Einar V. Másson. Photos/Laufey Elíasdóttir, courtesy of Fréttablaðið

“Heartwarming to see Bruce be embraced the way he has been”

The LGBT+ webcomic Bruce the Angry Bear celebrates its fifth anniversary at the Hafnarfjörður public library during Reykjavík Pride.

Bruce the Angry Bear is a collaborative project between Australian comedian Jono Duffy (who’s gay but can’t draw) and the Icelandic illustrator Einar V. Másson (who’s not gay but can draw). During Pride Einar will host an art show that features highlights from the ornery bear’s adventures over the past half-decade (as well as hosting a one-time workshop in character design for comics this fall). In an interview with GayIceland the pair talk about their collaboration and Bruce which has now become the longest-running LGBT comic strip in Icelandic history.

So first question, Bruce the Angry Bear is turning five years old, how do you guys feel about it?
EINAR: “No idea, personally. I don’t think it’s really sunk in. Bruce is by far the longest single project I’ve worked on in my comics career. I don’t even remember what my life was like before our weekly collaborations.”

JONO: “It’s pretty crazy to think about. For me it’s especially important because Bruce was an idea I had for so long before it was ever a reality. Five years is a really long time.”

When you started the journey did you ever imagine that the comic strip would continue for so long?
JONO: “Not at all. Honestly I thought it would be a few strips and then nothing. In fact, I think after the first year, I was sure Einar would say ‘Well, it’s been nice but I’m done now. See ya!’ I never imagined we would still be doing it all this time later.”

EINAR: “I try not to bring any expectations to a project like this. I figured we’d just keep making strips until you (Gay Iceland) told us to get lost. I’m glad it hasn’t happened yet.”

Are you happy with the reactions the comic strips have received?
“I went into it not really having any specific ideas or expectations about it. It’s been pretty heartwarming to see Bruce be embraced the way he has been. Outside this comic, I’m a stand-up comedian and there have been instances where I’ve met people who only know me as one of the creators of Bruce. That’s pretty cool, and sometimes very humbling.”

EINAR: “I have no idea what our reception is. I don’t like to think about how people react to the strip. I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m a straight dude trespassing in queer space, so I just try to tread carefully, keep my head down and do the work. I wouldn’t be doing this if people told me they were unhappy with my involvement. But the people I meet who know of Bruce have been overwhelmingly positive.”

“I went into it not really having any specific ideas or expectations about it. It’s been pretty heartwarming to see Bruce be embraced the way he has been.”

What have the highligts of your journet with Bruce been – so far?
“For me, it was probably when we went to Harrowgate for our second Thought Bubble Art Festival. We had a nice table setup, made friends, met some other brilliant comic creators and just had a really nice time.”

Jonathan Duffy.

JONO: “For me I think it’s also the comic conventions. I’m always in awe of Einar at those events. He’s really in his element, and I get to sort of stand back and look at this thing we’ve created and it feels really nice.”

EINAR: “Do you remember those two fellas who visited us two Thought Bubbles in a row? They were so nice! I wish I could remember their names.”

JONO: “Yes! I remember them too! But I also can’t remember their names.”

EINAR: “In case they’re reading this, hi fellas! You know who you are.”

For those who are not familar with Bruce the Angry Bear, what are the comic strips about and where does the idea come from?
JONO: “Let’s say it together, Einar!”

BOTH: “Bruce the Angry Bear is a weekly webcomic about a big, angry, hairy, gay man named Bruce who goes on everyday adventures with his partner Spencer in the city of Gaykjavík, which is like Reykjavík, only gayer.”

EINAR: “That’s been our elevator pitch since… well, since we pitched it to you guys. I think it still works.”

How did the idea come into realsation?
“You tell them, Jono. You tell this story better than I do.”

JONO: “Well, the first time Bruce ever entered my mind was way back in 2011 when I was touring Australia with a documentary film I’d made. I was quite twink-y at the time and my film was always scheduled right before a bear-themed romantic comedy called Bear City.

Einar V. Másson.

I kept seeing these bears waiting impatiently for my film to finish because they were really excited to see their bear film. I thought to myself: “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a cartoon character who was just a pissed off bear?” He would just be constantly annoyed and when he’d get really pissed off, he could throw twinks at people like projectiles!

Flash forward to 2016, when I did a talk for TEDxReykjavík, where Einar was volunteering as one of the organizers. He was drawing the speakers during their talks. During the event, he sat down to lunch with me and my good friend Hugleikur Dagsson (who’s both a comic artist and a comedian). During lunch, I mentioned my Bear character, and I remember them both saying it sounded interesting. It was Einar who asked me if I wanted to meet and chat about it more.”

