Author Archives: benchoward

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

IMG_3389.jpg

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.

IMG_3390.jpg

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:

IMG_3391.jpg

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.

IMG_3392.jpg

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

Coyotes_04-1

*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.

Coyotes #4_2

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.

Coyotes #4_3

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

IMG_3389.jpg

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.

IMG_3390.jpg

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:

IMG_3391.jpg

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.

IMG_3392.jpg

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

Coyotes Interview: A Chat With Sean Lewis and Caitlin Yarsky

Recently, I wrote a review for the newest Image series Coyotes, a violent tale of girls and women getting revenge on the ravenous beasts that terrorize them. The miniseries is brought to us by Sean Lewis and Caitlin Yarsky, two amazing creators working in perfect sync with each other. They took time from their busy schedules to talk to me about the series, the inspiration for it, themes, art, and a wee bit of nerding over other comics which I’m always down for.

Ben Howard: Let’s start at the beginning. Well, not the beginning beginning because that would take too long. Let’s talk about the beginning of Coyotes. How did this idea develop and when did you guys meet up to execute it?

Caitlin Yarsky: Well, Sean came to me with the idea and script already pretty fleshed out. I had submitted a couple sample pages of my personal comic to a company’s Facebook page, and that’s how Sean found my work. He sent me an email asking if I’d like to collaborate, and I jumped at it because the story was amazing and I was able to imagine the world and characters right away.

Sean Lewis: I had written the first issue sometime around the run of Saints. It was before I had written The Few. Most of the time if an idea starts in my head as an image I 69c63825861183.5634be1816125know it is a comic book, if it starts as dialogue I usually turn it into a play. I just had an image of Red, this teen girl with a Katana blade. I had done some research for a play commission about women going missing in different parts of the world and the way the information was formulating itself in my head was very metaphorical. The big one was looking at Mexico and “Coyotes” who smuggle people across borders (and who often times can be menacing and predatory). I started to think what if the Coyotes in this book were coyotes. Werewolves. But with a Southwestern spin. I did research on werewolves after that and realized that men had been tried in the past for being werewolves and hunting women and other victims. They often claimed to be werewolves. Typically, a pelt is what transformed them. Once all that info got in my head I was off and running. I wrote the first issue and then needed an artist who could bring a story book quality to the book. Who would be able to really deconstruct some of the form of a comic book and could offer a feminine perspective, counterpoint and eye to the proceedings. I spend a lot of time going through Behance and Facebook and Twitter looking for undiscovered artists or artists interested in comics but from other fields. Caitlin was from video game design but I found some sequential art samples on a Facebook page and then wrote the entirely awkward “I found your art online and this is for real” email. This all happened about two years ago. We immediately started talking design and world and building the book from there. It’s actually been very cool and organic and we both have seen each others’ abilities grow so much since we first started the day dream part of this book.

BH: Nice! It’s interesting to me how both of you came from non-comics fields. Sean, you’re originally a playwright. And, Caitlin, you came from illustration and game design. What is it about comics that attracts you both?

CY: I think illustration inherently works so well with storytelling and can bleed into a lot of other fields, like animation, film, game design, comics, etc. I’ve made comics on my own since I was a kid but never did anything with them, and never knew it could a viable career path. But once it clicked a few years ago that it was possible, I focused all my energy into that field. I’ve always loved imagining what characters and worlds from my favorite books would look like, and often imagine “shots” or “panels” when reading a fantasy or sci-fi book. It’s just a really thrilling challenge to try and create a visual world for a story that resonates with me.

