Author Archives: benchoward

Panels To Chords Ninety – Nine Righteous Men

Ben and Madi are back for a all-new episode of Panels To Chords! This time, they’re talking about K.M. Claude’s Ninety-Nine Righteous Men, the cult hit webcomic about two priests with a shameful history between them that must join forces to vanquish a demonic being of lust possessing a helpless choir boy. It’s sexy, blasphemous and darker than your morning coffee. Just what the doctor ordered!

Panels To Chords: On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

On this episode of Panels to Chords, Ben and Maddi take a look at the webcomic sensation On A Sunbeam, now coming in print this month from First Second. It’s a tale of space exploration, young love, and growing as a person. Ben and Maddi got quite the playlist for this book, a combination of emotional sincerity and scifi nerdiness.

NOTE FROM BEN: “Sorry for some of the weird audio on Maddi’s end. I had to edit it because some parts were a little low. I did not make the volume consistent enough, unfortunately. Hope ya’ll don’t lose your hearing! Earphone users beware!”

Here’s Maddi’s playlist:

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4CmnS6MougaFY5PC9Wg7Cr?si=uKwDZWwVSpquiv1Vi1jwyg

Panels to Chords: Talking Instrumental with Creator Dave Chisholm

In this latest episode, Ben and Madi chat with the creator of the musical comic Instrumental, Dave Chisholm. He tells us about how the book came to be and how creating a concept album adds a new layer to the reading experience.

Instrumental is available from Z2 Comics and can be purchased at Amazon, local comic shops and bookstores.

The concept album is available at Bandcamp:

 

Panel To Chords: Instrumental by Dave Chisoholm

NEW EPISODE OF PANELS TO CHORDS. This time, Ben and Maddi review Instrumental by Dave Chisoholm, a comic about a struggling trumpet player wanting to become the best musician he can, but he might inadvertently bring on the apocalypse in the process. Instrumental is a unique reading experience with a concept album by the writer/artist. What better way to talk about comics and music then a comic with original music to accompany it?

Dave Chisholm’s bandcamp for the concept album:

Review: Bingo Love

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If you read my reviews regularly, you might notice that I have a certain preference for the type of comics I read. Usually, my choices are dark stories involving serious themes ranging from trauma to war. Because of these preferences, I mostly read horror, dark fantasy, or crime dramas. Despite this preference, I have explored other genres, such as slice-of-life with Slang Pictorial. There is one genre that I have rarely explored, romance. The only one I’ve read so far is Stejpan Sejic’s wonderful lesbian BDSM romcom Sunstone. I think the lack of recognition for romance’s legitimacy are bad misconceptions, mostly societal. Literary elites tend to look down on romance as frivolous and poorly written. But why? Any genre can be either good or bad based on the story’s quality. Romance is a chance to explore love and bonding in ways other genres can’t when it’s simply a subplot to the larger narrative. Also, what’s wrong with reading something that makes you happy? Why not escape into a fictional story about two people finding true love, adoring each other, and having a fantastic adventure of joy?

Which brings us to today’s review of Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jen St. Onge, Joy Sann, Cardinal Rae, and Gisele Lagace. I didn’t know what to expect since this was my first black queer romance, but I’m happy to say it turned out to be a beautiful, albeit short, reading experience.

Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray are a queer couple that first met when they were teenagers during the 1960s. They fell in love but were separated by bigoted family members, then forced into unhappy marriages with men. Over 50 years later, they reunite at a bingo tournament, the same kind of tournament they first met in. They realize this is fate bringing them back together, but first they must come out to their families and deal with the fallout. Only true love can guide them to eternal happiness.

If you love the description of the story, buckle up! You’re going to love it even more after I’m done talking about it.

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The cover by Gisele Lagace is not as flashy as other comic covers I have seen, but it succeeds in a task way more important, which is advertising the contents of the story. We have three images of the couple, Mari and Hazel, together in different stages of their lives: teens, old age, and advanced old age. We see them together, embracing, looking at each other like they’re the whole world. Bingo balls fall all around, the title of the book in the upper left-hand corner. We know by looking at this cover that this is a romantic story spanning different stages of two women’s lives. We know somehow bingo is going to play into this. Most importantly, the positive feelings the cover inspires attracts the reader to the title. It’s perfect.

 

The first thing to grab my attention was the interior art. Jenn St. Onge’s character designs are diverse with unique hairstyles, body types, and facial structures. Readers might notice a good number of characters with similarities, but that’s largely because of the fact the majority are family members. Actually, it’s refreshing to have an artist know that family members are going to look similar to each other, particularly how children are a combination of their parents with features from both even if they resemble one parent more than the other. I love that people in Bingo Love have wrinkles, stretch marks, folds of fat and muscle, sagging breasts from age and breastfeeding, and other such tiny details. It adds a level of, if not realism, relatability to a style that’s otherwise cartoony.

