The precocious child in comic strips exists as almost a genre unto itself – “Peanuts” stood as the initial shining example, while Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” delighted audiences later. But artist Robert Paul has spent the last few years infusing that concept with a new approach, one focused on identity, orientation, and acceptance. “Little Rainbow Comics,” a three-panel web comic started in 2009, follows three smarter-than-they-should-be kids in the Midwest, who also happen to be gay. There’s Zack, described by Paul as “the more anal retentive type personality,” Stan, “the more flamboyant, creative individual,” and Denisha, “obviously the jock, and the spiritual voice” of the group. Every week in the strip, the trio tackles a new facet of growing up gay and confused, whether it be Valentine’s Day pairings or the decision to come out to parents. The situations play out in the traditional three-panel format with a succinct punch-line, usually marked by a reversal or change of perspective. Take Zack’s coming out to with his father, announced without fanfare and to the point. The father asks Zach, “Aren’t you a bit young to decide that?,” to which he responds, “How old were you when you knew you were straight?” For Paul, his coming out was much later, when he “was about to turn 22, on New Years Eve” – and even then, it was only to his close friends. However, he vividly remembers the pop-culture emblem around which he first realized his orientation: The Six Million Dollar Man. “I had a huge crush on [actor] Lee Majors. When I saw him I was like, “Wow, he’s just really beautiful,” Paul recounts. “And I was 6 years old, about as old as [my characters] when I had those thoughts. I didn’t know what they were, but I knew that’s what I was attracted to.” He continued, “That’s where [the strip] comes from. For the most part everyone I’ve talked to knew it from a young age, they just had to figure out what to do with those feelings.” At the core of “Little Rainbow Comics,” Paul is trying to put a light-hearted filter on that sentiment, to show “that gay people aren’t born 21 years old. Gay adults were gay children at some point in time.” A military brat in his younger years, Paul moved with his family to Europe in the late-70’s, where he first gained an obsession with comic books and their creation.
Aspirations to work at Disney followed, but after going to college for both business and art degrees, he found a cutthroat marketplace for illustrators and creators alike. “Everyone wanted 3 years of experience. [At school] I learned how to animate, but it’s tough to get a job in the art field without any connections.” Multiple projects and collaborations – experimenting with everything from superheroes to more of his present aesthetic – fizzled out, but Instead of pining after that elusive animating gig, he instead took to making his own luck. He started Reel Cards, a LGBT-centered greeting card company, and designed on the side what would eventually be “Little Rainbow Comics.”\ “It all started the same year – 2009. I launched the greeting cards in March, and then when September came around, I was kinda out of work, so I thought, why not? Might as well work on these ideas that’ve had for years and years.” Aside from inspiration from artist Phil Jimenez and Jim Lee, Paul also wanted the main characters of “Little Rainbow” to be multi-ethnic, mentioning his other main influence, “Calvin and Hobbes,” as remaining “very Anglo.” “I guess I wanted to be more inclusive, and I remember really having to think about who they were as individuals. Because they started out very much the same voice, so as the strip got older, I really needed to have them explore different messages and pathways.” Going back to his early dabbling out of art school, Paul flirted with the idea of exploring gay issues through superheroes, but quickly found a market saturated with it. “If you go to BentCon (an LGBT comics convention, located this year in Burbank), everything’s so hyper-sexual.” “I have a certain interest in that stuff as well – the more adult outlet – but if you look around, everyone’s doing it. No one’s doing my type of art and writing. So I’d love to go the superhero route, but I feel I should do this a little while longer before moving on.” For now, that means updating the Little Rainbow Comics website weekly with a new strip, promoting his first collection of strips (available online and in Los Feliz’ Skylight Books), and writing the next book to show at BentCon. He also wishes to collaborate and contribute his artwork to social causes (Trevor’s Project and the NoH8 Campaign were two cited). As for the public exposure from the strip, reactions have been mostly positive, but personally Paul has found his creative endeavors lost on his Catholic-raised family, and especially his father. “When I came out to him officially I was 28,” he said. “I think my mom cried a little bit. The whole thing is just hush-hush, a little bit. [My parents] know my partner, and they’ve had him over for Christmas things like that. But it’s all kind of hands-off still.” Added Paul, “There’s a whole aspect of my life that they don’t know about, and that’s kind of sad. But if I’m on “Ellen” or something like that, I suppose I’ll have to tell them then.” *Visit LittleRainbowComics.com for more info on Robert’s work, or contact him via LittleRainbowComics@gmail.com
By Charlie Schmidlin