appearing only occasionally as a scratching-post for Jayson and Arena's razor-sharp claws -- till now.
How Arena got her name
I mentioned yesterday that Arena was originally called A.J. The character was based on my gal-pal Andrea Jartman, who sometimes called herself A.J. So when I created the "Jayson" strip, it made perfect sense for me to assign those initials to Andrea's alter ego.
"Jayson" appeared in the Philadelphia Gay News for over a year with A.J. by his side. However, her name always bothered me, in large part because the lesbians of the day often went by their initials, presumably as a rejection of their feminine names. For example, I knew a lesbian at Penn named T.J. Grubbs. (What a great character name!) But A.J. was not a lesbian, and I did not want there to be any confusion on this point.
About a year into the series, I drove down to D.C. to visit Tim, and we attended a Barry Manilow concert at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. In the program I saw an ad for a show playing at the Arena Stage. "That's her name!" I shouted. It was the perfect name for a showboat who is always "on." A.J. has been known as Arena Stage ever since the strip went national in Gay Comix #6 (1985).
But, stickler for continuity that I am, I decided that Arena really did once call herself A.J., and was able to do so because her middle initial is J. I even decided what the J stands for, but never found an opportunity to make it canonical -- until now. In "Jayson Gets a Job," Arena's full name is revealed to be Arena Jezebel Stage.
“Jayson” comes to life
When I originally created the “Jayson” comic strip, it was twelve square panels in a three-by-four format, designed for a magazine page. The only publication I knew that ran gay cartoons was The Advocate, so it was my goal to draw one of the two twelve-panel strips I wrote on Christmas Day in 1982 and submit it as a sample to The Advocate. I chose the Walter strip I wrote; drew it in the Archie style I was so familiar with and which suited the comedic tone of the strip; and added halftone shading the old-fashioned way, with Zip-A-Tone and an X-Acto knife. I sent it off to The Advocate and never heard back, not even a form rejection letter.
But I felt I was on to something with “Jayson.” There was a local, weekly newspaper called the Philadelphia Gay News that seemed to be gaining traction. They did not run cartoons, but since I had the Walter sample ready, and had also drawn the A.J. (nee Arena) sample while I was waiting in vain to hear from The Advocate, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to take a meeting with the publisher. Maybe he’d be interested in an original, gay cartoon that was set in Philadelphia. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about that meeting.
Mark Segal says yes
After waiting six months for the response that never came from The Advocate, I arranged a meeting with Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News. I remember it was a dark and stormy night, and we had to meet in the evening because by then I was working my post-Penn survival job as a layout and paste-up artist at Master Graphics in Bryn Mawr, a good half-hour outside Center City, where the PGN office was. I don’t know why Mark agreed to meet with me, but I was thrilled. Even more so when he read my first “Jayson” strips, laughed out loud, and said he’d run them in his paper.
But he only wanted six panels. (My early samples had twelve panels.) And he only wanted to run the strip once a month. (I had hoped for weekly.) But I was about to be published! And paid! A whole $25 per strip!
The only problem was, Mark Segal’s editor did not share his enthusiasm for the strip. More on that tomorrow.
“Jayson” gets published
“Jayson” debuted as a six-panel strip in the Philadelphia Gay News in November 1983 -- less than a year after I created the strip in my parents’ basement on Christmas Day in 1982. Mark Segal, PGN’s publisher, took my first 12-panel strip, cut it in half, and ran the first six panels. I didn’t think it had an ending, but he thought it was fine.
Mark’s editor, however, did not think it was fine. He was not consulted, so far as I could tell, on the decision to run my comic strip, and he didn’t like it. My agreement with Mark was that the strip would run once a month. But it didn’t have to be the same week each month. So sometimes seven weeks would pass between “Jayson” appearances, as determined by the editor.
Over the course of a year, I was able to build a portfolio. But because the strip did not appear regularly, it was harder to build a following. That had consequences, as you will learn tomorrow.
