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Copyright © 2006 Glen Hanson
All right reserved.
Before you start chuckling at the cartoons, we thought it might be fun to give you a peek at "Chelsea Boys"' humble beginnings, in the hopes that you may better appreciate all the rich, home-baked goodness of the comic strips themselves. Yeah, we know you didn't plunk down your 14 bucks to read the semicoherent musings of a pair of cartoon-creatin' fags. You thought you were purchasing an anthology of the finest gay comics your money could buy, didn't you? Well, the joke's on you. (Then again, if you just skip over this intro, the joke's on us.)
The comic strip actually began as something else. Since animation is a big part of our careers, our original intent was to create a gay-themed animated cartoon short called Think Pink. So we assembled a small army of creative folk and began brainstorming and writing ... before we realized there were too many different opinions-and just too many cooks in the kitchen.
It all started when one of us, while still living up north in that freezing wonderland known as Canada (Glen, that crazy Canuck), started dreaming up characters for an animated series centered around three gay roommates. (This was 1994, before Ellen, Will & Grace, or Queer As Folk. Boy, we've come a long way!)They first sprang to life as three archetypal queer icons: a tough little leather daddy; a flamboyant, gender-bending performance diva; and a muscled artist who works as a go-go boy. As you can see from the early sketches, they weren't too far off physically from the characters they eventually became. Their personalities, however, changed dramatically.
Once we began collaborating on the 'toon-just the two of us, that is-we realized that the last thing either of us wanted to do was depict the adventures of three stereotypes. People are rarely who we think they are at first glance, and we wanted our project to reflect that. We wanted characters with dimension that people could relate to.
Nathan underwent the most dramatic persona adjustment as we began to create a central character that we-as well as our audience-might be able to better identify with. And so, instead of being a hot, aggressive little V-shaped leather dude, Nathan became more of a dumpy, insecure, pear-shaped everyman ... sort of a gay Charlie Brown who-like most of us-just longs for a loving relationship. This enabled us to more easily use Nathan as a surrogate mouthpiece for many of our opinions and observations (even though neither of us is pint-size or dumpy). He also morphed from Italian to Jewish and acquired a last name along the way: Klein.
Soirie changed the least. Since he was angular, glam, and ultra-fabulous from the get-go, we merely had to flesh out his complex personality, give him a rich and turbulent back story, and determine how he'd mesh with the others. His birth name began on paper as Sylvester Munroe and finally ended up Delroy Monroe.
The strip's most popular character, Sky (at first named Ethan), also underwent some alterations as we developed our little opus. In our original treatment we described him thusly:
"A bright 22-year-old tortured artist trapped in the body of a god. Ethan could have the world at his feet but makes life impossible for himself by being different. He longs to be taken seriously, but because he won the genetic lottery he's rarely looked at as anything more than a sex object; this makes him more than a bit cynical. He came to New York to attend art school and works part time as a go-go boy at the hottest Chelsea dance club, Olympus."
Sky was initially conceived as a massively muscled Chelsea boy clone with a tiny Jack Russell terrier. But his facial features softened (even if his body didn't) and he became more of an innocent-transplanted to NYC from a Canadian farming collective: creative, spiritual, and idealistic, the child of former hippies-1960s peace activists (whom we later named Sun and Moon). Suddenly the name Sky sounded more appropriate for this character. (Our little inside joke was that drop-dead gorgeous Sky is, in fact, the runt of the litter; his siblings-Storm, Forest, Meadow, and Sunflower-are far more beautiful than he is.)
Sky's little dog, Capote, became Nathan's instead-renamed Miss Marmelstein after Barbra Streisand's character in her first big hit, the Broadway show "I Can Get It for You Wholesale." Perky Miss M. turned into Nathan's constant and most loyal companion, butting heads with the catlike Soirie and adoring the animal-loving Sky.
As we pressed on with our efforts to launch Think Pink, we were advised to create public awareness for our characters in print first ... so we decided to kick off with a syndicated cartoon strip. But what to call it? We bounced many potential names back and forth, then finally settled on a spin on Andy Warhol's famous underground film The Chelsea Girls: We christened our child "Chelsea Boys."
Since we had contacts at Next magazine in New York City, it made sense for us to start there ... and so we did: "Chelsea Boys" began running as a comic strip in August 1998. Weekly. Which nearly killed us. In our naoveti, it never occurred to us how much work a syndicated strip entailed. It turned out that conceiving, writing, sketching, revising, penciling, inking, scanning, cleaning up, and disseminating a new installment every week-on top of our hectic freelance work schedules-proved just about impossible.
So "Chelsea Boys" quickly became a biweekly strip ... and even that turned out to be a formidable task. Through most of the strip's five years, we've worked individually (and sometimes in collaboration) on all of our other respective projects-including writing, designing, art directing, and producing cartoon TV series for network and cable, illustrating and writing books, designing ads and CD covers, writing and/or illustrating comic books and graphic novels, and on and on ... while continuing to create and distribute "Chelsea Boys" at the same time.
