Comics Corner – ‘Young Men in Love’ will make you fall in love with romance comics

Although representation of queer people in comics has, thankfully, improved in recent years, there’s still all too often something missing from the lives of the characters we follow, particularly gay male ones – romance. We may see characters date or even have sex, but there remains a distinct absence of swooning, head-spinning, heart-flipping, butterflies-in-your-stomach romance. That’s something Young Men in Love aims to correct.

A new anthology from publisher A Wave Blue World, the 200-page collection is edited by the transatlantic duo of Joe Glass and Matt Miner and features the work of more than thirty queer creators, all let loose to tell stories focused on… well, the clue is in the title. Suitable for all ages and packed with comics spanning genres as diverse as urban horror, superheroes, slice-of-life, spy fiction, and even folklore, it’s a book teeming with ideas, all centred on romance, connections, and emotion at their core.

Here, we speak with Glass and Miner on the genesis of Young Men in Love, the array of talent involved, and why a comic focused on gay male love is more important than ever.

Young Men in Love
Doesn’t the cover alone just make you melt? (Art by Kevin Wada, Image courtesy A Wave Blue World)

Gayming Mag: Let’s dive right in with the origin story – how did Young Men in Love come about?

Joe Glass: Matt came to me with the idea of doing this anthology, maybe two years ago I think. He had this idea for doing an anthology which was going to be based on romance comics but focusing on the queer male experience. It sounded pretty cool, and romance was not something I’d done before, and was something. I was interested in doing. I thought, “yeah, that’d be cool to do” and then we took the idea to A Wave Blue World who seemed to lap up the idea! We didn’t really have any sort of struggle, trying to push it – as soon as we gave them the idea of what the theme was, they leapt at the chance, to be honest.

Matt Miner: Yeah, I had wanted to make a make a book of queer romance that would kind of help younger queer men, who are maybe just figuring things out for themselves, or even for, you know, older queer men who just need a little romance in their lives. So I was very excited when I came up with the idea to do this and I figured there’s nobody I would rather partner with editorially than Joe. We sent a paragraph concept to A Wave Blue World and like, within minutes, it was greenlit, which was cool!

GM: How did the two of you first cross paths? Were you just aware of each other’s work, or met at conventions?

JG: We met on another Wave Blue anthology. I think Matt maybe reached out to me on that one as well and I wanted to be part of it, if I recall.

MM: Yeah, I was, I was editing and putting together another anthology and I asked Joe to be part of it. But Joe, we were friends on Twitter. Just fighting [hate movement] comicsgate basically, just taking down comicsgaters! I think we have shared sensibilities and obviously some of the same interests!

‘Second Star to the Right’, by Tate Brombal and Jacoby Salcedo (Image courtesy A Wave Blue World)

GM: How did you go about gathering the contributers for the book?

MM: A combination of people Joe knew, people I knew, and people we were aware aware of their work. Everyone on the book is either a queer man or a non-binary person who has same-sex attraction. Every writer, artist, colorist, the letterer, even logo designer. Everybody, everybody on it is coming from a very authentic place. That’s kind of what we wanted to do – make sure that all the stories rang true, and I think we accomplished that.

JG: Yeah, definitely. And there were a bunch of people we really wanted to be part of this book. One of the main things for me, when putting this together, was I wanted to have not just a lot of established creators in the book but some newer voices and rising stars as well. We’ve got a nice mix of creators involved.

GM: Young Men in Love tackles a lot of different genres – beyond the romance umbrella, were there any themes you were particularly looking out for in submissions?

JG: You know, I don’t think we really set out to be like “we’re gonna do all different kinds of genres”. We didn’t necessarily say to anyone, “you should be aiming to do some sort of cross between romance and this“. I think we just said, “look, it’s a romance story, that is the primary thing, but if you want to tell it in a sci-fi setting or whatever…”

We were open to whatever kind of stories people wanted to tell – the one thing it had to have was obviously some sort of romance element, but if [they] wanted to do a kind of genre piece, then feel free and as a result, that is exactly what we wound up getting. In the back my head, I thought we were just gonna get a bunch of slice of life stories, and that’s fine – I would have been perfectly happy with a book like that, but the ideas that were coming in wound up being ghost stories and pirate adventures – a bit of everything. I think that makes for a bit of a more entertaining book in the end, so I’m pleased with how it all worked out.