Joy San’s coloring is fleshes out the art. She not only gives characters their unique skin tones, she renders the entire comic with an unnatural brightness. This is not a negative criticism but a compliment because this type of coloring heightens the emotions of the book to surreal, dream-like qualities. It’s like escaping into a fantasy realm of intense love. This is no more apparent than in splash pages. Many of them are used during the most intense moments of romance, such as here:

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The coloring and character expressions are both fantastic and relatable, capturing the intense joy one feels when in these moments. It truly feels like a fairy tale come true. This includes scenes of family spending time with each other, grandparents hugging their grandchildren, siblings socializing with each other and their in-laws. My favorite is this splash page of a dinner table:

If I weren’t a vegetarian, I would’ve immediately cooked up this exact meal after looking at the image.

All this said, I found that the most romantic moments were quieter scenes, gradual multi-panel sequences showing the build up to an embrace or kiss. The reason is that the quietness allows emotion to linger, to slowly, like a wave, grow with each splash. This is much more intense than the payoff. It operates on the polar opposite, yet same line, that marks great horror.

The mastermind behind the story is Tee Franklin who delivers a story that is both relatable and unique. She starts off by establishing the two main characters so well. Hazel Johnson is plus-sized and shy, but also very passionate about the people she cares about. Mari McCray is more extroverted, a Californian tomboy that loves new experiences and very upfront about her feelings. We see their relationship in three parts: Youth, Old Age, and Advanced Old Age. The most recognizable is Youth. It starts off with the recognizable trope of Meet Cute, in which a future couple meets for the first time. The setting is a bingo tournament both girls accompany their grandmothers to, hence how bingo plays such a significant role in the story. Next time the girls meet, it’s in school, and after what can be considered an unofficial first date, they become friends throughout middle and high school.

 

Watching Hazel and Mari’s teen romance uses many tropes and story beats from romance that I have taken for granted over the years. There is the aforementioned meet cute moment, the first date, walking each other home from school, the first kiss, etc. I hadn’t realized how enjoyable these tropes are, the good feelings that they give you. If we must justify them on a more intellectual level, they dramatize the core of positive human bonding: meeting people, talking to them publicly or privately, and understanding them through a combination of small talk and personal anecdote. The result is an organic relationship that develops through mutual adoration. The mark of true love is being able to listen to your partner with the same attention about a new favorite album as you would a serious revelation of personal issues.

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Old Age does the reunion trope seen sometimes when a couple has been distant for a number of years. It’s fresh here because it is Hazel and Mari as senior citizens and not 20-30 somethings like most of the time. Along with reconnecting, they also deal with the fact they are both married women with families. Intense emotions and buried tensions surface as Hazel and Mari navigate to their eventual happy ending. Then there is Advanced Old Age in which the couple must face the reality of mortality (No spoilers). It was a truly engaging reading experience. Advanced Old Age comes after the conflict of Old Age is resolved. Hazel, Mari, and their families have adjusted to their new lives. This is the “honeymoon”, the moment the couple gets to be together and go on fantastic journeys. They get to live out their dreams once the shackles are broken. Their love is powerful even at the end. Oh, and of course, bingo is how they reunite. Bingo doesn’t serve much else than a setting for the two distinct romantic catalysts (love at first sight and reunion), but it works. Also, it legitimizes an activity often looked down upon, much like romance stories.

What made reading Bingo Love also enriching is that it is told from fresh perspectives, specifically black and queer. I can’t remember the last time since I read August Wilson where black people were allowed to interact with each other as actual humans, in churches and at home, sitting around and talking. They are allowed the same complexity and emotional range often reserved for slice-of-life stories populated solely by white people. And Bingo Love is slice-of-life as much as it is romance. It’s not just the love of romantic couples but that of families with all the baggage it comes with.

Without giving away too much, Hazel’s family find out about her relationship with Mari. They take it hard, especially Hazel’s husband James. He yells at her, they fight, and years of tension gets worse. I give Tee Franklin credit in that no one comes off as truly a bad guy. Everyone has their reasons for the way they’re reacting to the situation. Although some of it is confusing, such as with James. He gets portrayed as a loving husband and provider, but Hazel is uninterested in sex except for the times they have a child. Later it is revealed that James only ever had sex with Hazel when he wanted children. That means James was the one in the wrong all this time, but at the beginning the refusal of sex seemed more like Hazel not wanting to it because she didn’t love him, not that she was made to only when he wanted children. We do learn that James had a secret that fueled his need to find validation in having children. I won’t give away what it is, but it’s not that hard to figure out. There is a separate story online that tells his side of the story. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m eager to.

