In a panel from his 1991 comic 8 Pillars of Gay Culture, Maurice Vellekoop depicts a little boy in a makeshift dress as he performs, for a few playmates, the iconic line delivered by Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in the classic 1950 film Sunset Boulevard: “I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille.” It’s a misquote frequently made, but Vellekoop quickly clarifies, in a caption underneath, that the boy “hasn’t seen the film yet; only the Carol Burnett spoof.”

With this little snapshot, Vellekoop captures the fascination certain pop culture touchstones hold for generations of gay men, and exploring this sometimes ineffable “gay sensibility” fueled much of Vellekoop’s comics work in the decades following. Now, thirty-plus years later, Vellekoop again references Burnett’s 1970s television show, using her famous end-of-the-night catchphrase as the title of his first full-length graphic memoir, I’m So Glad We’ve Had This Time Together (Pantheon), a coming-of-age story mixed with an unsparingly honest family history—so unsparingly honest that his mother, a conservative Christian who has wrestled with her son’s sexuality, dreaded its publication.

Speaking via Zoom from his home on Toronto Island, where he lives with his longtime partner, Gordon Bowness, the dapper 59-year-old Toronto native says that his initial impetus for writing this memoir was “just to tell an interesting, odd story about triumphing over a lot of adverse circumstances.” Among those adverse circumstances were growing up gay in a strict Dutch Christian community with loving but difficult parents, which led, Vellekoop said, to conflicted relationships, guilt, depression, and, eventually, a touch of self-hatred. Throughout the book, Vellekoop notes his wide-ranging pop cultural obsessions, from Walt Disney’s Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty and such 1970s sitcoms as Bewitched in his early years to a deep love of La Traviata and other operas in adulthood.

Immediately after graduating from Ontario College of Art in 1986, Vellekoop began working as a professional illustrator at Reactor Art and Design, where he enjoyed a long and successful career. But in the 2000s, work assignments began to slow down. By 2012, he reports “having a bit of a midlife crisis, because the illustration work was just not coming through anymore.” Inspired by such graphic memoirs as Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and the cringe-comedy frankness of such television series as Lena Dunham’s Girls, Vellekoop began musing about the eccentricities of his own life—and felt he had enough to fuel a compelling and honest narrative.

Vellekoop’s comics career was initially sporadic. Inspired especially by Raw artists including Jerry Moriarty (Jack Survives) and Mark Beyer (Agony), he created the zines Fear, in 1986, and Guilt, in 1989. Reactor used them to publicize Vellekoop’s work to potential clients. Though these comics felt like more of a lark for him, they lead to professional comics gigs. “I stumbled into this relationship with [Canadian comics publisher] Drawn & Quarterly,” he said. “They were publishing an anthology about twice a year in the early-to-mid nineties. And I would always contribute to them, just for fun.” But comics, he noted, were never his primary focus back then.

Nevertheless, Vellekoop kept at it, gaining a loyal fan base for a variety of lushly colored comics that ranged from such charming, evocative slice-of-life urban vignettes as “Music” and “Night Bus” to campy, overtly gay humor pieces such as “Homoman.” In 1997, Drawn & Quarterly published his first book, Vellevision, an outsized, full-color compendium of all of Vellekoop’s published comics and stories to date, including some pages from his art school days.

In 1998 Vellekoop created his second book, Maurice Vellekoop’s ABC Book (Gates of Heck), a lighthearted book of gay erotica in the form of an elementary school primer (“F is for Firemen, sliding down poles”). It was popular enough to generate a second printing in 2000 from Green Candy Press. Vellekoop credits both this book and a semi-sequel, Pin-ups (Green Candy, 2008), with paving the way for his ability to be so honest in his current memoir. “I would highly recommend publishing two books of gay erotica before you write your memoir,” he joked. “Because when you do that, you are exposing your sexual fantasies to complete strangers. It was good preparation.”

Other books Vellekoop produced in the 2000s and 2010s including A Nut at the Opera (Drawn & Quarterly, 2006), a lavishly drawn, affectionate satire of the denizens of the opera world inspired by Vellekoop’s dear friend and major opera aficionado, Paul Baker, who also plays a large role in the new memoir. There’s also The World of Gloria Badcock (Koyama, 2011), a one-shot erotic comic book starring the titular fun-loving, sexually adventurous heroine along with her gay best friend, “renowned inventor” Dr. Cornelius.

Vellekoop’s work on I’m So Glad spanned from late 2012 to early 2023. He received some much-needed help along the way, nabbing two Canadian Arts Council grants and an Ontario Arts Council grant, all of which helped support him through the first few years. Meanwhile, he made ends meet with work on three animation projects and on several assignments for Criterion.

Vellekoop found that detailing the intimate, sometimes unflattering details about himself became easier as he went along. But he ultimately had to contend with depicting his parents and their fraught histories. He was particularly nervous about what his mother’s response might be, but she died in 2021. Noting that she was a deeply private person, he confessed: “In a way, I'm glad that she's not around anymore and won’t have to endure the publicity.” Vellekoop’s volatile father, who died in 2007, could be very difficult to deal with, but was surprisingly accepting of his son’s sexuality. Though Vellekoop said that his father was ultimately “unknowable,” he guesses that his dad would have been proud of him.

When asked if writing the book was therapeutic for him, Vellekoop is emphatic in his reply. “No,” he said. “Therapy was therapeutic.” He added that he’s comfortable with the finished work, and looks forward to ushering it out into the world. He hopes readers will connect with his story, musing aloud that “when we realist cartoonists offer up ourselves in our storytelling, we’re aiming for some kind of universal truth.”