Nero’s work, which has appeared in places like Iron Circus Comics and The Nib, centers on Queer masculine beauty and sexuality. However, his art strays from mainstream ideas and perceptions about Queer men and masculinity. Men of various body types populate his comics and illustrations. For this creator spotlight, I want to focus on Nero’s comic One Week, which is part of the anthology Bear Company.
Cartoonist Nero Villagallos O’Reilly (Queer Trans Indigenous Latino) explores the complexities of male sexuality and nonheteronormative relationships.* Instead of Queer men and masculinity that suit the mainstream idea of what masculinity should mean (i.e., hyper muscular or slender), the men in Nero’s art come in all sizes and sexual expressions. And no, these men don’t submit to preferred ideas of what being a plus-sized male/masc should mean. Instead of “chubby,” Nero’s men have bulging bellies and hairy bodies. These men also have sexual kinks (BDSM), and the confidence in their sexual expressions that Nero’s art shows is impressive.
Nero’s comic One Week, published in the 2018 anthology Bear Company, edited by Pat Myers (SFW), takes place in a remote research center in Alaska. The gay community there anticipates the arrival of a senior team member’s boyfriend. When the boyfriend appears, he receives a warm and touching welcome. Aside from texts and letters, the panels do not contain dialogue. However, the emotional moments and expressions between the characters provide enough to bring the story’s message across. The first comic I’ve read from Nero, One Week and the other comics in the anthology feature bear men, a term that even I haven’t heard before.
The gay bear men subculture centers on the traditional idea of masculinity sans the toxicity: rugged men with bulky and hairy bodies. A market niche among Queer groups, the bear lifestyle includes its own jargon, bear clubs in urban and rural areas, festivals, and more (further info here). Although the image of the bear man maintains traditional ideas of masculinity, the current mainstream perception of masculine beauty, and even the encouragement of toxic masculinity, overshadows it. The characters in One Week especially do not fit the conventions of idealized Queer men.
You can find more creator spotlight posts here.
*Note: The majority of Nero’s illustrations and comics are NSFW (18+)
Author: Brahidaliz Martinez
Brahidaliz (pronounced Bra-da-leez) is a 2019 graduate of American University’s MFA in creative writing program. Their cross-genre chapbook, Coquí’s Song, is forthcoming (2023) from Mason Jar Press.
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