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New comic book celebrates the queer male body and sexuality

Creating positive body images for LGBTQ2S+ men

A new comic book exploring how queer men view their bodies and their place in the gay community is hitting shelves at bookstores and various healthcare centres across Canada. 

Rainbow Reflections: Body Image Comics for Queer Men is a comic book that focuses on its artists’ personal experiences navigating body image and sexual health. The book was created and edited by three university students: Phillip Joy, Matthew Lee and Stephanie Gauvin. 

At a health research conference in Vancouver in February 2018, each of the co-editors received a $25,000 grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research to develop innovative thinking to support LGBTQ2S+ health and wellness. The three were grouped together and they came up with the idea for Rainbow Reflections

In this image: Pages from Pieces I'm Keeping.
Pages from Pieces I’m Keeping. Art by Jay Pahre

Using research and experience to make art 

Joy is a dietician in his third year of pursuing a PhD at Dalhousie University. He says he wanted Rainbow Reflections to take a look at the “culture” of gay men, from social media and dating apps, to ideas about fitness, to TV shows with gay characters.  

After beginning his PhD, Joy says he wanted to create a project on how gay men view their bodies. Joy’s PhD research, which focuses on how cultural narratives affect the nutritional choices and body images of queer men, helped inform the team’s idea to create a comic book that tells stories about body image. 

 “What better way to tell stories than through pictures?” says Joy, who describes himself as an amateur photographer. 

Gauvin is doing her PhD in clinical psychology at Queen’s University and looking at sexual health, LGBTQ2S+ healthcare and sexual studies. She says she was interested in making a book that intersected the research of each editor. 

Gauvin, whose research focuses on breast cancer in transgender people, as well as their sexual health, spent a lot of her time on the project researching and creating health inserts for the book. Joy also made inserts in the book that centre research about queer men’s health. 

In this image: Art by Daniel McLaren.
A page from Dapper. Art by Daniel McLaren

Joy says the comic strips in Rainbow Reflections are exclusively told through the voices and experiences of its queer-identifying artists. He even found an artist who jumped on board to help create a comic strip about Joy’s PhD. Joy, who says he can’t draw, was “totally stoked and excited” to see his ideas of an Alice in Wonderland-themed comic strip come to life. 

“It was like Christmas Eve waiting for the comics to come in,” says Joy, adding he was on “cloud nine” when he first saw the comics. 

The book was launched at the Halifax Central Library in September. The event featured three of the local artists who contributed to the book in a panel discussing their comics.  

In this image: A page from "Little Fox."
A page from “Little Fox. Art by Skylar Kardon

A “once in a lifetime” opportunity 

One of Joy’s goals in Rainbow Reflections is to present the individual experiences of queer men while making health information and resources both accessible and comprehensive. Joy calls comic strips in the book “touching” and “emotionally-charged” while simultaneously featuring graphics of health literature and research findings generally restricted to academia. 

Gauvin says the project was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. 

“To have the funding to hire community members directly and work with a social justice comic book company – [that’s] something we usually don’t have the funding for,” Gauvin says. 

Fabien Barabé is one of the artists whose work is featured in the book. Barabé created his first cartoon in Montreal in 1994 before moving to Nova Scotia with his husband. When he heard about the call for artists for Rainbow Reflections from a friend, he says he knew immediately he would have something to contribute. 

Barabé’s comic strip in Rainbow Reflections is a spin-off of his cartoon The Secret Life of a Naturist. He appeared on the panel at the Halifax book launch with fellow local contributors Max Janes and James Neish.  

In this image: Artwork by Jalex Noel
A piece of art in Rainbow Reflections. Art by Jalex Noel

Giving back 

With plans for an upcoming launch in Toronto, and another at Queen’s University around early November, Gauvin says she has 500 copies of the comic book to mail out and donate to healthcare providers and across Canada. Copies of the book are already available in 20 health centres across Atlantic Canada, including The Youth Project and the Halifax Sexual Health Centre

Gauvin notes that the comic book is for not-for-profit, explaining that royalties are going to be divided between the three co-editors, which they will donate to different queer-centred organizations of their choosing.  

Correction: With files from Tarini Fernando, Arts & Lifestyle Editor

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