The Positive Side

Spring/Summer 2009 

Art Posi+ive: Unmasked!

Who is that man in the red tights? Daniel-Claude Gendron, the artist behind the hero Super Poz.

Interview by Albert Martin

I HAD STOPPED DRAWING for about 10 years. Then, in 2004, during a particularly bad time, I asked myself what I could do to feel better. To be more specific, one night when my spirits were in the gutter, I said to myself, “Why not do the things you used to do?” I liked to draw when I was younger, so I started up again.

It did me a world of good to put pencil to paper. It made me understand that I had resources within me that I could use to improve my health. I also realized that I had forgotten how much I loved to draw. Since that day, I express myself through my drawing at every difficult turn. Drawing has been my new therapy since 2004.

After I had been drawing for a year, I was still trying to understand what I was going through. One day, while analyzing the drawings I had created, I discovered that they contained some of the answers I was looking for. I learned that I could explore the issues I was facing through my drawings.

How did Super Poz come to be?

When I drew my first drafts of Super Poz in 2005, I had already been working in the HIV community for about three years (I received my HIV diagnosis about six years before that). I was often in contact with people living with HIV and was talking a lot with them. I found it a bit heavy to be discussing HIV 24 hours a day; it’s not exactly a fun subject. As a remedy for my sadness, I drew a hero who fights HIV in a mask and red tights — Super Poz — because I wanted to laugh about it. I really needed to de-dramatize what was happening around me.

Is Super Poz you?

My goal was to be him (laughter), and I wanted to poke fun at that goal. As HIV-positive people, our situation is an odd one. We pay a lot of attention to our health, and the simplest things, like what we eat and drink, can take on huge importance. In my case, I became extremely fixated on myself and my health. My ultimate goal was to become the model HIV-positive man who eats well, exercises and looks after himself to perfection.

Things had really become blown out of proportion, so I wanted to make fun of the situation and show that such a goal is unattainable. I will never be Canada’s perfect HIV-positive man, which was what the character Super Poz was representing for me at that time. Ever since I decided to laugh about life with HIV, being not perfect is much easier to accept.

So this “comical” character finally allowed you to assert yourself?

Things have changed a lot since 2005. At that time, I was simply having fun with a personal project. I had no intention to show my drawings to other people. I was amusing myself with my pencils and paper, but then I came to realize that my character’s quest and my own were the same.

Eventually I decided to tell the adventures of Super Poz to my friends and colleagues. As I told his stories, I wondered to myself: “Who else but an HIV-positive person could imagine such a character?” Clearly, I was asserting myself as much as my character. For me, creating a comic book about HIV was an exercise in disclosing my HIV status.

Has telling your hero’s adventures helped you evolve?

From the moment I decided to make a “real” comic book out of Super Poz, I naturally became concerned about telling a story that everyone could understand. People living with HIV will certainly understand things differently because the action is taking place inside their own bodies. It’s very narcissistic, obviously (laughter), but this story was originally intended for me and so the adventure takes place inside my body.

At the beginning of the story, we meet the character Cannabinol who has an appointment with Cerveau to present a project to Psyché. However, so everyone can understand, there’s no talk of viral load, CD4+ counts or complex medical stuff; it’s purely a world of fantasy. I think that HIV-positive people will still identify with the story and see the truth within the fantasy world.

When you remove your superhero mask, you work with HIV-positive people at Montreal’s Maison Plein Cœur, helping them with all sorts of creative endeavors. What do you think they get out of it?

When I realized that I was feeling much better since I had begun to draw again, I wondered if there weren’t other people out there like me who have neglected their artistic talents. That’s where I got the idea for the project Zone+, a creative drop-in centre where, regardless of their skill level, people can rediscover their passion for creative activities in order to find answers and comfort.

I have been told by a lot of people that the mere fact of devoting time to a creative project has helped them become aware of their communication problem. Being creative has enabled them to express emotions that they aren’t able to express verbally — to a counsellor or support worker, for example. This isn’t exactly art therapy, but it certainly has a therapeutic effect.

Where is Super Poz in his adventures now?

My first draft of Super Poz was a bit all over the place. All my thoughts about myself, HIV and the world were jumbled together in a story that was too long and complex. In recent years, I have tried to create an issue entitled Métabolisme. It’s ready to go as soon as I find some money to publish it.

Albert Martin is chair of the organization Fréquence VIH. An HIV-positive writer and activist, Martin believes that art teaches us a great deal about the experience of living with HIV.

Photograph: Pierre Dalpé

 

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