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French gay BD (2): Muchacho
Maria's Wedding
The Book of Boy Trouble



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Entries for November 2006:
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Saturday, November 18, 2006
Blog review
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French gay BD (2): Muchacho

Category: coming-out, french, historical.
Author(s): Emmanuel Lepage.
Year of publication: 2004-2006.

First volume coverA couple of years ago, I'd written a long article about French comics and their use of gay themes and characters. At the time, I hadn't read a series called Névé, published between 1991 and 1997. It was written by a well-known scenarist, Dieter, and drawn by Emmanuel Lepage (I've included a panel from that series in the gallery). Showing the life of a character from his infancy to his young adulthood, the five-volume series (available from Amazon France) had surprised its readers by ending with Névé coming to terms with his being gay, nothing about that having been shown in the previous volumes. Rather new (and quite realistic, after all) in French bande dessinée at the time - not that there's been a lot more of that since.
Two years ago, Lepage did it again, this time all by himself. Muchacho tells the story of Gabriel de la Serna, a very young seminarist in 1976 Nicaragua who arrives in a small village to paint a fresco for the local church. Born to a rich family close to the dictatorship then holding the country, Gabriel is a shy young man, repressed and lost in his art, oblivious to the suffering of the people. His nascent friendship with the local priest, who's involved in the leftist Sandinista rebellion, begins to impact on his mind, and he slowly commences a long journey toward political awareness, which is shown in parallel with his closetedness, through his sketches of male bodies glimpsed here and there.

Gabriel Gabriel again

For a straight artist (as far as I know), Lepage can draw really sensual men. Far from the canons of mainstream super-hero comics, his male characters are not built like Greek gods, but look mortal and fallible, which they often are. The whole art of Lepage is sensual: the way he draws the jungle (he made several trips to Nicaragua), clothes and buildings, and of course the human body, is full of life and energy. His painted colors are an integral part of that, and his playing between monochromatic ambiances and more realistic pages is a testament to his skills. And those covers... They seem so simple, but say so much about the evolution of the main character. That, and the second volume cover is among the most sensual I've ever seen.

A page from the second volume A panel with the rebels

The first volume of the story had ended with Gabriel taking up the rebellion cause by hiding weapons which a mysterious and alluring masked stranger had hidden in the church (he was the one calling the young man "Muchacho"). Gabriel had paid the consequences of his act, even though his being the son of an important regime man had spared his life. The second and last volume, published two weeks ago, begins with his fleeing the village, and being picked up by a group of rebels taking an American hostage to their base on the other side of the forest jungle. Gabriel accompanies them, and meets the masked stranger, a handsome, blond foreigner with a heavy past, whom he quickly falls in love with. Over the course of the album, he'll complete his transformation into a man, politically and sexually aware.
In case you were wondering about this, Muchacho is no South American Star Wars, and Gabriel is no gay Luke Skywalker. Even though the Somoza regime was truly evil, the Sandinistas are no angels, and Lepage makes a point of talking about the treatment of gay people by Revolutionary Cuba (they were thrown in camps). There are no heroes in Muchacho, only people trying to fight for what they believe in, and knowing the chances of dying for it.

Gabriel kisses the man he loves

The integration of Gabriel's awakening to sensuality and his political questioning is a key point of this story. The way one mirrors the other is reminiscent of the 70's feminist slogan "The personal is political", and it makes for very good fiction.
It must be noted that the violence depicted is more graphic than the sex, which shows that even an open-minded author bows to the usual society pressures, or maybe that he just didn't question them.
That being said, Lepage offers us a very good ending, bitter-sweet and realistic. At about 160 pages, this long graphic novel would make a fine addition to any good American publisher's catalog. Any taker?
In the meantime, if you want to practice your French, both volumes are available from Amazon France, while you can see far more art from Emmanuel Lepage on this art gallery site.

By the way, if some of you are interested in more reviews of comics in French, please tell me. Otherwise, I'll just do it very rarely and only for what I consider important books.

