I spend most of my time ogling the hyper-masculine men of Japanese gei komi. Between Gay Manga!, The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, and Massive, I’m practically buried under an avalanche of beefy, gachi-muchi cartoon bodies. It’s magnificent! But sometimes I need a breather from all that testosterone. There’s a whole spectrum of queerness out there to explore!
Hungry Bottom Comics feels like a gust of fresh air whooshing in from the friendly frozen north. Canadian cartoonist Eric Kostiuk Williams’ dazzling autobiographical comics offer an unabashedly frank, uproariously funny glimpse into the author’s own journey as a young and fabulous gay man finding his way in the world. From the joy of escaping to the big, gay city and dancing at the club to the alienation of anonymous hookups in a digital age, Williams captures it all in sumptuous Sharpie lines and elegant cross-hatching.
Through joyous flights of fancy, Williams mixes high and low cultural references: Jean Genet sings Rihanna; Beyonce and Yoko Ono swap lives, Freaky Friday style; and personal saints like Mykki Blanco and Claude Cahun offer wisdom, insight and encouragement. These stars make up a constellation of queer icons that shines down on Williams as he catwalks through the uncertainty of early adulthood. Art becomes an escape from the shame and contempt directed at his femininity, seeping in from the outside world.
The titular label “hungry bottom,” for instance, was originally bestowed upon Williams with “snotty disdain by an uppity ex-lover,” as he explains in 2 Fags 2 Furious. “I found it kind of funny and figured I’d reclaim it as my own.” It’s a prime example of Williams’ strength through flippancy, his ability to turn the haters’ words on their heads. In unsettling personal testimonies, he shines a light on the type of everyday hate speech and public shaming that occur with frightening frequency even in supposedly tolerant, diverse places like Toronto and New York. Places where gay marriage may be legal, but the simple act of “undermining one’s own masculinity,” Williams notes, is still seen by many as “the worst sin imaginable.”
Williams, who “spent years building up the confidence to dress as I please,” has his life threatened just for walking down the street. Even in the mainstream gay community, anti-queer violence is quickly forgotten and systemic oppression is often overlooked in a haze of easy hookups and toxic “masc” myopism. It’s easy to forget how far queers still have to go within the insular bubble of hetero-imitative “normalcy.” As Williams succinctly puts it: “Some of us seem under the impression that it’s over, but it is not over.”
At the end of Hungry Bottom Comics #1 we’re introduced to Williams’ Diva Totem, a “primordial (and sassy-as-fuck) entity summoned from the subconscious,” which takes the form of a braided pile of hair resting atop of a stately pair of gams in leopard print tights. Perfection! The Diva Totem advises Williams to “transcend clubbing culture and cruising sites to seek out a community that intersects politics, sexuality and the arts,” presenting a lovely still life tableau of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble alongside a butt plug and a platform boot. The Totem reminds us that self-love and acceptance doesn’t sink in overnight: “Work on it a little bit every day, babe.” In Williams’ comics, we get to see that process spring to life in the most fun, creative, inspiring ways.