Arts & Entertainment
4 min

The Brotherhood

Politically incorrect with comic flare

THE BROTHERHOOD: Vancouver cartoonist Tyler Dorchester draws on his experiences, real and surreal, for inspiration when writing his comic strip in Xtra West. Credit: TJ Ngan

For Tyler Dorchester, no facet of queer life is sacred enough to earn an exemption from the satirical scrutiny of his comic strip, The Brotherhood.

“The Brotherhood doesn’t just pick on the religious right, they pick on the gay community as well,” says Dorchester. “The nice thing about being gay is you never run out of ideas.”

In fact, he reserves his sharpest criticism for the body conformity and materialism pressures of the queer party scene.

“I think our culture has been hijacked by circuit boys,” he says. “The ante just seems to go up and up. Now you need to be uncut, have a big dick, and have plastic surgery. But, I like an unshaved boy in a vintage tee.”

The Brotherhood, which premiered in Xtra West in October of 2005, is the story of a tight clique of five very different gay Vancouver guys as they navigate through some very bizarre adventures. As well as the mundane, these boys occasionally bump into Martians, religious zealots, Jesus Christ and even the Grim Reaper. They’ve toured Vancouver’s West End, deepest darkest Alberta, and the 10th circle of hell–the one for damned homophobes.

“I’d like the Brotherhood to come across like Alice In Wonderland with Uzis,” Dorchester says. “They might have an everyday adventure one day and then be in outer space the next.”

At the beginning, The Brotherhood’s cast of characters was based on Dorchester and the people in his life, but the strip has since grown in a different direction.

“It started out with these guys as representative of my friends, but now I have them expressing things that go on in my head,” Dorchester says. “Henkl is my rage; Peter is looking for love; Thomas is the naive hunk from the prairies; Myles is sort of my id, he wants a piece of all of it; and Ian is the sedate, analytical one.

“Peter is the one who looks the most like me, except that in real life I’m very, very tall and a total top,” cracks Dorchester with a mischievous grin. He’s neither.

But, he is clear that having a strong group of friends is the best way to love your life and survive in the gay world.

“The Brotherhood is based on the people who are around me; the people that push me and love me and hate me for who I am,” he says. “If you surround yourself with people who challenge you, you’ll spend half your time pissed off and half your time with new ideas. They keep me at the top of my game. When you’ve got a group like that, you can basically say ‘fuck you’ to anyone you don’t agree with.”

The strip’s dark humour and satirical take on gay life has earned it some backlash from segments of the community, but Dorchester just shrugs it off.

“When I put The Brotherhood portfolio together, twinks and drugged-out socialites didn’t seem to find it funny,” he says. “Political correctness sometimes shields us from calling people on their shit. But, what’s cool is I’ve found that this is my voice. Not everyone likes it, but it’s my voice.”

Dorchester was working as a flight attendant when the idea for the comic on the facing page came to him.

“My jumpseat faces the entire aircraft, so I have like 50 people looking at me during landings,” he says. “I slip into my happy place so I don’t feel all these eyes on me. This idea just popped fully formed into my head about Adam and Steve. I wondered what it would be like if The Brotherhood could meet the two that started it all and how conservative Christians might try to go back in time to try to get them out of the picture. Maybe The Brotherhood will have a choice about whether to change history or not.”

Dorchester hails from Falun, Alberta, a place so small he jokingly describes it as “a wide place in the road.” He moved to Edmonton where he earned a degree in education and became a teacher, a job he kept for only 14 months.

“Teachers don’t have much of a life,” Dorchester says. “It just wasn’t a good fit. I’m too much of a hippie to teach, too much of a hippie for Alberta.”

So, he relocated to Vancouver and found work as a flight attendant, a profession he calls “As good a job as you can possibly get if you’re not easily annoyed by people.”

He became inspired to pen the first installment of The Brotherhoood in 2004 during his battle with a rare and life-threatening lymphatic condition called Castleman’s disease.

“Most people only have a couple of years,” he says. “There wasn’t any treatment at the time.”

As Dorchester prepared himself for the end, his doctor learned about an experimental drug that seemed to cure the disease in another patient in the United States. Dorchester went into full remission shortly after taking the medicine.

“I was sick until March 2005. Then, in April, I put on 25 pounds of muscle, my hair went jet black and I had the sex drive of a 14-year-old,” he says. “I was just so fired-up to be alive.

“I came out of the Castleman’s experience realizing how much time we spend on the things that don’t matter. If I hadn’t had that experience, the strip wouldn’t be as self-righteous or as dark.

“When I was flat on my back in the hospital, I was too screwed up to read books, so my friends brought me graphic novels,” he recounts. “I read them like crazy now.

“I guess my favourite would be Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I also love Chris Ware. It’s brilliant how his lines are so simple and he uses the same images over and over again.

“Bob the Angry Flower is probably my biggest influence. I’m almost watching that I don’t borrow too much from him. I love how he puts things together,” he gushes. “Every emotion is amplified. That’s what I wanted for my characters. Myles is not gonna pop just one E, he’ll pop 10 and wash it down with liquid crystal meth.”

And what’s next for The Brotherhood?

“Wreaking havoc on circuit boys and metrosexuals, and, um, discovering who they are through sharing and caring,” Dorchester says with a grin.