A Jon Macy interview (1 of 2)

I thought the publication of two new books by Jon Macy was a good opportunity to talk with him about his work. We begin with Fearful Hunter, the first issue of which I’ve reviewed here.

From what I’ve seen when reading your stories for Meatmen, you seem to have an interest in mixing fantasy and eroticism, in ways that definitely made your contributions to that anthology quite unique. Do you have a specific interest in Druidic/Celtic tradition that you wanted to express in Fearful Hunter?

Werewolves and trees, and druids, oh my

The whole project started as a reaction to Prop 8 passing in California. I was working on a new graphic novel called The Sebaceous Funk which is a serious heavy work, but not necessarily Gay, so I dropped it with the intent of doing a Gay romance with a happy ending. Something that I think is needed, well, I need it at least. I felt the only way I could help would be to make stories that were unapologetically Gay and not full of self loathing. A book that was sex positive, relationship positive and with complex real characters.

I also felt that since I was going to reveal a lot of myself it was important to only draw the things I really wanted to draw -which is where the Druids and werewolves come from. I’m Welsh so ever since I was a little kid I have always loved Celtic and Norse myths, but it seems that I never get to see Gay fantasy set in those worlds. There is something about those myths that stir my blood like nothing else. I was a little witchy boy growing up that wanted the stoic Norse heroism and the faery kingdoms hidden under the roots of a tree, and the wild freedom of turning into a wolf. My whole childhood was spent retreated into these worlds to protect myself from the truth that adults hate Gay children and my parents were no different. I guess I’m making a series that is really just for me. It’s for the thirteen year old me who really needed this growing up.

Why did you choose to set Fearful Hunter in modern times, and not in a fantasy past?

Well, this will sound funny but I have always loved punk boys and beat up old cars and loud music so I just put them in at random. I just wanted it (laughs). I mean this is my own self published series and I can have whatever I want and I can selfishly wallow in all my pet fantasies and interests. This is a new place for me in my mind really, the freedom I suddenly feel goes against everything I thought I had learned about what a good story is. I was always so thought out and I would write a script and stick to it. Even Nefarismo which is about two hundred pages long was entirely scripted before I started the art, now I have a whole new process and often I draw based on emotional need and the words have to follow. I’m not sure if this is a necessarily good thing, but it’s straight from my heart and a little scary.

There is also my love for magic and I always felt that if you have a supernatural event it is best seen in a non supernatural environment. My favorite superhero is Dr Strange and I think the best stories of his are ones set on earth with earthly constraints as opposed to floating in some cosmic acid trip. It’s the same for the sex. You have to have your characters put some clothes on before you can have them strip them off.

In Meatmen, the text in your stories often had a poetic, lyrical quality, while the art, though interestingly fluid and evocative, was less accomplished. In Fearful Hunter, the art is far more developed, and you’ve chosen to use a first-person narrative, with less lyrical flights of fancy. Do you now trust your art to carry more of the story than you did back in your Meatmen days?

Oh yeah, I am finally feeling strong artistically. When I look back at those old pages I cringe at the art, but I also see how fun and honest they are in the storytelling. Part of the problem is I have a horrible astigmatism which causes everything to be sort of stretched at a forty five degree angle. I’ve learned over the years to compensate for this, even though I can’t really see it myself. I hold each page up to a mirror, and sometimes I can catch it, but there is not much I can do about it. I really shouldn’t be trying to be an artist at all, but I can’t stop myself.

The flowery language was from reading way too much nineteenth century literature I guess. I loved books like Wuthering Heights and Women in Love where the words were so gorgeous and overwrought. I still love that but I’m trying to tone it down as this story is more about honest gut reactions. I don’t want the gaudy frame to mock the picture.

Effective layouts and Gaelic gods

I think it’s interesting that you wrote this story as a reaction against Prop 8. Because you’re essentially using monsters and magical creature to talk to gay people in the real world. Would you adhere to the idea that we need to somehow re-enchant our view of the world, make it more than the sum of the often bad news we’re bombarded with?

I was on this panel at Wondercon, my first, and it had three generations of Queer cartoonists and after hearing them talk it really struck me how my generation loves fantasy. Growing up it seemed that there were a lot of angry protests and the generation before me had to raise their voice to be heard, but eventually I started seeing that people were tuning it out and it was not helping. I think that’s why most of the cartoonists my age were doing other worlds, we were sugar coating the message. Now, of course, people have become numb to this and I’ve seen the younger people getting more angry and political and I think they know they have to to wake people up again.

My reaction to Prop 8 was not to fight with straight people or shame them, it was to have a hopeful story. I was saying on the panel that I wanted to write a story that was so pure and original that even straight people would claim it and say “It was a Fearful Hunter type relationship”. I don’t really think that is going to happen but that is how I see a society change for the better. I think a happy story about two men falling in love and overcoming things together certainly would not hurt us and could only help. Because I use other worldly beings and magic it entertains and says “I’m not forcing my message down your throat” the message really is to go out and find love, so there really isn’t anything hidden.

Well, there might be another message, but it could also just be a truth. When I started crafting the plot I decided to use my own relationship as a template. I had a very fiery one with my ex Heathcliff (yes. Heathcliff) and he is the inspiration for Byron the werewolf. I had an uncontrollable urge to be his care taker and ease his suffering, but he had a rather severe mental illness and that was pretty much impossible. I wanted to tell his story, but I was afraid to do it straight up so I softened it with all this fantasy. I loved Heathcliff and while I want his story to be heard I don’t want to paint him as a monster. Even though things were often very monstrous.

I was wondering about your interest in Celtic mythology, and you answered that. How much research was involved in this story, regarding names, the runes writing, various symbols and gods?

The runes are a mangled version of the Ogham which is the ancient Druidic alphabet. What you see is not sacred text and I’m not revealing any mysteries. I am using some Wiccan elements as well, and some dowsing theories to try and explain how I think the universe operates in this world, but it’s all my own. I have always studied magic from an outsiders point of view just because it fascinates me. Magic, in many cases, draws way too much on child bearing to illustrate creative acts. I think the real secret of the universe for us is more about production than reproduction. I like the Druids because they see the big picture and don’t just see themselves. When you see the whole universe revolving around the birth of your culture’s next generation you automatically exclude everyone and everything else and make them the enemy. We’ve had enough of that, and by making my own mythology I can show things that have normally be trampled by the larger groups.

The names in Fearful Hunter are all Gaelic and I love the pronunciations. I especially like it when it is completely incomprehensible—for some reason that gives me a lot of pleasure. Hopefully it doesn’t turn everyone off because I find them beautiful. There are a lot of gods in Irish, Welsh and English folklore. The Scottish is especially strange and beautiful, but I didn’t want to use any of their names because the characters are almost universally heterosexual. My universe is not completely homosexual, but I do want to make that the focus.

Do you view this story as self-contained, or do you intend to write more stories set in the same world?

I never think about that but you are right because I already have some short four to six page stories set up as a back up to the next issue. There is one about a young Shay who steals the underpants of the local farmer to line his den, and a satyr story. But for the most part I see each series as one story. It takes years to finish a graphic novel and in that time you change and mature. I think that when you end something it marks a moment in your life or in your development and it’s good to witness that. I would love to continue Oisin’ and Byron’s story, but I have to live it first.

You can read the second (and longer) part of the interview, focusing this time on Jon Macy’s adaptation of the famous Teleny book, right here.

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