Terry Blas is a man of many hyphenates.
His Twitter profile describes him as a "Mexican-American-Ex-Mormon- Queer-Author-Illustrator." But even that doesn't cover all of it. Lately, he can add another credit to the list: swordsmith.
The Portland comics artist forges his blades with ink rather than fire and metal. But his custom Pride Swords, which he sells for about $80 on Twitter, represent a fun and defiant way to celebrate Pride's history as a protest. Bearing such attributes as a "golden ponytail blade" that injects a "poison into the body of bigots and homophobes," they follow in the great fantasy tradition of blades like Stormbringer and Excalibur that are bound to their wielders.
"I thought that was such a great, funny idea to be able to march with a sword that would protect you that was very personal to you," says Blas. "So I made one for myself."
Blas' sword includes a skull, a common image in Mexican art, and a blade forged from the horn of the gayest of all legendary beasts: the unicorn. It's a microcosm of Blas' art, which is strongly informed by his queer and Mexican American identity, where Mexican folk iconography coexists alongside drag queens, rainbows and other brash symbols of gayness.
He's adept at realistic paintings, but he's made his name with his cheery cartoons, many of which feature his smiling, goateed avatar. His best-known work is You Say Latino, a 2015 short comic in which he explains the difference between oft-conflated terms like Hispanic and Latino with easy graphics and gentle good humor.
His most recent graphic novel, Hotel Dare, follows a set of siblings through strange, supernatural occurrences at their grandmother's hotel in Mexico. Another, Dead Weight, is a "queer murder mystery" set at a fat camp. Most of his work is for younger audiences, and he stresses the importance of representation in his art.
"When kids don't see queer characters in stories and cartoons," he says, "the message they're getting is that they don't exist."
Blas was born in Northern California and grew up between Boise, Idaho, and various cities in Mexico. His father is a white man from Utah, and his mother is Mexican. Both were Latter-Day Saints. Though Blas was raised Mormon, he began to question the religion after "being told in church [being] gay is a sinful lifestyle."
"I knew that the things I was experiencing were natural, and they weren't a choice," he says. "So I checked out mentally from the church at a very young age."
Still, he went on a customary mission at age 19, so as not to "bring shame to the family." Expecting to be sent to a Spanish-speaking country, he instead spent two years in the Bronx. He describes his mission as "going through the motions," but he was able to improve his Spanish. He describes his time in New York in the short comic Ghetto Swirl, named after a "street name" he acquired due to his mixed heritage.
"I think it's very telling that when I finished my mission," he says, "I drove straight to L.A. and never went to church again."
After a few years in Los Angeles, Blas moved to Portland in 2006. He'd been into cartoons and comics since he was a kid, taking inspiration from Disney movies. But he came to Portland, home of publishing houses like Oni Press and Helioscope, to get serious about his art and be closer to his family in Idaho. He studied illustration at Pacific Northwest College of Art, graduating in 2010, and soon found gigs doing covers for licensed Cartoon Network comics like Adventure Time and The Amazing World of Gumball.
Blas came out to his sister at age 25, but it took him another five years to tell his parents. He recalls his father asking if he engaged in any homosexual behavior during his mission. He replied that he saw The Lion King on Broadway.
Blas says his parents were more willing to accept his sexuality when they realized a queer person wasn't an abstract concept you might learn about in church or on a TV comedy but a real human being who could be a member of their own family.
"I felt like the best thing I could do was to just like live a good life and be happy," says Blas, who recently moved to a quiet abode in West Linn with his husband, "so that people who are told that queer people are sinning or are bad can see an example through me."
That applies to his art as well: If it helps someone in America's straightest, whitest places to see queer people and people of color as more than just concepts, then Blas considers it a job well done.
Aside from his swords, Blas is mum about most of the projects he's working on. He has a graphic novel slated for 2021 that he says is about "teenagers and senior citizens and a theme park."
That's all he's willing to divulge. Knowing Blas, though, it's probably about a lot more than that.