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Blog review
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Maria's Wedding

Category: gay-friendly, slice-of-life.
Author(s): Nunzio De Filippis, Christina Weir, José Garibaldi.
Year of publication: 2003.

Joseph and Matthew's wedding photoMaria's Wedding (still available, among others from Amazon) is a charming little story written by Nunzio De Filippis & Christina Weir, the same people as the recent Past Lies, and drawn by José Garibaldi, an artist with a decidedly cartoony style, who worked there for the first time for Oni Press.

In the (very) large Pirelli family, a new wedding is taking place, and things aren't really going well. Maria is marrying someone her family doesn't approve of, although it's probably creating less of a rift than what happened last year: her cousin Joseph's wedding with his boyfriend Matthew.
Centered on Frankie, Joseph's brother, and his hopes of meeting again Brenna, Maria's maid-of-honor, this family tale with a twist is heart-warming and quietly rebellious.
Family discussionIt is interesting to see that the one everybody considers as a rebel is Frankie, while Joseph seems more interested in a calm life and in not making waves. One of the plot points in the story is whether Joseph and his husband will dance at Maria's wedding, thus possibly arousing the homophobic members of the family.
While not the center of the story, Joseph and Matthew are an integral part of the family and are treated as such by their enlightened kin.

Garibaldi's art is quite effective, without any big effect, and it gives us varied faces and expressions, which is rather important in a story more about internal than external strife, and solid storytelling. The only less-than-convincing aspect is his handling of hands, but everyone knows hands are really hard to draw.

This, again, is what I'm expecting of a good, gay-inclusive comic: equal, and not separate, treatment of the gay characters. And that's certainly what De Filippis and Weir offer to their readers, in this story where the characters try to balance their attachment to their family and their personal hopes for happiness. A situation shared by many gay people, after all.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006
Blog review
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The Book of Boy Trouble

Category: autobiography, humor, slice-of-life.
Author(s): Robert Kirby, David Kelly, Michael Fahy, Craig Bostick, Tony Arena, Jaime Cortez, Justin Hall, Andy Hartzell, Brett Hopkins, Sina, Steve MacIsaac.
Year of publication: 1994-2006.

Would you be interested in a collection of gay-themed zines by a variety of talented cartoonists?
Because that's essentially what The Book of Boy Trouble is. Editors Robert Kirby and David Kelly took parts of the first four issues of their Boy Trouble zine (the fifth, already in book form, is still available from Kelly) and added lots of new stories (including 24 pages in color) to make a 130-page book just published by Green Candy Press (also available from Amazon).

One of Robert Kirby's contributions A Russ Turk page Michael Fahy likes hairy butts Panels by David Kelly

As I've already written in my review of those first four issues, the stories essentially concentrate on teenagers or guys in their twenties, and range from real-life issues to cute meditations on love and attraction. There's the occasional flight of fancy, as with the very funny Andy Hartzell story of a guy tricking with a pint-sized angel, and some stories are decidedly less light, like Jaime Cortez's musings on power dynamics while watching an older white guy with a younger Latino in a gay bar.
Among the all-new stories are the Justin Hall's travel story, as he recalls meeting a young Indian man while crossing the Peruvian Amazon. Hall is his usual intelligent self, managing to transform what could have been a simple sexual encounter into a reflexion on personal gay expression in non-Western settings. And he draws really attractive but realistic guys.
Not surprisingly, David Kelly tells the cutest stories in the book, with his pared-down style and the sunny smiles of his characters. There's also a feel-good story by Brett Hopkins, drawn in the most realistic style in the book (most other artists tend toward a more cartoony style), which looks like the beginning of a longer story.
I was about to say I'd like to see more of Hopkins's work, but then, I'd like to see more work by all those artists. Let's hope Kirby and Kelly will someday give us a sixth issue of Boy Trouble. In the meantime, why won't you get yourself a copy of this collection?

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