Review: The Lengths

Artist(s): Howard Hardiman.

Between December 2010 and May 2012, I reviewed the first five issues of Howard Hardiman’s The Lengths, an exploration of the life of young gay hustler, drawn with characters as anthropomorphized dogs. I completely missed the remaining three issues, but I was very glad to see that a complete collection1 had been published last October. Since it’s been a year and a half since I last wrote about this series, let me introduce the characters again.

Eddie and Dan

Eddie is the main protagonist. Ostensibly for financial reasons, he becomes a hustler through meeting a couple of men who opened up that path for him. Eddie takes on the name “Ford” (a Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy reference), at first a way to protect his private life and keep his activities to himself, hiding them from his then boyfriend James. But Eddie’s work, though well-paid, tends to separate him from the non-hustling world, leading to feelings of disassociation, to losing himself in a role that wasn’t meant as a complete and balanced persona.
Other characters include Nelson, a bodybuilder who’s Eddie’s mentor in the world of hustling and whom Eddie tends to see as perfection made flesh, as well as Dan, Eddie’s friend (and maybe more), his anchor to the everyday world.

I don’t know how much Hardiman invented in this story, as he worked on it based on interviews he did with real male hustlers, a project for his MA in illustration. He certainly gives the reader a lot of food for thought, presenting a complex look at his characters, who are as flawed as real people, and avoiding as much as possible to pass easy judgement on them.

Choosing to draw the characters as humanoid dogs has for me a contrasting effect with the first person voice used throughout the book: While the reality of the story is enhanced by having Eddie narrate the book, making us voyeurs into his state of mind, not a comfortable position to be sure, the dogs faces make the story look more like a fable set in a fantasy world. In other words, we’re drawn in by Eddie’s thoughts and at the same time kept at a safer distance by the canine portrayals—or at least, that’s how I think it worked for me.
Still on the visual side of things, the use of art references (Klimt, Rothko, for examples) also makes the reading more reflexive than it would have been otherwise, a device that both illuminates the scenes depicted, as in a medieval manuscript, and tones down the melodramatic potential.

Eddie worshipping Nelson

The Lengths is not always an easy book to read, in my opinion. The storytelling mostly avoids using panels in the layouts, opening up the page in a manner that seemed closer to what is used in manga than in comics or in bandes dessinées. The emotional impact, on the other hand, is indubitable: Hardiman has a knack for using large swaths of blacks (and large swaths of whites) and for leading the reader’s eye in a way that puts many more seasoned artists to shame. The Lengths may not be the most reader-friendly book at first glance, but it’s definitely good, inventive comics that rewards paying attention to what’s on the page.

The visual qualities, alongside the nuanced characters, make for a strong, hard to forget book. As I’d thought when reading the first issues, The Lenghths reads very well as one book instead as a series of installments. Howard Hardiman can be proud of his MA project, and I hope to have the pleasure of reading more works by this artist.

  1. The 216 pages hardcover is published Soaring Penguin Press and can be bought from the author, or for example at Amazon.
    The first issue is available for free online.

Comments are closed.