Graphic novel explores sexuality & self-acceptance

Queen’s alum educates students outside of the classroom

Mark Julien will be discussing his new book on Oct. 19, 2018 at Duncan MacArthur Hall.
Photo supplied by Mark Julien

After years of hiding  his sexuality, Queen’s alum Mark Julien wrote his journey into a graphic novel—Justin Case and the Closet Monster

On Oct. 19, Julien will return to Kingston to share how these experiences and struggles shaped his new book at Duncan Macarthur Hall. 

His graphic novel follows Justin, a closeted gay man who struggles to accept his sexuality. Justin bottles up his identity, fearing how the world would react if he came out.

Then, one day, a monster from a parallel dimension emerges in Justin’s closet. He can’t hide his identity anymore as the monster “helps him to come to terms with being gay,” Julien told The Journal in an interview.  

The story mirrors Julien’s own journey towards self-acceptance. Growing up, he was afraid of sharing the truth and revealing his sexuality. After years of homophobic bullying, Julien said he “definitely had a problem coming out of the closet.” 

“Unfortunately, I became homophobic, and that was my way of dealing with things. I thought that if I pointed a finger at somebody else, then the bullying would stop for me,” Julien said.  

The harassment didn’t stop. 

When he began to study at Ontario College of Art and Design, he realized he was attracted to men.

Before coming to Queen’s for the Artist-in-Community Education program, Julien started writing and illustrating Justin Case and the Closet Monster, but he put it on hold. He thought it was easier to be gay now than it was years ago. His message wouldn’t be relevant anymore. 

When Julien started teaching high school in Kingston, he saw how wrong he was. During his teaching placement, Julien witnessed bullying that mirrored his own experiences growing up. He realized his book could help someone. 

“When I went to teacher’s college and began teaching I realized a lot of the same problems that I faced were still in the classroom,” Julien said. 

This realization came during his time at Queen’s, when he was starting to come out to his classmates and colleagues. After years of living in fear and denial, he was starting to come to terms with his identity and come out to the important people in his life. 

However, it came too late for some.

“My dad got sick with Alzheimer’s disease and so, by the time I was ready to tell my dad, he wasn’t able to understand me anymore,” Julien said.  

In an attempt to reach his father despite his illness, Julien finished Justin Case and the Closet Monster. 

Using a graphic novel allowed Julien to accessibly share his experiences. His dad could listen to the story and hear his son’s truth, without even knowing it. 

It isn’t simply a fantasy graphic novel about a monster. It’s Julien’s own story and his own journey, and a last-ditch effort toconnect to his father. 

He hopes the book will one day be a valuable teaching tool to use in classrooms, engaging with students about what it’s like to come out.  According to Julien, that can be a rare opportunity when teachers face restrictions in the classroom. 

“I think unfortunately there’s not a vehicle for us to be able to talk about these issues with students,” Julien said.

His writing allows him to employ his own approach to education, outside of the confines of a traditional institution. He can teach through public readings of his novel, like the one he will be giving at the Queen’s ACE homecoming event. 

He can teach by continuing to tell Justin’s story—and his own.

“There’s definitely more to Justin’s story than I told in the book. I think a lot of Justin’s journey was the same as my own and I think there’s still a lot of my story I would like to be able to tell,” Julien said. 


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