“Jayson” gets cancelled
About a year into my run at the Philadelphia Gay News, the editor decided to conduct a Reader Survey, to learn which features were the most popular. Since “Jayson” appeared just once a month, and was routinely bumped in favor of breaking gay news, my delightful comic strip scored near the bottom of the heap. This despite the fact that my gal-pal Andrea Jartman, operating under the pseudonym “Beth Kent,” wrote an impassioned fan letter that began, “Love that Jayson!” -- which they published! (“Beth Kent” was the name Andrea used when making phone calls on behalf of a certain failed mayoral candidate, whose name has been relegated to the dustbin of history.)
Though I protested that “Jayson” fared so poorly because the strip appeared so infrequently, the editor, armed with his scientific survey, canceled the strip in favor of “free readers’ contributions.” (I quote from bitter memory because I never forget a slight.) But, like a phoenix from the ashes, “Jayson” was about to rise again -- on a national scale!
“Jayson” goes underground
During the year that “Jayson” appeared in the Philadelphia Gay News, I acquired a new roommate who introduced me to the world of underground comics: Robert Crumb, Aline Kominsky, and most importantly, Gay Comix. With Kitchen Sink as its publisher and Howard Cruse, whose comic strip “Wendel” appeared in The Advocate, as its editor, I was hopeful that Gay Comix would be interested in running my strip. Especially after it was canceled by the Philadelphia Gay News and I had nowhere else to turn. So I bundled up the best of my six-panel strips and mailed them off to the editor along with a cover letter.
If Howard Cruse had remained the editor of Gay Comix, Jayson’s story would probably end right here. The tone of the first four issues was hardly a laugh riot -- remember, it was the Age of AIDS -- and from what I’ve heard over the years, Howard is no fan of my work. (More on that later, I promise.) But issue 5 was Howard’s last. By the time my samples arrived, they landed on the desk of the new editor, Robert Triptow. And that changed everything.
“Jayson” catches a break
Robert Triptow became the editor of “Gay Comix” with issue 6. He wanted to lighten up the tone of the series, and he wanted to bring in some fresh voices. “Jayson” landed on his desk at the opportune moment. He liked my sample strips, but he didn’t want to just reprint them. He wanted me to try my hand at writing original stories.
I had just returned from my five-year high school reunion, which I attended with my gal-pal Andrea Jartman. I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, on the fringes of Pennsylvania Dutch country. My family was not Amish -- we had electricity and TV and all -- but the conservative mentality was not that far afield. I went to the reunion for a laugh, and I got more than a few. But little did I know that I was also gathering inspiration for Jayson’s first nationally distributed adventure!
“Jayson’s” first story
It seemed natural for Jayson's first story to be based on my high school reunion; the experience lent itself easily to comedy. The reunion really did occur in a firehouse (this is quite common in rural Pennsylvania); I really did sleep with the boyfriend of one of my high school girlfriends; and my relatives really do look like the American Gothic (in my eyes, anyway).
With a little exaggeration and little imagination (What if that firehouse alarm went off?) I was able to craft a funny story that gave readers some insight into Jayson's journey from Farmville to Philadelphia -- and back. I broke it down into pages and panels, and sent it off to Robert Triptow, my new editor. Robert proceeded to photocopy it, cut it apart, and paste it back together in a way that improved the pacing and reduced the page count from 7 to 6 -- establishing the six-page story that would be Jayson's hallmark for years to come.
With Robert's blessing, I sat down to start drawing "Jayson Goes Home," the story that would launch me onto the national stage in Gay Comix #6.
“Jayson” goes national
"Jayson Goes Home" appeared in Gay Comix #6 in early 1985. The reviews were mostly positive, although there was some carping about the quality of the art (more on that in a future post, I promise). Most importantly, Robert Triptow, my editor, was pleased with my submission and encouraged me to become a regular contributor, which I did. A "Jayson" story appeared in every issue of Gay Comix during the Triptow era.
When the editor of the Philadelphia Gay News, who was responsible for pulling the plug on my six-panel strip, read my first six-page story in Gay Comix, he opined that Jayson had "finally found the right venue." He was an asshole, but he was right; writing stories was much more rewarding to me than writing strips. And thanks to the national platform of Gay Comix, another opportunity soon presented itself.