As I analyzed this conflict, I slowly realized the real culprit: a two-headed hydra of homophobia and patriarchy. The earliest hint is an occurrence that seems to happen often, a homophobe that is a hypocrite. They will go on about how much homosexuality is a sin while having their own misconduct that’s worse. It’s just a small part though. The larger societal context is not only how homophobia keeps Hazel and Mari from being happy together, but how it forces them into restrictive woman roles. They must be married to men, they must have children, must sacrifice their happiness for that of their families. Hazel becomes a housewife, even though she dreams of being a fashion designer. Mari becomes a lawyer, but many of the burdens typically dump on women remain. There is a sublime tie between queerphobia and misogyny, one that I do not believe I am knowledgeable enough to go into detail. The fact Bingo Love is able to tackle this issue while still remaining a positive story is a great feat.

I almost forgot, but there are scenes of Hazel participating in serious mental self care, something not often represented except going to support groups or therapy. There is a therapy scene, but it is very meaningful in affirming Hazel’s love for Mari. After that, there is a scene where Hazel helps one of her grandchildren braid their hair, and it brings her so much joy she is able to relax again after a fit of anxiety. It is referred to as self care, demonstrating how it comes in many forms.

My only gripe with the story is that it is so short. I wasn’t expecting Anna Karenina. This is young adult fiction after all. Brevity is key. But I do wish there were multiple volumes of the story. There were so many angles I wanted to see expanded upon. And while I have praised the characterizations of Hazel, Mari, and James, every other character is extremely minor. I wished there as much to Hazel’s children explored as much as her. We do not even get to know the names of Mari’s children or meet her husband. I wish there was more to her side of the story. Take note I bring this criticism up because of how I wanted more after reading. I could have read this title for the next 20 years and never been bored once!

The only other criticisms I have are 1) sometimes the coloring wasn’t done all the way, leaving empty spaces of white. 2) The otherwise effective narration and inner monologue captions by Cardinal Rae were confusing to tell apart at times. Although the former is all capitalized, the caption boxes are both colored yellow. It’s easy to mistake the two.

Bingo Love is a treasure of diversity, love, and joy. It brings fresh, underrepresented faces to romance and comics as a whole. Despite how short it is, one will find themselves lost in the lives of the characters, in the nuances of their personalities and journeys. With the poppy, dreamy art, the fantasy is complete. I urge everyone to pick up a copy of Bingo Love. Support these creators so they can make more comics, whatever it is they do next. Support black voices, queer voices, and love. Most of all, enjoy yourselves. This story will make you happy. We can all use happiness and love in our lives. Whatever helps people get through the day, make someone realize their worth as a person. No matter your ethnicity, gender, sexuality, physical presence/ability, mental health, etc., we all deserve love. Bingo Love affirms that right.

Bingo Love is out on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018 via Image Comics.

Story: Tee Franklin Art: Jenn St. Onge Colors: Joy San
Letters: Cardinal Rae 
Cover: Gisele Lagace
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

(Note: My copy is a pre-order version from before the book’s deal with Image Comics).

Review: Coyotes #4

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*WARNING*: Minor Spoilers

Coyotes #4 concludes the current arc of the series. As the Victorias raid the secret location of the Coyotes, they need the help of their oldest enemy Seff. In the midst of blood, violence, and lost, Red will rise out of the ashes. But will she become the champion of women and girls? Or another predator?

The fun starts with the cover. I haven’t talked a lot about the series’ covers since the first issue, but here it’s just too gorgeous to ignore. The intensity of the all-red palette emphasizes the danger and action, visually solidified with the images of Red carrying an unconscious Eyepatch, great canine beast behind them. The wavy, often chaotic art of Caitlin Yarsky makes this image stick in your head.

Opening up the issue to the first two pages, and we get splashes that blast the promised intensity of the cover at your face. Here, the art’s aforementioned attributes are in full swing to illustrate the messy, savage fighting. A lot that makes this work is the panel layouts. They are the traditional rectangles and squares but also huge and contain abundant details. It’s a significant departure from many western comics that prefer 5-9 panel layouts. There are barely any layouts exceeding more than 4 panels. It reminds me of manga. Less but wider panels makes a scene appear more dramatic. For comparison, here is an image of Coyotes #4 next to Shuzo Oshimi’s Happiness Vol. 1.

However, these larger panels also cause the pacing of the issue to be too quick. In a manga trade with 100+ pages, larger panels work. But in a 20+ page single issue, you finish in under 10 minutes or so. A smooth read sacrifices a feeling of hefty content. Mind you, most American single issue comics have that problem. Most of all though, I feel like the pacing concludes the current art too quickly. The events that transpire are satisfying and have a logical progression, but there should have been a lot more in the middle. I would have, if not add extra issues to the arc, increased the page count of the single issues. This was similarly done in Sean Lewis’ previous project The Few quite effectively.

