Nov 19, 2013

Searching for a Gay Comic

At Christmastime in my junior year in high school, shortly after I caught Cousin Joe in the act, I caught the flu.  I lay in bed for a week, missing the District Jump Quiz Tournament, unable to concentrate on books or comic books, unwilling to make the arduous trek across the room to turn on the portable tv atop the dresser, I mostly listened to KSTT on my clock radio. Boston sang "More Than a Feeling" about a thousand times; their only competition seemed to be "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing," by Leo Sayer.  I know what he made me feel like doing.

Once I heard a song called “Walk on the Wild Side,” about a man’s  descent from Acting like a Girl to Fairy to Swish: “he shaved his legs and then he was a she.” But I was puzzled by the line in which the Swish “goes to see Apollo" (I had never heard of the Apollo Theater in Harlem).  What did the Greek god, the epitome of muscular manliness, have to do with a sinister, soul-destroying walk on the wild side?

On December 29th, I was feeling a little better, so I asked Darry to bring Robert Graves' massive two-volume Greek Myths, and read up on Apollo.  In one story, he and his friend Hyacinth were playing with a discus.  The wind Zephyr became so jealous of their love that he blew the discus off course, and it hit Hyacinth in the head, killing him. The distraught god created a flower from the bloodstained grass, the hyacinth, with petals that spell out ai, alas!


“Zephr was jealous of their love,” I read. “How can you be jealous of a guy? You can have hundreds of buddies. You’re only jealous of girls.”

“Maybe Apollo and Hyacinth were girls, sort of,” Darry said. “You know. . . .” he flashed a loose wrist.

“Don’t be ridiculous! They couldn’t be gay.  There weren't any swishes in ancient times, and besides, they were like, built!”  Everybody knew that gays were thin, wispy things who hated muscles.

“How do you know how built they were? There aren’t any pictures in the book.”

Slightly embarrassed, I told him about the comic book that my boyfriend Bill gave me long ago, with Casper the Friendly Ghost making a mystical ascent to the Island in the Sky. Darry wanted to see it, so I asked him to find my box of old Casper comics in the closet. The Island in the Sky comic was missing!

Thinking it was misfiled, we sorted through my boxes of Disney, Tarzan, Archie, and superhero comics. Nothing. We even crawled into the attic  crawlspace to look through a box labeled “Boomer," leftover from our move two years ago.  It contained old toys, puzzles, coloring books, cartoon kits, Viewmaster slides, birthday party photos. No comic books.

Exhausted by the effort, I clomped back to bed and collapsed. Darry pulled the covers over me and went downstairs to fetch some orange juice. When he returned, he said, “Don’t get all obsessed. Your fever-addled brain probably invented it. A bad acid trip about Casper the Friendly Ghost, imagine that!”

“No, I’ve read the comic book – lot of times.” I remembered every detail. I remembered when I first read it -- a hot summer night, my boyfriend Bill asleep beside me, breathing softly, and Casper flying to the Elysian Fields to meet Greek gods.

 It was an essential part of my childhood, like Chekhov and Sulu smiling at each other or Robbie Douglas singing about boys holding hands.

“So, tell me all about the story you dreamed up. . .I mean, that you read in that mysterious vanishing comic book.  Casper goes to an island in the sky."

“And he meets Apollo, Pan, Bacchus, and some others. All men, no women. Muscular physiques. They live together. It was like heaven.”

Darry laughed. “Sounds like the Hawaiian Lounge to me! Nothing but fruits, on double dates with each other!  Except for the muscles, of course.”

“Waste your time doing something else!” I exclaimed, scandalized. “Nobody was gay! It was a kid’s comic!”

When Darry left, I huddled beside the space heater, trembling.  First the secret message "Brian gives free LBJs," and now the Island in the Sky.  Why did all of my most cherished childhood memories involve swishes?

It would take me another year to figure out why..

Here's what the graffiti really meant.