I’d like to talk about cartoonist Will Varner today. One of the reasons that doing A Year of Free Comics is one of my favorite parts of doing the Beat is that I get to just relax and enjoy exploring cartoonists whose work I may not know about. Despite my absence from the archives, I’m still at it and as the year winds down I’ll be back to doing my regular AYOFC contributions.
And let’s start with CAB this weekend, and some of the exhibiting cartoonists. Will Varner is an illustrator/cartoonist/art director, with a wry sense of humor. His work has been seen in Buzzfeed, PLayboy and many other places, and ranged from humorous panels to longer essays about life as a gay man – and being a “hapa”, or mixed race Asian man. You can find links to them all in that link, but today I’ll look at “Unlearning to Pass” which talks about the still-mostly-taboo subject of sports and homophobia. Varner was closeted as a teen and his family pressed him to play sports, an experience which exposed him to many toxic messages about masculinity and homophobia – and which he feels permanently damaged him with those messages.
After coming out and moving to NYC, he joins a gay volleyball league, which reinforces both the good parts of playing sports, and raises some more questions.
This is a well-rounded look at a topic from many different sides. Varner’s other visual essays – mostly done for Buzzfeed – include dealing with the stereotypes about being a hapa gay man, his own life, and, of course, Star Wars. His gag comics similarly find the humor in looking at the irony of opposites.
Varner’s art has a jagged edge to it that buzzes off the page, and doesn’t stray from the embarrassing aspects of life. He’s also a master letterer – something far too often overlooked, especially in work as wordy as this.