Editor’s Note: With Valentine’s Day coming up tomorrow, we’ve declared this the week of Robot Love and resurrected I ♥ Comics. In one of our favorite features, various comics creators, bloggers, retailers and fans discuss the things they love about the medium.
By Laura Hudson
A beautiful college student falls in love with two of her professors, both lonely academics and outcasts who happen to be close friends. The book opens on young Vary propositioning one of them – both out of genuine affection and desire for a better grade – only to be rebuffed and passed to the other, who accepts her offer in a way that she never could had imagined.
Did I mention that the latter professor, Dr. Shar, is a giant talking dinosaur whose idea of being pleasured is running at top speed down highways while Vary clings to his back? Or that his less indulgent friend, Dr. Zivancevic, is a blind, exiled misanthrope who walks around on giant mechanical ostrich legs? Or that Vary is majoring in prostitution?
Welcome to Finder.
Creator Carla Speed McNeil has summoned a world where the feudal and futuristic mingle together freely, where the prejudices and superstitions of tribes and clans and guilds coexist with sentient artificial intelligences (Vary’s best friend is a anthropomorphic Pomeranian construct), and infojacks that feed books, movies and even emotions directly into the brain. And then there is the place where the two worlds meet: the strange sort of magic that lingers at the edges of digital and tribal realms, in the place where what is true becomes more important than what is real.
I’m focusing here on the sixth volume, Mystery Date, both because I accidentally left my favorites (Dream Sequence, Talisman and King of the Cats) at New York Comic Con, and because this volume trades the series’ recurring themes of imagination, religion, and guilt to focus on arguably the most controversial and interesting thing in the world: sex.
Sexuality is a very fluid and multivalent thing in the domed city of Anvard, where members of one homogenous clan have nearly identical genders, licensed prostitution is referred to simply as “The Art,” and people who only date one gender (same or opposite) are referred to as “monosexual,” a minority preference that is seen as a valid choice, if odd and perhaps a little provincial.
Mystery Date’s protagonist, Vary, sees her chosen profession – sexcraft – as a way not just to gratify others but to heal them, a complicated undertaking that requires licensing and extensive education. “All of the truly great artists are healers,” says Vary. “It’s the soul and substance of the art. Without it, we’re just playthings, party favors, or worse.”
Prostitutes – at least, the licensed ones – are far more akin to geisha than simple whores whose bodies can be bought for cash; they are sophisticated, selective artisans who cater to high-class clientele, accept patrons only when they wish, and can sometimes achieve the status of celebrities. “Sex is the greatest of the arts,” Vary insists earnestly to Zivancevic. “It naturally perfumes all existence.”
Like many young women, Vary has made something of hobby of taking in stray cats and rescuing broken birds, which is precisely what makes Zivancevic so irresistible to her. He is, of course, broken, not just because he is blind and legless, but because everything about his misanthropy screams of the preemptive strike of a wounded heart.
She wonders at one point why she hasn’t been granted her prostitution license, and of course this is precisely why; she hasn’t learned the most important rule of both love and therapy: that nobody ever really gets saved. That the most we can do is hold people up while they go about the business of saving themselves.
My favorite panel of the book comes when Vary and Zivancevic find themselves in the wilderness outside of Anvard, observing the elaborate mating rituals of Shar and his people, the Laeske. (Although defining what a “person” is in Finder is no simple matter.) After yet another failed attempt at seducing Zivancevic, Vary walks out into the rain in frustration, strips off her clothes, and lifts her face to the sky, reveling in the ecstasy of living in the moment as the brilliantly plumed Laeske turn up their chins and do the same.
It is a moment that crystallizes something visceral and essential about the character without offering or needing any explanation, and for the careful and intelligent reader, this is precisely what the series does best. Finder offers a window into a fantastically imaginative and detailed world, and as a special favor, forgoes exposition in favor of letting you explore it on your own. It comes to life not simply because it is great storytelling, but because it is great comics, which means that it uses every tool at its disposal – both textual and visual – to create a vivid, living place I could never have seen or understood quite as well in any other medium.
So why do I love comics, exactly? Because at their best, this is what they are: a bilingual form of art that can switch seamlessly between the language of pictures and the language of letters, offering readers something that can say more than either one ever could. I love comics because between those two worlds of expression there is magic at the edges, there is alchemy that can turn ink into skin and song and gold. I love comics because they tell me what can’t be shown, and show me what can’t be said, and in the gestalt between the two I believe there is nothing in this world or any other that they cannot hold.
“Imperfections make the gods draw near,” says Vary, shortly before the close of the story. “Gods love nothing better than to break perfect things.”
Heaven forbid they find Finder.