“Jayson” debuts in “Meatmen”
In the summer of 1986, about a year into my run on Gay Comix, I got a call from Jerry Mills, the creator of “Poppers,” one of the most popular gay comic strips of the era. Jerry was helping publisher Winston Leyland line up contributors to a new gay male cartoon anthology with the unfortunate title of “Meatmen,” named in honor of the first gay superhero character, “Meatman.” Winston wanted to include “Jayson” in the anthology. He was offering real money, and he was willing to reprint a story that had already appeared in Gay Comix. Where do I sign?!
Within three years of creating “Jayson,” I had been published in newspapers, comic books, and now a book. I was on a roll! Even if the book in question was titled “Meatmen.”
“Jayson” sticks with “Meatmen”
Winston Leyland’s “Meatmen” anthology of gay male cartoons, published in 1986, became a runaway success. Soon it spawned a sequel, then a threequel, then a series. All told, more than twenty volumes were published over a ten-year period, and “Jayson” appeared in nearly all of them.
The early volumes struck a welcome balance between comedy and drama, sex and romance. But the later volumes grew increasingly pornographic, and “Jayson,” a teen humor strip at heart, felt increasingly out of place. Still, it was exposure on a national scale in a popular series that was published on a regular schedule, so I stuck around. Towards the end, I felt like “Jayson” only appeared in the series because Winston could rely on me to turn in my pages on time.
But in 1991, about halfway through my run, Winston gave me a gift I’ll cherish forever. And to think I almost turned it down.
“Jayson’s” sci-fi adventure
Winston Leyland, publisher of the wildly successful “Meatmen” series of gay male cartoon anthologies, announced in 1991 that his next volume would have a science fiction theme. I had contributed “Jayson” stories to the first 11 volumes, so without hesitation I said, “See you in volume 13.”
I’m not much of a science fiction fan, and I couldn’t imagine writing a story that would fit the theme. But Winston implored me to try. So I played around with some ideas and soon realized that, much like the Archie comics that inspired me to become a cartoonist, I was allowed to play around with genre conventions, so long as I remained true to my characters.
I had done a fantasy story once before in a superhero-themed issue of Gay Comix (#8). JaysonMan and ArenaWoman used their powers of higher learning to ward off evil homophobes. But that was nothing compared to the journey they were about to take.
“Jayson” enters the Gay ‘90s
In volume 12 of “Meatmen,” I sent Jayson and Robyn off on a wacky space adventure in “Jayson Visits Planet 69.” It met the criteria of a standard-issue sci-fi story, but my characters reacted as they would in any other situation I threw at them over the years -- which is to say, they brought the funny. But removing them from their usual trappings also enabled me to comment more directly on their foibles. In other words, putting these characters in an otherworldly situation served, unexpectedly, to humanize them.
This revelation opened up a host of brand-new storytelling possibilities. Whereas in the ‘80s, “Jayson” was pretty much grounded in reality, the ‘90s saw the development of sprawling sci-fi and fantasy adventures. Even the earthbound adventures discovered a newfound buoyancy. Jayson’s mother took up residence and evolved from Amish prig to card-carrying PFLAGer, as well as Robyn’s assistant in the adult film business. Welcome to the Gay ‘90s!
“Jayson” debuts in syndication
In the early ‘90s I became so invigorated by new storytelling possibilities that I launched a new, syndicated version of the “Jayson” comic strip. This time it was a four-panel strip, with four equal-sized rectangles that could be arranged in several different ways to accommodate a variety of newspaper and magazine layouts. Sometimes the strips were standalone gags, but more often than not, a gag would lead to a story that I serialized over six to eight weeks.
Over the years I had learned to structure my “Jayson” stories so that each page had its own beginning, middle, and end. This enabled me to serialize my stories weekly -- as it did during my tenure at Atlanta’s “Et Cetera” magazine in the mid-‘80s -- and then resell the completed stories to “Gay Comix” (and then resell them to “Meatmen”). You might even say I invented repurposing.
But pacing stories so that every four-panel installment could stand on its own, and still form part of a larger story that didn’t feel repetitive or simplistic when read all at once, required an extremely structured approach. It’s a good thing I enjoy puzzles.
Syndication is a dead end
Several of the longer stories from the syndicated “Jayson” strip made it into the “Best of the 90s” collection. I was sometimes frustrated by the challenge of confining myself to four panels, but I also had the sprawling canvas of the “Meatmen” books to balance things out.
