Stripped to the Bone

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Curator's Note

A panorama. At the center, like a red and blue starburst, an image of two men’s bodies exploding into one another. Blood, organs, bone shattering outward. Or are they melding together? Surrounding the scene, smaller panels depict moments of quiet intimacy: a man’s hand on the dead body of his friend; a shirtless man making dinner alone; a man’s face, crying beneath the body of a lover: all presumably the same man, David Wojnarowicz, but perhaps not. In this penultimate scene of the graphic novel, 7 Miles a Second (1993) – a comic strip adaptation of Wojnarowicz’ bestselling memoir Close to Knives (1992), drawn and painted by James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook – Wojnarowicz describes a desire to recuperate a queer intimacy, an impossible closeness, to a former lover who has died of AIDS. The narrative accompanying the image reads “If I could attach our blood vessels in order to anchor you to the earth to this present time I would...” This attachment is rendered visually as a literal, and violent, enmeshing of bodies that echoes the comic strip form’s violent collision of images, and intimate enmeshing of language and text.

For the queer media scholar, the scene begs the question: what can comic strip form do for queer artists? Earlier in the narrative, Wojnarowicz claims, “I’m a prisoner of language that doesn’t have a letter or a sign or gesture that approximates what I’m sensing.” Wojnarowicz’s statement speaks to the broader struggle of queer cultural producers to marshal media forms for the purpose of expressing the sensate or affective intensities of sex in representational forms. Here, comic strip form allows an impossible to articulate affective intensity – Wojnarowicz’s conflicting feelings of rage and desire amidst the chaos of the epidemic – to be conveyed through representational density. The visual crowding of language and image, the simultaneity of multiple registers of intimacy, and the visual detail that comic strip form allows in this instance, depict a concentration of content that assaults the reader not only with powerful visual content but also affective force. The explosive image of two men’s bodies physically rent in their attempt to “attach” to one another, captures the frenzy of queer intimacy when faced with the threat of imminent death or disappearance in the realm of the social. Yet the delimited frame of comic strip form itself indexes the social constraints that keep that intimacy “squarely” in its place.

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