All this remains a delicate balancing act. Some of the commercial jobs we take on may not nurture our souls the way creating "Chelsea Boys" does, but they pay the bills and put food on the table. Hey, Papa's still gotta eat. (And not just dick.)
Even though the end result has been unbelievably gratifying, we can't recommend our schedules to anyone who desires a semblance of a normal life. We often liken the strip to a very young baby: No matter what else you're doing at the time, when the baby starts to cry, you have to run to it and take care of it. Come hell or high water, we have to turn out a new comic strip every other week.
As the readership of "Chelsea Boys" has grown-the comic now appears in dozens of publications and Web sites across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.-our concerns have shifted. In the beginning we worried more about gags and visuals-so if you look at the first group of strips, you'll note how joke-oriented they are and how cohesively each page is designed. Over time we realized that it's truly more about the storytelling-not that we ignored the pretty visuals or the laughs, they just didn't seem as important-so that became our emphasis. As you read through the first 100 installments, you'll hopefully see how the strip evolved year by year; how the tone of "Chelsea Boys" started out much lighter and more satiric but eventually became more character- and story-driven.
In the course of putting this book-our very first bound collection-together, we had to go through all the material again. It was interesting how so many memories came rushing back at us, brought on by specific strips and story lines. Some of them reflected events going on in our lives, or our friends' lives, at the time. Others mirrored the political climate of the world, or simply where we were emotionally when we wrote and created them-depressed, elated, overworked, in love, fearful, or just eager to talk. To this end, we consider ourselves lucky to have a forum in which to express ourselves, and grateful as hell that so many readers identify with our thoughts and concerns.
Over the years we've been asked many questions by our readers. So here's our opportunity to answer the ones we've been asked most often.
Who draws the strip and who writes it?
"Chelsea Boys" is a completely collaborative creative endeavor. Since we can both write and draw, we conceive and script each installment together-often acting them out-before one of us (Glen) sits down to illustrate. We then review the rough sketch together to make changes in the dialogue and visuals, before the pencils are cleaned up (again by Glen) and inked (usually by Angelo Divino) and then cleaned up again (by Allan) on computer. On very rare occasions, the other one of us (Allan) will assemble or illustrate a strip-such as the installment on page 100, designed to look like it was drawn by Nathan's young nephew, Jason.
Who are the characters modeled on? Are they really you?
The fact is, we're none of them-and all of them-at once. The characters spring from our imaginations, and are equal parts us and friends/acquaintances. Sometimes someone we know will say something that might inspire a story, but we never just plunk our friends into the "Chelsea Boys" world. Occasionally we lampoon a famous personality or two (these will be obvious as you read the strips). When Nathan and his best friend, Richard, get into philosophical or political discussions, they reflect our own conversations, to a degree ... with Nathan's opinions often closest to our own.
Are you two guys, ya know, like "partners"?
No, we're not romantically involved. We're best friends and collaborators who love working together. (We actually met through the Think Pink project, when Glen was searching for a gay animation producer for the original TV show idea!)
With such a hectic work schedule, how do you both manage to stay looking so fabulous? You're too kind, really.
OK. So now you've read paragraph after paragraph about us ... and lest you think that we've done this all by ourselves, here are some people who've helped us out along the way:
A big thank you goes out to Angelo Divino, who began inking most of the strips starting in 2000 and has done a wonderful job right on through to the present day. Special thanks also go to the artist Dino Alberto, who inked a few early installments, and to Jim Arnoff, Charles Busch, Alan Cumming, Chris Davis, Frank DeCaro, Angelo DeCesare, Marc Easton, Ariel Estrada, Karyn Hanson Schmidt, Ron Kanfi, Ken Katsumoto, Kim Kondracki, Mark Lieber, Lou Maletta, Rodger McFarlane, Michael Musto, Risa Neuwirth, John Olson, Kurt Pacquette, Jason Reilley, Marty Rotman, Nelson Sarmiento, Alan Scott, Linda Simensky, Albert Simic, Daniel Springer, Bruce Vilanch, Andrew Volkoff, and our good friend Peter Winter, who all generously offered us inspiration, support, advice, and/or blurbs for our book jacket; to Mike Caffey, Sam Tallerico, and Mark Watrel, for their early participation in the Think Pink short; to Howard Cruse, who not only laid the groundwork for openly gay comix with his wonderfully perceptive strip Wendel and brilliant graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby but also graciously agreed to pen the foreword to this collection; to Sidney Clifton and Peter Schankowitz at Film Roman; to Angela Brown, Terri Fabris, and Matt Sams at Alyson Books; and to Mark Kondracki, our talented Webmaster and "Chelsea Boys" Web site designer, who expanded our world and helped launch us into the modern cyber age.
Last but not least, we'd like to thank all the editors, publishers, and staff of the many publications who've run us over the years and continue to carry our strip ... but most important, our readers-who've shared their ideas, comments, praise, and even criticism with us, and let us know that they've been amused and touched and inspired by our work. For us, that's the greatest reward of all.
Excerpted from Chelsea Boys by Glen Hanson Copyright © 2006 by Glen Hanson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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