SL: I’ve always just loved comics. I mean, I never knew how you actually got a job writing them. I remember writing the obligatory letter to Marvel in my early twenties while living on my uncle’s couch. You know, the one that says “I’ve been a life long fan, I’d love to write/how do I write comics?” Needless to say I still haven’t heard back. I wouldn’t have been ready at that point, anyway. I think comics are really important. I really love them as a form and I am really curious how the form can be pushed and what new things can happen. I mean, they’re still this tactile entertainment. You hold it in your hands (unless it’s digital, I know, I know) and there is this fascinating magic that happens as you turn each page. It really still does hold that sense of joy that flip books did when I was a kid. And you can literally create myth and metaphor. In theater you can really create reflections– all you have is dialogue to create a context and a world– so the default is realism. Because we live in realism we can accept it in the theater more easily. Comic books, man, you can go anywhere. You can make a story that is truly larger than life in the hopes that the story will help you understand the world a little more. You can say, “I feel so isolated and alone. I want to talk about depression but in a universal way. So… what if a boy lived on the moon?” And suddenly people understand you and others better. The metaphor brings us in. I mean, for me, all my writing comes from me trying to understand what I believe in. What I feel?  I have a lot of surface opinions–if you ask me a social or political question I’ll give you an answer from my gut. But there are times where I sit back and I say “what do I actually believe or think about this?” Stories let me discover that. And I think we need myth now. Because there is a lot of noise. So much noise. So much anger and rage. So many people digging in their heels and yelling, refusing to interact, listen, progress. But we all like myth. We all like zombies and werewolves and space stations and human beings trying to survive and trying to be better. I feel really lucky to be doing comics. It’s really connected me with the kid who devoured Preacher and Sandman in 8th grade. It’s reminded me how much I needed those books. I think I need these books again.

BH: What about Image– especially you Sean since this is your third project with them– made them the ideal publisher of the book?

SL: Well, Image is the only place I’ve worked at this point. They’ve just always shown such faith in what I was doing. I think Eric Stephenson and his staff really love comics in general but they also really believe in taking risks, in trying to push the form forward and seeing what a comic and a creator can do. I’m obsessed with slow burn novels, old horror movies, surreal foreign films… I mean Coyotes itself has influences as wide ranging as Kurosawa and Tarantino to the Brothers Grimm and Susan Sontag. Image is the kind of place you can say all of that and then add: “there are werewolves!” And they get excited. I think that trust also works well for me because I’m really focused on the arc of a book– the full journey and not the month by month sales. They get that and support that. The freedom they offer is just unbelievable.

BH: Let’s get into the actual story. I remember in reading previous interviews you did Sean is that a lot of what inspired Coyotes are women that have disappeared, either never being found or later found and meeting devastating fates. It feels like this story is coming from a place of anger, of a need for cathartic relief and rebellious hope. I know that you said the coyotes are inspired by human traffickers, but for me while reading they represented violence against women as a whole, particularly patriarchal violence. But that’s just me. What do you think you and Caitlin are saying with Coyotes and contextualizing it through both story and art?

SL: I think that’s incredibly astute. The intellectual start was research I had done for a play and stories my wife had told me. But the emotional drive of the book has been angry. And I don’t know why. I mean, recently Weinstein and other current news make it seem obvious, but Caitlin and I started this book two years ago. I think I’ve felt anger around me in general. Anger about gender. Anger about guns. Anger about race. About poverty. About beliefs. The Few started from an intellectual look at that anger but it became about belief. This twisted in a different way. Once I had the primal image of the Coyotes-1_preview.jpgcoyotes/werewolves, I think that did something. It made me think of the minor ways that boys are taught to be aggressive– How many movies tell boys if a girl says no to a date they should keep trying until the girl realizes how special he is? It’s a lesson in self value but can go awry and become all about getting what you want, not giving up. I fell in love with Red while writing it because she’s like a new day. Post-post-everything in a world where political correctness and the illusion of safety are eroded. How does she make her world? The wolves are angry at a world they lost, the women at one they’ve had to endure. Something new has to come out of it and sadly rarely does anyone get what they want.

CY: I definitely tried to convey Sean’s idea that these coyotes represent violence against women, often drawing the coyotes as a sort of wave when they come into the story. It is meant to feel like a flood of unstoppable aggression coming from all sides, an inescapable force of nature. I also tried to push the characters’ feelings of helplessness, shame and anger after the attacks, which I think is something that will resonate with readers.

