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Monday, March 08, 2004

 


Damon Hurd -- The writer of My Uncle Jeff and A Sort of Homecoming last week entered the battle over equal marriage rights for all by offering up his comics as a premium in a fundraining effort to support embattled New Paltz, New York Mayor Jason West. West is the first elected official in New York State to recognize the equal marriage rights of gays and lesbians. Not coincidentally, Hurd is a resident of New Paltz. He tells us about his career as a comics writer and his efforts in support of equal marriage rights in his responses to the Five Questions. Special thanks to Shawn Hoke for transcribing this interview.


Your first graphic novel, My Uncle Jeff, was released last year to no small bit of acclaim. Tell me a little bit about how you got started writing graphic novels.

Well, Iíve been writing since I was about five and I used to do a lot of comics and such with crayons and the like as a kid. And then I realized I couldnít draw, so I turned, focusing just on writing and Iíve always been in love with the comics medium. So I tried my hat at that and after a stint of doing some bad Vertigo rip-offs in college, I decided to move towards more serious graphic novels. And after spending a weekend in Pennsylvania with my family, the weekend thatís detailed in the book My Uncle Jeff I came home and wrote it in about two weeks. When I did the book, I actually did it rather quickly and hired an artist to draw it and thatís how I began my professional relationship with my artist Pedro Camello. And at the time, I printed up about a hundred xeroxed mini-comics that I sold and it sold out pretty quickly at the MOCCA art festival that year. Thatís what prompted me to go to a larger print run on my own.

Iíve actually done about four books now and Iíve worked with three different artists. Each one brings something different to the table. In the case of Pedro, he really was mostly just interested in drawing the script as it was. He didnít really want to change anything or contribute anything graphically that way. For him it was a little bit more of a job, but he did such amazing work and actually with my second book, A Sort of Homecoming, I think that he enjoyed that story a lot more and I think that he put a lot more of his own personal touches into it. So that is where you see a little bit more of him in the project. Whereas, my other books that are yet to be released and are coming out this year, The White Elephant and The Strange Day, both of those artists really took on much more of a collaborative role and kind of shaped the way that the book is presented.


As a resident of New Paltz, New York, youíve certainly been witness to some chaos and controversy over the past few days, in kind of an interesting way too. If you could relate the story of how you found out about mayor Jason Wet performing same sex wedding ceremonies in New Paltz.

Yeah, actually I had been in San Francisco for the previous week leading up to this event. I was attending the Alternative Press Expo, which was held on February 21st and February 22nd and then my wife and I spent the rest of the week in San Francisco for a vacation. We had an incredible time. Itís such an amazing city and as we got off the plane at JFK and were collecting our bags, all the different TV stations were set to CNN and lo and behold, there was our town hall. It was very strange, since we live in a very small, upstate village that doesnít normally get such media coverage. That was how we found out that those wedding ceremonies had taken place that day.

I donít think it should have come as a complete surprise to anyone, considering that New Paltz has always been, I mean itís a college town, there is a university there. Itís a very liberal town, which is kind of strange given the political makeup of the Hudson valley, which is primarily Republican. But, itís always been labeled as a "hippie town," and such, due to the residents, its proximity to Woodstock and the like. But I donít think it should have been a surprise, simply because I think someone standing up for an issue is always important.

Having this go on in your hometown, how is that affected your life since youíve been back?

Well, Iím very proud of it. Iím proud to live there and Iím proud to live in a town where someone is trying to make a change in this issue. In terms of traffic, itís always traffic-y there, so that hasnít changed much. Thereís a lot more news vans and coverage, but other than that it hasnít changed my life too much, simply because Iím gone twelve hours a day, between my commute and working.

And youíve undergone sort of a grass roots effort to raise funds to help Mayor West in his effort in recognizing equal marriage rights for same sex partners. Tell me a little bit about that.

Iíve been thinking about it for the last few days and I really wanted to do something to help this cause in any way that I can. Like I previously said, Iím at work a lot of the time and donít have a lot of time to donate to helping with any of these efforts and I donít have the financial resources to donate a large portion of money. So what I decided to do was to appeal to the comics community, of which Iím a member, in order to hopefully raise funds to help with Mayor Westís legal defense fund if necessary, or his personal finances, which are going to take heavy hits due to all these legal challenges against him. Iíve set up a donation system through my website origincomics.com, where people can come and make donations of any amount they wish. If they make a donation of five dollars or more, Iím going to personally send then a copy of My Uncle Jeff, or another one of my comics if they choose a substitution, as a personal thank you for their support.

Do you have any concerns that your efforts may cost you readers, among those that are opposed to same-sex marriage?

Actually, Iím not too concerned with that. I would hope that my readers could separate my work from my own social and political beliefs. I understand that this is a polarizing issue in our country, but our country was founded on the principals of freedom and equal rights for all citizens. We cannot allow civil rights to be suspended based on religious principals. I think that we must maintain a clear separation of church and state, so that everyone in this nation can enjoy the same rights and freedoms, regardless of their race or their sexual orientation.

I think Iím doing this because I feel that this is, if not the most important issue before our nation, I think we are in the edge of what could be the last civil rights movement in this countryís history and I sometimes think that actually people have forgotten that women couldnít vote eighty years ago, and that African Americans were segregated forty years ago. I think one could easily make the argument that both groupís fight is far from over, even in the year 2004. I think my greatest fear is that this movement for marriage rights for same sex couples is going to die out and less people like Mayor Jason West can emerge from this legal battle victorious. Thatís what Iím raising money to insure.

Learn more about Damon Hurd and his effort to raise funds in support of equal marriage rights at the Origin Comics website, and learn more about the battle for equal marriage rights here.

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