WonderCon '15 – Talking With Ed Luce About Wuvable Oaf From Fantagraphics

ed_luce_wc2015If you frequent comic conventions, there's a good chance you've spotted the iconic banner of the Wuvable Oaf at one point or another. The large hairy, naked wrestler wearing nothing more than pink underwear with a cat's face in front, his scary eyes glaring and taunting you to come over through shear intrigue and curiosity. Or fear. Creator Ed Luce has the Wuvable Oaf collected hardcover coming out from Fantagraphics this month, collecting the first five years of his wildly entertaining comic. The wuvable creator was on hand at WonderCon this past weekend and was nice enough to sit down and answer a few of my oafish questions.

Cameron Hatheway: Tell me all about Wuvable Oaf. How did it all begin? What makes him so wuvable?

Ed Luce: Well he started out actually as a paper doll design. I was asked to contribute to a paper doll themed show, and the core of the character, the most recognizable image of him is completely naked but has a little pair of underwear on with a cat face on the front of it. So that was the blank doll, and he's scary looking obviously, he has pink eyes and this grill of pink teeth, a heavy beard and he's hairy. All his outfits around him were The Smiths t-shirts, or a onesie pajama pants with cats crawling all over it, or a powdered blue jogging suit. So the Wuvable Oaf concept was kind of set up there.

I moved up to San Francisco after that and started to go to comic book shows and had a lifelong interest in comics, but never thought I could make one, until I went to the Alternative Press Expo and discovered the Prism Comics booth there. Prism Comics is a non-profit LGBT organization that supports queer comic creators. And I was paging through, and I thought, "This is great! I didn't know this existed," but I didn't see a character whose story I felt reflected my own experience. You know the best way to create something is to fill a vacuum or create something that you want to see. That's kind of how the Oaf was born, I just said, "You know, I'm sick of seeing these big heavy guys either be the villains in comics, or the butts of a lot of jokes, without any kind of telling their story from their point of view." I am not a big guy, but I know a lot of big guys. The character was influenced by a lot of my friends, so he's kind of an amalgam of a lot of my friends. If you're a student of comics, you can see him making a lot of references to Nancy; Sluggo from the Nancy comics, Bluto from the Popeye comics, he's kind of that type but he's been given the center stage, so that's the heart of the comic.

oaf_chapter1CH: How much of yourself did you put into Oaf? For instance, are you a retired professional wrestler? How many cats do you own?

EL: I call it "exaggerated autobio." My life is not that interesting in of and itself, like from a memoir standpoint, but I think my perspective is. There are a lot of nuggets of truth in the comic, especially from my dating experience. The dynamic in the comic is of this big, oafish guy, who kind of likes smaller guys. That's been kind of my dating dynamic, prior to meeting my partner of course. But I always say the Oaf is me on the inside, I'm not physically that size but he's kind of the guy that my mom raised, the "mama's boy." He's very friendly, a people pleaser. The Eiffel character, his sort of primary love interest, is more physically me. He's smaller and also the negative side of my personality, like all the pettiness and jealously and all of that. They kind of are represented in these two characters. And when they get together it becomes this weird, almost self-portrait, like a comic conceptual self-portrait. So that part of it is very much me. But also as I said, a lot of the characters are based on friends, and again I know a lot of big guys who I base the characters on them.

I do have one cat. A lot of people see the comic and think I'm a cat hoarder, and I'm not! The cats ended up in the comic because I had ended a long-term relationship when I moved to San Francisco, and we had cats, and I didn't want to break them up too, so I left them with my Ex and I just miss my cats. They kind of also are fun to play off of the big scary guy; the cute kitties and the big scary guy, there's a nice tension that kind of develops. And I think people are just also attracted to cats. That was a nice byproduct of what I put out there. To a certain degree you try to control, and you put out a message, and you think you know how people are going to react. But when you put something out into the world, that's what's great about art, it gets picked-up and turned into something else by the feedback and peoples reaction to it. The cats have definitely become a big part of the storyline. I've given them their own storyline, a lot of their part in the book is just me trying to explain their weird behavior, the kind of unknowable feline psychology works its way into the book. I only have one cat strangely enough. We waited several years before we got that one. She's one cat, but has many personalities, so I think she's a legion, a split-personalities of cats in one cat, so one is enough for me.