Don’t let this nitpick eclipse the greatness of the art. It might be short, but each page is a slam dunk. A new trick Yarsky pulls is more experimentation with color. It has always been there, but grayish colors tended to be the primary palette. Now there are scenes with intense shades of orange and red. Now that I think about it, the presence of red ties back to how red has been an ever present color motif. Deducing the meaning of this color has been a challenge, but if I had to guess, it’s about the growth of Red’s character from hapless orphan to Champion of the Victorias.

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Since I’ve mentioned Red’s character arc, it’s time to talk about Sean Lewis’ writing. This issue definitely feels like the characters, particularly the protagonists, are the centerpiece. The Victorias finally face down the Coyotes, and serious power shifts take place. The most significant is of course with Red. She gains higher statues among the Victorias, becoming their champion. This ties back to the power struggle between her and Duchess, where the latter party seemed to have had plans for the young girl but never clear what those were. This lack of clarity gave the impression of nefariousness, an unfair dynamic between master and servant that diminished the Victorias’ feminist agenda. It isn’t clear if Red’s new statues evens it out. Duchess also seems to gain higher statues among the Victorias, which reveals some tension between her and Abuela that wasn’t fully explored due to the pacing. What any of this does to heighten the stakes is for the next arc to expand upon.

I’ve already spoiled enough of the plot, so I’ll try to be a bit more obscure by discussing the feminist theme. This theme has twisted into many directions, but the core is still how patriarchy and toxic masculinity terrify women into submission. Issue #4 doesn’t add another layer so much as it brings this theme to a satisfying triumph for feminism. Watching the Victorias slay the coyotes is satisfying. Hell, the Victorias are so gung-ho that a splash page has them unleashing superpowers, even one popping the claws freaking Wolverine style. Absurdism, the greatest power against patriarchy.

On a more serious note, there are two lines of dialogue from Red that really hit the nail on the hammer regarding these concepts. Free of spoilers, here is the first:

“This is what people do to us. They make us pose. And then they make us disappear.”

It is a commentary on the imagery of harmed women. Mass media is full of these images, from news reports that contain pictures of abuse victims to fiction where a dead woman becomes the protagonist’s motivation. There is a larger discussion on this topic, incredibly complex and too much ground to cover on this review, but there is something sickening about the prevalence of this imagery, yet its consumption is superficial. Women are harmed every day, and while their broken bodies and minds might be remembered (temporarily), themselves as individuals are forgotten. Their suffering, their personal trauma, is stolen and mass marketed to a larger audience without empathy or respect. It becomes a spectacle.

Violence against women is imagery quite common in Coyotes, but often with better context. We are meant to know, understand, and root for these women. Most of all, despite how monstrous it presents the men that commit this violence, it also gets to what drives them: fear.

”Funny when monsters lose their power. They don’t really want to fight. They just want to run.”

I might have mentioned this before, but men’s violence against women is out of fear. Without their beastly forms, the coyotes are just small, weak men. This seems to be a parallel to toxic men in real life, the domestic abusers in meat space and the trolls online. They have deep insecurity in themselves, and women are, for them, easy targets to take that self-loathing out on. They commit their violence while behind a facade of masculinity, but when confronted with women like the Victorias, the facade crumbles even as they act more aggressively. I guess what I’m trying to get at with my rambling is that Sean Lewis is engaging in feminism in an earnest way. It is not perfect, but at least he processes it way better than other men attempting, and failing, to write these type of stories.

That said, the coyotes are a particular case because the coyote forms are forced on them, kind of how like toxic masculinity is forced on us. But are we willing to accept it? The men that become coyotes are on the borderline of how much they just act out to what they are programmed to do vs. inner desires to murder women. It’s a moral conundrum, one that could have been further explored, but, again, the arc was too short. Either way, women should not have to hold the emotional burden of understanding the male violence directed their way, not when it is a case of life or death.

That said, there are men in Coyotes that show positive growth. Detective Frank Coffey goes from cautionary observer to full-blown ally of the Victorias, expressing utter disgust of the coyotes committing violence. Nothing about it seems self-serving. Just like the author Sean Lewis, Coffey is legitimately invested in feminism. Men that engage eagerly with feminism would be an interesting subject for the next arc. Judging by the black and white epilogue of this arc, that might just be the case. I’ll be excited to see how that goes.

Coyotes #4 is, despite minor bumps in the road, a satisfying conclusion to the current arc. The heroes show up and kick serious ass, new possibilities are open up, and Caitlin Yarsky gets to expand on her amazing artistic abilities. I didn’t even go into depth of her amazing lettering this issue.

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I think it speaks for itself.

In fact, this entire comic speaks for itself. Go pick it up. Enjoy the action-packed horror, fantasy, surrealism with an earnest feminist message. It’s one of the best sleeper hits of this past four months, and I hope it continues to grow in success.