“I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m a straight dude trespassing in queer space, so I just try to tread carefully, keep my head down and do the work.

EINAR: “I could have sworn it was you who asked me to meet and not the other way around!”

JONO: “The next week we met at Te & Kaffi in Kringlan, and he asked me to tell him more about Bruce. As I was talking, I couldn’t help but feel like he wasn’t listening to me at all. He just kept doodling in his book and saying things like ‘ok.’

After about ten minutes, he turned his book towards me and said, ‘Is this Bruce?’ He had been drawing what he thought Bruce looked like based on what I was saying. I remember being so taken aback because it felt as though he had pulled Bruce right out of my head and put him on paper.”

EINAR: “I took it as a very promising sign.”

JONO: “From there we worked on expanding the world a little and developed a supporting cast. We then came up with the first five strips and agreed to pitch them to some media outlets to see if anyone was interested, and the rest I guess is history.”

You’ve previously expressed an interest to expand the world of Bruce, for example by doing an animated series based on the comic strip. Is that idea still on the table?
“Sure! Do you know who’s buying?”

JONO: “An animated series would be amazing. Ultimately I think it would be a real dream to one day have full half-hour animated episodes of Bruce the Angry Bear. I even know how some of the characters will sound.”

What are your plans for the comic strip?
“I think in the future we would love to move towards some more long-form stories. Like a whole book that is just one big adventure.”

Bruce in printed form. You can get in touch with the guys to get a copy.

EINAR: “A full-length graphic novel would be very exciting! It would be fun to break out of the three-four panel format for a change. More immediately, we’re still working on making the comic sustainable. Making Bruce is fun and all, but each strip is a day’s work we could be putting into something more profitable.”

JONO: “It is a lot of work to make just one strip. But also as I said before, it would be nice to take some time to make the equivalent of a full-length TV episode, to make a separate adventure that is a bit of a stand-alone.”

EINAR: “If folks like the sound of that, they should send us a message via e-mail or on social media. They know where to find us!”

JONO: “They can also support us via our Ko-Fi account (ko-fi.com/brucetheangrybear) where folks can donate as little as €1.00 to help us stay in production.”

EINAR: “We also have postcards, buttons, printed collections and stickers at our convention table (when and if we ever visit a convention again), and we can offer custom prints of individual strips that people can frame. Jono, do you think that’s enough shilling?”

JONO: “I think that’s enough for this article, yeah.”

“I’ve always got some irons in the fire – too many, in fact – and I think Jono’s stand-up career is coming back from the dead after 2020 tried to kill it?”

You’ve also worked together on other projects, tell us about that?
“Well, we worked together on some cartoons for the Mannlíf newspaper, but we haven’t done one of those for a full year now.”

„Bruce represents a generation of gay men who at times feel forgotten about. Now, that a lot of those rights have been achieved, he’s not really quite sure how to grasp the current zeitgeist.“

JONO: “Oh yeah, we did do those! Haha! I’m always moving forward, so sometimes I forget things I’ve worked on.”

EINAR: “I almost forgot myself! It’s been a hell of a year.”

JONO: “I really think Einar was the major creative force behind those strips. It’s something I’ve loved watching over the last five years, seeing how Einar’s grown as not just an artist, but also as a comedian.”

EINAR: “As I recall, there were some changes in the editorial staff there. I guess they lost my number in the process, because they haven’t called me since.”

Are you currently or intending to work on something else?

Bruce has foils like Spencer, his boyfriend, to help point out how unreasonable he is.

EINAR: “Well, I’m vice-chairman of the Icelandic Comics Society and we just wrapped up our two gallery shows at the Reykjavík Fringe Art Festival. I’ve always got some irons in the fire – too many, in fact – and I think Jono’s stand-up career is coming back from the dead after 2020 tried to kill it?”

JONO: “Hahaha, yes 2020 tried to kill a lot of things. For me, at the moment my life is mainly spent between learning French (I live in Paris now), and trying to bring my comedy career back again after being dormant for so long. I’m vaccinated, so as soon as travel is allowed, I’m totally available to come to Iceland for annual parties (hint hint).”

EINAR: “I thought we were done shilling?”

JONO: “There’s always room for a little more shilling!”

EINAR: “We’ve got some ideas that we’re kicking around between us, but nothing we’re ready to talk about just yet. I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”

Note: Einar will also host a one-time workshop in character design for comics. The art show is open to the public, but the workshop is limited to 18+ year old attendants.

Both events are free entry.

The art show opens at 5:00pm on Tuesday August 3rd at the Hafnarfjörður public library.

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