The ‘Gaily Life’ of Wendel: Queerness as Communal Identity in Howard Cruse’s Comic Strip

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Howard Cruse’s Wendel comic strip was the first of its kind when it began publication within The Advocate in early 1983. Here, for the first time, the LGBTQ+ community could see comics representations of ‘gaily life’ – depictions of queer people as parents, friends, colleagues and lovers, gay men who were, in Cruse’s own words, “people not penises”. In this paper I argue that these revolutionary depictions of gay men enabled Cruse to build a storyworld that, to quote Michel Foucault, presented queerness as a “‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex”. Using archived letters between Cruse and then editor of The Advocate, Robert McQueen, I show how Wendel’s recentring of queerness as a communal identity came out of Cruse’s fears over making humour out of casual sex in the face of AIDS. The resulting focus on queerness as a “way of life” also mirrored the ways in which the AIDS crisis united many queer men and women, engendering heterogeneous LGBTQ+ communities built on shared aims and values. Wendel’s depictions of queer communities therefore not only came out of the AIDS crisis, it also reflected how AIDS was reshaping LGBTQ+ identities to be both sexual and communal.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 12 Jun 2023

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