Story: Sean Lewis Art: Caitlin Yarsky
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Advance Review: Bingo Love

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If you read my reviews regularly, you might notice that I have a certain preference for the type of comics I read. Usually, my choices are dark stories involving serious themes ranging from trauma to war. Because of these preferences, I mostly read horror, dark fantasy, or crime dramas. Despite this preference, I have explored other genres, such as slice-of-life with Slang Pictorial. There is one genre that I have rarely explored, romance. The only one I’ve read so far is Stejpan Sejic’s wonderful lesbian BDSM romcom Sunstone. I think the lack of recognition for romance’s legitimacy are bad misconceptions, mostly societal. Literary elites tend to look down on romance as frivolous and poorly written. But why? Any genre can be either good or bad based on the story’s quality. Romance is a chance to explore love and bonding in ways other genres can’t when it’s simply a subplot to the larger narrative. Also, what’s wrong with reading something that makes you happy? Why not escape into a fictional story about two people finding true love, adoring each other, and having a fantastic adventure of joy?

Which brings us to today’s review of Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jen St. Onge, Joy Sann, Cardinal Rae, and Gisele Lagace. I didn’t know what to expect since this was my first black queer romance, but I’m happy to say it turned out to be a beautiful, albeit short, reading experience.

Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray are a queer couple that first met when they were teenagers during the 1960s. They fell in love but were separated by bigoted family members, then forced into unhappy marriages with men. Over 50 years later, they reunite at a bingo tournament, the same kind of tournament they first met in. They realize this is fate bringing them back together, but first they must come out to their families and deal with the fallout. Only true love can guide them to eternal happiness.

If you love the description of the story, buckle up! You’re going to love it even more after I’m done talking about it.

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The cover by Gisele Lagace is not as flashy as other comic covers I have seen, but it succeeds in a task way more important, which is advertising the contents of the story. We have three images of the couple, Mari and Hazel, together in different stages of their lives: teens, old age, and advanced old age. We see them together, embracing, looking at each other like they’re the whole world. Bingo balls fall all around, the title of the book in the upper left-hand corner. We know by looking at this cover that this is a romantic story spanning different stages of two women’s lives. We know somehow bingo is going to play into this. Most importantly, the positive feelings the cover inspires attracts the reader to the title. It’s perfect.

The first thing to grab my attention was the interior art. Jenn St. Onge’s character designs are diverse with unique hairstyles, body types, and facial structures. Readers might notice a good number of characters with similarities, but that’s largely because of the fact the majority are family members. Actually, it’s refreshing to have an artist know that family members are going to look similar to each other, particularly how children are a combination of their parents with features from both even if they resemble one parent more than the other. I love that people in Bingo Love have wrinkles, stretch marks, folds of fat and muscle, sagging breasts from age and breastfeeding, and other such tiny details. It adds a level of, if not realism, relatability to a style that’s otherwise cartoony.

Joy San’s coloring is fleshes out the art. She not only gives characters their unique skin tones, she renders the entire comic with an unnatural brightness. This is not a negative criticism but a compliment because this type of coloring heightens the emotions of the book to surreal, dream-like qualities. It’s like escaping into a fantasy realm of intense love. This is no more apparent than in splash pages. Many of them are used during the most intense moments of romance, such as here:

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The coloring and character expressions are both fantastic and relatable, capturing the intense joy one feels when in these moments. It truly feels like a fairy tale come true. This includes scenes of family spending time with each other, grandparents hugging their grandchildren, siblings socializing with each other and their in-laws. My favorite is this splash page of a dinner table:

If I weren’t a vegetarian, I would’ve immediately cooked up this exact meal after looking at the image.

All this said, I found that the most romantic moments were quieter scenes, gradual multi-panel sequences showing the build up to an embrace or kiss. The reason is that the quietness allows emotion to linger, to slowly, like a wave, grow with each splash. This is much more intense than the payoff. It operates on the polar opposite, yet same line, that marks great horror.

The mastermind behind the story is Tee Franklin who delivers a story that is both relatable and unique. She starts off by establishing the two main characters so well. Hazel Johnson is plus-sized and shy, but also very passionate about the people she cares about. Mari McCray is more extroverted, a Californian tomboy that loves new experiences and very upfront about her feelings. We see their relationship in three parts: Youth, Old Age, and Advanced Old Age. The most recognizable is Youth. It starts off with the recognizable trope of Meet Cute, in which a future couple meets for the first time. The setting is a bingo tournament both girls accompany their grandmothers to, hence how bingo plays such a significant role in the story. Next time the girls meet, it’s in school, and after what can be considered an unofficial first date, they become friends throughout middle and high school.