One thing we wanted to avoid was, like you often got in the romance comics of the ’60s and ’70s, some of the negative sides of romance, like any cheating or anything like that. We wanted it to be much more about the positivity and the joy.

Young Men in Love
‘Treasure Map to my Heart’ by Oliver Gerlacch and Daryl Toh (Image courtesy A Wave Blue World)

GM: Were any of the early, underground, anthologies such as Gay Comix an influence on Young Men in Love?

JG: Not overly for me, because, I’ll be honest, I’m actually not particularly au fait with a lot of them. My own comics upbringing, as it were, was very much ‘Big Two’ comics from Marvel and DC. The more independent titles like that didn’t come into my life until later, so I’m a lot less aware of those than I probably should be, so I can’t say it was intentional. In terms of my own story in the piece, the sort of books which did have a bit of an influence where things like Tim Fish’s Cavalcade of Boys, which is an independent queer comic, but I think came much later, early ’00s. But that was an influence on the story that I wrote. Other than that, not so much for me.

MM: My comic upbringing, the same, was mostly ‘Big Two’. I wish I had had access to queer comics in the ’80s and ’90s so that I would have felt a little less alone and a little more seen I guess. I didn’t really know those [queer comics] existed until later. So no, I wouldn’t say it does really influence [YMIL] at all. I saw a need in my own life to have Young Men in Love be a book and I wanted to make sure that this happened. I think this is the most important book that I’ve ever and part of, and I’m really glad that it’s a real thing and it’s out there and people are enjoying it.

GM: It feels particularly, or perhaps increasingly, important given we seem to be seeing persistent attacks on LGBTQ+ progress in both the UK and US. [Note: this interview was conducted before the 24th June 2022 SCOTUS ruling striking down Roe v Wade]

MM: Yeah, definitely, definitely. I’m absolutely expecting same sex marriage to be the next thing overturned after Roe. It’s just really, really disgusting. It makes me ill to see the progress that we’ve made just disappear because of monsters like Trump.

GM: Are either of you anticipating any pushback on the book, particularly with several titles coming under attack recently?

JG: I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if the book got on a few ‘banned books’ lists—

MM: Especially with that title!

JG: Yeah. I mean, the title itself is gonna throw it into the targets of some people, I think, in America in particular. Not so much here in UK, we don’t have such a massive problem with that here, but certainly in America, in some states, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m hoping not! I’m hoping we don’t see that happen, but I’m not entirely naive enough to think we’re going to completely avoid it, considering the backlash even the likes of DC gets when they reveal the new Superman’s bi or something like that.

Like, we have a book called Young Men in Love, featuring explicitly queer, male, non-binary romances, which are aimed at a wide age range of readers and even though the stories are not in any way adult or sexual, or anything like that, I can still see us getting hit by that. I wouldn’t be surprised.

MM: Absolutely. But you know what? I wouldn’t mind that. I know Daniel Kibblesmith – who wrote Santa’s Husband – every single Christmas, there’s conservative backlash. Some new idiot in conservativeland discovers Santa’s Husband and freaks out, and it spikes sales. So it’s like, “sure go ahead and freak out”, you know? I’d love the free press! Because those people aren’t our audience anyways. So, go ahead and throw a little tantrum that there’s a book called Young Men in Love in your library, who cares?

‘My Personal Super Scout’ by Josh Cornillon (Image courtesy A Wave Blue World)

GM: Why was it important to create a book focused on just male same-sex or male/non-binary attractions, rather than a wider LGBTQ+ anthology?

JG: What representation there is of male/male romances – in not just the comics medium but in the media as a whole, this whole male love, male romance genre, which has become its own thing – is primarily written by people who aren’t male or–

MM: Or queer.

JG: Yeah, or not queer in some cases, and it felt a little bit like “they’re great and it’s wonderful that they’re out there, and they are providing for queer audiences” but there was often an element of, “there’s a bit of a lack of authenticity” coming from that, and that sometimes does make you wonder whether they are providing for a queer male audience or if they’re actually providing for different kinds of audiences that are for whatever reason enjoying these queer male romances.

