When I was a young kid riding the subways all over New York City, my frequent companions were the classic works of Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics empire. As a teen, I naturally gravitated towards the X-Men, and later, The New Mutants in particular, kids my age dealing with profound differences that set them apart from society. I knew I was gay by the time I was 12, and I also knew enough (this was the 1970s, after all) to keep that strictly to myself.
In the pulpwood pages of Chris Claremont’s creation, I saw myself, oddly enough. That fascination with this unique, and much-maligned, artistic genre has carried through with me to this day, so it was with much satisfaction (and more than a little bit of glee) that I came across a delightful California couple, who are redefining equality in the pages of their own graphic novels.
The comic world is enjoying a massive resurgence in popularity these days, far removed from being the exclusive province of stereotypical geeky nerdboys holed up in Momma’s basement. The overwhelming success of Comic Cons, and tie-in movies, speak to this renaissance (the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe film, Black Panther, is now the highest-grossing superhero flick ever made), and writer/editor Philip Barragan, and his husband, illustrator Mason Arrigo, are at the cutting edge of the genre.
Together, they produce provocative, yet entertaining graphic novels under their Embonpoint Publishing imprint. Their current books, which include the Marabou Mule mysteries Blanc Noir and Blanc Noir Deux, and the new Fatizen series (colorized by Chris Link), are visually stunning, with a good dose of social commentary, and off-kilter appeal.
“Why the name Embonpoint? It fits my frame of mind, and the sound (in French or English) has a pleasant “plump“ sound. It was that simple,” says Philip, who notes that topics others shy away from—like body positivity and acceptance—are his stock in trade. “I’ve been bemused by fat as long as I can remember.
“Choosing to be a fat man has been a lifelong dream, but not until I was an adult did I realize the political and societal implications of being fat in today’s world,” he observes. “In 1996 I co-founded Girth and Mirth Long Beach, a social group for gay fat men and their admirers. It was one of the most successful groups of its kind in the nation, and I was thrilled to be part of a group that provided a safe space for chubby men and an environment that helped them know they are beautiful, desirable, and worthy of love.” This led to his prose novel, Fatizen 24602, a dark vision of a future world in which big people are at the bottom of a beauty and size-obsessed society.
The book was the basis for the graphic Fatizen volumes, which, in their own way, say as much about the way LGBT people are seen in America today, as it does about loving yourself as you are.
The radical changes in our political landscape figure prominently in the couple’s work. In Blanc Noir Deux, we meet the evil (but hysterically funny) Ron Trixon, who came into being after the 2016 election. “I was so pissed at Trump winning,” Mason says, “that I had to do something.” Trixon (oh, wait, he isn’t based on any real person. Bigly!) is an example of art as a barometer of the world at large, and Mason skillfully makes his point without losing the story in it. “I always wanted to do this,” Mason rhapsodizes, “and I’m living my dream”. Like those early Marvel books I loved, Mason and Philip are bringing us works that encourage free thinking, and highlight equality and love as valid concepts we need to revisit.
The artists recently traveled to WonderCon in Anaheim, to showcase their art and make new connections. “we have great new books coming up,” Mason notes, “and we can’t wait to get them out”. Marabou Mule returns soon in Blanc Noir Ferox, while Part Two of Fatizen continues its fascinating exploration of a future that says more about contemporary attitudes towards social acceptability, than perhaps its author realizes. You can find all these engaging tomes at embonpointpublishing.com, or at your favorite bookstore. Kapow!