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Zak Raven – The Straightest Gay Man In Comics?

Darren Davis, Bluewater Productions comics publisher, sent a blind email on February 10th to prospective reviewers regarding his company’s upcoming release of its Rosie O’Donnell bio comic. There is one point in Davis’ email with which I have an issue.

Davis states that Bluewater is a company that is gay owned. This is true, though this fact may not have always been publicly shared, and I think Davis deserves praise for being open. Bluewater has published the Ellen bio comic (with the Rosie bio to come), one for the show/ cast of Glee, and one (or is two) for Lady Gaga. I’m unaware of others and of the contents of the latter two comics. As much as these people and show are part of our history and culture, one day I’d love to see comics that tells the stories of Rimbaud and Verlaine, Colette, Sappho, Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, the Daughters of Bilitis, Mattachine Society, and Harvey Milk.

Bluewater also has published a number of biography comics based on conservative and liberal politicians and pundits from Sarah Palin to Hilary Clinton to Bill O’Reilly I think. Is one of Tea Partier Michele Bachman waiting in the wings.  It makes me wonder if Bluewater’s “cachet” is tailored for various pools of reviewers. I digress.

However, what caught my attention is the following paragraph excerpted from the email:

“We have a gay themed original graphic novel that has won some awards as well.  It features a gay man dealing with HIV.  It is a very positive book about what it is like to be positive in this day and age. The title is called ‘Lost Raven’.”

Sounds good.

Davis sent me a PDF copy of Lost Raven on CD several years ago. It was some time before it was to be published. The story runs for 76 pages and takes Zak from shortly after his HIV diagnosis when he decides to resign from his his paying job as a lawyer with a spiffy office and his decision to find himself on a months long solo sailing journey whih goes awry while encountering a giant sea creature in a storm. From there, he awakes shipwrecked on an island and finds himself collared with an electronic device, and a blue anthropomorphic creature who helps me survive on the island. Oh and there’s a monstrously big humanoid ordered to exterminate Zak. By whom, you wonder? A big bad US miliatary general in charge of some secret government research program to modify human beings to survive the long journey in space to colonize other planets.Yes, it’s a very eclectic plot and not one I’d go with if writing a story with an HIV + character, but as far as comics go, not so terribly far-fetched. Davis wrote Raven’s internal monolog as he copes with HIV and many of its complications with an  insight that reflects much of what I and many others I know who are also positive have come to terms with.

My point is that Davis in his email is now presenting the Zak Raven character as a gay man living with HIV. I’d read the story and sections of it a number of times after receiving it, and have read it over twice today. I can find no indication from either visual clues, sub-text, and comments taken from Raven’s extensive internal monologs to indicate Raven is gay. Now I do not mean gay as in bear, cub, otter, twink, muscle daddy, silver fox, boi, nelly queen, potato queen, rice queen, Pinoy boy or any other appellation you can think of. I simply mean gay as in the opposite of straight. Perhaps Davis changed the character’s orientation for the print edition, but the copy he sent to me was marked “Lost Raven Final”. If so then I am unaware of this change. I believe Davis may have intended for Raven to be gay, but intent is different from the result as in my re-readings today I found numerous indications that Raven is straight. You can read the instances I found below.

Zak loves boats! Now is the photo of a boyfriend or himself? I think it’s of Zak taken during a happy vacation.

Hmm. Not the most emotionally available guy. But this describes my father, too.

No Professor, Skipper, Gilligan, Mr. Howell, Mr. Brady, or Sam the Butcher either.

Okay, maybe Zak was like Ryan White and many others who were transfused with infected blood.

Gay men have dated women before coming out of the closet.

Girlfriend or just friend? She’s pretty much unidentified, but my reading of the context leans toward girlfriend.

Okay, maybe Zak had some anonymous man on man sex. Male pronouns and names are never used though.

Hmm. He seems to have women on his mind.

Chris is definitely a woman, but what was her relationship to Zak?

Someone very close and important, judging by what follows in this panel.

And this bit in the next panel makes Chris seem like a girlfriend or fiancee.

Zak’s savior, the lone female scientist of the secret government operation, who also crushes on him.

An HIV positive character’s sexuality is not something with which I have an issue. HIV doesn’t discriminate on any basis, and I very distinctly remember when this realization came to me as I walked from my apartment on West 18th Street in the Pilsen area of Chicago to the bus stop at 18th and State. It was the Reagan years and the widespread notion at the time was that HIV would not spread beyond gay men. Hello! Bisexual men! In the nearly 15 years since my HIV diagnosis I’ve met a number of positive people who aren’t gay, bi, men on the DL, MSM, and are indeed straight men or women, and lesbian.

However, when a publisher declares a story features a gay, main character when a copy (presumably finalized for print) shows evidence to the contrary and hypes this info to prospective reviewers I am compelled to wonder just what is going on. Has AIDS related dementia set in and I need to give up my car and my apartment for life in an assisted living facility? Is the one bit of monolog in which Raven says he doesn’t really know how he contracted HIV so powerful as to negate all the other passages indication an interest in women? Did the print version feature a gay Raven and I’m making a fool of myself in my ignorance? Or has Davis misrepresented or revised, unintentionally or not, the facts for reasons that I won’t presume?

In the event I am wrong then I’ll humbly and publicly apologize here.

February 12, 2011
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