Whatever you do, don’t call Joey Comeau bisexual. The Halifax-based comic writer and novelist despises the word; he feels it’s ridiculous. “It’s not descriptive or useful,” he says. “It always gives me images of people with bad goatees who wear capes and stuff. I’m just queer.”
He also hates being called an activist. “A lot of the people I know who call themselves activists are actually just really obnoxious. Rather than just being angry they should be trying to do something with their anger.”
One thing you can definitely call him is a success. At 25 he’s just had his first novel, Lockpick Pornography, optioned for a screenplay. He’s in Toronto at the moment trying to squeeze in some developmental time with his director, amidst comic-book shopping and mushroom trips in Christie Pits.
The novel opens with his main character, an unnamed twentysomething gender-queer punk, putting his foot through a TV screen during a televised political debate. “It feels good to smash the TV,” he says. “I feel like I’m participating in the political system.” The ensuing 10 chapters follow a group of disaffected youth through a myriad of break-and-enters, kidnappings and enough hot queer sex to give me a boner the whole time I was reading it.
“I don’t like the idea of writing to make a statement,” Comeau says. “Writing should be about exploring ideas. There aren’t really any answers in this book. But questions are more interesting anyway.”
Lockpick Pornography was born last spring while Comeau was studying linguistics at St Mary’s University in Halifax. In his final semester he fell short of cash after his student loan was denied. His on-line comic, co-created with designer Emily Horne, A Softer World (Xtra has just started to print some of A Softer World’s text and photo strips; see page 20 or go to Asofterworld.com), already had a rabid following of more than 50,000 readers a week, so he decided to put the first chapter of Lockpick on-line with a Pay Pal donation jar. Ten days later and $1,600 richer he posted the remaining chapters.
That might have been the end of it except for his friend, Mike Lecky, an aspiring Vancouver- based publisher. Dissatisfied with the current climate in publishing, Lecky had been pressuring Comeau to print the book in a hard-copy format. “He wanted to publish something that the major publishing houses would never touch,” Comeau says. “I didn’t have the confidence at first that it would work.”
The eventual agreement was sparked one crazy night in New Orleans. “We were drinking these 40s of malt liquor and wandering around Bourbon St when we got robbed by this homeless guy,” says Comeau. Far from home and without any cash, they ended up trailing a group of guys in the hopes of scoring some free veggie burgers, only to find themselves at a meeting of gay writers.
“We decided to just act like we were supposed to be there until they figured out we weren’t,” Comeau laughs. “We started talking up the book to everybody there as a ‘project we have in the works.’ I guess we talked ourselves into it that night.”
Even after officially agreeing to the deal Comeau was hesitant about publishing. “I didn’t know if a gender-queer adventure story that was already available on-line for free would sell,” he says. But sell, it has. The first run was gone in less than three months and a second printing is in the works. The fact that it’s been added to the reading list for courses at universities in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and New Jersey also helps. In fact, the latter school has invited him to be the key reading at their arts festival this spring. “They’re flying me down and putting me up in a hotel,” he says excitedly. “I’ve never been flown anywhere before. I guess I can call myself a writer now.”