Loss and Remembrance
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.)
(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.
to view the Safe Sex slide lecture series
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.
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.