ManCrush: Bryan Knight
We caught up with Bryan Knight for a behind-the-scenes look at his comic series Velvet Collar.
What was your inspiration for creating the Velvet Collar comics?
Once upon a time, there was rentboy.com – the largest online advertisement platform for male sex workers in the world.
Then, in August 2015, Rentboy’s main office in New York City was raided by the NYPD and by I.C.E. The owner and six employees were charged with a number of federal crimes – all but one charge against the CEO were subsequently dropped.
When I got out of school, I had two Masters degrees in an economy where a new scientist needed five years of prior experience for an upaid internship. Sex work and porn kept me alive and have helped me achieve what was promised by the American Dream – being free of debt, some savings, medical insurance, and a safe home with my loved ones. Yes, the business has problems and they need to be remedied. Still, the work was better than corporate culture and the messed up system of money that wasn’t working for me or almost anyone that I knew.
When the raid happened, I knew I had to record and remember the experiences of my co-workers and myself before they were forgotten. Our stories are passed down by word-of-myth and disappear fast, so I set to work in a way that I thought would make people sit up and pay attention.
Are you drawing on your own sex work experiences to create these characters and their adventures?
Most of the characters in the series are real porn performers and sex workers. They either portray their own stories or an amalgamation of stories for the entertainment aspect of the narrative.
On the first page of Issue 1, the character Abel Rey is confronted by a surprised boyfriend about his sex work. He is promised understanding and then later dumped after sex. This story really happened, but not to me. I have been rejected and excluded by peers for coming out about my work, so portraying this experience was part of a core experience all sex workers have to confront and manage at some point.
In Issue 2, JD Daniels has a sudden personal emergency during a session with a client. The client goes from worshipping him to hating him and trying to hurt him, so JD has to put the client in their place. Emotions can run high and situations can switch rapidly in the business, so being flexible to adapt and maintain personal boundaries is something that all workers have to go through.
In Issue 1, the character Billy – played by bear porn star Will Foster from Washington, D.C. – has a muscle boy serving him as a slave and inverts the body desire stereotype we expect. These experience did happen for him, and for many others. When he’s later frightened by a violent stalker in the subway, that actually happened to me in 2014. But the hate of the messages are something he and other workers have to deal with, which the public doesn’t think about.
Some clients and allies are also drawn into the series. They know who they are, but they get to enjoy the telling of their experiences while getting to watch the reactions of readers from a safe voyeur position.
What’s your creative process for Velvet Collar?
When creating a comic and a narrative with a lot of real people, there are multiple pieces to coordinate and have a conversation about.
First, I have a general story planned out. There will be nine issues altogether and a collection of short stories. I think of Warren Ellis when structuring story writing, to make sure that all the important emotional moments are present at the key times of the work, and that each page holds the interest of the reader to turn to the next page.
Sometimes, the story changes depending on who is playing what character. For example, I wrote a sex scene between two characters in the series – when I mentioned it to one of them, they told me that they despised each other in real life. So awkward! So, a re-write was needed.
Once a script is prepared, I send it to the artist to review. If they accept, then they begin drawing and we have a conversation from sketch to pencil to colour. After all the artwork is collected, I rearrange the words and sound effects based on the art. Some things will unnecessary or too word-heavy and left out, some critical information will be missing and has to be added for the sake of clarity. Sometimes the art will inspire new, better dialogue that I couldn’t think of until the images are in front of me.
I take questions and suggestions from sex workers, clients, allies and enemies from around the world. All their feedback is considered and weighed. The performers drawn into the series – there are nearly 50 porn performers planned for the series – also have certain things they want to say or be drawn doing, so I also try to include those.
Davenport worked on Issue 1 and part of Issue 2, but had to leave suddenly for personal reasons. Pup Tut – an illustrator from Coney Island – finished the inking, and Byron Power from the UK was a hero and stepped up to finish Issue 2. Byron has also just finished Issue 3, Performance Anxiety. After a break, Byron will be doing Issue 4, Objections of Affection.
All sex workers and porn stars automatically qualify to be drawn into the series They just have to ask! The primary five characters represent a diverse cross-section of the male worker community, but not all of it. Through the series, they meet characters playing specific roles – drawn from people that I’ve met and who have volunteered to be in the series. They get to be drawn doing cool things and their fans love seeing them in comic book form. The new people they meet along the way provide opportunities to talk about different aspects of sex work and related issues, including politics, theology, relationships, and slice of life humour.
What do you hope that people feel when reading Velvet Collar?
When they read and see the faces of the people involved, I want them to feel curious. I want them to find the original performers to ask, “Did this happen?” and to come to learn and care about the real people and their problems.
I want them to feel that sex and porn work is real work. I want them to feel that, even if the reasons are different, that sex workers are the best people qualified to to tell their own stories.
Mostly, I want them to feel fun.