Escaping the bitter chill of a Nova Scotia winter, 18-year-old Vick Vancouver has made his way to our fair hamlet, crossing the continent in his search for gay community. Now he’s looking for friends, sex and roommates in the Davie Village, though not necessarily in that order.
Like many an outlander before him, Vick will need to discover the city’s beauty and ferocity on his own. He may be a cartoon YouTube character, but he is hardly two-dimensional.
“Everyone has a story. What we’re doing is creating a story that every gay man can relate to in some way,” says Gayway’s Zdenky Burkhardt, one of Vick’s two co-creators. “We want people to reflect on their own stories and recognize themselves in his.”
Living in a transient city like Vancouver, the tale of a gay man coming to a new town is instantly relatable for many of us. Burkhardt, a native of Alberta, knows a thing or two about the transition.
“I was new to Vancouver once and I remember what it was like to discover who I was. The city changes a guy,” he reflects. “I love Vancouver and it’s been a really great ride. I’ve evolved as a person and I think Vick will too. Man, if I remember the guy I was 10 years ago when I first came here, I realize that I’m a completely different person and that’s really great.”
Jody Jollimore, who is collaborating with Burkhardt on the project, also left small town Nova Scotia at 18 and has his own “personal connection to the young, naive boy who arrives in the big city.”
Arriving in Vancouver six years later, Jollimore was able to rediscover and reinvent himself again. “Metropolitan cities are attractive to gay men for a variety of reasons, but whatever the reason, the coming out experience in a new city is both exciting and scary for all parties involved,” he says.
“Dartmouth is a friendly community but so small, especially for a gay person,” says Vick, who made his YouTube debut on Mar 9. “I need to be in a bigger place with some gay guys, a community. I guess I wanted freedom and spring and cherry trees.”
Both Jollimore and Burkhardt say they have no interest in simply relying on their own experiences and imaginations to shape Vick’s story. On the contrary, they want Vick to be a collaborative, community-based effort; in fact the character’s progression will depend on audience involvement.
As Jollimore explains, “the cartoon goes along the principles of Gayway, which are bringing gay guys together to build a community. The idea is to create dialogue. We don’t want it to be one-sided.
“We created an interactive plot mechanism to bring people together. It’s important for guys to talk about their experiences because our experiences, collectively and individually, are our greatest assets. We can help build a stronger community just by sharing our stories.
“We’ve all navigated our complicated lives and have found ourselves in Vancouver,” he says. “How did we get here? What made it easier for you to get along? How did you get through the rough stuff like homophobia, HIV, drugs and booze?
“It makes it more interesting and will make for a better series if guys know they’ve made a difference in the cartoon,” he continues. “We all make a difference in the lives of people we meet, good and bad. What difference will Vick Van fans make to Vick’s life?”
Audience members will be encouraged to offer input into the plot on an ongoing basis, including on such questions as who Vick dates. “There will be pivotal moments in the series where we’ll ask guys via our Facebook group and via our website to let us know what should transpire,” Jollimore explains. “You’ll have to wait and see how that affects Vick. It should be a lot of fun.”
“Cartoons can address things that other mediums can’t,” Burkhardt notes. “Cartoons fly low under the radar. The cartoonist can address a whole range of things in the medium that are difficult to address in real life.
“I was influenced by Art Spiegelman’s Maus which was his father’s Auschwitz story cartooned as a graphic novel,” he reveals. “The Nazis were cats, the Jews were mice. His graphic novels tell his father’s story with a dignity and particularity that other mediums can miss.
“I have also kept a diary since I came to Vancouver,” he continues. “Instead of writing, I cartooned my day and the people I ran into. It’s funny to look back because I recorded information that isn’t captured in words or photography. It’s a different way of looking at one’s life.”
Turning Vick into a cartoon is “a way to provide gay men with information in a way that isn’t structured like ‘I’m an Outreach volunteer. Here’s a condom and a little booklet,'” adds Jollimore.
There is interesting research available from the Sex Now surveys on gay sex in this city, Jollimore notes, “but how many guys have the time to read it? We figure that resources like that can help direct the kinds of stories we tell. One in six gay guys in Vancouver are HIV-positive, for example. That’s the environment that Vick will explore his sexuality — it makes a big difference doesn’t it?”
“It’s challenging to get local stories told on video without huge financing,” Burkhardt notes, on the difficulties of finding an accessible medium in which to bring Vick to life.
“Our shoestring budget has been fun to work with in that way,” he continues. “It’s forced us at Gayway to be creative in the way we have developed our series. We want to explore the ordinary things that make gay life in Vancouver challenging, exciting and rewarding.”
Blissfully unaware of the challenges his creators faced in conceiving him, Vick continues to adapt to his new home.
“It’s a little overwhelming, there’s so many gay guys,” he admits. “People seem pretty friendly so far, but they stare and talk about you. The gay village is a little dirty, with lots of street people, but there’s a lot of energy and colour. But there’s something boring too,” he says candidly.
He’s hoping to make friends, find a place that feels like home and maybe even find love, he says. But so far he’s finding it all a bit challenging. “People here talk a lot about themselves,” he observes. “And I hate coffee, which is tough, because everyone wants to go for coffee.”
“We hope guys can have a laugh at what makes Vancouver difficult or annoying and reflect upon what makes Vancouver a great place to be gay,” Vick’s creators conclude.