Watching Hazel and Mari’s teen romance uses many tropes and story beats from romance that I have taken for granted over the years. There is the aforementioned meet cute moment, the first date, walking each other home from school, the first kiss, etc. I hadn’t realized how enjoyable these tropes are, the good feelings that they give you. If we must justify them on a more intellectual level, they dramatize the core of positive human bonding: meeting people, talking to them publicly or privately, and understanding them through a combination of small talk and personal anecdote. The result is an organic relationship that develops through mutual adoration. The mark of true love is being able to listen to your partner with the same attention about a new favorite album as you would a serious revelation of personal issues.

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Old Age does the reunion trope seen sometimes when a couple has been distant for a number of years. It’s fresh here because it is Hazel and Mari as senior citizens and not 20-30 somethings like most of the time. Along with reconnecting, they also deal with the fact they are both married women with families. Intense emotions and buried tensions surface as Hazel and Mari navigate to their eventual happy ending. Then there is Advanced Old Age in which the couple must face the reality of mortality (No spoilers). It was a truly engaging reading experience. Advanced Old Age comes after the conflict of Old Age is resolved. Hazel, Mari, and their families have adjusted to their new lives. This is the “honeymoon”, the moment the couple gets to be together and go on fantastic journeys. They get to live out their dreams once the shackles are broken. Their love is powerful even at the end. Oh, and of course, bingo is how they reunite. Bingo doesn’t serve much else than a setting for the two distinct romantic catalysts (love at first sight and reunion), but it works. Also, it legitimizes an activity often looked down upon, much like romance stories.

What made reading Bingo Love also enriching is that it is told from fresh perspectives, specifically black and queer. I can’t remember the last time since I read August Wilson where black people were allowed to interact with each other as actual humans, in churches and at home, sitting around and talking. They are allowed the same complexity and emotional range often reserved for slice-of-life stories populated solely by white people. And Bingo Love is slice-of-life as much as it is romance. It’s not just the love of romantic couples but that of families with all the baggage it comes with.

Without giving away too much, Hazel’s family find out about her relationship with Mari. They take it hard, especially Hazel’s husband James. He yells at her, they fight, and years of tension gets worse. I give Tee Franklin credit in that no one comes off as truly a bad guy. Everyone has their reasons for the way they’re reacting to the situation. Although some of it is confusing, such as with James. He gets portrayed as a loving husband and provider, but Hazel is uninterested in sex except for the times they have a child. Later it is revealed that James only ever had sex with Hazel when he wanted children. That means James was the one in the wrong all this time, but at the beginning the refusal of sex seemed more like Hazel not wanting to it because she didn’t love him, not that she was made to only when he wanted children. We do learn that James had a secret that fueled his need to find validation in having children. I won’t give away what it is, but it’s not that hard to figure out. There is a separate story online that tells his side of the story. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m eager to.

As I analyzed this conflict, I slowly realized the real culprit: a two-headed hydra of homophobia and patriarchy. The earliest hint is an occurrence that seems to happen often, a homophobe that is a hypocrite. They will go on about how much homosexuality is a sin while having their own misconduct that’s worse. It’s just a small part though. The larger societal context is not only how homophobia keeps Hazel and Mari from being happy together, but how it forces them into restrictive woman roles. They must be married to men, they must have children, must sacrifice their happiness for that of their families. Hazel becomes a housewife, even though she dreams of being a fashion designer. Mari becomes a lawyer, but many of the burdens typically dump on women remain. There is a sublime tie between queerphobia and misogyny, one that I do not believe I am knowledgeable enough to go into detail. The fact Bingo Love is able to tackle this issue while still remaining a positive story is a great feat.

I almost forgot, but there are scenes of Hazel participating in serious mental self care, something not often represented except going to support groups or therapy. There is a therapy scene, but it is very meaningful in affirming Hazel’s love for Mari. After that, there is a scene where Hazel helps one of her grandchildren braid their hair, and it brings her so much joy she is able to relax again after a fit of anxiety. It is referred to as self care, demonstrating how it comes in many forms.

My only gripe with the story is that it is so short. I wasn’t expecting Anna Karenina. This is young adult fiction after all. Brevity is key. But I do wish there were multiple volumes of the story. There were so many angles I wanted to see expanded upon. And while I have praised the characterizations of Hazel, Mari, and James, every other character is extremely minor. I wished there as much to Hazel’s children explored as much as her. We do not even get to know the names of Mari’s children or meet her husband. I wish there was more to her side of the story. Take note I bring this criticism up because of how I wanted more after reading. I could have read this title for the next 20 years and never been bored once!

The only other criticisms I have are 1) sometimes the coloring wasn’t done all the way, leaving empty spaces of white. 2) The otherwise effective narration and inner monologue captions by Cardinal Rae were confusing to tell apart at times. Although the former is all capitalized, the caption boxes are both colored yellow. It’s easy to mistake the two.

