The “Love is Love” anthology, co-published in late-December by IDW Publishing and DC Comics, gave itself an impossible goal: provide a meaningful response to a senseless act. In some ways, this is the aim of all art: to try and make sense of a world that’s meaninglessly cruel and unfair. For queer art, though, especially queer art responding to a tragedy, there is often the added pressure to tell the right story, in the right way. In part, this is so a homophobic world won’t weaponize our own mourning against us, but it’s also because we’re conscious of how many times our story has been told in offensive, stereotyped or whitewashed ways.
“Love is Love” succeeds by instead telling as many different queer stories as it can.
There are dozens of pieces in “Love is Love,” by both straight and queer creators, each a page or two in length. Despite the variety, a few recurring themes emerge. There are moving tributes to the dead. There are calls to courage and anthems to self-love. Some comics celebrate the gay club as a sacred space, a holy ground of safety and celebration. Some focus on the reactions of those who heard the news – how they felt, how they explained it to their children. Others dramatize the events inside the club. Still others cover the queer experience in relationships, as an adolescent, or just living in a homophobic world.
This variety reflects both the richness of queer experience and the complexity of queer liberation. The mainstream LGBTQ+ movement’s emphasis on monogamous, romantic love has been fairly criticized as a cheapening of queer personhood, suggesting that our rights to breathing, working and living free of harassment are somehow less compelling when we’re single. Some of the comics in “Love is Love” address this, talking back to their own title, while others wrap their arms around the idea of love in the face of violence. Both approaches are right, and both are included in the anthology.
Like all collections, “Love is Love” has high points and low points. Some stories focus a little too indulgently on the creators’ own reactions to the shooting, providing a bit of ally theater instead of a tribute. Some are in questionable taste. Some pages really don’t acknowledge that most of the victims were brown. Some offer solutions that are too easy; others paint in too broad strokes.
However, for me, these mis-steps were swallowed up by the overall force of the anthology.
“Love is Love” succeeds, ultimately, because it uses an incredibly meaningful format. Because each creative team’s entry is so short, “Love is Love” reads less like a typical anthology and more like a horrifying, inspiring scrapbook. There’s rarely enough narrative on the page to feel like a full story (with some exceptions). Instead, each piece feels like a snapshot, and the book as a whole is more like a massive accumulation of images, anecdotes and moments. And honestly? That’s the genius of it.
The best part about “Love is Love” was the overwhelming sense that there are a lot of us queer folk in the world. And yeah, some of us are a little tasteless, or silly, or overwrought, but we’re not going anywhere. The weight of all those dance scenes, teary eyes, kisses, raised fists, and, hell, even giggling licensed characters is heady stuff, regardless of each individual story. “Ye are many — they are few,” is still a powerful refrain, and that’s really the strongest takeaway from “Love is Love.” We’re not alone.