Saturday, August 25, 2007

PROPAGANDA review: Rom-Com-Comics

I love Romantic Comedies. The soppier the better. I love the elaborate set-ups, the predictable “true love never runs smooth” plots and the feeling of contentment and fun they elicit.

Yet, in comics, the Rom-Com is a tiny, tiny genre. Which is a terrible shame, because this little genre has produced some truly marvellous little books over the last couple of years. You can just imagine these in black and white with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn burning up the screen. Or making Richard Curtis sit up and start planning his next Hugh Grant vehicle.

These are the sort of comics that should be as popular and successful as the latest Marian Keyes novel. But because it’s comics, these most wonderful, incredible books with phenomenal crossover appeal and the potential to be an incredible mainstream hit, are called independent and sits on the shelves, lost amongst all the “Mainstream” comics with men in tight spandex and their underwear over their trousers. What a ridiculous situation.

Three Days in Europe
By Antony Johnston and Mike Hawthorne

This is a tale of Jack and Jill; both successful young things; he’s an add exec with a passion for his record collection, she’s living her dream job at a modern art gallery promoting the art she’s always loved. They’ve been a couple for a while and they’re both feeling that some of the spark has gone out of the relationship.

So he decides to surprise her with a romantic trip to Paris on Valentine’s with a hot ticket to an exclusive gallery showing. It’s so much of a surprise to her that she’s already gone ahead and booked her own Valentine’s surprise trip to London to see his favourite band Q.E.D. with full V.I.P. tickets. Imagine the surprise over a romantic meal when they find out the dilemma, and even worse, both trips are starting straight away.

They bicker and fight all the way to the airport, each wanting the other to just take the damn gift. The bickering carries on to the airport check-in when they make the momentous decision not to give in. In a moment of utter stubbornness he suggests they each go on their ideal weekends; her to Paris and her art show, he to London for his band’s gig. But in one moment of utterly predictable comedy the tickets are swapped accidentally. Next thing they know she’s on her way to a rock and roll weekend and he’s off to a gallery show with Paris’ art set.

And from there, as you can probably guess, farce ensues. But it’s a wonderful, brilliant, and funny as all hell farce. Before they know it he’s become part of a gang of art thieves and she’s on tour with Q.E.D. as the guitarist’s new girlfriend. Like all the best screwball comedies this one keeps putting the two stars through more and more bizarre situations until getting to a particularly clichéd, obvious and quite marvellous ending.

Antony Johnston’s writing here is the best he’s ever done; natural, intelligent, laced with equal parts comedy and cynicism. But it’s his timing and delivery that really turns this into a particularly precious little gem. It is simply the most complete and satisfying comic book I’ve read for a long time.

Of course, a great story like this needs a great artist capable of delivering the script. Mike Hawthorne absolutely excels, with a delightfully light and open style, all angular stylised chins and sweeping curves of hairstyles but never forgetting that a great story like this needs to be delivered to the page and made readable. He doesn’t try anything too extreme or difficult on the page, he does that most difficult of things; keeping the page simple and flowing. Quite lovely.

(panels from Three Days in Europe, art by Mike Hawthorne, published Oni Press)

And the other artists involved deserve mentions as well; J Bone’s covers and chapter breaks are delightful, but special mention has to go to Keith Wood, the book’s designer. It’s often overlooked, but some books look like crap on the shelves, and I could do a better job of making a collection with a stapler and the individual comics. But Three Days In Europe is packed with beautiful little design touches; the back cover, the repetition of the ticket motif, even the stylised lamppost illuminating the small print repeating from the inside cover. Everything in this book just works, and works absolutely perfectly.

Maria’s Wedding
Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir, with art by Jose Garibaldi

Few events exude as much joy, happiness and hope as a wedding” is how the blurb on the back cover begins; very few books I’ve read manage to convey that sense of joy, happiness and hope as Maria’s Wedding.

This book tells the tale of a large Italian-American family; the Pirellis. Their weddings are all about tradition and celebrating the family. But the last unconventional wedding; of Joseph Pirelli and his partner Matthew threw tradition out and drew battle-lines between two sides of the family. Like most family disputes the bad feelings have simmered away and it’s only now, at the wedding of Maria Pirelli that the tension is coming to the fore.

Whilst some members of the family are coming to enjoy the day, it seems that some members are coming merely to try to make the situation much worse. And in the middle of all this is Maria’s cousin Frankie, who has a habit of speaking out and merely making bad situations worse. The family are worried that Maria’s big day is going to go very wrong. But Frankie wants everything to go just right, both with the wedding and with Maria’s maid of Honour, who just happens to be Frankie’s childhood sweetheart.

(panels from Maria’s Wedding, art by Jose Garibaldi, published Oni Press)

If all this sounds far too soap opera, fear not. The writers take a potential saccharin sweet tale and make a piece of loveliness out of it. Every page has something that will make your day a little brighter, and the whole book is one of the most delightful, lovely things I’ve read in a long time.

