I’ve been holding out to read Wuvable Oaf on a special occasion, and what better time than today? Even Luce has tweeted about his overwhelming joy of today, which also happens to be his anniversary.
In honor of “same-sex” marriage passing in the USA, I’m focusing on a romantic comedy focusing on gay, cisgender men, who tend to be the ones thought of when it comes to gay marriage in the USA. It contains brief nudity, lots of sexual material, some gore, and sporadic language. Wuvable Oaf will appeal to you if you like heavy metal, alternative queer, or the San Francisco vibe.
Plot: A sentimental and tender oaf yearns for an aggressive, smaller man.
Initial thoughts: Every now and then a story comes along so fresh and so lovable that you can’t help but rave about it for days. For me, that’s Wuvable Oaf. I’ve been very excited to read this book and it’s one of the few comics that didn’t disappoint despite the anticipation! The art is distinct and embraces grotesque qualities in ways that I have not seen in other comics. There’s disturbing imagery of an anxious cat’s point-of-view, coughed up hairballs nearly every other page, and men covered in thick hair, and at the center of it all is a romantic man looking for a long-term relationship. He goes through break ups, finds new love, and enjoys his life as a doll maker and cat philanthropist. Most of the comics are black and white but the one that is printed with color, “Pwetty in Pink,” utilizes it masterfully.
The hardcover book released earlier this year includes the main arc following Oaf and Eiffel as well as a collection of short stories occurring in the Oafverse and a character guide. The story is definitely a gay romance, but it also focuses on other aspects of Oaf’s life, which aren’t necessarily thought of as queer (which is an incorrect assumption) and which break free from the confines of what constitutes a “queer” comic in the mainstream media’s eyes. I would, however, be a bit skeptical of how Wuvable Oaf‘s rejection of directly confronting queer labels has earned it mainstream media attention, though there is plenty of queer elements explored in the book.
Itty Bitty Research: There’s so much I could cover for this single book: music like the real band Ejaculoid, pop culture references like the inclusion of Saga‘s Lying Cat, Grumpy Cat, and Lil Bub, and gay male culture such as cruising references and gyms come to mind. I want to address queering as it occurs in Oaf.
For as much as the queer community seems to reject labels, I’ve noticed that we’re very fond of labels, whether it’s calling oneself or somebody else a lipstick lesbian or aggro in lesbian circles or otters or twinks in gay circles. Luce himself admits, “I feel like I avoided labels.” It’s important that Oaf is an “oaf” and not a “bear” because it helps break Oaf from both the mainstream and alternative image of what a gay man or bear looks like or is. Luce also points out that labels are absent entirely from the book, “because I think it’s all really obvious.” It is obvious, and what’s lovely about this is that everybody can enjoy Oaf without arguing over identity politics. While the book still seems very cissexist and biphobic, the lack of labels and discreetness welcomes a variety of audiences to relate to and embrace the Oaf.
I also want to trouble the notion that this book isn’t about queerness when it is not focusing on Oaf’s feelings for Eiffel. Eiffel’s band, Ejaculoid, is named after the semen volumizer of the same name, and while this could be read through a straight lens, the sexual orientation of the characters in the band suggests that the preoccupation with semen has to do with gay male desire. As the inserts revealing Eiffel’s recruitment of the band shows, all the members are in one way or another queer thanks to the sexual relationships they had or sought with Eiffel. In fact, the band members’ recruitment occurred as a direct consequence of queer sex, so in some ways, even the queercore music aspect is inherently queer. Oaf’s love of Morrissey as shown in chapter two and “Worst Dates Ever: 1992” is not merely for the music he makes, especially when you consider this character is wearing a “Morrissey’s Bitch” shirt. Oaf is a big fan of music, with They Might Be Giants, Weird Al, and Jonathan Richman CDs in his home. The absent of female songwriters or lyricists seems odd if Oaf is merely a music buff (though sexism and misogyny in certain music circles could also account for this), which is in fact amplified by the fact that Oaf falls in love with Ejaculoid’s music and also the leading man.
Queering in “non-queer” activities also happens in Oaf’s past as an ex-wrestler, where he was having sexual relationships with referees and other wrestlers, and at the gym, where the man are portrayed as seeking a sexual relationship with Oaf and having sex in the showers. Eiffel’s side job as an aggro-masseuse also has a sexual component: he wears a wrestling singlet he calls his “sexy outfit” to perform his job, which has a fetish connotation to it (87). Perhaps the only sections in the book not associated with queerness are the bits relating to Oaf’s cats and the dolls that Oaf makes, which I would argue also have queer roots because the cat philanthropy is associated with Li’l Papa’s and Oaf’s queer, nurturing parental role and Oaf’s dolls are made directly out of his hair, which are “so soft…and…kinda stanky!” the physical traits that make Eiffel sexually attracted to Oaf (72).
We also see a queer reversal of the heterosexual, male gaze. We see a car pull up to Oaf and catcall him, which not only queers this often heterosexual oppression but places Oaf in a sexually objectified position associated with femininity. This is also seen in common branding like Juicy Couture’s juicy pants, which encourage people who wear these pants to embrace and acknowledge the fetishization of their rumps. In the comic, Juicy is rebranded to Bruisy, which appropriates the Juicy label and adapts it so that men sexually objectify men. As audience members, we too are invited to queer our gazing of the characters.
What is the significance of this? The back of the hardcover edition of Wuvable Oaf has a quote by USA Today writer Whitney Hatheson celebrating that “Whether you’re gay/straight/something in between, I think you’ll find yourself rooting for the Oaf and his quest for somebody to wuv.” Setting aside the problematic non-monosexual erasure, this quote implies that even non-queer people will cheer for oaf, presumably because there is something “not-queer” to relate to and support or that the queerness in the book is not threatening to a non-queer viewer. In an interview with AccidentalBear.com, Luce teased, “Lately I’ve been calling it ‘the gay comic for everyone else’, somewhat jokingly. I feel it’s from an undeniably queer perspective but is written and constructed to be all-inclusive.” While it might welcome non-queer audiences, the material of the book is, as Luce says, “undeniably queer.” Queer people may not be the target audience of this book, but nearly every aspect of the book, as I’ve pointed out, is drenched in queerness. I am curious if whether this means that queerness isn’t supposed to be central to the story or rather if the queerness is merely invisible because things like music, commodification, objectification, and art crafts aren’t considered to be queer things in the mainstream view.
References: Luce, Ed. Wuvable Oaf. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2015. Print.