The syndicated “Jayson” strip died in the mid-‘90s because I didn’t have a syndicate behind me. I mostly got second-string weeklies to carry me, and they mostly stopped paying their bills after awhile. One Long Island-based rag ran the strip regularly but denied doing so. I lived in Atlanta at the time, so I had to get a New York friend to track down a copy for evidence. When I confronted the publisher with proof, he said, “Yeah, but it isn’t funny, so why should we pay for it?” And so it went.
I flirted briefly with Q Syndicate, which handled all the major gay strips of the day like “Ethan Green” and “Dykes to Watch Out For.” But the owner wanted the right to alter strips at will, and reject any strips he didn’t like. That didn’t sit well with me, so I retired the syndicated strip and contemplated my next move.
Taking “Jayson” to the next level
I had always wanted to bring “Jayson” to another medium. I regarded the strip as a sitcom, with the standard-issue couch, door, and fourth wall. But in the mid-‘90s, television wasn’t ready, or at least television executives believed Middle America wasn’t ready for a gay-themed sitcom. Remember, this was before “Will & Grace” -- a sitcom that my work is now often compared to, as if I stole the premise from them instead of vice versa.
Anyway, I was living in New York by then, and the theater scene was thriving with gay-themed plays. Since it would take far less time and money to mount “Jayson” as a play than as a TV show, I decided to take the plunge. Turning “Jayson” into an off-Broadway musical is a story unto itself, which I will tackle in a future series of blog posts. But for now I want to focus on how that decision changed “Jayson’s” publishing destiny.
“Jayson” needs a collection
As I went about developing “Jayson” for the stage, I wanted everyone -- especially potential investors -- to know that it was based on material with a proven track record. But what could I point to? My run in “Gay Comix” ended after issue 12 with another change in editorship (except for a brief, sputtering appearance in the 25th “anniversary” issue). My syndicated strip didn’t last very long, didn’t appear in a major New York City paper, and didn’t truly showcase my storytelling prowess. And “Meatmen”? I was still appearing there, but by then the series had devolved into Giant Phallus Theatre (except for my stuff) and I was too embarrassed to show it off.
What I needed was my own collection. As it happened, Winston Leyland, publisher of the “Meatmen” series, had started publishing collections of his regular contributors’ work. So I approached him about doing a “Jayson” collection. His response surprised me -- and not in a good way.
“Jayson” gets a raw deal
In 1996, Winston Leyland, the publisher of “Meatmen,” offered me my own “Jayson” collection -- sort of. It would be a split volume with another cartoonist -- the guy who did “The Sparkle Spinsters” -- and he wanted at least 45 pages of new material (out of 90). Sign me up! Kidding.
I wanted to publish a “Jayson” collection containing all the stories that inspired the musical I was developing with singer/songwriters Ron Romanovsky and Paul Phillips. I didn’t have the time or inclination to create 45 pages of new material (I was doing plenty of that for the musical) and I sure as hell didn’t want to share the book with another creator (no disrespect to the Spinsters). I needed a solo “Jayson” collection to raise money for the musical, promote in bookstores, and ultimately sell at the show. Even if I had to publish it myself!
Learning to self-publish
I learned how to publish my own “Jayson” collection by reading Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual and using the checklist he provided. The content of the book already existed, and in preparation for the musical I had already spent weeks sorting and arranging it into a continuity -- mostly chronological but not completely, since the series once ran in three different formats. I had previously worked for printing and typography companies, so I understood how they functioned. I just needed to learn about bar codes, distribution, and for my first-ever color cover, a daunting new software application called Photoshop. (It was 1997, after all.)
I also turned to Winston Leyland, the “Meatmen” publisher, for advice. He didn’t tell me much, since he now regarded me as a rival -- even though I was only publishing a book he didn’t want to! Winston did warn me that without at least 10 titles to my name, no distributor would touch me. Yet, armed with just one title and a convincing story of high awareness and purchase intent, I promptly signed with no less than three distributors: Bookazine, Bookpeople, and Diamond Comics.
Now all my nascent publishing company needed was a name.