Bingo Love is a treasure of diversity, love, and joy. It brings fresh, underrepresented faces to romance and comics as a whole. Despite how short it is, one will find themselves lost in the lives of the characters, in the nuances of their personalities and journeys. With the poppy, dreamy art, the fantasy is complete. I urge everyone to pick up a copy of Bingo Love. Support these creators so they can make more comics, whatever it is they do next. Support black voices, queer voices, and love. Most of all, enjoy yourselves. This story will make you happy. We can all use happiness and love in our lives. Whatever helps people get through the day, make someone realize their worth as a person. No matter your ethnicity, gender, sexuality, physical presence/ability, mental health, etc., we all deserve love. Bingo Love affirms that right.

Bingo Love is out on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018 via Image Comics.

Story: Tee Franklin Art: Jenn St. Onge Colors: Joy San
Letters: Cardinal Rae 
Cover: Gisele Lagace
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

(Note: My copy is a pre-order version from before the book’s deal with Image Comics).

Panels to Chords: Getting Long Lost in Music with Matthew Erman

It feels like music and comics are tying together more and more with numerous comics being influenced by music and creators releasing playlists to go along with their latest issues. That’s where “Panel to Chords” comes in bringing comics and music together for discussion.

On this episode is special guest Matthew Erman, the writer of Long Lost which is published by Scout Comics. Follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewErman

Matthew’s Spotify playlist for Long Lost:

Ben and Madi’s playlist:

Panel to Chords: Music in Comics with Atla Hrafney

It feels like music and comics are tying together more and more with numerous comics being influenced by music and creators releasing playlists to go along with their latest issues. That’s where “Panel to Chords” comes in bringing comics and music together for discussion.

In this episode Alta Hrafney joins Ben and Maddi to chat.

Atla Hrafney is a professional comic editor and writer who can be followed on Twitter @AtlaTheWriter.

Follow Maddi @madisonrbutler
Follow Ben @ScaryCleve

Review: Coyotes #2-#3

After an action-packed debut issue, Coyotes #2-#3 had a lot to live up to. It is a dramatic book with intriguing themes of feminism and patriarchy told at a visceral, breakneck pace. Would the series improve? Stumble? The answer is mostly improvement with one significant stumble.

As a reminder, Coyotes is an action-horror-thriller-urban fantasy series written by Sean Lewis, drawn, colored, and lettered by Caitlin Yarksy, and published by Image Comics. It tells the story of Analia, a teenage girl orphaned by a ravenous pack of coyotes that target almost exclusively women and girls. She and her best friend Valeria are taken in by the Victorias, a group of warrior women that defend the City of Lost Girls from the murderous beasts. They train the two girls to become the assassins Red and Eyepatch. The leader of the Victorias, Duchess, has taken particular interest in Red (Analia). She wants to make her the new champion, although Red isn’t so sure she wants to. On their trail is Detective Frank Coffey, a newbie cop from another town trying to understand just what the hell is going on? In issues #2-#3 Red teams up with Coffey to discover the secret behind the murder of her sister, which lead into a deeper discovery of the war between the Victorias and the Coyotes. High tensions are about to peak, and Red’ strange, violent journey will only become more so.

Coyotes-Trouble

Caitlin Yarsky’s art continues to shine with its wavy, Gothic Nouveau style. Characters are extremely animated with hair and limbs in constant motion. They have noticeable muscles, fat, sag, and wrinkles. These are real bodies in motion. The costume designs, particularly the Victorias, look just as vibrant. The natural vibrancy of Yarksy’s art adds to the Coyotes as well. When they attack, the pack comes in like a wave, single file. It adds surrealism to bombastic action scenes. A large chunk of what makes these scenes work are the panel layouts: intricate yet easily guiding the eye along, giving space for action and movement to breathe instead of feeling cluttered. An improvement over issue #1 is setting. Environments have a lot more personality than they previously did, feeling like unique places instead of the most basic cultural hints of Latin American culture. The best example is the house of one of the older Victorias, Abuela. She lives in a cabin on top of a spiral mountain. The height denotes power and mystery; but the conditions of her living quarters denotes, not humility, but Abuela’s desire for isolation. She is a powerful woman that also happens to be an anti-social crone. There is something inspiring in this contrarianism.

Sean Lewis continues to deliver an action-packed story while putting more layers on the cake. Three new Victorias are introduced, the old woman Abuela and two others yet to be named. They are as strong, foul-mouthed, deadly, and complex as their younger counterparts. When Red meets Abuela, she learns a secret about her dead sister Maria. It better clarifies the mystery behind Duchess. Her relationship with Red still has an element of unevenness to it, and Duchess is not fully beyond suspicion in terms of her real plans for the young assassin, but it does complicate it. No one among the Victorias is a perfect person, which is a good thing. This comic is about complicated, broken women fighting a common enemy. They do not get along and have their own personal goals, but they will unite when push comes to shove. It is gratifying group drama, particularly in a media landscape where women teams are usually not given moral grayness.