CH: Can we expect to see a plush doll line of the cats stuffed with your body hair?

EL: Oh god no! I don't think I have strength. My partner is fairly furry but he doesn't grow his hair back as quickly as the Oaf does. I mean I've looked at merchandising for toys and things like that. When I make merchandise, I'm more of make what I would buy, so I don't own a lot of stuffed animals. But I have gotten into the figure market a little bit. I'm lucky enough to have a collaborator in Erik Erspamer, he's a Phoenix based sculptor and he's been making figures for me. The stuffed doll thing, maybe somewhere down the line we could get into licensing and doing that, I would love to—

CH: Like maybe one of those WWE Brawlin' Buddies!

EL: Yeah totally! We could do that, I'm just a licensing agreement away.

worst_dates_1992CH: What's the reception been like in the LGBT community? Are people fans of the character, or feel like he's putting bears in a negative light?

EL: I would say I made this character for this bear community. He's never called a "bear" in the comic, I feel like I avoided labels, I didn't even want to use the words "gay" or "queer" or "bear" anywhere in the book because I think it's all really obvious. And in that sense its left it open for everybody even outside of the gay community to appreciate it, but really it's a valentine to that group, and I never expected anybody outside of that to appreciate it. They've hung with me, I haven't really gotten any kind of criticism from the gay community. It's interesting especially in the last couple weeks the big book has come out from Fantagraphics, it seems like my queer audience is there, it's devoted, but it's almost being eclipsed by a straight audience now. Especially at this show, so many guys have come up and said, "That's me! You're ripping-off my life story!" Jokingly, but they really respond to the kind of hyper masculinity of it, I think there's a lot of body positivity that comes out of this character. Big hairy guys are not always well-received in mainstream pop culture, but people see him and they're like, "Oh it's a celebration of me. I don't have to feel weird and awkward about being big and hairy and maybe a little sweaty, maybe take up a little too much space," so it does, it sort of celebrates that type.

It's interesting you should mention has there been any kind of criticism or critique from the gay community, there hasn't from the gay community at large from the audience, but I do feel, and not to focus on the negative, but occasionally I get critiques from other queer comics creators that my comic isn't "gay enough." That it doesn't have enough explicit sex or nudity in it. I made a decision really early on that I love that in other people's work, I like Tagame, and Jiraiya, there are definitely people who are really good at doing that, but I wanted the focus of my book to be elsewhere and I think some great creators think that explicit sex and gay comics have to go together—

CH: And it just might not be your cup of tea.

EL: It's not. I had an art career as a painter for years and I did really kind of more explicit illustration in painting works, so when I got to this project, it's a pop medium. I wanted it to be accessible to that large audience. It seems to have been as I've said, as a pleasant side-effect, it's working. Not just a lot of straight guys but women like the character, and the cats, and the story. If I've received any kind of negativity, occasionally I'll get "sex positive," that kind of academic term gets thrown at me a little bit, and although my book doesn't have sex in it, it's not "sex positive," but there are some sexual situations in there but I think they're more—I call them "situational erotics," they're more incidental exposures. I call it "The Galifianakis Factor." In a lot of his films he's naked and it's meant to gross-out one part of the audience, but I know a large part of the audience also finds it endearing, so I kind of work that angle a lot in my comics too.

CH: You made him bearable.

EL: Exactly, pun intended.

wuvable_oaf_hardcoverCH: You have the Wuvable Oaf hardcover coming out this month from Fantagraphics. What's it like to finally have the result of years' worth of blood, sweat & tears in your hands? Any special features in the back?