It just felt like we’re not really being represented in the sense of telling our own stories; like other people had more of a chance to tell those stories than we had to tell our own and for me, that was what excited me about doing something like Young Men in Love in the first place. It was finally a chance to let queer male or non-binary creators tell their own stories, which is [also] important to readers, because they’re the ones who are going to feel that it comes across in the stories.

GM: You’ve got a really diverse roster of creators and characters in the book – was that a deliberate effort to look beyond the gay white male experience?

MM: It was in part deliberate. Joe and I are friends with and colleagues of a lot of diverse queer creators already, but we wanted to be sure that the book represented the spectrum of queer men and non-binary folks out there. I’m definitely glad with the way I turned out.

JG: I definitely remember, when we were putting together the people we wanted to be in the book, like we definitely had in mind “we can’t just have, like, a bunch of white dudes”. We definitely looked to mix it up in terms of the people we had involved, but I don’t think we actually said “oh, when you’re doing your stories can you make sure they’re as wicked diverse as possible” or anything like that – it just naturally came from the talent involved.

MM: We did ask for the cover to be more diverse.

JG: Yeah, I think when we reached out to Kevin [Wada, cover artist] we were like “oh can we just not have either of them be white” or something like that.

MM: We didn’t ask for the stories to feature diverse characters; we brought in a bunch of diverse creators and they created the stories they wanted to see.

JG: I think it was a benefit of having the amount of diversity we had involved in the book.

MM: It definitely is a huge benefit. You look at stories like Tyrone & Jamal by Greg Anderson Elysée with David Brame on art? Oh my god, it’s so good. I’m just, like, so pleased, such a good story. I consider Greg a friend and he was like “can I go there, can I make a very Black story?” and I was like “I really hope you do, absolutely do it.”

‘Tyrone & Jamal’ by Greg Anderson Elysée and David Brame (Image courtesy A Wave Blue World)

GM: Was the book always planned at the scale it’s at? A 200-page, queer, original collection is an ambitious first volume!

JG: I think so. We had so many creators we wanted to involve and we didn’t limit them per se on how big their stories had to be. We just said between four and eight pages, and the lengths everyone pitched all worked out to be 200 pages or thereabouts. It was not that we set out to make a huge book, it just came naturally.

GM: I guess it’s a great problem to have; this wealth of talent and content that you can fill a book this size with explicitly just gay or same-sex male stories! Let’s get to the inevitable “choose your favourite child” question though – which stories stood out to you most in gathering the anthology?

JG: The Treasure Map To My Heart (by Oliver Gerlach and Daryl Toh) is one I really loved, because that involved one of the newer creators who I knew from here in the UK. And Second Star to the Right (by Tate Brombal and Jacoby Salcedo), which is absolutely gorgeous. I swear to God, when I first saw that story come in, I think it actually brought a tear to my eye. Oh, and Big Man, by Hamish Steele, because it felt like such a personal story to him. It’s probably the darkest story in the whole book but it’s still got that strong element of queer joy in it, so I really loved that story as well.

MM: For me, I’m gonna choose Another Name by Ned Barnett and Ian Bisbal. That was really a very personal story of coming out as a trans man that I thought was just fantastic, and told by two trans creators. And it was Ned’s personal story! The aforementioned Tyrone & Jamal was just so much fun, I loved every moment of it. And then actually Joe’s story (Love Yourself, with art by Auguste Kanakis), I thought was extremely important in the way that he tackles being fetishised as a larger man – it’s not something you see every day in comics, it’s not something you ever hear talked about, and I think it was very important.

GM: Very lastly – any plans for more, should this be flying off the shelves as it deserves to?

JG: We’ll see! I mean, certainly if there’s demand for it, then I can’t see any reason why there shouldn’t be more!

Young Men in Love is published 6th July 2022, by A Wave Blue World.

This article was originally published on our sister site, Gayming Magazine.

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Matt Kamen

Matt Kamen is a veteran media writer based in the UK, specialising in video games, film, and comics. If found, return to nearest coffee shop.