Another intriguing story element Sean Lewis expands upon is the origin of the war between Victorias and Coyotes. Not to give away too many spoilers, but it starts after an apocalyptic event. Two powerful entities go up against each other: Seff, a gigantic member of the canine family; His opponent is a fresh take on one of the entities representing Mother Nature. Some of the origin elements are a bit absurd, which says something for a story about women and girls fighting talking coyotes. It’s not a deal breaker though, and in fact adds to the mythic tone of the series. It also builds on the story’s feminist theme, suggesting how the fight between women’s freedom and agency against patriarchy has been a long, almost mythical battle.

Coyotes-Abuela

However, the origin does have one huge blunder. Again, no spoilers, but it involves an evil corporation. This is an unsatisfying twist. First, evil corporations are such a lazy trope. Usually, there is not even a good reason for them being evil, or at least nothing about corporate culture is fully explored to show just how evil it is. Nope. Just call a group a corporation and Bam! they are considered evil. In fact, the two prominent figures of the corporation are so cartoonishly evil they might as well be twirling mustaches. In Coyotes’ defense, the series does have an over-the-top, Tarantinoesque tone to it, particularly the dialogue. Everyone sounds like a badass. Coyotes does set itself up for this tone early on in the story, and considering some of the absurdist things Caitlin Yarksy draws (Abuela at one point uses a scifish rocket launcher) perhaps makes the over-the-top corporate villainy fitting.

The real blunder of the evil corporation twist is that it makes the Coyotes too much of a concrete threat. What’s most horrifying is not what you know, but what you don’t know. If we have knowledge about why something terrible happened or why someone is terrible, then we can formulate a reason. A reason provides comfort for even when you don’t stop the horrible event or people. To have no reason, to never truly understand why evil exists, is much more terrifying. Being vague as to why men are suddenly wearing pelts to turn into coyotes to prey on women would have been fine. Much like a fable, the comic’s narrative worked on a visceral level where the reader doesn’t comprehend everything, but knows somewhere in their gut that it speaks truth. Ironically, the reason could’ve been summarized by a line Seff tells the corporation: “It is simply who you are. You will always kill what you can get away with.” If coyotes represent patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and male privilege, men choosing to become them symbolizes how these concepts are so ingrained in their heads they think it’s normal. There doesn’t need to be a reason beyond that. Evil corporations are just too grounded and scientific an explanation to match the mythic subject matter of Lycanthropy. In my opinion, horror is most effective when–in true Lovecraft fashion–science and reason fail when faced with great, incomprehensible monstrosity.

Coyotes-Victims

To the corporation’s credit, it does add its own thematic significance to Coyotes’ feminist narrative. Tying corporate greed to patriarchy suggests how it is a manufactured idea, one to maintain a power structure of men over women, even to the point that women must suffer. Men suffer too, of course, something the book does explore. It will be interesting to see how later issues may break the evil corporation angle out of its generic shackles.

One last observation is the character of Detective Frank Coffey. In my interview with the creators, Sean Lewis explained how he wanted a Frank Miller type character that would be useless. In this regard, he has definitely succeeded. Frank Coffey is your typical no-nonsense cop with a chip on his shoulder. He smokes a lot and talks like a good ol’ macho man. However, he is always fumbling in his encounters with the Victorias and the Coyotes. If he’s not getting his butt whooped, he is being outperformed by them, especially Red. However, to Coffey’s credit, his narrative has a satisfying angle of becoming a better ally. That doesn’t mean he unlearns his toxic masculinity, at least not yet. But Coffey seems to be naturally inclined toward helping people. Even though he doesn’t fully understand the Victorias, he has enough common sense to realize that they are the only ones capable of facing the Coyotes head on. Like so many characters, Coffey defies expectations. He is as complicated as anyone else.

Coyotes-Coffey

Coyotes #2-#3 are fantastic follow-ups to the debut issue. It contains the same action-packed, engaging plot coupled with dark and vibrant art, while adding layers: some great, others mixed. Personally, what keeps me reading the series is how much I feel invested in the characters. They are some of the most complicated, multi-layered I’ve read since Lewis’ previous book, The Few. It’s them more than any other aspect of the plot that explores the larger themes of feminism and patriarchy. Through a human perspective, they show how hard, frustrating, and yet necessary these discussions are to dismantle harmful power structures. Plus, teen girls with katanas get to slay werewolves. That’s a good enough reason to stick around.

Story: Sean Lewis Art: Caitlin Yarsky Published: Image Comics
Story: 8.0 Art: 10 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with FREE copies for review

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