I met John Jennison, known as “Johnee” to most, at Flame Con ’19. He had his own booth on the show floor and was promoting his queer horror anthology comic The Closet of Secrets, a smart and even emotional take on EC Horror filtered through the queer experience. It stuck with me. It was honest in ways that catered to certain sensibilities and vulnerabilities, the kind that good horror excels at. For me, though, the comic was a gateway into the life of John Jennison and his presence in the queer comics scene as one of its brightest and most admirable voices.
Jennison passed away on February 4th, 2022 after a long fight against a rare form of neuroendocrine cancer. The fight was long because John was stubborn, the good kind of stubborn. After being told he had some 5 years to live since getting diagnosed in his early 30s, he went on to defy expectations and continue living, organizing events, and creating comics till the age of 42.
One of Jennison’s most treasured contributions to Flame Con was his planning of the convention’s after party, which was considered more a celebration of the queer community that built the event than just a get-together to close it out.
He went on to organize similar events for the Brooklyn-based comic shop Anyone Comics, expanding into themed Drink & Draws that featured a diverse selection of models and performances that attracted more people each gathering while also becoming a platform for queer creativity.
As stated earlier, the queer horror comic The Closet of Secrets was my introduction to Jennison’s work. I had the chance to interview him for The Beat on it, on how he took classic horror tropes and subverted them to create a series of stories that always seem to find a sliver of hope among the monsters and the homophobic creatures that haunt his characters. The comic was uniquely raw in its honesty but enlightening in its approach to the struggles queer people face on a daily basis. Jennison extracted some compelling monsters out of them to create one of the best examples of queer horror in comics.
Jennison’s horror interests extended into his tarot card projects, one of which I also had the opportunity to interview him about called This Deck is Haunted: An Oracle Deck of Ghosts and Spirits. I was reminded a fair amount of Edward Gorey in his designs for each individual card, showcasing a playfulness to the macabre that invited thought and interpretation.
This Deck is Haunted wasn’t the only deck of cards he worked on. He also created the Mystic Male Tarot deck which queer eroticism to the card reading tradition and was highly successful in its production.
John Jennison was a creative force that lived every inch of life he got the chance to live. His legacy is one of queer advocacy, comics creation, and community building. There’s no disputing that. But perhaps his most lasting contribution to those who knew him or who knew of him is the example he leaves behind as to how one can become a voice that champions creativity while making sure it serves everyone in its orbit. Whether it was an enthusiastic smile or a short conversation on horror, John was sure to leave an uplifting impression behind. You had no other choice but to be inspired, grateful even for the time you got to spend with him.
Anyone Comics in Brooklyn (1216 Union Street) will be holding a memorial service for John Jennison on February 16, 2022. 7:00pm-10:00pm.