“They were poets and aesthetes, carrying sunflowers and dressing flamboyantly. They shocked society and posed a threat to the status quo. Every gay stereotype we have today comes from these men. They politicized their aesthetic. They broke all convention. They were the original uppity fags.” (Teleny and Camille by Jon Macy, Northwest Press, 248 pages, $29.99 paperback)
At the very top of his website, Jon Macy declares that he believes “Gay graphic novels need sex to be relevant.” And believe me, he delivers on the sex. Teleny and Camille features sex scenes that are tender, real, and best read alone. But unlike a purely erotic novel, he doesn’t indulge in fucking. There is sex that is terrifying and it will make your skin crawl every time you think about it.
In summary, Macy presents us a Victorian gay life that isn’t all glitter and brunch.
This book is unique. It’s a slice of gay history, but with all of that boring preface stuff interlaced into the novel. You need only to read the first 14 pages to appreciate where we came from, and how little has changed since the original Teleny was written over a hundred years ago by Oscar Wilde and his circle. They were the first really visible homosexuals. Think Victorian A-List.
I fell in love with Teleny and Camille in the first few pages when the character Jon Macy is stressing out about how to adapt Teleny, and all of the boys in the background of the coffee shop subtly get more and more attractive. Character Jon swoons, and realizes that he shouldn’t stress because “It is naked boys and debauchery after all.” That’s secretly why I do these reviews. When a gay novel doesn’t have a good sex scene, I experience literary blue balls. Why market it as a gay novel if nobody gets laid?
The bottom line? This book is fun. It’s unique, academic and sexy. Teleny and Camille is far and away the most innovative gay novel of the past few years.
I caught up with other Jon Macy to talk about his creatation.
Mackenzie Worrall: I love the history lesson at the beginning, explaining both how you came to write it, and how Wilde came to write the original. I had no idea that this was based on a Victorian novel when I first picked it up. Do you think your work would stand on its own without the opening vignettes?
Jon Macy: The graphic novel would be fine on its own, and that was my intention when I started it, but after working on the project for almost eight years I discovered a lot about Gay history and wanted to share that journey. It also makes it clear that I’m continuing the tradition of collaboration this novel has, which, in hindsight, I realized makes it more relevant for modern readers.
MW: Did you leave anything out from the original that you had really wanted to put in?
JM: Well, there is one scene where Camille fights his homosexuality by raping the maid, which is pretty horrific. I felt it was too misogynistic to include, but after reading the papers published by the Oscholars, an online group of Wilde academics, I’ve come to the conclusion that the writers were not against women, but giving a Gay male commentary on straight men of the time. This scene would come right before Camille’s suicide attempt and would better show how he had been tested greatly by trying to be something he is not. It’s still a very volatile scene and it would be tricky to pull off, but maybe I would add it to a future edition.
MW: Why did you ultimately decide to include both the original and the revised ending?
JM: I really couldn’t stomach ending this great love story with a tragedy. We have so few happy endings, but to change the original ending would have been unforgivable in my mind. I had to be true to the novel and then show my own alternate ending and hope people would accept and understand what I was trying to do. The lives of LGBT people are hard enough as it is. We need more happy endings.
MW: I think I’m going to steal “It is naked boys and debauchery after all” as my new mantra to stop over-analyzing queer work. Do you mind?
JM: Nothing would make me happier. Queer theory has long been in need of a reality check.
MW: You’ve been doing erotic comics for a while. Do you see the genre moving toward the literary side of things? What do you see for the future of erotic work?
JM: I think that as LGBT literature grows, and gains strength and readers, we will see more high wattage talents taking a stab at it. Teleny is a unique artifact of LGBT history because it is Gay men, in their own voice, telling us directly what love and sex was like back then. When people look back at us a hundred years from now I want them to see real depictions of how we love each other. True erotica is important because it shows the whole person. I don’t know if there will be a trend in this direction, but there will, at least, be me doing my thing.
MW: I’ve also read your shorts in Boy Trouble, which is very different from Teleny and Camille. Which style do you find more difficult to write?
JM: Teleny and Camille is my only adaptation and it was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. The research, the juggling of massive amounts of text and the pressure to get it right was astounding. I prefer to do my own writing, but because of this project, I learned a lot about myself as a cartoonist and a Gay man. Teleny and Camille challenged me to show Gay men loving each other without a filter or any self-consciousness. Some of the images were almost painful to draw because I had become so jaded and cynical about romance. All my future projects will be influenced by this experience.
MW: Plugs, book recommendations, fashion advice?
JM: My new series is called Fearful Hunter. It’s a Gay romance between a young Druid and werewolf that I started in a reaction to Prop 8 passing here in California. In this fantasy world the werewolves mate for life, so I have Gay male characters biologically predisposed to monogamy. I hope to counter the voices that say marriage between two loving Gay men is frivolous by writing stories that show Gay romantic couples. Well, and hot married sex. You can find Fearful Hunter on my website at www.jonmacy.com – you can also find many really amazing LGBT comics at www.northwestpress.com.
Jon was part of the early Nineties black and white boom with the series Tropo. His most recent work, Fearful Hunter, is the recipient of the 2010 PRISM Comics Queer Press Grant. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is single. He does not have a cat.