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Max and Sven

Max & Sven

A 96-page album, Green Candy Press, 2004.
ISBN: 1-931160-29-5.
Buy from Amazon.

Category: coming-out, humor, slice-of-life.

Author(s): Tom Bouden.

Max & Sven meet in high school

Some years after his adaptation of an Oscar Wilde play, Tom Bouden is at last published again in English with Max & Sven, a real-life, contemporary story of love and friendship.
In this album, we follow Max through his teenage years, during which meeting Sven in high school and instantly falling in love with him makes him realise for good that he's gay.

The tone of the story varies between realistic details (8 or 9-year old Max having a crush on a boy he met during a vacation with his parents without even understanding it) and fantasy (as with the scenes showing Max's boys scouts and boarding school phantasms which look like a Cadinot film). There's also a lightness, a gentle humor, already present in the Wilde book, which makes it very different from all the other suffering gay teens stories. Not that those don't have values (and they are unfortunately too real), but it is not Max's experience. Maybe because he lives in a northern European country at the end of the 20th century (Bouden is Belgian), which enables him to access a gay youth group and not really have to face homophobia. Another aspect of that European sensibility is the way sex is shown in the story. It's very naturally included, from Max trying on condoms by himself to his explicit phantasms. But it's not intended as usual pornography, in the sense that the story comes first and the sexually frank panels serve it.

Tom Bouden is as at ease drawing those erotic moments as the more mundane ones. His art is of the cartoony European school, with very expressive faces and realistic backgrounds. As with the Wilde adaptation, the pages are dense and make good use of the larger publication format.
The main characters are not drawn as dream men out of an erotic comic, and their looking like any other (admittedly cute) guy enhances the believability of the story, as well as the feeling we might meet them in our daily life.

Max and Sven's friendship, which survives Max telling Sven of his feelings for him and Max's consequent discovery that those feelings are not mutual, is also very important. Tom Bouden shows very well how the people close to us have an influence on our lives, our loves and hopes. Loves and friendships are also on display in the second party of the book (Max's story is about 60 pages), with one or two-page strips often more whimsical than the main story. Sven, Max and Max's lover are present in those strips, which Bouden drew between 1994 and 2001. There are still a lot of those strips not published in English. Let's hope that Max & Sven will only be the beginning of a more complete translation of Tom Bouden's tender and sexy work.

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