EL: It's exciting. It's really fulfilling. I've been buying Fantagraphics books since I was a teenager, so to kind of fit into that echelon of creators—I'm not trying to be arrogant or brag, but when they send the checks out, in the corner it's got a Jaime Hernandez drawing and it says, "We publish the world's greatest cartoonists," so I can't quite get my head around that, to be kind of considered in that league, and I'm certainly not, but to be welcomed into that family has been certainly great. And again I did not expect these comics, these are the first comics I've ever made, to reach such a wide audience, so there's a little hesitation and I'm a little freaked out by how big the audience has potentially become for this. Just because I sort of see things in the art, mistakes I may have made that nobody else can see.

But other than that to finally get everything collected, there are dozens of comics represented in this, the first five years of my work. It's been great, Fantagraphics did a beautiful job with the hardcover, putting it together. They put their full faith and backing into it, from a promotional standpoint as well. There's not a lot of new work in there, they specifically wanted to collect everything I've done before because it's been hard to get your hands on it until now, but I think the feature that some of the editors were most excited about was the back portion of the book is all profiles on each of the characters based on the Marvel Universe Handbook that used to come out in the '80s. It's totally in that format, and I'm excited about that too because it allows a little window to the history of the characters that I can't get at in the main storyline. They have fake superpowers and all that sort of stuff. I think when people at shows like this, WonderCon being a sort of superhero venue, they open that book and sort of see how that's influenced my work. You may not think that as an indie artist that I was influenced by Marvel and DC, but that's what I bought from the get go. That kind of aspect of it is I think good bonus material.

CH: Going back to the check really quick, do you have that laminated just in case anyone has a critique for you? Do you just whip it out and point to the corner?

EL: [Laughter] No I definitely kept them. I haven't done anything with them yet, but I definitely took a picture of it and posted it with my address blurred out. I think that definitely upset some of my friends and fellow creators, but it is what it is.

CH: Music plays a big part in the comic. If you ever decide to retire from comics, can we expect to see you form the band Ejaculoid and tour the country?

EL: You know, Ejaculoid exists already. I've released three singles, actual music singles, from friends of mine that are in the bands Limp Wrist and Talk Is Poison, they're in a band called Needles and they've recorded as though they are Ejaculoid. We've released three singles on vinyl, and have digital downloads that accompany it. I actually then had a couple other bands expand those songs and do covers of them for another project called Oafanthology which is other artists and creators like Tom Neely and Johnny Ryan drew my characters, and it made sense to them to release a record version of that with covers songs. Harassor is a Los Angeles black metal band, they did a full-on black metal version of the song, and Author & Punisher is sort of a doom industrial sort of one man band, and they also did a cover of the song as well. Yeah I've already started releasing music under the name. I don't think I'd ever form a band, I'm not musically inclined at all so I would avoid that. That might bring a negative light onto my project, but I'm really open-minded to working with musicians to continue to record music.

crisis_infinite_oafsCH: Any other projects you're currently working on, or is it just Wuvable Oaf and world domination?

EL: I'm really committed to Wuvable Oaf at this point, especially touring behind the book. We're going all over the place in the next three months including London, England, which I'm really excited about. And Canada. I'm looking forward to kind of pushing him as far as I can. After that, I have subsequent storylines, it picks up with issue five, so it'll be a different Oaf. I think of Oaf as a type—it's not necessarily the titular character, it's also a type of guy. There's another character in the book, Smusherrrr, my best friend is writing that story arc because the character is based on him. We'll be exploring another corner of the Oaf Universe, the "Oafiverse" as I call it. I mean I'm always open to continue to work on things. I was a part of the Henry & Glenn Forever project, so I did a story in that, and I always sort of contribute little things to that, Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig in a domestic partnership. Kind of the ultimate in fan-fiction. I've been doing alternate covers for other artists at Image and things like that. I'll always been working on the Oaf, that's my main project, my main platform to talk about everything I'm interested in, so definitely Oaf for the foreseeable future.

Special thanks to Ed for taking time out of his busy schedule during WonderCon to talk all-things Wuvable Oaf with me. You can find more of his work at his website or follow him on Twitter.

Cameron Hatheway is a reviewer and the host of Cammy's Comic Corner, an audio podcast. You can pitch him on a Wuvable Cammy plush on Twitter @CamComicCorner.