Punky graphic novelist Abby Denson draws attention to gay youth culture
Abby Denson keeps the comic world fresh. In 1999, the 32-year-old Brooklynite started seriously sharpening her writer-illustrator chops while scripting for licensed comics like Josie and the Pussycats, The Powerpuff Girls and The Simpsons.
But her first big break came in 1996. That’s when XY magazine began serializing “Tough Love,” which until then was just a mini-comic that Denson distributed at indie comic shops.
“Tough Love” featured Brian, a gay suburban high schooler, and Chris, his kung-fu fighting boyfriend. While it was primarily a fun, life-affirming soap opera, Denson also touched on gay bashings, suicide attempts and struggling with coming out.
On Saturday, Denson visits Dallas for a book signing at Zeus Comics, which will be her first Texas appearance.
Denson’s career keeps getting stronger. In 2006, “Tough Love” became a full-length graphic novel, published by Manic D Press. And last year, she was named Lulu of the Year, an award given by the Friends of Lulu, an organization that encourages women to become readers and creators in the comic biz.
Denson’s not solely a comic geek. Her other passion is playing guitar and singing in punk bands.
She describes the flavor of her work as a hybrid of “rough stuff and new wave but fun.”
Becoming a queer-comic creator was inspired by a few elements.
In Japan, schoolgirls and gay men alike are fanatics for a genre of anime and magna known as shounen-ai: a style of Japanese comics written by girls about romanticized relationships between men.
Denson herself does not identify as gay, but she says she felt compelled to represent gay themes in her work.
“My dad’s gay, and one of my uncles is gay,” she explains.
When she was in high school, she says she was also deeply affected by witnessing the homophobic treatment of students. And because she wanted to reach the tween and teen demographics, comics seemed like an ideal medium.
Parents and teachers may find “Tough Love” of particular interest: The book includes a resource guide for those reaching out to gay teens.
Although enthralled with comics, Denson didn’t’ realize her attraction to the field until she was attending the Parsons School of Design in New York City, where she earned her baccalaureate in illustration. She believes that comics afford storytellers more layers than just composition literature.
“It’s a good way to utilize both talents: writing and drawing. It’s also a medium where you can show a lot of things: visuals and you can have the characters speak.”
She’s also working on a comic called Dolltopia, “about dolls who are tired of being controlled by humans, so they start their own society,” she explains.
The series examines plastic surgery, depressions and body image.
Denson sings copies of her work at Zeus Toys and Comics in Turtle Creek Village, 3878 Oak Lawn Ave, Suite 100E. Jan. 20, 1 p.m.-3 p.m. 214-219-8697.
SALE ALERT: ZEUS IS MOVING
Richard Neal, pictured, the gay owner of Zeus Toys and Comics says the store is having a moving sale with lots of items marked 40 percent off.
For more than seven years, Neal has operated Zeus at its location in Turtle Creek Village. According to Neal, the shopping center will be torn down soon. Some speculate that a new West Village-type complex is in the works.
To get ahead of the construction, Zeus is relocating to 4411 Lemmon Ave. at Prescott Avenue, which is near the McDonald’s and Quiznos. Zeus’ last day at Turtle Creek Village is Feb 29. The new store opens March 1.
Neal is excited because the new space is almost 400 square feet bigger.
Daniel A. Kusner
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 18, 2008