Domesticity Isn’t Pretty – a Leonard & Larry Collection


By Tim Barela (Palliard Press)
ISBN: 978-1-88456-800-8 (Album PB)

In an era where Pride events are just another way to hold up traffic and where acceptance of LGBTQIA+ citizens is a given – at least in all the civilised countries where organised religions and “hard men” totalitarian dictators (I’m laughing at a private dirty joke right now) are kept in their place by their desperation to stay tax-exempt, rich and powerful – Gay themes and scenes in entertainment are ubiquitous and simply No Big Deal anymore.

That’s a good thing but was not always the case. In fact, it has only changed within the span of (my) living memory. For English-language comics, the change from simple illicit pornography to homosexual inclusion in all drama, comedy, adventure and other genres started as late as the 1970s and matured in the 1980s, thanks to the efforts of editors like Robert Triptow and Andy Mangels and cartoonists like Tim Barela.

A native of Los Angeles, Barela was born in 1954, and became a fundamentalist Christian in High School. He had dreams of becoming a cartoonist and loved motorbikes. He was also a gay kid struggling to come to terms with what was still judged illegal, wilful deviancy and appalling sin…

Following an appreciative Foreword from John Preston, author, critic, journalist, producer, media-maven and former Gay Comix editor Andy Mangels’ Introduction tracks the history and evolution of the characters who eventually gelled into Barela’s extended Leonard & Larry clan.

In 1976, Barela began an untitled comic strip about working in a bike shop for Cycle News. Some characters then reappeared in later efforts Just Puttin (Biker, 1977-1978); Short Strokes (Cycle World, 1977-1979); Hard Tale(Choppers, 1978-1979) plus The Adventures of Rickie Racer, The Adventures of Rickie Racer and cooking strip (!) The Puttin Gourmet… America’s Favorite Low-Life Epicurean in Biker Lifestyle and FTW News.

In 1980, the cartoonist unsuccessfully pitched a domestic strip called Ozone to LGBT news periodical The Advocate. Among the quotidian cast were literal and metaphorical straight man Rodger and openly gay Leonard Goldman who had a “roommate” named Larry Evans

Gay Comix was an irregularly published anthology, edited at that time by Underground star Robert Triptow (Strip AIDs U.S.A.; Class Photo). He advised Barela to ditch the restrictive newspaper strip format in favour of longer complete episodes, and printed the first of these in Gay Comix #5 in 1984. The new feature was a huge success, included in many successive issues and became the solo star of Gay Comix Special #1 in 1992.

L&L also showed up in prestigious benefit comic Strip AIDs U.S.A. before triumphantly moving into The Advocate in 1988, and from 1990, its rival Frontiers. The lads even moved into live drama in 1994: adapted by Theatre Rhinoceros of San Francisco as part of stage show Out of the Inkwell.

Following all the warmly informative background and wonderful examples of those earlier strip ventures, this wonderfully oversized (220 x 280 mm) monochrome tome then divides the main feature into specific periods, beginning with ‘Early Stories from Gay Comix, and opening with the Strip AIDs U.S.A. tale ‘Hi there, We’re the Gay Neighbors’.

Actual introductory yarn ‘Revenge of the Yenta’ comes from Gay Comix #5, setting the scene with established couple Leonard & Larry navigating another meal with Leonard’s formidable unaccepting mother who is still ambushing him with blind dates and nice Jewish girls…

‘Lovers and Other Uninvited Guests’ focuses on a dinner party disaster which includes Leonard’s outrageous former lover Dennis and his new man Leon meeting Larry’s ex-wife Sharon and her Christian Moral Majority champion/fiancé Gordon

‘…Till Tricks Do Us Part.’ features Gordon’s shock return as a fully out-&-proud leatherboy cruiser, stalking Larry from his exotic good store on Melrose Avenue to his favourite gay clubs in search of all the experiences and passion he’s been denying himself…

A parental milestone is reached and botched during a visitation weekend for Larry’s teenaged sons Richard and David. ‘Chocolate Chip Cookies and Sympathy’ is required when Larry finds (hetero) porn in oldest son’s room and braces himself to have “the Talk”. Thankfully, Leonard is there to offer back-up…

An untitled tale provides an origin as L&L celebrate Leonard’s birthday and eight years as a couple, after which ‘Little Victories’ leavens the comedy with contemporary reality as the guys discuss the loss of a friend to a lethal new disease…

As well as featuring a multi-generational cast, Leonard & Larry is a strip that progresses in real time, with characters all aging and developing accordingly. ‘From the pages of The Advocate spans 1988-1990 with episodes covering the couple’s home and work lives, constant parties, physical deterioration, social gaffes, rows, family revelations, holidays and even events like earthquakes and fanciful prognostications such as ‘West Hollywood 1999’; with the now-decrepit pair whining about the old days…

Rounding off this initial compilation, ‘Recent Stories from Frontiers Magazine’ particularly highlights how the world goes on without regard for personal feelings as one of Larry’s kids comes out and the other makes them grandparents. The couple’s friends and clients win larger roles and offer other perspectives on LA life and the ever-evolving gay scene. Larry stumbles into commercial conflict with an expansionist storekeeper who wants his store at any cost, and time plays its cruellest tricks on many key players who must re-evaluate their activities and fashion choices, erotic and otherwise….

We meet Larry’s no-nonsense-but-painfully-sheltered mom and dad Earl and Wilma; enjoy another take on inclusion and – during a long-dreaded High School reunion – learn some deliciously entertaining facts about Leonard in the days before he accepted his attraction to men. That leads to a delightful seasonal yarn that finally reunites his large, long-warring painfully-buttoned-down Jewish family. Moreover, as Larry’s 40th birthday looms, the couple’s already rich dream life goes into overdrive as religious icons and beloved dead composers come calling with rest-rending dilemmas.

…And through it all, the real world always intrudes, as when flamboyant engineer Frank Freeman loses his aerospace job because his “lifestyle” is considered a security risk by the Federal government or when publicity hungry religious zealots picket Larry’s shop…

The strips are not and never have been about sex – except in that the subject is a constant generator of hilarious jokes and outrageously embarrassing situations. Leonard & Larry is a traditionally domestic marital sitcom soap opera with Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz – or more aptly, Dick Van Dyke & Mary Tyler Moore – replaced by a hulking bearded “bear” with biker, cowboy and leather fetishes and a stylishly moustachioed, no-nonsense fashion photographer. Taken in total, it’s a love story about growing old together, but not gracefully or with any dignity…

Populated by adorable, fully fleshed out characters and in a generational saga about being yourself, Leonard & Larry is an irresistible slice of gentle whimsy to nourish the spirit and beguile the jaded. Four volumes of the strip were compiled by Palliard Press between 1993 and 2003 – all long overdue for rerelease and in properly curated digital editions – but until then you can at least take your Walk on the Mild Side through internet vendors. And you should…
Domesticity Isn’t Pretty © 1993 Palliard Press. All artwork and strips © 1993 Tim Barela. Foreword © 1993 John Preston. Introduction © 1993 Andy Mangels. All rights reserved.