Naming my publishing company
Naming my publishing company should have been the easy part. But I was also in the throes of producing a musical, so I wanted to come up with a name that covered both. Remember when Coca-Cola decided they were an "entertainment" company? They bought Columbia Pictures, they sold loud clothing, etc. Following their lead, I decided that I too was an entertainment company.
But I was too busy trying to pull the show and the book together to squeeze another drop of creativity into the naming the company. The best I could come up with was that I was launching... introducing... Igniting! entertainment. I went to the Queens County Bureau of Registration (I was then living in Sunnyside, Queens, just outside of Manhattan) and stood in a long, creeping line (no Internet back then), hoping inspiration would strike before my name was called. It never did, and the name of the company became, and has remained, Ignite! Entertainment.
Publishing my “Jayson” collection
Ignite! Entertainment, the company I formed in 1996, published "Jayson: A New Collection" in 1997 as a companion piece to "Jayson: A New Musical," which Ignite! produced off-Broadway in 1998. I embarked on a small book tour, receiving a warm reception at gay bookstores in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles; and a cold reception in Washington D.C., where I was bumped at the last minute from Lambda Rising because someone way more important -- Rudy Galindo! -- wanted to appear on the same night.
Having succeeded at publishing a book and establishing working relationships with distributors and bookstores, I asked myself what else it might make sense for me to publish. The first thing that came to mind was Ralf König, a hilarious and highly successful German cartoonist whose work is very popular in Europe, but little known in the United States. When I lived in Germany (one year of high school and one year of college) and Austria (graduate school internships) I was introduced to his work, and spoke German well enough to try my hand and translating his work into English. Tomorrow I'll write about that process.
What else can I publish?
Someday I will do a whole separate blog series on the process of acquiring foreign rights and publishing translations of Ralf König’s comics. In fact, I’m thinking about renaming my blog “I’ll Get To That” -- not because I procrastinate, but because I try to stay focused on telling one story at a time. When I do signings at bookstores and they hand me a podium, I find myself saying it a lot.
But the history of “Jayson” would not be complete without mentioning that, once I launched my own publishing imprint, I kept the pipeline full by translating and publishing Ralf König books in-between “Jayson” collections. König is as prolific as he is profane, and someday I hope to publish all of his works in English -- which means I will have to live very long or he will have to die very soon. I chose to focus initially on his books that have been produced in other media, thinking American audiences might be more familiar with them. König’s graphic novel “Maybe…Maybe Not” was made into a hugely successful German movie, so it became my first translation.
Tomorrow I’ll blog about the difference between translating dialog balloons and making a story flow.
How to translate a graphic novel
I speak German well enough to read, comprehend, and laugh my ass off whenever I read a Ralf König book. Translating one of his books into English is another matter. I discovered when I tackled the first one, “Maybe…Maybe Not,” that translating the dialog, one balloon at a time, is not the same as telling a story that works in English. After I completed my first pass, I sat down to read it start to finish -- and it sucked. The rhythm was off, I didn’t get a strong sense of the characters, and worst of all, it wasn’t funny. I soon realized that I needed to treat what I had just written as a bad, first draft of a script that had to be revised and polished until it worked. Most crucially, I had to find opportunities to insert laughs into the story to replace the ones that got lost in translation.
So I set aside the original German edition and rewrote my bad English translation until it flowed and made me laugh again in the way the original had. I resisted the temptation to refer back to the source material until I got so stuck that I couldn’t make sense of it anymore. And then, once it all flowed, I went back and compared the script line-by-line to the original, to make sure that the English dialog would fit neatly into the German dialog balloons. Then I married it all together using Photoshop and PageMaker (the predecessor to InDesign). As I said before, it’s a good thing I like puzzles!
The worst advice I’ve ever heard
“Do what you love and the money will come.” Not only is this the single worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard, it’s downright dangerous. The problem with advice is that only successful people are asked to give it. For every successful person who followed his passion to the bank, there are thousands of people who followed their passion to a dead end, if not the poorhouse. Mine is one such story, but no one asks me to tell it. That’s why I’m telling it here, to my tens of readers, as a cautionary tale.
I lost my shirt producing “Jayson: The Musical” and spent several years working a mundane day job to regain solvency. As soon as my finances stabilized, I took the plunge once more, moving to Hollywood and trying to become a screenwriter. I told myself, encouraged by the literary manager who signed me and the option agreement that soon followed, that the only reason I wasn’t a working screenwriter was because I wasn’t 100% committed to it. So I made the commitment and worked 12 hours a day, every day, on developing, writing, and marketing my screenplays.
