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My Magazine > Editors Archive > cat3 > Graphic Novel Review: Teleny and Camille by Jon Macy
Graphic Novel Review: Teleny and Camille by Jon Macy   by T. R. Moss

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A young man sits at a piano, and as he performs for a large audience, the composer/pianist connects with a single audience member at the edge of his seat, the only one in the hall who truly listened. Camille, the listener, sinks into a reverie and dreams of a long, psychedelic, opium-like sexual fantasy, and, it is implied, ejaculates in his trousers, just from the intensity of the fantasy. He finds out later that the handsome, passionate pianist Teleny was envisioning precisely the same lascivious images as he played. The two men establish this synchronicity and realize how deeply they will connect through gaze alone.

“[...] he had not what you would call hypnotising eyes…still they had such penetrating power that, from the very first time I saw him, I felt that he could dive deep into my soul…every time he looked at me, I felt all the blood in my veins was always set aglow…"

And so the men begin a crazy, psychedelic, sweepingly romantic love affair. The story was, it has been claimed, written by an erotic Round Robin of Oscar Wilde and his friends. The rumor is that Oscar Wilde wrote the original story, dropped it off at a bookstore for a friend, who continued the next chapter, and so on. Or so it is told to us in the framework of the novel. It's like Exquisite Corpse, but with decadent Victorian gay smut, building and getting wilder as the novel continues.


Teleny and Camille works as an introduction to the glorious, flamboyant, coded world of the aesthete that Wilde and his cohorts invented and reveled in. You are slowly drawn into the beautiful, sumptuous world of elegance, art, and cruising through wit, an arched eyebrow, a carnation, or a heliotrope in the lapel.

Where the story leaves us with an ellipsis, Macy fills in all of the debauched details. He's a fine artist and his drawings do great justice to the story, with the influences of classical Greek and Roman statuary, luxurious Art Nouveau twining vines and flowers, and I suspect a little inspiration by Wilde's collaborator, illustrator Aubrey Beardsley. The panels explode with vines, petals, and stamens as suggestive as any Mapplethorpe photo; hard cocks; and beautiful men posing and writhing. It's a keyhole glimpse into the long-vanished world of Victorian aesthetes, ribald and complex, a tour de force comparable to Allen Moore's epic Lost Girls books.

Whether or not Wilde truly wrote portions of Teleny and Camille is historically questionable. There's apparently no evidence that Wilde did, or that he was involved at all. His name might have just been added for good publicity. But there'd be plenty of reason for him to leave his name off on purpose.

Even writing about "sodomy" at the time was illegal and could lead to imprisonment and an early death because of harsh prison conditions under forced labor.

After cuts incurred by sodomizing himself with a glass bottle, one of the characters decides to treat himself ‒ and possibly die ‒ rather than go to the doctor and be imprisoned for sodomy. Oscar Wilde, the coiner of a thousand quotes and writer of poems, fairy tales, plays of incredible wit and beauty, suffered years of imprisonment and hard labor after an infamous trial involving an ex-lover who happened to be a Lord.


The original story ends with death, but Jon Macy changes it. With, perhaps, a nod to Art Spiegelman, Macy creates a framing story where he reflects on the challenges of adapting Wilde to modern life and a graphic novel, and decides to present a happier alternate ending ‒ his addition to the writing circle.

The book of Teleny and Camille is a bit hard to chase down for now. Jon Macy published it in a limited edition, which you can order online at jonmacy.com. If you're in San Francisco and would like to track it down in person, it's worth stopping by the fantastic Whatever…Comics in the Castro for its friendly proprietors and great selection of prominently displayed queer comics ‒ right next to the mouthwatering variety of classic candies! Smart of them, to let you drool over both at once.

Teleny and Camille will be published next month in a new edition by Northwest Comics (northwestcomics.com) and can also be purchased at Comic-Con in San Diego beginning July 21.