Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 19 January 1998


By Penny Perkins


A favorite in the underground 'zine world—whose influence can also be seen in such 'upperground' gay publications as Outweek, OUT, and The AdvocateMy Comrade/ Sister was the brainchild and one-man-band showpiece of downtown man-about-town (and part time dragster) Les Simpson.

The first issue of My Comrade, proclaiming "Gay Lib" on the cover, came out in early 1988. It was a wild photocopied compendium of gay news, articles, humor, sex, drag queens, advice columns, recipes, centerfolds, and "photo novellas." The typefaces and cut-out photos were kitch-y, campy, and catchy, and the 'zine's star quickly rose. In the fall of 1988, Les took lesbians into the fold and added Sister to the pages of My Comrade (in a clever logistical move, Sister is the cover on one side of the magazine and My Comrade is the cover-upside-down-on-the-other). The dual 'zine proliferated throughout the late eighties and early nineties, and (sadly) published its last issue in the winter of 1994.

Below is Les's commentary on his experience publishing My Comrade/Sister, in an interview with culture vulture, 'zine fan, and Your Guide to Alternative Media, Penny Perkins:

Penny Perkins: What prompted all this My Comrade activity in the first place?

Les Simpson: I got into to it initially simply because there was a need. Most of the mainstream gay journalism at the time was very dull and stagnate—and even worse, they were constantly emphasizing the negative. The gay press was just so lugubrious, you know? In a sense, it was understandable, for it was a difficult atmosphere at the time—the AIDS backlash was at full force, and with the so-called Christian forces taking up the banner, gay people were being vilified left and right-wing, so to speak. But I felt there needed to be a vehicle that provided a more inspirational and more life-affirming forum for our community—especially a community in the midst of a health and civil rights crisis. And to get that inspirational, joi de New Age "feel" for My Comrade, I just played into the whole downtown, campy atmosphere.

PP: It seemed to have really struck a nerve.

LS: Yes, and what was surprising to me, it struck a nerve even for people who weren't involved with the whole drag queen, Wigstock Alphabet City scene at that time.

PP: I guess you could say it was a "seminal" publication.

LS: Yeah, you go. But because My Comrade/Sister was born and bred in New York, it did get into a lot of influential hands. And I think it's even safe to say that it helped liven up gay journalism, in general.

PP: It did seem to be riding—or even spearheading—a new wave of gay journalism. Outweek was definitely influenced by your publication, especially in its attempts to infuse humor in its pages.

LS: And now with the handful of glossy national magazines, especially OUT and The Advocate, there clearly is an influence of the 'zine style being exhibited in their design and photo spreads and various chatty, campy, bitchy, sexy tidbits.

PP: And their appropriation even goes so far as to recycle former 'zine publishers as special columnists, correct?

LS: To be sure. (Editor's note: Les now writes a column in OUT as his drag alter ego, "Star Chat with Linda.")

PP: So what were your influences in creating My Comrade?

LS: The biggest inspiration was the 'zine R.O.M.E.—chic, scandalous, seductive R.O.M.E. It was a one-man show of social commentary produced by journalist George Wayne, who writes for Vanity Fair. I was very intrigued with the idea of one person publishing their own magazine and it inspired me to try my hand at it.

PP: And were there other 'zine influences, too?

LS: Yes, there eventually was a loose, informal network of us. Some of my favorites were J.D.'s, a Tornoto based fanzine for gay punks; Thing, from Chicago; Bimbox, also from Toronto; and Fertile Latoya and Vaginal Cream Davis.

PP: With such underground stardom, such influence, and such marvelous company, why did it all end?

LS: My Comrade/Sister ended because eventually I became more involved with other things. And with the constant lack of money and manpower, it just became more and more difficult to get the issues out. You have to understand, it was completely a labor of love (and maybe a little lust)—I didn't have a computer, everything was hand-typed and hand-pasted, and plus I worked full-time to make a living. Frankly, I got burned out.

PP: At least you didn't overstay your welcome on the pop culture radar screen—you certainly left us wanting more.

LS: Yes, for better or worse My Comrade Sister was a cult magazine. It came out whenever it came out—it didn't have a "production schedule," it was more like a "debt schedule"—but that was part of its charm. But to run an operation like that—off the cuff, whenever the resources appear—year after year is difficult.

PP: What were some of the other things you got involved with?

LS: For one, in late 1993, I was approached by Michael Goff to do a column for OUT magazine, written by my alter ego-Linda Simpson.

PP: Did you have any anxiety dreams about "selling out" gay style?

LS: Not as many as you might think. A lot of the attitudes and style behind the whole 'zine culture have become much more a part of the gay mainstream print media. You know, you can paddle water on the edges forever or you can sink or swim in the mainstream; it's America, and we're programmed to seek mainstream approval, to get bigger and better. So, when the time came, I didn't have much trouble making the leap.

PP: Are you implying that Linda and Les have found fame and fortune in new venues?

LS: Pul-ese. I'm still working full time in offices—mostly freelancing in the art departments of magazines—and I'm also working at nightclubs to pick up extra change.

PP: What were the origins of your alter ego, Linda?

LS: Linda was really developed on the stage at the Pyramid (a hip club in New York City in the late 80s). Linda's persona expanded when I started Channel 69—a gay drag cabaret that was seminal (to use your word) in the drag world. I'm still working the club scene, but certainly not as much.

PP: Besides "Star Chat With Linda" in OUT, what else have you been working on?

LS: Currently, I'm very involved with Party Talk, a gay and lesbian entertainment show that appears on cable in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Miami. I'm one of the co-hosts. In general, most of my extracurricular energy has been going into the OUT column and Party Talk.

PP: And what does the future hold for Linda/Les?

LS: Well, I'd like to concentrate on writing, but I've also been moving in the direction of television. I've been on "Donahue" and some other talk shows—so that's an interesting and new avenue to explore. In some ways, my aspirations are to become a UBMP— a Ubiquitous Bold Media Personality—and not just acquire fame and feel fabulous about myself, but to break down some barriers and stereotypes. The real reason to acquire fame in this culture is for the power that goes along with it—because when you are in that position, when you are in the public spotlight, you can advocate beliefs that are not in the mainstream.

PP: In that case, the ideas and philosophy that inspired My Comrade/Sister could live on in a widely accessible form?

LS: Exactly. And, in the meantime, I'm still doing temp work and working nights at the Palladium.

PP: As a UBWS?

LS: Yes, a Ubiquitous Bold Working Stiff.

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