Two years later I was flat broke. But what happened next brought me back to “Jayson” in a most unexpected way.
The Evil Aerospace Giant
Trading on my extensive experience in quantitative market research, I accepted a temporary assignment in 2003 as a “data analyst” at the Evil Aerospace Giant. This assignment was several steps down in status but several steps up in pay. And after two utterly blissful but highly unprofitable years as a screenwriter, I needed to play whatever cards I was dealt.
As a triangular peg in a very square hole, I made my mark immediately at EAG as an “out-of-the-box thinker.” When my temporary assignment wound down, they hired me fulltime. A year later, presumably from the stress of donning a straitjacket and a mask to go to work each day, I developed facial palsy -- a literal mask -- on my right side.
I never fully recovered. Someday in another series of blog posts, I promise to chronicle those adventures. But the bottom line is that when it comes to palsy, the medical profession is clueless.
But this episode convinced me that, if you have a job as soul-crushing as mine, you must take time to feed your soul. And that realization, along with a little serendipity, led me back to “Jayson” in 2005.
First time at San Diego Comic-Con
I had always wanted to go to the San Diego Comic-Con, and finally, in 2004, I got to go. My new domestic partner, Bud Scott, knew San Diego very well, and knew that I liked comics very much, so we bought day passes (back when you could still buy them without planning a year in advance) and drove down from Los Angeles for the weekend. Comic-Con was at first overwhelming, but we soon got the lay of the land and found what interested us (me: vintage Archie comics; him: toys toys toys!) and what didn’t (gaming, Hollywood, convention food). We also discovered a new non-profit organization called Prism Comics, dedicated to the promotion of LGBT comics and creators.
Though I hadn’t picked up a drawing pen since 1998 (the year the “Jayson” musical opened and closed), I became excited by the prospect of working in comics again, and partnering with an organization like Prism Comics to promote my work. But just a few weeks after Comic-Con 2004, I contracted facial palsy, a condition I attribute to the extreme stress of being a pacifist who works for the Defense unit of an Evil Aerospace Giant -- though I can’t prove it and they know it.
Coming home to “Jayson”
After contracting facial palsy in the summer of 2004, I spent the next six months riding a carousel of conflicting diagnoses, prognoses, and treatments, none of which proved terribly successful. In the end, my recovery was incomplete, but manageable. More importantly, the experience made me realize how much I needed a creative outlet to counterbalance my financially rewarding but personally soul-crushing day job.
I missed my “Jayson” characters and wanted to continue telling their story, but first I needed to know if there was even a market for them. So I pulled out all of the old material and started assembling a new collection. In the end, I found enough good stories and enough of a stylistic break between decades that I assembled two collections: “Jayson: Best of the 80s” and “Jayson: Best of the 90s.”
When these stories were originally published, the critical response ranged from negative to vicious. When the “Jayson” musical opened in 1998, it was similarly panned. So, when I published the “Jayson” collections in 2005, I braced myself for another round of critical drubbing. It never came.
The “Best of Jayson” garners raves
When the first review of “Jayson: Best of the 80s” appeared on the Internet, I braced myself for the inevitable slaughter. While over the years many readers have connected with the comic exploits of Jayson and his pals, critics have routinely written off the series as lightweight, retrograde, two-dimensional, and worse. And don’t get them started on the artwork!
But this time it was different. The first review to appear, from Jay Laird of Edge magazine, was a veritable love letter. Describing the gay cartoon landscape of the 1980s as “either highly oversexed or heavily political at the expense of character development, or rehashes of the same lame stereotypical jokes again and again,” Laird went on to write that “Jayson” was different. He concluded that “these collections will still entertain you with stories whose merits transcend the decade in which they were written.”
Beginner’s luck, I thought. Then the rest of the reviews came in, and they were all glowing. As an artist, I was grateful to finally feel understood and appreciated for the integrity that I tried to invest in the series over the years. As a marketer, I immediately combed each review for quote-worthy bits I could use to help me sell-sell-sell!!