Review time! with ‘Loved & Lost’

Hey, I recently got a comic in the mail! Okay, it was because I contributed to the Kickstarter to get it published, but I’ll take it! Of course, that means I have to write about it, don’t I? The answer is “¡Sí!”

Loved & Lost is the latest anthology from A Wave Blue World, the publishing concern of Tyler and Wendy Chin-Tanner, the power couple to end all power couples.* As always, I have to give you full disclosure: I like Tyler quite a bit. He’s a hell of a nice guy, and he has a very cool daughter, and while I still haven’t met his wife (and it might be a while, as they recently decided that Portland wasn’t hip enough for them and moved to Brooklyn), I’m friends with her on Facebook and think she’s awesome. I always have to mention any connection I have with creators, because you can decide if I’m being biased. I try not to be, but I’m human. I apologize for being human!

* I always like to call companies “concerns,” mainly because of when the Simpsons go to Japan and have to work at the Osaka Fish Concern. Sorry, I’m just weird that way.

The last comic the company put out was Broken Frontier, which I reviewed here. That was generally a science fiction book, while Loved & Lost is – wait for it! – a group of love stories. I know, right? This time around, Chin-Tanner writes all of the stories, with different artists drawing them. So let’s take a look!

Anthologies are weird birds, because the quality can vary so much over the course of the book. That’s tempered a bit by the fact that this anthology has one writer – if you like one of Chin-Tanner’s stories, chances are you’ll like most of them – but it still holds true for the artwork. Love stories are hard, too, because unlike a lot of other stories, a good idea isn’t enough. You need to make the reader believe people will fall in love in very few pages, and that’s a tough nut to swallow sometimes. So Chin-Tanner has a lot of obstacles in his way. For the most part, though, he’s up to the task. He gives us different kinds of love stories, which is smart, as there are different kinds of love. Not all of them are happy, which is to be expected, but not all of them fall into the “happy ending/sad ending” paradigm you might expect. He just gives us stories about love, in all its forms.

“Status Update,” the first story, isn’t the best story in the book, but it might be my favorite because it’s so goofy and absolutely true-to-life. Two people who met on-line get together for a date and find that things in their “real” lives aren’t as copacetic as their on-line lives. It could be a depressing story, but Chin-Tanner recognizes that some people are “better” at being friends without actually meeting each other, and in today’s world, this is more relevant than ever. I enjoy meeting people that I’ve “met” on-line, but there’s always that twinge of anxiety that they won’t be anything like their on-line persona and it will be awful. What do you do then? Chin-Tanner proposes a clever and apt solution, allowing both parties to be happy and move on. Ryan Alexander-Tanner, who provides the art, doesn’t have to do too much (it’s a story with two people talking to each other), but he gives Fiona and Drew clothing to match their personalities, and in a crucial wordless panel on the final page, he does a wonderful job expressing what one character is thinking. