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!
Today's selections are by Tina Anderson (writer) and Caroline Monaco (artist). Only Words is a longer, manga-sized work, while Diplomatic Immunity is single-issue sized. Diplomatic Immunity costs $6, while Only Words is $12.95.
Neither of these, unfortunately, is all that good. Both seem to function more as straight porn than actual stories, although Diplomatic Immunity is far more egregious in that regard than Only Words.
Perhaps I'm the wrong person to review these, as they're very much in the yaoi manga tradition and therefore maybe I'm missing subtext, but the fact is, neither comic bothers all that much with what most people consider accepted aspects of storytelling, such as characterization and plot. Diplomatic Immunity, in particular, lacks almost anything but sex. That's perfectly fine, but like most porn, it tends to get boring. In Diplomatic Immunity, a "felinoid" (cat person) named Cam is upset because some dude named Kayxon forbid his hunky partner, Lanor, to "play" with Cam, even though Kayxon is away on a "mission." The girl to whom he's whining says that if a partner is away for more than a day, the other is fair game. So Cam goes over to Lanor's house, and they have sex. The "twist" is that "diplomatic immunity" only stands for the person who's away from home, but that's just part of Cam's puckishness, I suppose. That's the entire issue - there's no other point, and the book only exists for Cam and Lanor to fuck each other. It's vaguely insulting to people in a committed relationship, claiming that they're allowed to have sex if they're away from their partner for more than a day, but I'm not going to worry about that. What I am going to worry about is that the comic has no plot, no interesting characters, and no point. Monaco is a fairly decent artist, so if you want to see graphic gay sex drawn well, this might be the comic for you!
Only Words is a more interesting comic, mainly because Anderson has more of a plot on which to hang the sex. It's not as in-depth as it needs to be, but it's intriguing.
The story is set early in World War II, after the Germans invaded Poland. In a Polish town, a young man named Koby, who was studying to be a priest, finds himself as just a regular student and a target of Nazi Youth bullies, led by a villain named Oskar. Koby is the very definition of a straight arrow - he rats out his classmates as a matter of course - but he also harbors a secret desire for Oskar. It's a classic case of the good "girl" yearning for the bad guy - in the yaoi world, there's usually a very clear case of "masculine" man and "feminine" man, and Koby fits the latter role - with the twists that both participants are men and, of course, Oskar must suppress his desires. Plus, Oskar is not just a rascally bad boy; he's truly vile, which adds a disturbing layer to their relationship. Koby dreams about Oskar, and one day, Oskar suddenly announces that he's going to fuck Koby and he tells Koby when and where. Koby, of course, shows up at the appointed place, and Anderson actually gives Oskar some back story which explains his desire for Koby and his cruelty. As I've done a bit of research on yaoi after reading these comics (including the fact that "yaoi" has fallen out of fashion as a term to describe this kind of story), I've discovered that a criticism often levelled at the genre is that one or both of the participants don't self-identify as homosexual, and that definitely describes Oskar, who tries to feminize Koby as much as possible. Naturally, in a book where a Nazi wants to have sex with another man, things don't end well.
This could be a more piercing critique of Nazism's attitudes toward the dominant part of sex and what it meant to be a homosexual who was attracted by the Nazi mystique, but Anderson only skims the surface of the deep psychological scars that Oskar and even Koby bear, so the book comes off as a bit more uncomfortable than it should have been, as we're left with an unsuccessful attempt by Anderson to make a Nazi sympathetic.
There's nothing wrong with pointing out that Nazis were people too and that the reasons they had for what they did were varied and as real as any other motives, but because Oskar is so vicious and because the explanation for why he is that way is so stereotypical, it feels like Anderson simply wanted to focus on the fact that Koby desires the violence of sex with a Nazi and ignore everything else. At the last moment, it feels like she realized that she should give Oskar a bit of personality, but what she does turns him from a monster into a victim, and both nuances are lost. We're expected to shift our feelings quickly from loathing Oskar to pitying him, and neither really works. Koby's lust is a bit more understandable, as Anderson hints that Oskar fulfills his need for order that he had found in the Church before the war, so it's easy for him to fantasize about Oskar dominating him. Their relationship is certainly a twisted one, but while stories of destructive lust can certainly be riveting (and the stuff of Oscar-winning movies in more than one case), this feels like it wants to be that kind of story without the depth of a truly great one. It's definitely more complex than Diplomatic Immunity, but it still lacks the power to move beyond a story about sex.
It was very keen of Anderson to send these to me, and I'd like to thank her. Yaoi is a fascinating genre of manga - perhaps not exactly my cup of tea, as I'm a straight male, but one that could be used to tell some very interesting stories. These two might not be great examples of the genre, but they were kind of neat to read.