Saturday, August 05, 2017

Book Talk: The Complete Wendel

The Complete Wendel
by Howard Cruse, introduction by Alison Bechdel

This is a book I actually finished in June, around the time I finally posted my “Book Talk” post about Happily Ever After: A Collection of Cartoons to Chill the Heart of Your Loved One by Chas Addams. In fact the main reason I published that post was to get it out of the way before I talked about this book. And then I got busy with things and forgot. Oops.

As I pointed out many years ago, I’m a slow reader, and under the best of circumstances it can take me a fair while to get through a book. That was true with this book, too, though I was faster than normal because—well, here’s my GoodReads review:
Reading this book was like visiting old friends: I read many of the comics back when they were new, and in the cast of characters I saw many people I knew in real life. The characters were fun, had distinct personalities, and were definitely gay. They also had both a libido and sex lives, which wasn't common in those days. In fact, "Wendel" was the first gay comic dealing with real life and what gay people went through. It inspired other comics artists, such as Alison Bechdel ("Dykes to Watch Out For"), who wrote the introduction to this collection.

The comics were written in the 1980s and included the topics of the day: Ronald Reagan and the rise of the "Religious Right", the 1987 March on Washington, and, of course, the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Those old enough to remember those times will recognise the feelings of annoyance and even anger and rage—and, too often powerlessness—about what was being done to gay people at the time. Younger people can get a first-hand view of those times through these comics, and the characters who reflected the experiences of the witnesses to those years. And yet, it was all presented with Cruse's humour and good natured storytelling.

So, sure, this book is a document of the time it was written, but it's far more than that. It's a whole cast of characters, most of them gay, all of them with full personalities and lives that mainly just entertain us. The rest is a bonus.

Visiting them again was fun, nostalgic, and well worth the time.
Because I enjoyed “visiting them again”, I read it quite a bit faster than I wanted to. Still, some of the stories had a lot to read, and that helped moderate my speed a bit.

I know not everyone is a fan of comics, and I’m not necessarily, either—it really does depend on what it is. In this case, I loved the comics back in the day, so I started out liking them. However, I never read all of them when they were new because I didn’t have access to them. So, this wasn’t just re-reading stories, it was also reading the ones I missed. In that sense, it’s a bit like the Addams book.

Among the books I have on my current reading pile are ones that are new (to me) and one that I first read decades ago. One of the new ones has been going well, the old one, not so much. But they’ll be subjects of posts in due course. Apparently, I’ve started something, no matter how long it takes me to get there.

What I read: The Complete Wendel by Howard Cruse, print edition, 288 pages. Published by Universe Publishing, 2011.

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