raider in canada:
portrait of sean martin

a documentary by Randy A. Riddle


The Riderless Horse:
Loss and Remembrance

The ceremony of the Riderless Horse is an old military tradition. In some military funerals still today, a riderless horse is led in the funeral procession to represent the bond between the horse and its owner. The gay rodeos have taken on this tradition during opening ceremonies for the rodeo events as a way to remember not only those in the Gay and Lesbian community that have passed away from AIDS, but anyone in the rodeo family that has been lost in the past year.

AIDS has had a major impact on the Gay community over the past decade. Sean felt that is was so interwoven into the everyday lives of Gays that he could not ignore it. "The decision to make Doc HIV positive has gotten me in more trouble," Sean said. The readers of the cartoon panel almost took it personally -- they had seen the virus touch their friends and neighbors and now AIDS was even affecting Doc and Raider.

The first series of panels that dealt with the diagnosis focused on Doc's reaction to the news. He expressed the fear that many HIV positive people feel about a life that may be taken away too soon, realizing that, unlike his parents who had many years together as a couple, Doc may only have a few short years with Raider. (This series is contained in the first book collection of Sean's works, Doc and Raider: Caught on Tape.)

 "The white ones ..."
(c) copyright Sean Martin

After that, Doc's HIV status was alluded to on occasion in the panels as the couple adjusted to the demands of being an HIV-mixed couple. Sean, through the cartoon, explored how relationships change and are affected by AIDS.

In real life, Doc and Raider were used in safe sex and AIDS education programs in Canada and elsewhere. Examples include a series of slides for a lecture on Safe Sex, prepared for use by a Toronto AIDS agency in 1989, and posters reproduced by AIDS agencies in Canada, the US, and elsewhere in an education campaign aimed at HIV-mixed couples.

click here to view the Safe Sex slide lecture series (1989)

Doc's HIV status was not becoming a major theme in the cartoon series until Sean decided to do the so-called "Breakup Series" in 1996. In this series of panels (originally published over a period of several weeks), Raider reveals that his is in love with someone else and wants to leave the relationship. Doc discovers that the other man is HIV negative and feels that Raider is abandoning the relationship for "someone healthy". Raider is emotionally strapped dealing with Doc's HIV status and frightened about their future.

an excerpt from the "Breakup" series
(c) copyright Sean Martin

As the series continued, Doc and Raider get into a violent fight in the kitchen that leaves both of them shattered. Eventually, they pick up the pieces of their life to carry on, but Sean decided to end the series with a controversial statement about trust: Raider, to prove that he is no longer scared of the relationship, the future, and Doc's HIV status, asks to have unprotected sex with Doc. (The series is seen in the second book of Sean's work, Doc and Raider: Incredibly Life Like.)

While I was interviewing Sean for the documentary, he stopped me for a moment and said, "There's something I should tell you about Doc and Raider." I knew that part of the inspiration behind the cartoon panel was a very special man in Sean's life, Steve. Sean and Steve were involved in a long-term relationship in San Francisco in the early 1980's in the period when the AIDS epidemic was first starting and the disease was called GRID. Steve was stricken with AIDS and died, a devastating and bitter experience that left Sean very angry with many unanswered questions.

Certainly much of the anger he felt over the loss of Steve was manifested in the "Breakup" series of panels, drawn several years after Steve's death. Sean noted during the interview that over a hundred of his friends in the US and Canada have died, an experience that has left him, as many of us in the Gay community, asking why the disease had to happen and why some of us have been spared, adding to the anger he felt over Steve's loss.

Reaction to the "Breakup" series was intense from the readership -- some felt that Sean was promoting unsafe sex or domestic violence in the panels. But, many more saw the deep and troubling questions that all of us in the Gay community must deal with everyday in the midst of the AIDS crisis., 3.15.99