Local artist Michael Comeau was trying to cruise a comely lass who had entered his exhibition room at last year’s Toronto Alternative Art Fair International. According to Comeau, she was taken by surprise. “She said, ‘I totally read you as gay,'” says Comeau. “‘I mean, you’re sitting there, surrounded by all these gay posters…,'” he pauses, for effect, “‘that you made yourself.'”
If you can’t put a face to the name Michael Comeau, you have (more importantly) seen his work, over and over again, plastered across Queen West and elsewhere in the city. Between creating the promotions for almost every single Vazaleen party, and then Hump Day Bump, with a few Hidden Cameras gigs thrown in for good measure, this sensitive straight lad has become the poster boy for the queer Queen West scene, quite literally. Crazy Holes, a collection of his work — the aforementioned posters and more personal stuff — is up at Gallery X this month.
So what does Comeau make of this queer connection?
At the outset, mindful of accusations of profiteering and cultural tourism, Comeau toiled away clandestinely. “At first, I think I was more nervous; I did three Vazaleen posters before I even went to the party because I was very conscious of straight people clogging up the gay clubs and rubbernecking and watering down the scene, and that’s not cool.”
The politics of his Ontario College Of Art And Design (OCAD) days has stuck with him. “There was a lot of talk of appropriating other cultures, so when I first started doing it I was afraid that if people found out they’d be really pissed.” But of course, there’s nothing our people love more than an ally, and such concerns quickly faded. Now, says Comeau, “I just see myself as a cultural servant. You know, I’m just doing shit for my friends.”
This work has ended up providing Comeau with the necessary freedom and breathing space to strike a balance that few commercially involved artists enjoy. His relationship with OCAD chum Will Munro was, artistically speaking, enviably low-maintenance. Munro, the man behind Vazaleen and oodles of other queer arts events, would phone Comeau with the necessary promotional details, and that was the end of it. “He kind of spoiled me in that I never had to show him a proof or anything, he was just so delighted to find out what I had come up with.”
Munro wasn’t the only one delighted. Comeau’s creations are psychedelic marvels, layers upon layers upon layers of high-contrast tones and images, the intimate screenprinted space of a poster or an album cover crammed to bursting with Xeroxed photos, original drawings, a riotous population of marginalia. In his queer clientele, Comeau has found an audience ready and willing for him to push pictorial envelopes. His imagery already tended toward the prurient. “And the more raw and sexual my images are, the more [queers] like it,” he says.
So what’s next, artistically? Among the more ambitious plans include the releasing of a sex comic book. Comeau is (as printers are wont to be) fastidious about his materials: He has some fleshy-coloured paper (the result of some printing experiments), and the only thing left to decide is the colour of his line drawings. If he’s able to squeeze them out in time, an issue might find its way into his upcoming show.
On the business end, Comeau still seeks to harbour his ideal kinds of relationship. “I keep my prices low because I want to work with really neat people, so I’m happy to do that.” Of course, his prices invariably attract the odd client who’s only out for a bargain and doesn’t quite see things Comeau’s way. “Normally, the people I deal with are really awesome. It’s the people who want to see proofs, or give me flak.” Still, Comeau stands firm. “I just tell them that it’s going to be my poster a lot longer than it’s going to be their poster, and they’re just renting it off of me. I have my own agenda, and they have to be aware of that from the outset. People are either down with the cause or not.”
Amen, baby. If all else fails, the queers have got your back.