Eleanor Crewes Tells Us Of ‘The Times I Knew I Was Gay’

by Richard Bruton

It’s always good to be able to highlight new talent at Comicon.com, and we sure have an abundance of exciting new talent here in the UK. Some you may have heard of already, others might be totally new. But they’re all worth investigating.
Eleanor CrewesThe Times I Knew I Was Gay is one that definitely fits into the category of one you probably haven’t heard of. She’s a London-based comic artist and illustrator only just out of university, and The Times I Knew I Was Gay is her first graphic novel. And it’s certainly a very impressive debut.

Here in the graphic novel, she’s working in black pencil to deliver something that traces her life thus far, and deals with the complicated issues of sexuality and knowing oneself.
She’s produced something that, although might be better described as a collection of moments in graphic form, than a comic. Working without panels, without any real sequential details as such, she puts together short vignettes, from early childhood, through primary school, secondary school, and out into university, all concerned with her and how she’s feeling, what she’s doing.
The beautifully simple illustrations, accompanied by the adult Crewes’ reflections on that moment in her younger life work quite perfectly. We drop in and out of Crewes’ life, whether that’s the earliest recollection of a 6-year old Crewes’ First Holy Communion, complete with an early rebellion against societal expectations, or her primary school experiences where she starts to assert her individuality.
And through it all, there’s an obsession with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and more particularly Willow. How important was Buffy to young girls struggling with their own ideas of sexuality?

The Buffy craze turned into something much bigger.
The Buffy craze morphed into the Willow craze and that was a different kind of craze altogether.

What makes The Times I Knew I Was Gay so fascinating and involving is Crewes’ narrative. It’s portrayed as her looking back, filling in the moments she’s portraying with small asides, that both illustrate her feelings at that moment and build to fill out her life and thoughts on her being gay.
“Autobiographies are hard because it means looking back and trying to figure stuff out. I know who I am now, but who was I then?
And queer history is particularly hard!
People might think that everyone starts out in a closet until they’re ready to “come out”,
The closet could be dark and scary or quite roomy and resemble more of a clothes rail.
But, what’s funny for me is that I didn’t even know that there was a closet –
Or that I was very much stuck inside it.”
It’s also something that plays against the traditional ideas of coming out. We’re always fed the idea that it’s one grand moment, an announcement done once and never needed again. But in The Times I Knew I Was Gay, Crewes’ coming out is nothing of the sort. Instead, it’s a collection of moments, where first she has to convince herself, understand herself, before she can finally come out. But then it’s not once, but a total of five times before she’s truly out and aware.

Along the way we see the young Crewes fitting in with her friends, whether that’s falling in line with obsessing over the boys at school, or dating on Tinder. Through it all, she’s the quiet one, not really involved, always on the outside. And we see this so easily through her artwork, as she fills the comic with moments of quiet, simple pages of just a single illustration, or a blank page, just to let the reader absorb what we’ve been told thus far, take a moment, reflect for ourselves on Crewes’ life to now.
At its end, with Crewes out and aware, almost comically so at times, we can celebrate along with her, enjoy the world she’s come out into now. Seeing her finally come out to her friends, her brother, her house (yes, her house!), and then, most touching of all, to her wonderfully understanding parents, was quite glorious. But, best of all, it’s her coming out to herself that matters most, and seeing that transformational moment at the end of the book really is heartwarming.
In The Times I Knew I Was Gay, Eleanor Crewes gives us a gloriously honest, gently funny and touching tale that will resonate long after the reading.
The Times I Knew I Was Gay is published in the UK by Good Comics. You can see more of Crewes‘ work at her website. Definitely a British comic voice for the future.

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