Coming Out HIV Positive in the Comic Book Store

Coming Out HIV Positive in the Comic Book Store

First published in 2007, but recently re-released and available as an e-book, the adventure comic Lost Raven (Bluewater Productions) stars big city lawyer Zak Raven who learns he has HIV, quits his job, and sails away from his previous life. Shipwrecked on a (seemingly) deserted island, at first Raven feels lost and alone. His isolation and vulnerability become even more apparent when he is suddenly attacked by strange creatures.

In some ways, Lost Raven (which is a one-off rather than part of a series) is actually two stories. One is the internal turmoil that Raven’s HIV diagnosis has caused — the fears about his future, his anger at getting the disease, his guilt at potentially infecting others — which plays out in a narrative drawn directly from author/publisher Darren G. Davis’ own journals he wrote when he was first diagnosed with HIV in 1999.

“I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of people living with the disease," Davis says. "I made a point to make sure that the character [was] healthy living with it.” 

The second Lost Raven story unfurls in the colorful illustrations by artists Keu Cha and Sean Murphy, where the pictures show Raven at first frightened by the island’s monstrous inhabitants, then focused purely on survival and finally — after he is befriended by one creature and overcomes his own fatalism — fighting back.   

Raven is presented as a healthy, muscular, square-jawed he-man. The imagery banishes memories of those wasted by AIDS but it is also quite typical for comic book heroes who always find that they have the skills, mental acuity and physical strength to overcome any obstacle.

By deliberately positioning an HIV-positive character this way, Lost Raven suggests that those diagnosed with the disease also have untapped resources and can be the heroes of their own lives. Like Raven, those with HIV are not as alone as they might think and with support, they can conquer their demons — including negative emotions and the disease itself.

Although Davis says it was important to him for readers not to fixate on how Raven’s sexuality or how he got HIV, the character does offer clues: he recalls a childhood blood transfusion, worries about having kids the old-fashioned way, and thinks about the many women he has dated.

The primary story and illustrations of the fantasy adventure are engaging and likely appeal to fans of the genre. There is also a subplot that revolves around a secret government program to genetically engineer a humanoid designed for missions and colonizations of deep space. Meanwhile the accompanying journal entries provide subtext and hint at the character’s emotional depth — something mainstream comic book heroes frequently lack.

In the end, Raven escapes from the island (with a newfound friend) and sails into his future, ready to confront whatever it might bring. The comic closes with a page of facts about AIDS, which includes statistics about rates of HIV-infection attributable to heterosexual sex, and reiterates the fact that it was written for a mainstream audience. As such, it probably has and will continue to have an impact, providing much needed visibility for and empowerment of those with HIV, especially younger, recently diagnosed, comic book-reading men. And as a bonus, part of the proceeds from the sale of Lost Raven are donated to the Evergreen AIDS Foundation.

Tags: Youth