Dominick

Velvet Collar is a comic book series written and produced by worker Bryan Knight and drawn by queer comic artist Dave Davenport. It depicts the lives of five male sex workers. In the course of the series’ narrative, an escort listing service is shut down by the feds—a thinly-veiled representation of the Rentboy raid and subsequent prosecutions.

Dale Corvino, who as Ask Dominick was Rentboy’s advice blogger, interviewed the creators of the comic series for Tits and Sass. He spoke with Knight in person in New York, while corresponding with Davenport, who is based in Los Angeles. Corvino is now a board member of the Red Umbrella Project (RedUP). The org’s 2014 documentary Red Umbrella Diaries was generously supported by Rentboy’s founder, Jeffrey Hurant. RedUP will be coordinating with SWOP Behind Bars to provide support for Jeffrey while he serves his sentence related to the Rentboy prosecution. Of this effort, RedUP Program Director Lola Garcia says, “While workers are our primary concern, nobody deserves to be jailed for involvement in the sex trade, provided they are not coercing sex workers (i.e. sex traffickers).”

The interview that follows has been edited for length from Corvino’s emails with Davenport and a transcription of Corvino’s conversation with Knight.

Dale Corvino: The Velvet Collar Kickstarter discusses representation of sex workers in alternative comics. Chester Brown is probably the most prominent creator who mines the topic, but he is admittedly writing from the trick’s perspective. Other depictions often feature characters with limited agency, as you point out. (Though there are a few inspiring exceptions to this rule.) In the queer comic space, sexuality is often depicted; sex work rarely. Does the project of depicting workers as fully realized protagonists in the comic space challenge both the comic genre and the queer comic sub-genre?

Dave Davenport: Definitely. But I’ve known sex workers at all points of my life, a good deal of my friends have been so at one time or another, and I may have had to hustle to make the rent at one point in my life. It’s a part of life, it always has been, and always will be. It needs to be a part of comics as well.

Bryan Knight: First, I’m telling stories about real people who have done or are doing illegal things…and whatever ethics we may have about it, there’s that first fundamental block. The practice has a long stigma and people are going to reflexively flinch. Second thing, there’s sex. There’s graphic sex. I made the choice not to censor that part of their lives because it happens. Not only in the transactional sense, but as a part of their private lives…it’s about as real an experience as I could fully capture.

As for queer comics…in early queer comics, we didn’t worry about mainstream acceptance, we made it for our friends. We weren’t concerned about sales or reputation because we were already fucked!

Right now gays are in the mainstream, we have marriage, and part of that strategy has been desexualizing everything we are so this particular comic pushes us back into that realm where sex and identity are intertwined…the narratives of acceptance have been, “We’re just like you!” but the truth is, we’re not…a lot of naked truths get exposed and that’s what I plan to bring to the comic genre.

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Hawk Kinkaid (photo of himself)

Hawk Kinkaid, a former escort, Internet porn performer and pro-dom, is the founder of HOOK, a grassroots non-profit organization that since 1997 has undertaken to share knowledge, reduce harm and build community among male sex workers. HOOK has published guides on best practices, negotiation, and legal issues, has collected stories and interviews, and runs the innovative educational program Rent U. He’s been a contributor to $pread magazine, performed at Sex Worker Literati, competed nationally in spoken word, and contributed to the upcoming omnibus anthology Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks, edited by David Henry Sterry. We welcome new Tits and Sass contributor Dominick—a fellow contributor to Johns, Marks… and advice blogger for rentboy.com—who interviewed Hawk about the relaunch of  HOOK and his other projects.

So tell me about your piece that appears in David Henry Sterry’s new anthology. It’s called “Ice Cream”—when did you write it? Is it cold and sweet?

I wrote “Ice Cream” a year and a half ago. It is a true story, but it happened over a decade ago. Cold and sweet? I love ice cream. The story is not about ice cream, the dessert. It’s about a man who makes ice cream; it’s about going cold when it’s part of your business.

Does Ice Cream Man know you’ve written about him? I wrote about a client, a married elementary school principal exploring raunch/kink/humiliation on the rentboy blog, and he actually saw it! He left me a friendly comment.

Ice Cream Man has no idea. And I don’t think he would appreciate the story. It’s true, but I don’t think he would like it. He may not even be alive now. I have no idea, actually. Discretion with and about clients is part of the job, but after all this time, it’s a different world.

Well, I think a decade is plenty of time to hold a good story in. Has writing always been a part of your sex work practice?

HOOK along with other great programs like the now extinct $pread magazine have always been great outlets for me to share important stories or thoughts about working in the industry. Poetry is another significant part of my life, ranging from national spoken word slamming to my work’s inclusion in a number of literary journals. Writing has always been part of my life—I think it just made sense to also use words to shape the many experiences I had as an escort, pro-dom, etc.

HOOK definitely helped me when I was escorting. I kept that wallet card on me at all times, and wrote the number of a lawyer on it. I never had reason to use it, thankfully, but I felt better prepared.

That’s awesome! It’s what we work toward in being a resource for working men.
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