BH: That part about them coming in waves is a great artistic quality I didn’t even think about. It also reminds me how much I love the narrative style of Coyotes. Visually, it reminds me of a fairy tale but mixed with horror and hardcore action films like Kill Bill. It’s interesting how much these real world issues are being filtered through genre. They’re disturbing, yes, but somehow makes it easier to swallow. Do you think that fantasy and fiction was the best way to face these issues head on? Perhaps something with a much more satisfying outcome than realism could provide?

SL: Oh, absolutely. And all of the things you mentioned are direct influences on the comic. As a writer, genre for me is kind of like a dress. The theme, the philosophy, the politics, the relationships: those are the body of the story. They are the arms, the legs, the beating heart. In the end, they will be what grabs you, what makes the story run, what lets the audience care. Genre is what I dress it in. The Few was about belief, how and why human beings believe in what they do but that was dressed in sci-fi. Coyotes is about how we define and degrade human beings- how we demand value in the face of that- dressed in horror. Genre, it kind of gives the audience a loophole. I mean, we see it. It’s hard to talk about anything of actual social importance anymore. We are angry. We are divided. Saying this is a meditation on politics of any sort gives no entry way to the reader, right now. They say: “I know what I believe and fuck you.” Genre, diffuses it. “I love horror but I hate politics, so maybe I’ll try it.” And then when you read it (hopefully) you get interested in the people. Politics are just people. We forget that. We’ve let politicians and mouth pieces and networks turn it into some larger than life abstraction, a catch all– politics as a villainous other.  The Latin of ‘politics’ basically means “as relating to the citizens.” Or, as  I like to think it, “how does this effect the people?” I love people even though they scare me. And most political issues confuse me. They are very complicated. Each book for me is an exploration of what I believe. And hopefully for the readers too. And even for myself, I need it dressed up.  I need a werewolf to let me engage with it in an honest way, right now.

CY: It’s a little ironic, but wrapping up real world issues in fantastic settings helps people see those issues more clearly and objectively. We carry around so much baggage and bias when faced with social and political rhetoric that looking through another lens can cause you to empathize and think differently. That’s one of my favorite things about sci-fi and fantasy.

BH: It’s a good thing that you talk about how people are politics. I certainly see this in the cast. Red, Eyepatch, Duchess, all these women are uniquely designed and detailed, each with their own unique voice and style. And I find it funny how women like Duchess and the Victorians dress so proper yet curse like sailors. What was the creative process for you and Caitlin in bringing these women to life?

SL: Hahaha. It was pretty great. Caitlin and I are close in age and we have a lot of the same touchstones: Sandman and Tank Girl are two of the biggest ones. Is it weird to say we just wanted to go “a little bananas”? I had this idea that the women in the train station dressed in Victorian garb. That was in the initial document. Most of my first drafts are very gut. I usually have no idea what’s going on, but it’s all images and characters and chaos that I’m excited by. And then as I get into plotting the rest of the arc/story, I use those initial reactions to dictate what threads I need to follow. Caitlin is amazing. I mean, at this point people have seen her art, but as a collaborator too, I knew from her work that if I gave her space with these gut ideas I had that she would turn them into something really amazing. The Duchess was the first Victoria I saw. I had wanted a parasol, that’s all I remember. And when I saw her in this full garb I was in love. There was something weirdly punk rock in my mind about this stark violent world and a group of warrior women dressed so proper, so covered, so formal. I always loved that juxtaposition. Collaboration wise, we talk a lot. We’ve been working on the book for awhile now. Lots of emails, lots of Skype, lots of messenger. But we really are on the same page and trust each other. We show each other the early work in our discipline and we listen to each other. I think that’s been my experience on creator-owned books. It’s like raising a child. You both are invested and so you have to both be on the same page, trust and get excited by what the other is doing.

