Tim Bauer is an illustrator and comic artist living in Vancouver. His work explores different illustration styles, inserting queerness into classic comic book aesthetics to flip the script on his reference points, such as Zap Comix, Heavy Metal, superhero comics, and kung fu and martial arts movies.
SAD Mag: Let’s start with biographical information. You’re from Kansas, how did you land in Vancouver and become an illustrator?
Tim Bauer: After I graduated from university in Kansas in 2006, I got a job teaching in Korea at an international school. It was supposed to be for one year, and I ended up being there for five years. I ended up meeting a lot of Canadians. After five years I decided I would have to either stay there for the rest of my life, or move on and do something else.
My original plan was to go to law school. I took the LSAT and everything, but I always drew. I drew the whole time, for my students, who were elementary kids. We would make little children’s books. When I was looking for schools and getting ready for law school, another teacher asked, “if you draw so much, why don’t you go to art school?”
All of a sudden it just clicked, so I applied to two schools: Emily Carr and OCAD. I put a portfolio together really quickly, and both schools accepted me. I knew more people in Vancouver and I had been to Vancouver, so I went to Emily Carr and graduated in 2015.
SAD: How did going back to school, or going to school for illustration affect your work?
TB: I gained experience doing projects fully, and was able to learn from instructors who were working in the business. It was the first year that Emily Carr offered an Illustration program. What I learned was how to bring a product to professional completion. I didn’t develop my style until maybe a year or so after I graduated.
SAD: In your work, you play with drag and queer imagery in vintage comic book styles. Why do you like this mashup so much?
TB: There’s a strong queer history within comics, especially underground comics, like Tom of Finland. He changed the shape of what queer people can look like. There’s a stereotype of queer men as very dainty, but queer men can be anybody, they can be construction workers. I kind of apply that idea to superheroes. Superheroes don’t have to look a certain way or act a certain way.
The reason I like the Triclops so much is because people always pull the sexuality or the queerness out of it. The He-man toys and the superhero toys are the epitome of what masculinity should be or the norms of masculinity, but I always like to make it a little bit queer (and it doesn’t take much).
When we see those old He-man toys, people sexualize them in a heteronormative view. By making it queer, all of a sudden it turns adult. If it was the heteronormative version, it could be used for kids for some reason, but if you just make it a little gayer, all of a sudden, it’s adult. I’ve been trying to work with the idea of how we’ve freaked queerness in the public and in the media and how we consider it all to be “adult” topics. So I’m trying to point it out.
SAD: How did drag become a large part of your work?
TB: I always thought drag was really interesting. I lived in the suburbs of Kansas City, and it wasn’t very open to gay people during the time I was living there, in the 90s. There was a small queer community there. I grew up with drag queens and it fascinated me for anyone to be able to go outside, be totally different, and be themselves, and be strong about it, with their heels on, walking tall. I always admired that. I always considered that to be a superhero feature, because superheroes always change their outfits and take on a different persona. I always equated the two in a lot of ways. The idea of gender being a performance is a really bold statement that I admire in drag queens as well.
SAD: How have you been able to make your RuPaul-inspired comics?
TB: I made Tales from the Main Stage as a fanzine. I contacted Mimi Imfurst through Instagram and sent her a copy. It’s mostly just for fun. In this one, I was experimenting with 3D and with blending borders, taking away the comic book panels.
SAD: You’re pretty active in the zine fair circuit. What is the queer comic fair circuit like?
TB: There are a lot of queer comic zinesters who are telling their stories and the scene is very diverse. In Vancouver we don’t have a queer zine fest yet. We’re starting it up though! The Vancouver Art Book Fair and I are going to have a display of queer comic artists, but next year we’re going to try to make it more official in 2020. VanCAF and Canzine are a good outlet, but for the queer community, it feels like they get overlooked a bit more by the general public, and I feel like queer content needs its own space.
SAD: What projects are you working on?
TB: I’ve just been producing books. One called A-Gay-Zine Tales started off for Unibrow Arts Fest last year, pairing artists with comedians. I started working with a local comedian Steve Letts, and I play softball with him in our gay league. He’s a funny guy. He wrote this joke about poppers (the inhalant), so the comic talks about the history of poppers, and the joke and everything. I took it even further and made storylines out of it. I wanted it to be very surreal. I’ve been into Heavy Metal, and I wanted to make a queer version of it, and I’ve been looking at old Zap Comix. Robert Williams is one of my favourite artists, he does very surreal, comic bookish and cartoonish work that I thought I’d try to emulate.
I was hired by a company in Korea. They do haunted tours called the “Dark Side of Seoul.” They wanted me to make a comic in a Tales from the Crypt style that tells Korean folk tales and horror stories. I’m excited to do that, which is coming up later this year.
There are also ideas for books I want to do, which are going to be more horror-themed, and I’m going to try to have those done for the Art Book Fair in October. I have a graphic novel idea about a drag queen wrestler, which I want to work on after all these projects are done. There’s a lot going on for this next year.
I’m doing an artists-in-residence program for the elementary schools, where they hire artists to come in and teach kids based on our arts practices. I’m going to work with them to make books and be hands-on about art with the children.
SAD: How can people find you online or in real life?
TB: Instagram is where you can see most of my updates and my work, and most of the time I’m out and about at comic and zine events in Vancouver. I’ll also be at Unibrow Arts Fest at 8th Dimension on Saturday, August 24.