Towards the end of the 80s Jeff Allan began living a double life as an illustrator. His most widely known work was a children’s cartoon strip – Eric the Echidna – in the Sydney Sun Herald. But from 1989 he had also turned his hand to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll (well, dance music anyway) with Living with Adam in Sydney’s queer weekly The Sydney Star Observer.
‘Adam‘ quickly became one of the most popular features in the Observer but it was almost five years before Jeff became aware of that when he finally got feedback from the paper’s Editor.
His full-time job was as a graphic designer for Fairfax Limited, the publishers of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sydney Sun-Herald. It was while he was in this role that he created Eric the Echidna and a range of his Outback friends. But in 1989 a friend of a friend asked him if he’d like to produce a regular political cartoon strip for the Star Observer.
With a limited interest in politics Jeff asked if he could do a lifestyle strip instead – and Adam, his partner Rick, their two cats and a variety of queer friends were born. One of the reasons for its success is that it reflected the day-to-day aspects of gay life; the downs as well as the ups; the anxieties and arguments within relationships as well as the parties, the characters – and even the pets! Despite it reflecting a world that was, in every sense, a long way from Eric the Echidna, Jeff felt relatively comfortable with it due to its limited circulation within the Sydney queer community. It was, as he describes it, “under the radar”).
Nonetheless, he did feel it best to advise the Cartoon Editor at the Sun-Herald, who was a staunch Christian. Surprisingly – but happily – he was very supportive so Adam and Rick continued their antics and relationship.
Interestingly, despite its timing, ‘Adam’ never touched on HIV/AIDS. This was a deliberate decision by Jeff, who saw his strip as a small bit of respite to the AIDS articles and obituaries that surrounded the cartoon in the Star Observer at that time.
Jeff was also keen to show that it was possible to be in a gay relationship and still enjoy the sex, drugs and partying.
“Everything I had seen in gay papers seemed to be saying that the best thing about being gay was being single and fucking everyone…That didn’t reflect my own lifestyle – I’ve been in long-term relationships all my life – and I wanted to show that you could still have a gay relationship and all the fun at the same time.”
This view very much shaped how Jeff portrayed his characters – but also where he was willing to have them used outside the cartoon strip. For example, he turned down a contract with a gay men’s venue Headquarters because, “I didn’t want my characters out there.”
At the same time, he did do some work for HIVAIDS charities such as the AIDS Council. He donated the final strip of Living with Adam to a charity auction for the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation; an organisation that provided financial and material assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS. It raised $1,000 (and is probably worth a lot more now).
He also did some work for me when I was trying to promote HIV/AIDS services in my Area Health Service in Sydney. I knew it wouldn’t be appropriate to use Adam or Rick but I wanted to create characters that could well have been in their social circle. It was, for me, a way of conveying to my target audience that our services understood the local community. There is an example of Jeff’s work below.
Jeff clearly enjoyed doing Adam – when the combined workload of Eric and Adam became too much he chose to give up Eric, despite his much wider audience. Living with Adam continued until 2004, and only ended then because Jeff no longer had the studio space to produce it. So, who knows, Adam and Rick may return again one day.