The Complete Leonard & Larry Collection – Tim Barela (Rattling Good Yarns Press)

I remember “Leonard & Larry” from The Advocate as well as other publications, but I hadn’t thought of them for years. And even when I read them back then, they seemed less pointed than Alison Bechdel’s “Dykes to Watch Out For,” but I was heavily into activism and politics at the time. The gentle domestic humor seemed to escape me, but I hadn’t yet experienced domesticity and had no frame of reference. Forty-odd years later, however, I get it–and Rattling Good Yarns Press has done an admirable job of collecting these strips in a comprehensive coffee table edition you’re sure to enjoy.

For the uninitiated, Barela’s strip is populated by Leonard, a Jewish photographer, and his husband, Larry, a divorced father who owns a leather shop. Together, they negotiate the tricky straits of a monogamous relationship, parents, children (and grandchildren), and the usual tribulations life has to offer, and they do so with wit, grace, and good-natured bickering, remaining the constant in the lives of the other characters. This chronological presentation gathers all four “Leonard & Larry” books: Domesticity Isn’t Pretty, Kurt Cobain and Mozart Are Both Dead, Excerpts from the Ring Cycle in Royal Albert Hall, and How Real Men Do It along with some other unpublished curiosities.

Unlike many other comic characters of this era, Barela’s characters actually age, so the reader gets a sense of the passage of time and lives being lived. And how they live! One of my favorite characters is Larry’s leather shop employee, Jim, who gets involved with a priest and, eventually, a guy named Merle who becomes a television star. Then there’s Larry’s straight son, Leonard’s mother (who refuses to believe he’s gay and keeps setting him up), and for sheer, unadulterated strangeness, a terrific regularly reoccuring bit that has Johannes Brahms and Peter Tchaikovsky as gay ghosts.

Leonard and Larry and friends run the gamut, and are there to see the guys through everything from live childbirth (Larry’s grandson) to gay bashing to stalkers to new neighbors. The humor is always kind and somewhat subtle, but that’s not to say the strip doesn’t have balls. Barela was unafraid to take on any subject and if his takes occasionally slide into sitcom territory, he was taking his queer characters there before mostly anyone else, and it’s both liberating and smile-inducing.

So if you only vaguely remember the strip from its days in Gay Comix, The Advocate, or Frontiers, you never missed it, or you never heard of it, you’re in for a big, big treat. Kudos to Ian Henzel at Rattling Good Yarns Press for remembering these guys and giving them a loving, hardcover treatment. Highly recommended.

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

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