CY: I think Sean’s description of the Victorias actually informed the design aesthetic ofVictorians.jpg the rest of the world, which seems backwards but worked well for us. It freed us to design everything in a surreal and anachronistic way, not totally tied to reality. We went back and forth discussing comics, films and books that inspire us until we landed on this steampunk/vintage feel for the characters that became ubiquitous throughout the world.

BH: Red is our protagonist yet also the most elusive person. She sometimes seems to be plotting her own course, other times just a shell to act out the Victorians commands. Why did you decide to choose a child as a protagonist and how would you define her?

SL: I think her being a child is part of her contradictions. I wanted someone who is at the beginning of their individual thought. As the book unfolds, characters will be revealed as different arms of feminist and capitalistic thought. And they will all want to influence Red. The Victoria’s are one militant wave of thought. They’ve been hunted enough and want retribution now. They will force change. They will not be victims. We will meet characters in conflict with this and then we will have Red. Red is discovering– in a fucked up and violent world that has taken so much from her– who she really is. I think that’s what I want from comics though it might make me an outlier. I don’t believe in fully formed heroes. I want to see people become the best version of themselves. I want to see that struggle because I live that struggle.

Red

BH: I definitely agree with you on preferring half-formed characters that evolve, Sean. Protagonists that already have everything just seem boring to me. And the greatest impediment on Red, on all the girls and women in this story, are the coyotes. Fairy tales and horror stories (both similar types of stories if you really think about it) often feature beastly antagonists, often male-coded, which can offer great commentary on gender such as you’re doing right now. My personal theory is that they’re a commentary on toxic masculinity. What is your thought on the type of commentary the coyotes represent?

SL: I think toxic masculinity for sure. Predatory behavior. I had a weird moment a few months ago. I was in a hotel and I was flipping through channels looking for something mindless and fun and I saw Wedding Crashers was on TBS. And I was like well this should do it…and it kind of hit me just how toxic that movie is. Guys go to weddings and prey on the emotions of women there, they lie to them and then have sex. One of them eventually feels bad about it. It made me think about other films I grew up with. I love 80s movies. Like old school B-movies but also lots of John Hughes. And so many of those movies are about guys who have crushes on girls who aren’t interested in them. And the people around them keep saying: “Don’t worry about her saying no. Don’t stop at that. Try again. Win her.” And we root for that. We have been taught that. It’s complicated because it’s a cultural thing– and if it’s cultural it means everyone is either to blame or there is something innate in us and how we live that demands it. I’d hope it was more choice than nature. But I also think there is a lot of inward looking. There was a time in my life where I loved Wedding Crashers and howled and laughed mindlessly at its premise. Now I don’t at all. So what does that mean? These men in Coyotes putting on the pelts– is it solely that they want power or is there something deep within them it brings out that they know is there? To me, that is the real horror in the book.

CY: Toxic masculinity is a spot-on description. The coyotes evoke a sense of dread that makes the characters afraid to go out at night, to go anywhere alone. They are that ever present threat of violence women face around the world. And the Victorias are a visceral reaction to this threat; they offer a simple solution to a complex problem (the one that exists in the real world I mean), and hopefully that brings some catharsis to readers.

Coyotes

BH: Let’s talk about the setting. In your previous books, Sean, you captured the American landscape through two separate but equally relevant lenses. With Saints, it was religion. With The Few, it felt like modern political tensions. But here we have a setting that’s south of the border. Aside from the ties to coyotes, what else about the setting did you feel fit the story?

SL: I was really interested in places where we allow bad things to happen. Where we know that violence, murder, and chaos happens but we willingly turn a blind eye. It could be Central and South America or any third world country on the planet. I did a theater project in Rwanda. And I was amazed at all the international businesses there. My friend, who was Rwandan, said “they came after the genocide. They can do whatever they want here and they can do it cheap.” That idea stayed with me. We accept some places are dangerous. We accept that people disappear in some places. I obviously wanted to explore gender and I wanted it to be in a desert. An empty canvas. A place that can be bought and sold. A place abandoned by law and decency. A place where we are left to our own devices to become as good or as bad as we are.

