Comix Love

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TIME.comix launched one year ago with a review of a love comic, so let's try making that an annual tradition, what with Valentine's Day just past. Issue #2 of "True Story Swear to God" by Tom Beland (Clib's Boy Comics; 40pp; $2.95) continues a series that may be painful to read for some — like me. Sub-titled "The true story of a real-life romance," the series chronicles the author's meeting and courting of the love of his life. It can be pretty brutal stuff for the lonely and bitter, yet hopeful too, told as it is with such enthusiasm and charm.

"True Story Swear to God" #2

If you weren't assured that it all really happened, you would certainly be compelled to toss it away as contrived nonsense. The first issue focused on The Meeting, which took place at Disney's "Magic Kingdom" in Orlando, a detail that would have been intolerable if a story so sincere had been fiction. The key first contact moment — the one that a great many fictional romances leave out because it is always unbelievable — happens when Tom asks a woman on an empty bus if he can sit near her and she says yes. Assuming any man deeply in love is to be believed, what followed was the ultimate serendipitous date, including a Stevie Wonder concert, dancing and long conversations of natural intimacy. The despondent; the cynical will never read a more challenging book.

Beland's drawing style enhances the light and happy tone. Rendered in black and white, his fat lines are all soft curves that form simple but recognizable caricatures. The expressive figures have an animated look that may remind you of Warner Brothers cartoons. The eyebrows float around the character's heads like caterpillars dangling from invisible threads. Beland also keeps the layouts nicely varied but always easy to read.

Tom and Lily float on air

The second issue introduces the problem: Lily lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Tom lives in California, 15,000 miles away. After a single encounter they must consider how much it meant and whether the distance between them is surmountable. For anyone noticing Beland's Puerto Rico mailing address on the letters page, though, the suspense is ruptured. But the reason you read "True Story" is its vulnerability. It has completely let its guard down, as I suppose you need to do to fall in love. So we see Tom visiting his parent's grave and talking to them, and when Lily arrives in California for a visit he simply admits, "I'm so happy I could cry right now. Hell... I probably am."

But even though Beland shows us his tender side, I wish for more depth. What of the sex? So far it has none, since I guess there wasn't any up to this point, but surely he thought about it? It's an awfully chaste book. We've had some incredibly personal comix about relationships that go wrong, including Julie Doucet's "Dirty Plotte," David Chelsea's "David Chelsea in Love," and most excruciatingly, Joe Matt's "Peepshow." An artist who shows something that goes right needs to work harder to find the (inner) conflict. For people like me, "True Story" has a "what if?" appeal akin to science fiction — but those who have a more productive sex life may find it superficial.

Tom Beland's "True Story Swear to God," has an almost unheard of agenda in comicbooks. It aims to be a "feel-good" work. Lord knows we could use more of that in our lives, but it's a pretty low bar for art. Certainly as a work of fiction this series could be easily dismissed as impossibly cute and unbelievable. Yet it happened. So instead it has the charm and delights of a real fairy tale.

"True Story Swear to God" can be found at better comicbook stores.