Adolescence can be a frightening period for young gay men, who are suddenly faced with new sexual feelings that can often conflict with social pressures placed on them by family, friends, and the media. Mike Curato explores this tumultuous period in his new Godwin Books graphic novel, Flamer, a semi-autobiographical story of a 14-year-old boy’s revelatory experience at summer camp as he falls for a fellow camper. Best known as the creator of the Little Elliot picture book series about an adorable baby elephant discovering the world, Curato ventures into heavier territory for his graphic novel debut, drawing from his own life experiences as he explores Aiden Navarro’s summertime metamorphosis. Curato shifts his art style away from the delicate illustrations of his picture books to give Flamer a raw look, using black-and-white pencils and ink washes with pops of red and orange to accentuate specific moments.
This exclusive first look at Flamer, on sale in September, delves into Aiden’s passion for camping and how it dovetails with his growing attraction for men. Curato does great work giving the story a tactile quality with small details like the sound of a canoe hitting the beach and a foot splashing in the water, which helps draw the reader deeper into the wilderness environment. This excerpt is all about what it takes to create heat, starting literally with Aiden collecting firewood before taking a metaphorical turn when the heat becomes internal. The page revealing Aiden’s scoutmaster uses composition and symbolic imagery to indicate Aiden’s physical attraction, showing a phallic axe right below the scoutmaster’s crotch, splitting a piece of wood in half. The excerpt closes with a burst of warmth as the campers gather around a raging fire, showing how the introduction of red and orange changes the atmosphere while enriching Aiden’s inner emotions.