Oh yeah, gender transgression, junkies, fetish parties, yadiyadiyah. You've seen this kind of thing before. Let's point and laugh at the freaks. Let's rubberneck at the trainwreck of their lives. Wow, they're fucked up. Isn't that kind of cool. And, you know, loathsome.
Except it's not, though. It's not that kind of book.
You could say that HOW LOATHSOME is a comic about gender transgression. And that would be accurate. But that would be like saying that War and Peace is about war and peace, and it's not, really. It's about people. And the poignancies, the little acts of courage, the relationships, the passions, the awkwardness, that make up the substance of their lives. Tristan Crane's wry, understated observations about the San Francisco underground scene are little moments of recognition, and his characters live and breathe with a reality that is suddenly, intimately, familiar. You know these people. You know Nick, the asshole who is living from weekend to weekend. You know Alex, the kid with the sweet smile that "broke hearts, even around here, where no-one seems to have one," constantly trying to wrestle his overactive brain out of a habit and never succeeding. And you know Catherine, the sexually ambiguous narrator of this odyssey, who is trying to define herself (himself?) in a world where her (his?) reality is not to be spoken aloud, except to the initiated.
It's about love. It's about courage. It's about courage's antithesis, fear. It's about not really knowing what the fuck you want. It's about knowing exactly what you want, but not being able to get it. It's about life.
If we are drawing parallels, HOW LOATHSOME is closer to a short story collection like Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son than to the straightforward linear comic narrative you're expecting. Catherine's story is told in moments, intertwined with her (meta?) fictional stories -- a gothic romance, a samurai story -- that really allow artist Ted Naifeh to strut the true range of his stuff artistically in a variety of styles. The conceit is not fully wrapped up in the first trade, but who cares? It's beautiful to watch. The tear going down the geisha's face is a totally different moment than the ink-spattered apartment in which Alex and Catherine shoot up. Each short story contains its own universe.
And it's just beautiful.
Janet Harvey is a writer living in Los Angeles. She came to this town with $37 and a dream. In addition to her fiction and screenplays, she has written for DC Comics, IDW Publishing and Platinum Studios. She can be found on the web at www.janetharvey.com.