And if you wonder how to tell all these people apart, Jose Garibaldi; the fine artist behind this tale, has given us a crib list at the front and gives each character a unique visual quirk. A small touch but it helps so very much. Maria’s Wedding is a sweet, easy to read romantic comedy, perhaps the world’s favourite genre. Yet it’s a precious rarity in comics. Cherish it for the joy it brings.

by Ian Shaughnessy and Mike Holmes
Oni Press

This time it’s boy meets girl, falls in love, girl falls out of love with boy, boy dresses as another man to win her back. Very Shakespearean really; a good old fashioned romantic farce.

Holden and Casey have been going out now for long enough for Holden to get complacent and Casey to get sick of Holden. Her tutoring job keeps her very busy, mostly trying to keep her horny frat boy students’ attention somewhere above her chest. Holden, with all the emotional maturity of a love-struck teen, starts getting insanely jealous and hatches a plot so stupid, so inane and bound to fail that you wonder why Hollywood hasn’t made millions out of a story like it already.

Dressing up in a ridiculous disguise and putting on an Irish accent so thick you expect every sentence to end in ‘begorrah’, he poses as an Irish foreign student in need of tutoring and starts to take up more and more of Casey’s time - after all, if he’s with her in disguise she can’t be off romping with the frat boys

Inevitably, as Holden’s behaviour becomes more extreme and ridiculous, Casey ends the relationship and starts to fall for Holden’s Irish disguise, because when he’s in his disguise Holden actually manages to be a lot less of a dick than he normally is.

(panels from Shenanigans, art by Mike Hawthorne, published Oni Press)

From then, it’s not really a case of what happens next but when will all the inevitable plot points play out? Once you get past the thinnest of plots it’s a lovely little book. It’s got everything you’d expect, up to and including the inevitable scene where boy takes two dates out and has to keep changing clothes in the toilet. Shenanigans certainly does a Rom-Com-Comic by the numbers.

And Mike Holmes’ art suits the fun-ness of the writing, with a nice, simple, very open style with nary a background in sight to spoil the immediacy of our major characters. Another fun, feel good comic. Certainly makes a change from whatever dark, miserable, moody superhero is being brutally beaten, maimed or killed this week.


Written by Mike Carey, with art by Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel

This is very similar in style and tone to My Faith In Frankie; a truly delightful and sadly overlooked book produced by the same creative team. That book was a charming and fun romp with elements of fantasy in it, whereas Re-Gifters is unashamedly a Rom-Com.

The first thing you should notice with Re-Gifters is the cover. A beautiful piece of design; simple and stylish and an example of how a good comic cover should be. Once inside the delights of the cover give way to the delights of both art and story. Liew and Hempel are perfect artists to convey the sense of fun, playfulness and high spirits in this story of school age romance. Just as they did in My Faith In Frankie, their loose, relaxed stylings merely add to the sense of light-heartedness and simple joy to be found in the book.

The main character, Jen Dik Seong, or “Dixie” as she’s known to her friends is Korean-American, living with her lovely family in the ragged edge of LA’s Koreatown. Her only real outlet is the ancient Korean martial art of Hapkido, and she’s about to compete in the National Championships. But since this is a traditional Rom-Com you’ll not be surprised when I tell you that things don’t go smoothly for little Dixie.

She’s fallen for fellow Hapkido competitor and surf-boy Adam, but he’s only interested in one of her classmates. The crush throws Dixie off her game and nearly manages to mess up not just her family’s trust in her but nearly alienates her best friend as well. Dixie blows all her Hapkido entry money on a stupid, ridiculously expensive and sadly unappreciated gift for Adam’s birthday. But the gift is re-gifted and re-gifted again, until finally, ever so predictably, it reappears in Dixie’s life at just the right moment from a very unexpected source.

(page from Re-Gifters by Mike Carey, art by Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel, published DC)

Like I say, the plot of Re-Gifters is certainly predictable. But within the context of the story that’s not a terrible thing. This is a lovely romantic comedy, and as such, it almost has to be predictable. That doesn’t however stop it being incredibly readable, very warm and light hearted and just plain fun.

Just sometimes, it’s nothing to do with how intricately written something is, or how deep and meaningful it is. Sometimes, the most important thing is the feeling that reading a book gives you. Sometimes it’s all about the stupid, soppy grin that spreads over your face as the final page finishes and you’ve just read something gloriously, unapologetically sentimental and romantic. Which was exactly what happened at the end of Re-Gifters: huge soppy grin from ear to ear.

And that’s a great place to leave this little look at my new favourite genre in comics - the “Rom-Com-Comic”. Why don’t you try one today? After all, we could all use a little more soppy grinning.

1 comment:

  1. I love "When Harry Met Sally", I think that might count as a guilty pleasure, but it is without doubt one of the best Rom-coms around...better than "Sleepless in Seattle"...discuss!