Superman may have grabbed the lion's share of this year's superhero spotlight, but watch out, Man of Steel, there's a new kid in town. Coming soon to a comic book store (or Web site) near you is Lost Raven, starring Zak Raven, an HIV-positive--yes, he's HIV-positive--hero who combats both HIV and a brood of evil scientists in this 96-page graphic novel.
Lost Raven writer-creator Darren G. Davis, who also created the characters in his works 10th Muse and Legend of Isis, has high hopes for his latest labor of love, which he's created over the years in response to his experiences of being HIV-positive.
'I'd been putting it off and putting it off,' says Davis, who learned he had the virus in 1999, 'and my goal was to have it finished on the seventh anniversary of my diagnosis. This is sort of my way of coming out again. I hope people are inspired by it.'
But in addition to bringing hope to the masses, Davis has taken a more practical, nuts-and-bolts approach to creating Lost Raven. 'When I first found out I was positive, there was no HIV 101,' he says, 'so I want people to know that they do have options and choices--because at first you're just trying to comprehend it all. I really wish I would have had a mentor, which is kind of what this comic book is.'
Published in October, Lost Raven, which is culled primarily from Davis's journals through the years, does not pull any punches when addressing the realities of living with HIV, although he admits that he has softened some aspects--at the behest of his publisher--to make it suitable for readers of all ages.
'The comic is not about sexual relations but about what it's like to live with this disease day to day,' Davis says. 'I want people to know that if you contract the virus, there are options. I've been enjoying a successful career publishing mainstream comic books, and now I want to tell a personal tale about a journey I'm taking with millions of other people.'
After some soul-searching, Davis opted to avoid disclosing how his lead character contracts HIV, however. 'I don't want people to know how he contracted it so that [they don't] have someone to blame,' he says. 'I didn't want to go there. I didn't think it was important to the story. In general, I'm trying not to make this about sex. I want my niece and nephew to read this book and learn about prevention.'
But comic book buffs--regardless of their serostatus--should also relish the intriguing plot. The publicity materials summarize it: 'After learning he has the HIV virus, attorney Zak Raven leaves his practice behind to set forth on a mission of relaxation--until his peaceful trip goes wildly astray, leaving Zak shipwrecked on what he thinks is a deserted island with only the words in his own journal to keep him company. Unknown to Zak, however, four miles below the surface of this quiet island secretly hides a government experimentation center where scientists play God by trying to artificially evolve a human-based species to combat a coming Armageddon. Unfortunately, all they've created so far are deadly monsters'and they're about to meet their new neighbor, Zak Raven!'
When it comes to meeting his ever-growing fan base at promotional appearances, Davis says being open about his HIV is a way to lessen the stigma that's still all too pervasive in society. 'I'm Darren Davis. I'm not 'positive Darren Davis,' ' he says. 'I don't make that all of me. Otherwise, I'd just be a disease rather than being a person who has a disease.' But Davis, a Los Angeles native who now lives in Bellingham, Wash., admits that finding a like-minded community of support over the years has been difficult. 'A lot of positive people I've dealt with seem so jaded,' he says, 'and I've been very disappointed in support groups.'
As a result, Davis turned inward and poured out his emotions and feelings in his journal. 'Writing really helped me,' he says. 'I would use myself as a support group, so journal writing is really important for that. I'm not saying I get something out of it immediately when I write it, but years later it's helped me a lot.'
Davis also nurtures himself as the client services coordinator and events manager at Evergreen AIDS Foundation in Bellingham. 'It's above and beyond support group stuff,' he says. 'If someone is having problems, they can come in and talk to me. It's casual, not clinical. I'm in a really good place as far as being positive.'
He's in a very good place career-wise as well. Davis started his entertainment career in Hollywood in sales and marketing, working at E! Entertainment Television, USA Networks, and Lions Gate Films. He then moved on to representing artists at DC Comics, which gave him the confidence to give his own career a whirl.
'I represented top comic-book writers and watched them create their own properties, and I thought I could do the same thing,' he says. 'I thought this project was my way back into Hollywood, and [my comics] could become movies or TV shows.'
Davis has fulfilled a lifelong dream by partnering with his creative hero, Ray Harryhausen, known for developing cult film classics such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Clash of the Titans. 'He's the George Lucas of the '60s,' says Davis, who first met Harryhausen as a giddy fan at a book signing in Bellingham for The Art of Ray Harryhausen. 'I handed him my comic books, and his agent eventually made me part of their little family.
'Now,' he continues, 'we're basically doing sequels to his films as comic books. Just working with him has been amazing; he's my biggest inspiration.'
Though he's no fan of the term role model, Davis hopes his example can equally inspire others to pursue their own dreams.
'Maybe I can help others decide to do something they've always wanted to do,' he says, 'to understand that HIV is not a hindrance to your dreams. And if people don't accept me for being positive, I really don't care. I'm not out here for acceptance. I'm out here to make my life better.'