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One of the problems with comics anthologies is that they aren’t always good. You’re forced to plod through a lot of not-so-talented and amateur creations, in hopes of discovering one or two slivers of greatness. Famous artists contribute to the call for work, but instead of crafting new, exciting stuff, they dig through their closet and pawn off B-grade comics that no one else would publish, because they know a small publisher will slobber over their big name. It’s rare to find compilations that are as carefully constructed, drawn and written as artist’s individual monograms.
I welcome the second issue of Three, because it’s edited, and it shows (and it’s not only me applauding; editor Rob Kirby was just awarded the 2011 Queer Press Grant). Actually, Kirby’s (Curbside, Boy Trouble) talent in the book is that of acting more as a curator than as an editor, orchestrating and arranging rather than rewriting and micromanaging the stories.
Let’s start with the cover. A three olive salute to Michael Fahy, for his early sixties-toned sketch of vice, the upper panels celebrating wine, (OK, martinis), women and song, the bottom panel housing a rakish ne’er-do-well in a disheveled herring bone suit, hung over and slumped in the corner. An enlarged print of this would look ever so nice in a mid-century wreck room, posted over the davenport, where the children bouncing on its cushions might peer at it and wonder.
“Dragon,” the first story, written by Sina Evil and drawn by Jon Macy, is a sweet tale of the loss of virginity that’s not quite a tale of first love, but certainly is a love story. The comic opens with the narrator out on a date with a cartoonist he admires, dining at a Chinese restaurant. The narrator takes his fortune cookie message to heart: Fate will find a way. But his Chinese zodiac sign, the Dragon, is less promising, especially when his charismatic date tells him, “It means you may or may not exist.” That should be a warning, but of course he crushes out on him, of course they sleep together, of course he gets hurt.
What I liked best about this story was how those first-time fears and I-wonder-if he-likes-me worries cut across gender lines and even gay-straight worrying. It was nice for me, a woman, to know guys also take their fortune cookies so seriously, or wonder, if while reading comics in bed, random accidental touches are really signs of a hoped-for mutual affection. The dragon symbolism that occurred throughout the story worked less well for me, because I couldn’t help but visualize other dragon characteristics like power, fire, and reptilian snarliness, beyond what the story had set up. And while I get taking chances and throwing safe sex to the wind with someone who entrances you, I was with the narrator’s pal Alex who warns him, “Yes, you should be worried,” and I wanted a line or two telling me the narrator didn’t end up with a case of crabs, or something worse.
If I were teaching a course in comics at The Center for Cartoon Studies on collaboration, I would grab a copy of Jennifer Camper and Michael Fahy’s “Help Wanted” to use as an exemplary example of how collaboration can work. This story of a gay love affair in the sixties melds the work of the two artists together so well, it’s difficult to tell who did what. And yes, I’m related to Jennifer Camper (we’re sisters) but that just gave me the opportunity to ask, “How did you two do this? Did you preplan the plot, chat it out before hand, set up specific plot points you would each cover?” No, no, no. She told me, “We had no discussion of the script except that it would be a fifties/sixties style romance comic about two older men.”
I’m not going to spoil the plot; half the fun is following its unexpected twists and turns, and wondering what each artist would make out of this new dilemma, but I give them raves for wrapping up a tale that talks about class, sexuality and race without bogging down the story.
“Nothing But Trouble,” told alternately by Craig Bostick and David Kelly, is a cowboy story with influences that would probably include Hank Williams I, some Brokeback Mountain and “Papa was a Rodeo.” A country singer out on the road falls for a cowpoke hooker (rent boy is too Eurotrash a word for a 1950s cowboy bar), and like a good song, can’t get the guy out of his mind. Things don’t exactly work out, but then again, country singers and cowboys are meant to ramble ‘round. The green and red coloring, highlighted throughout with dark shadows, gives a good echo of loneliness to this search for gay love, in a time and place when it was verboten.
For more information or to, check out Kirby’s website: www.robkirbycomics.com
Edited by Rob Kirby
Rob Kirby Comics
Paperback, 9780615480619, 32pp