BH: I haven’t even mentioned Detective Coffey yet, and he was the character that took me most by surprise. At first, I thought he would be just another obstacle for Red, another patriarchal unit of control. However, the backstory you guys wrote about him after the main story revealed more about him. How do you see him fitting into this narrative about women fighting monstrous men?

SL: I wanted a Frank Miller character who would be utterly useless in this world. I grew up reading hard-nosed detectives who were uber-masculine and took control of a room, broke some rules and everything would be solved by them. I liked a character like that, who we would assume we knew what to expect from, who is then thrown out of joint by the world he finds himself in. I think he is my dad and my uncles and sometimes even me in our current landscape. He is an idea of manliness in a world that rejects their need for him. I thought that would be interesting. What do you do when everything you grew up with– all the reinforcement, all the lessons, all the things that have told you how you are supposed to behave– suddenly disappears from underneath you. It’s a necessity but it’s jarring.

Coffee.jpg

BH: Excellent. I can’t wait to see how this series unfolds. Let’s wrap things up with two final questions. What do you hope for in the future for the series?

SL: I hope we can do it for some extended period. Indie comics are hard. Books about the world are hard. A book about women hunting male werewolves with samurai swords is also hard. The people who found Saints are amazing. The people who found The Few are amazing. I feel really beholden to them. And to this form. I think comic books can really do some amazing things. They can let us deal with real world issues in metaphor– so we might actually deal with things we feel uncomfortable with. Clearly, I am proud of Coyotes. Caitlin’s work is amazing. We have a lot planned but like all indie books you cross your fingers that you’ll get the chance to play them out.

CY: Working with Sean has been incredible– his writing fires up my imagination so easily. I feel kind of spoiled by working with him because our process is so collaborative and open, and I have a lot more control over the direction of the art than I ever have in the past. The fans have also been really amazing and seem excited about what we’re doing, which makes me more excited to keep going. I hope we get the chance to take this story as far as possible.

BH: Final question, what comics do you two recommend, both for pleasure reading and for aspiring creators to learn from?

SL: Oh, man. It’s such a well spring right now. I’m in love with Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire. I am also digging Kyle Starks’ work (Kill Them All). Rosenberg’s 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank. For aspiring creators, I’ve learned a lot looking at how Brian Vaughan lays out Saga. Just his page counts and the general rhythm of each issue. Y: The Last Man has really nice structure to it as well. Lemire I think is as good as anyone if not better at showing just how far a comic can go. He breaks a lot of so called rules in paneling and layout (I do too) but his books really are imaginative in new ways. He has found a way to really bring existentialism and loneliness into comic books in a way I love. Hence, I like the straight up humor employed by Starks as a counter balance. Also, read some damn books and some plays. Comics kind of marry every writing genre into one. So don’t read just comics. Check out Junot Diaz for character. David Mitchell for world building. August Wilson, Caryl Churchill, and Tony Kushner for dialogue.

CY: Most of my recommendations are established staples in the genre, but they definitely had the most influence for me and taught me a lot. The Sandman got me into comics when I was in college. His (Neil Gaiman’s) storytelling was so different than anything I’d seen before, and he builds worlds like nobody else. Hewlett’s Tank Girl is amazing, he knows exactly how and when to break rules and go more stylized with his characters. Mignola’s Hellboy is brilliant, and his use of negative space to create a mood is unparalleled. He lays out the art not panel-by-panel, but designs with the whole page in mind. And like Sean, I’m a fan of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga, as well as Paper Girls and Y: the Last Man.

Coyotes is available at Image Comics.

Follow Sean Lewis on Twitter.

Follow Caitlin Yarsky on Twitter and check out her blog.

« Older Entries