All this month, Brian is reviewing different comic books with LGBT themes (LGBT standing for "Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender"), based on submissions from the actual creators of the comic books themselves. Some of those creators sent me their comics, perhaps because I review stuff too! Whatever the reason, I'm going to review them too! Here is an archive of the comics featured so far!
Matt Fagan sent me his collection of Love, his comic strip, which covers the years 2002-2006. It's the continuing saga of Jack and Pokie, two Chicagoans who live just at the poverty line and are always looking for ways to keep their heads above it. It's an interesting look at a couple, because often, in comics, we get people who are either solidly middle-class or somehow never worry about money at all or who are absolutely destitute.
Jack and Pokie aren't as bad off as one of Pokie's friends, Jason, who's homeless, but Fagan does a very nice job showing how difficult it is to survive when jobs aren't plentiful and how clever people have to be to make some money and have some fun. Love isn't depressing at all (there are some depressing parts, but overall, it's a humorous comic), but because Fagan can find humor in the difficulty of life, it becomes a bit more poignant. Fagan walks a fine line pretty successfully throughout the book.
The two principals are refreshingly non-stereotypical in their looks - Jack is a slightly overweight, grizzled dude while Pokie is an aging punk with a wacky and gravity-defying Mohawk - as well as their interaction with each other. If I may indulge in some generalizing, in a lot of comics starring gay characters, it seems like there's always a lot of romantic and sexual drama (even more than in comics with straight characters, which is saying something). Love is nicely devoid of that - Jack and Pokie are in love and nothing ever challenges that. I understand why creators introduce tension into their love stories - the idea is that reading about a stable relationship is boring - but it's not always necessary, as Fagan shows. Jack and Pokie have other things to worry about, and what's great about Love is that their relationship is what provides the stability that allows them to get through other hard times.
The drama comes from other, more interesting areas of their lives, so their relationship is what saves them, especially but not only Pokie, who's far more scatter-brained than Jack is. They're a mature couple, so there's no artificial problems in it.
Fagan does some one-strip gags, but there are also several long-running story arcs. The biggest problem with the book is when Fagan becomes fantastical - there's a couple living in the same house as Jack and Pokie who turn out to be aliens, for instance, which doesn't work too well as a plot point - mainly because he's so good at the down-to-earth stuff and, in some instances, the fantastical stuff is all in a character's imagination, which works very well and puts the "real" fantastical stuff to shame. Pokie Hulks out at one point, for instance, and it's funny because it shows his anger well while still remaining funny, and because when he does Hulk out, he turns into Jack. It's a clever way to show how different, physically, the two men are, but it's also imaginative. The parts with the aliens simply don't work as well.
As I wrote above, a great deal of the book is about both men trying to figure out what to do with their lives so they can make a bit of money.
Pokie works at jobs he doesn't like but is constantly doing wacky art things to feed his creative urges. They vary in success and legality, but they keep him sane. He needs Jack to ground him before he spirals into something dangerous. Jack, on the other hand, is also artistic but much more cautious, and he needs Pokie to push him. This leads to the climax of the volume, a musical Jack stages in a warehouse about zombie unicorns. It's a wonderfully realized play - Fagan writes several lyrics that seem like they would make good songs, while Pokie provides all the special effects - and it shows how well the two men work together. It's really a fantastic way to end the volume (although there is a brief epilogue) because it's a culmination of both Jack's and Pokie's desire to produce art that is both meaningful (the zombie unicorns are allegories, basically) and cheap but make it accessible and good-looking. Fagan actually does a wonderful job showing how things get created and what artists need to go through to bring their visions to the people. It's quite impressive.
Fagan's solid artwork isn't going to astonish anyone, but it works very well for the strip. His characters are diverse in their looks and their clothing, from Jack's rather dull wardrobe to punk diva Loopy Clitoris's outlandish hair.
Fagan shows these people with all their warts and still makes them beautiful - occasionally he'll draw his two leads in bed together, and while neither is terribly attractive, they're gorgeous drawings because Fagan does a nice job showing how well they fit together. He has a wonderful inventiveness, too, as we see when Pokie's masterpiece, the zombie unicorn, appears on stage - Fagan draws it so well that we can believe Pokie cobbled it together from spare parts. Fagan does some nice homages - his "South Park" strip looks like it's straight from the cartoon, his "Life in Hell" strip is uncanny, and some of his pin-ups - Jack, Pokie, Loopy, and Jason as the Fantastic Four, for instance - are wonderful. This is often a very verbose comic, but Fagan does a nice job making sure the art helps tell the story.
Fagan let me know that you can get the book at his Etsy site because the publisher of this volume is out of business. I encourage you to go check it out. If you live in Chicago, you can always go to Brainstorm Comics, which Fagan co-owns. He'll probably sell you a copy!