Stripped to the Bone: Sequencing Queerness in the Comic Strip Work of Joe Brainard and David Wojnarowicz
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Stripped to the Bone:
Sequencing Queerness in the Comic Strip Work of Joe Brainard and David Wojnarowicz
Figure 1. David Wojnarowicz (w), James Romberger (p), Marguerite Van Cook (c), "If I could attach our blood vessels in order to anchor you to the earth to this present time I would," 1996 [©2017]. Courtesy of James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook, and Estate of David Wojnarowicz.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

David Wojnarowicz (w), James Romberger (p), Marguerite Van Cook (c), "If I could attach our blood vessels in order to anchor you to the earth to this present time I would," 1996 [©2017]. Courtesy of James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook, and Estate of David Wojnarowicz.

A visual spectacle: we see a full-color, six-panel panorama in what appears to be a graphic narrative. At the center, in the largest panel, an image of two [End Page 335] men's bodies exploding into one another. Blood, organs, bone shattering outward like a red and blue starburst. Or are the two melding together? Surrounding the scene, smaller panels depict moments of quiet intimacy: a man's hand on the dead body of his friend; a shirtless man making dinner alone; a man's face crying beneath the body of a lover. All presumably are the same man, the artist, writer, and AIDS activist DAVID WOJNAROWICZ (see fig. 1). In this penultimate scene of Wojnarowicz's comic strip memoir, 7 Miles a Second (1996)—respectively drawn and painted by artists JAMES ROMBERGER and MARGUERITE VAN COOK—Wojnarowicz describes a desire to recuperate a queer intimacy, an impossible closeness to a former lover who has died from complications of AIDS. The narrative accompanying the image reads, "If I could attach our blood vessels in order to anchor you to the earth to this present time I would."1 This attachment is rendered visually as a literal, and violent, enmeshing of two bodies' blood and guts that figuratively echoes the comic strip medium's often jarring representations of the visual collisions between images and text.

The scene asserts an answer to the question, "What can comics do for queer artists?" Moreover, it asks us to consider what possibilities the comic strip medium offers for representing queerness as an erotic intimacy, a political vision, and a way of life. Earlier in the narrative, Wojnarowicz claims, "I'm a prisoner of language that doesn't have a letter or a sign or gesture that approximates what I'm sensing."2 Wojnarowicz's statement speaks to the broader struggle of artists to marshal aesthetic tools for the purpose of articulating the sensate or affective intensities of queer sex in representational forms. In this scene, comic strip form allows an inarticulable affective intensity—Wojnarowicz's conflicting feelings of rage and desire amid the chaos of the AIDS epidemic—to be conveyed through representational density. The thick agglomeration of a number of individual experiences captured in a frenzy of overlapping panels visually invokes the shared collective intensity of feeling that attends the loss of queer intimacies in the face of AIDS. The most visible organ spilling out of the two men's bodies at the bottom of the page is a human heart, that especially vital muscle carrying the trace of their shared erotic and emotional intimacy, now a line of flight hurtling toward the edge of our perception. [End Page 336]

This essay develops a queer theory of comic strip forms that can account for such inventive visual experiments in representing the felt experience of queer sexuality. Such an approach considers not simply how queers and sexual dissidents of all stripes are represented in, or help create, circulate, and consume modern comics—itself a worthwhile and necessary endeavor—but also how the aesthetic and formal codes of the comics medium lend themselves to creative experiments in theorizing varied understandings of queer or nonnormative sexualities at distinct historical moments. This requires us to ask how the specificities of nonnormative sex and sexuality at particular junctures in the development of contemporary American queer culture collide with and are articulated to the abstract, transhistorical forms that make up the comic strip.3 These forms include sequential organization, the visual framing (or squaring off) of disjointed panels, image-text combinations, and serialized narrative unfolding.

At first glance, any generative relationship between queerness and the comic strip may seem untenable: if queerness can be understood as formless—that is, a kind of open...