Dale Lazarov wants to know "Which comic book made you gay?"
For him it was Supermanin particular, the volume that first introduces supervillain Vartox.
"Vartox is your basic science-fiction daddy," Lazarov said.
Lazarov is the writer and art director of several wordless, gay character-based, sex-positive graphic novels, including his most recent work, Peacock Punks.
He said coming across Vartox helped him discover what he found attractive, and the comic books he grew up with continued to confirm his attraction for a particular type of man.
"All the comics I grew up with created this notion that middle-aged men were sexy," he said.
Lazarov said his experience discovering his own personal attractions through comic-book representations is a common experience for boys and young men.
Comic books also helped him recognize his own physical attractiveness.
"For a certain generation of men, that includes me, generally the image of gay men was young, pretty, slightly fem, which is perfectly fine, but I didn't identify with that," Lazarov said. "In fact, seeing only that kind of image for gay men made me feel 'I suppose I'm not attractive.'
"Sometime in the '90s, when erotic art for gay men started including guys who looked like me, I realized, 'Oh my godnot only am I attractive, [but] I find guys like me attractive."
When Lazarov began creating his own comics he wanted to show off men like him, but he also wanted to show the diversity of these men.
"Particularly for masculine men, there are all these sort of very rigid boundaries of this is how you should look and this is butch and this is swish and this is top and this is bottom," he said. "All these hard boundaries that people don't really fit, because sexuality is individual. One of the things I deliberately do and look for is trying to expand what is attractive."
Lazarov counts prominent Finnish homoerotic artist Tom of Finland as one of his influences.
"With his comics, all the power differentials that people assume between the policemen and the tough guy, becomes really complicated, because the top and bottom stuff is really fluid," he said.
He said Tom of Finland's work presented the crossing of boundaries between the policeman, who was supposedly in the position of authority, and the outlaw.
"That is one thing I wanted to capture from the Tom Finland comics, that it's a surprise, sex could happen in any context, of course within ethical boundaries, and it doesn't have to have a power differential that is limited," he said. "The toughest guy can be really tender and the gentlest looking gay guy could be a dynamo."
Lazarov said fluidity is also very important to him and something he believes is much less present in today's gay culture.
"My project as a comics creator is to make space in the world for more chance, for people to not limit who they contact. One of the horrible things about app culture, about using apps as a way of doing social interaction, is that people are limiting who they are talking to entirely on material terms," he explained.
"Part of what I loved about being gay in the late '80s and early '90s, when I first came out, was part of the assumption was if you were very limited in who you found attractive and who you talked to you were a snob," he said. "Part of the culture was social fluidity, meeting different people from different classes, like a party where everybody is invited. That is really gone from gay culture, I think.
"Back in the day, things were about being loose and welcoming in a way that didn't really shut down opportunities for interaction. The way people here in Chicago tend to cluster within people they know or people that look like them or of a certain class or neighborhood, that is really not what I grew up with and I would like a world that has that fluidity."
Lazarov will talk about the history of homoerotic art and his own influences and work during an upcoming presentation.
"I explain why comics, sequential art, graphic novels, any sort of sequential narrative art is the perfect venue to capture the objective and subjective nature of homoeroticism," he said. "You aren't only getting the physical attraction, you are also getting a sort of character based interpersonal connection."
Lazarov said the narrative form of sequential art provides a unique opportunity for breaking down limitations that people have about what is attractive and what is valid in human relationships.
"That is what the presentation is about, it's talking about how comics in particular have this ability to create acceptance in a way that I don't think prose can, for example, especially since gender is so visual. When you have a story that humanizes men, a story that shows there is a diversity of attractive masculinity, it creates a space for people to locate themselves within."
The adults only presentation will feature both panel excerpts and full comics page samples from classic superhero comics, from Tom of Finland homoerotic comics, and from contemporary gay and gay erotic illustrators and cartoonists.
Lazarov will be giving a presentation, "Comics Made Me Gay," on Tuesday, Nov. 10, at Geek Bar Beta, 1941 W. North St., beginning at 7:30 p.m. To learn more about Lazarov, visit www.dalelazarov.com/ .