raider in canada:
portrait of sean martin

a documentary by Randy A. Riddle


Wild Drag Race:
Taking Chances

Another event unique to the Gay rodeo circuit, the Wild Drag Race uses a team of three people -- a man, a woman, and a member "in drag". The cowgirl holds a 25-foot rope attached to the animal in the chute; the cowboy and "the drag" stand forty feet away. When the gate opens, the team tries to direct the steer towards the finish line 70 feet from the chutes. The "drag" must be mounted on the steer before it starts across the finish line and must stay on until the animal is completely across the line.

Sean was really excited -- against his better judgment and the advice of a few friends, he was going to actually enter the rodeo this year as a contestant. He and two friends entered the Wild Drag Race, facing the challenge of coming face to face with a very big steer that probably wasn't too interested in having some drag queen on its back. I was a little concerned about Sean and his friends myself -- I watched all during the weekend as it kept raining, turning the arena into one big gooey mess of very deep, very wet mud. The rodeo officials made accommodations for the safety of the animals and contestants, but I wouldn't even think about getting near those big animals even without the mud.

Sean gets dragged through the mud in the Wild Drag event
Sean gets dragged through the mud at the rodeo; Doc consoles Raider after getting thrown by a bull.
(c) Randy A. Riddle and (c) Sean Martin

Sean and his two cohorts entered the arena, trudging through the arena goo that was covering the boots and pants of all the contestants. They lined up as instructed by the rodeo officials, the steer emerged from the gate, and Sean very quickly was dragged twenty feet through the deepest, wettest mud west of the Mississippi.

Sean emerged from the arena, his clothes, his face, everything dripping with the caked-on mud, beaming with joy. "How was it, Sean?" I asked. "It was the best," he replied, laughing, as he headed off to the campground shower to see how much of the mud he could wash off before heading home. He was like a kid in a candy store, proudly holding up the almost unrecognizable contestant number from the back of his denim jacket during the interview, a souvenir better than any shiny buckle or ribbon. They didn't even come close to winning the event, but that didn't matter.

Sean displays his trophy of the Wild Drag
Sean displays his trophy from the rodeo.
(c) copyright Randy A. Riddle

There are not many folks that would risk life and limb, let along getting their clothes muddy, in pursuit of having a good time. But, Sean is like that -- willing to take chances and take the bull by the horns, so to speak, when it really means something to him.

About a year before shooting the documentary, Sean took a few chances with Doc and Raider. With the release of the second book in the series, Sean included an illustrated novella -- a character study of the Gay men who inhabit "The Steps", an area just outside an actual coffee house in Toronto. It was a little slice of life that broke away from the single-panel cartoons and added more depth to Doc and Raider as we see other people in their lives and share a warm, funny story about one in the close-knit group who finds himself in love for the first time. If there's going to be a third book in the series, Sean notes, "it will probably be like The Steps -- written pieces with illustrations."

An illustration from "The Steps" in "Doc and Raider: Incredibly Life Like".
(c) copyright Sean Martin

For fans of Doc and Raider, more changes are in store. Sean is beginning the process of "winding down" the series. He feels the panel has "run its course" and that "he's taken Doc and Raider about as far as he could go". His comments are interesting, reminding me of other successful cartoonists that have ended a series or taken a long sabbatical when their work was at its height -- Berke Breathed who stopped drawing Bloom County, Gary Larsen's discontinuing The Far Side, and even Gary Trudeau tooking a long break from producing Doonesbury.

"Dixie Lee", a character in Sean's experiment with turning Doc and Raider into a multi-panel format.  Dixie was the boys new neighbor, inspired by "the kind of people you see on the "Jerry Springer Show"", Sean said, "the kind of people whose lives are an open book whether you want them to be or not."
circa, early 1990's
(c) copyright Sean Martin

The desire to move on is understandable. The boys followed Sean on his travels throughout Canada -- from their birth as roommates in Vancouver, a long stay in Toronto where the bulk of the series was produced and the characters lived an urban existence, to Calgary where Doc and Raider live on a small ranch. In a sense, Doc and Raider helped Sean, and more importantly us, survive through some difficult times and soul searching, through relationships, AIDS, Gay-bashing, and just living day-to-day.

In the few years that I've known Sean, I've never seen him happier, his face and clothes caked with the mud of a rodeo arena. Sean has returned to his roots, or at least the closest he can find to the ranches and cowboys of the Texas where he was born and raised. Sean leads a less hectic life these days and will probably stay in Calgary for some time to come, giving his energy and enthusiasm to the open and welcoming family that the Gay and Lesbian community in Calgary fosters.

"I can drive thirty minutes out of town," Sean says, "and camp out under a night sky literally filled with millions of stars. I had forgotten how much I missed that."

I imagine Doc and Raider appreciate that sky full of stars too., 3.15.99