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A + e 4ever (Lethe Press) is a graphic novel set in an arena far tougher than a Roman coliseum; this story takes place in high school. Asher Machnik is a sensitive, beautiful boy, whose androgynous looks attract some (mostly girls) and infuriate others (mostly homophobic bullies). His beatings, both physical and psychological, by both peers and family, have taken their toll; Asher is terrified of being touched.
Eu (short for Eulalie) is equally a misfit in her own school, a lesbian, with a Goth-punk look, and not many friends. She stumbles into a friendship with new-kid Asher, when she defends him from some bullies, takes a look at his MP3 player, and decides by his tunes they have much to share (and yes, this is a book that includes playlists). Although loneliness brings them together, art saves them, and anyone that’s ever been an artistic outcast in high school will sympathize.
The two teens visit each other outside of school, learn about each others dysfunctional families, go dancing together and basically become both bffs and each others emotional lifeguards. But their growing closeness affects Asher and Eu differently. Eu’s love draws Asher out, and as he becomes bolder in his self discover, he finds what he loves is boys, not Eu. But as Eu becomes more involved, all she wants is Asher.
And so this is a story powered by yearning. Though the book describes itself as a genderqueer tale, it shares with yaoi (boy love manga) a searing energy of unrequited love, a passion that unfulfilled is more gripping to readers than the actual coupling of characters could ever be.
Besides the story, readers should note the creative way this book employs both its art and typography to help tell the tale. The style of the art fluctuates, from abrasive hen scratches to smooth washes of black ink, from manga-esque vignettes to art tableau frames. This is a story slick, professional comic art would ruin. Merey’s art, if more amateur, better parallels the life experiments of the high school characters in its grips.
The typography involves lots of hand lettering, backwards letters, letters obscured with ink stains, and other graphically expressive ways of giving printing emotion. I look forward to seeing future works by Merey to see how both the artwork and lettering grow.
One slight quibble; I wasn’t completely convinced by Eu’s lesbianism. Don’t look for a lot of girl on girl action: it exists mostly offstage, while Eu’s love for Asher and another boy, Trent, get more upfront page play. And though I detest the term fag hag, a big part of this tale, and maybe the best part of it, is it’s accurate observation of the love and agony between a gay man and a woman that can’t quite have him, even if she does sleep with him. Like the film Gypsy 83, this book recognizes the emotional importance of a relationship like this for genderqueer and questioning kids. Yes, it’s painful to read, but the pain is a necessary step towards growing self-awareness and self esteem.
A + e 4ever
by Ilike Merey
Paperback, 9781590213902, 214pp