News & Politics

LGBTQ Pioneer Barney Frank’s Story Is Now a Graphic Novel

The author explains why the ex-congressman makes a good comic.

Drawings by Eric Orner.

Eric Orner is known for a comic strip, “The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,” which had a long run in the Washington Blade and other gay papers, but he’s also worked in politics, mainly for former congressman Barney Frank. A few years ago, Frank asked Orner if he’d tell his story. “He said he had some reservations about the books about him,” Orner recalls. “He wished there was something that captured the humanity and the struggle.” Orner’s not a biographer, so he was uncertain. “I kicked it around before I thought, ‘Well, I could draw it.’ ” The result is the new graphic novel—er, biography—Smahtguy, which captures Frank’s closeted early life; coming out and surviving a sex scandal; and his Capitol Hill career. Click the arrow next to the image below to read an excerpt and see Orner’s thoughts on how he approached the project.

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This article appears in the May 2022 issue of Washingtonian.

Senior Managing Editor

Bill O’Sullivan is senior managing editor; from 1999 to 2007, he was a features editor. In another lifetime, he was assistant managing editor. Somewhere in the middle, he was managing editor of Common Boundary magazine and senior editor at the Center for Public Integrity. His personal essays have been cited three times among the notable essays of the year in The Best American Essays. He teaches at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.