"I never really say whether he is straight or gay because this book is meant for everyone," Darren G. Davis says of Lost Raven, his graphic novel about a man coming to terms with his HIV-positive status while simultaneously fighting government-created monsters. Self-pitying and suicidal when the tale begins, protagonist Zak Raven's otherworldly encounter rekindles his will to live.
Bluewater Productions, the independent comic company Davis owns, published a digital form of Lost Raven today, five years after it first hit the shelves--and just in time for World AIDS Day. Davis, himself diagnosed as positive in 1999, based the story on his own journals, journals written when he was in throes of post-infection depression. "I beat myself up pretty bad in that journal," he told me. Obsessed with all the things he thought he couldn't have -- love, children -- Davis says, "I became this bitter person." It soon came time to make a change, he realized. "I knew that I had to do something productive and try to create what I wanted.... a story about a person struggling with the emotions of being HIV positive."
Luckily, Davis already had some experience creating comics: his titles The 10th Muse and Legend of Isis still have cult followings. So, armed with the skills and experience, he set to work on Lost Raven in 2003. And he wanted it to be about life, not death. "After re-reading the struggles I had being HIV positive, I was annoyed that there was no HIV 101 that I could relate too at the time," he says. "I was in support groups where most of the people talked about their friends dying. As much as I had the respect of them, I could not identify with it." Thus, Zak Raven's bildungsromanesque story arc.
Putting pen to paper was easy enough for Davis; owning the narrative was another story. "When the book came out, I freaked out about the stigma," he says. "I had to think twice about what I was going to put myself through. I even developed a press release saying it was about a friend of mine's journal, but in the end I bit the bullet because I thought I could make a difference in a world."
Even though five years have passed since he wrote Lost Raven--and 13 since his diagnosis--Davis says the pain still lingers, particularly when it comes to what happened after he got the news. According to Davis, who was working at well-known comic industry monthly Wizard magazine at the time, his bosses fired him soon after finding out he's gay and had contracted HIV. He told me he never filed a lawsuit because, "I was scared about being labeled the 'AIDS' guy in the comic book industry."
"It is a straight male-skewed industry. I have never wanted to be labeled anything other than a hard worker," he explains. And there's no way he could be labeled anything else: in addition to Bluewater's more straightforward adventure and thriller titles, including a Logan's Run spin-off and Vincent Price presents, they publish the autobiographical Female Force series about lady leaders like Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and even Olivia Newton-John.
The company's next big project will be a one-shot biography about Stonewall written by Michael Troy. "We now have a voice in biography comic book storytelling and I felt that was a story I wanted to tackle."
Before that, though, Davis hopes to get as many people to read Lost Raven as possible, and not just because he's proud of his and his art team's work, but because part of the sales go to the Evergreen AIDS Foundation, an organization that focuses on HIV prevention, treatment and services in rural America.
And in case you're wondering: Davis has indeed, despite his fears, found love post-diagnosis: He runs Bluewater Productions with Jason, his boyfriend of nine years. They have two dogs, three chickens and, according to Davis, a "boring, happy, suburban life." A happy ending if there ever was one.
Lost Raven is now available for download for Kindle, Nook, & iTunes.