Review: Three #1

Artist(s): Eric Orner, Joey Alison Sayers, Robert Kirby.

It’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen Robert Kirby editing a queer comics anthology (namely, the second Boy Trouble volume), but the wait is over: Three #1 is a cool 32-page comic-sized collection of three stories by three artists, self-published by Kirby1.

The first contribution is Eric Orner’s Weekends Abroad, which takes up half the comic. Orner is the author of the long-running gay strip The Mostly Unfabulous Life of Ethan Green, a rather light, humorous strip about the trials and tribulations of a gay, urban twenty-something2. Weekends Abroad is a work that impressed me with its maturity and thoughtfulness: Orner chronicles a chapter of his life in Israel, where he’s lived for a few years, never settling down completely nor deciding to return to the USA, because of a perpetually-renewing short work contract. The consequence is that he doesn’t speak or read Hebrew at all, making daily life very difficult for him. In this story, he depicts his getting lost during a weekend in Tel-Aviv (far more hospitable to gays than the stuffy Jerusalem where he resides), hooking up with an Israeli man, and being intrigued by a graffiti written in English (“You are cute, I am mute”), which he notices here and there. During the whole story, there’s a mixed feeling of isolation for Eric Orner the character, which brings him both an uneasiness and a clarity of vision that’s carried by Orner the artist’s strong visuals. I couldn’t help thinking of Alison Bechdel’s art for Fun Home while reading Orner’s story: there’s a certain grounding here, an attention to real-life details and atmosphere, that seems to me to be shared by both works.
I’ve been told by Robert Kirby that Eric Orner is working on a book-length piece about his time in Israel. If Weekends Abroad is any indication, we’re in for a treat.

While the first story of this anthology was in black and white with a yellow tint, the second one is in flat, warm colors: Joey Alison Sayers (Just So You Know) gives us another of her delicious anecdotes about her own life, this time focusing on the strange behavior of some house owners toward their employees (Sayers works as a gardener with a couple of friends). What kind of person asks whether one has flushed the toilet after grudgingly agreeing to let one use their facilities? A not very nice one, I guess. Fortunately, Sayers and her friends have a strong sense of humor, and manage to see the ludicrousness of the situation. It seems Sayers has an endless supply of cool, little stories like that, and the straightforward way she has of sketching them in a few pages keeps impressing me.

Robert Kirby himself gives us the third and final contribution to the inaugural issue of Three, with Freedom Flight, a story which focuses on Drew, a character from his Curbside strip. Here, Drew is a 20-year-old who lives with his older boyfriend and has trouble relating to his own life. Kirby shows Drew deciding to disappear in the busy streets of the big city, walking away until he’s too tired, wondering about possibilities, floating in an unstable psychological state between reality and dreaming, between boyhood and adulthood. In only 8 pages, Kirby skillfully builds the portrait of an engaging character through his encounters, missed more often than not, with the city’s inhabitants, including a three-legged dog which prompts a metaphysical episode, to great amusing effect.
The detachment felt by the young character is cleverly staged by the use of a blue color throughout the strip, with only the main figure in each panel left in white. Apart from creating depth in the panels, it also isolates the figure in a simple but very effective way. I didn’t even notice it the first time I read the story, which shows how unobtrusively it works.

There’s a very nice balance between the three stories in this comic. In tone as well as in art style, they complement each other, with Sayers’s everyday tale done in her usual pared-down style, Kirby’s meditation in his fluid, round cartoony style, and Orner’s musings drawn in the more realistic way. I think I can say without exaggeration that this first issue of Three is a success, and I have little doubt that the second one, with the impressive rooster announced (Michael Fahy, Jennifer Camper, David Kelly, Craig Bostick, Sina Shamsavari and Jon Macy), will also enchant us.

  1. You can buy this comic at Robert Kirby’s site.
  2. Some samples of the strip can be read here, and it has been collected in four books.

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