raider in canada:
portrait of sean martin

a documentary by Randy A. Riddle


Bull Riding:
The Force of Magical Realism

The most dangerous event in the rodeo for the contestant and a favorite among spectators. Contestants must ride the 1800 to 2300 pound animal holding on only to a heavy rope that encircles the bull. The contestant must ride with one hand; touching the equipment, the bull, or themselves with the free hand results in a disqualification.

Drawing a cartoon panel over a long period of time, shaping the characters of Doc and Raider through their relationship, has certainly had its share of surprises for Sean. Often the characters almost take on a life of their own.

Particularly in Toronto, where Sean lived during the period when most of the panels were created and published, the daily life of everyday people in the Gay community provided inspiration for the cartoon and, in return, the characters became like "next door neighbors", in the words of one reader.

Perhaps the best example of this intricate relationship between Sean, the community, and the cartoon was the so-called "Bashing" series, produced in 1995. A number of the panels were inspired by the Weeks-Bassit's, a couple in Toronto that was good friends with Sean. When Paul died, it hit many in the Toronto community hard -- Paul had been well-known in the theatre community of the city. Sean, who had gone through his own loss to AIDS years earlier, consoled Paul's partner, John and both were left wondering why "bright lights" around us are constantly challenged or brought down by random acts of violence, bigotry, or the AIDS epidemic.

Sean decided to explore the idea of "why bad things happen to good people" through Doc and Raider. Initially, he began drawing a single panel of someone being Gay-bashed by a group of young, angry thugs -- the victim was not going to be Doc or Raider, but a third character in the series. Sean was surprised when he finished drawing the two panels that it was Raider who lay beaten, bruised, and crying, ""

The series then picks up with Doc, after visiting Raider in the hospital, going into a church and having a "little sit-down talk" with God. He wonders why this has happened to someone so special in his life and why God can make their lives so difficult, even questioning his own faith in a higher power. Doc leaves the church, telling God that He "will have a number of things to answer for", since Doc may be visiting Him soon considering his HIV status. In the interview for the documentary, Sean said it was something he himself always wanted to do -- "Sit the guy down with a beer and ask Him why the lives of some people are such a challenge".

Some readers questioned even bringing up such serious theological issues in a cartoon; many religious organizations in the Toronto area "loved it", Sean said, "because it broached those kinds of serious topics we have to deal with as Gay people."

Perhaps the most interesting and touching response came from a reader who had followed Doc and Raider through Toronto's "Xtra" for a number of years. He sent a message out on an Internet mailing list discussing how much Raider's bashing affected him, describing how real the characters had become, sharing many of the same problems and issues he and other Gay men deal with everyday. "They're like the neighbors next door," he wrote, "I sure hope Raider's going to be alright."

Sean was so moved by the posting that he included it in the second book collection of his cartoons, Doc and Raider: Incredibly Life-Like, along with the complete "Bashing" series. The cartoons are really a tribute to the kind of magical realist quality of the characters, the inspiration from the people of the Gay communities where Sean has lived acting as a mirror back on the community.

To some of the readers, Doc and Raider "are like virtual people," Sean noted, surprised at the intensity of reaction by fans of the cartoon. "If I did something in the cartoon that people didn't like, the reaction would not be that they didn't like it -- they would say 'Well, Raider wouldn't do that!'", 3.15.99