I just finished Howard Cruse's The Complete Wendel. Appearing in The Advocate between 1983 and 1989, Wendel tells the story of a handful of gay and lesbian characters and their families during the Reagan years following the overall arc of Wendel Trupstock as he comes into his own, begins a relationship and tries to be a writer. Throughout this is the beginning of the AIDS crisis and the 1987 March on Washington. You'll meet his friend Deb with whom he works at Effluvia magazine, his new boyfriend Ollie (once married and now a father), Ollie's oldest friend Sterno, and Wendel's first love - the now HIV+ Sawyer.
And that's just the first circle of friends. If you look at the cover above you'll meet all those characters and I'm pretty sure that by the end of The Complete Wendel you will remember all their names and care about them. Even the very strange Newton Blowright who believes that Pods from another planet are here to take us away to gay paradise.
I loved this collection. I was struck by how different and the same gay life is nowadays. One of the differences, there's a seen where Wendel, Ollie and Sterno (who at the time is living with Ollie) are basically all standing around in Ollie's apartment naked. Not a beaded eyelash batted. I can't imagine I and my gay friends doing this - the current sexual conservatism wouldn't allow it. One of the similarities is the continuing antipathy towards progressive, political work: I thought this was a new thing after the 90s, but apparently it's always been here.
I was also struck by even with a new "Where Are They Now" strip at the end of the book, I wanted the story to continue. These were characters that I let into my life, partially because I came to care about them, but also because these are the kind of people I would want to hang out with, whose lives I would want to be a part of and who I want to be a part of my life. And I imagine even when/if I do find these people in my life, I will continue coming back to Wendel, even if just to visit.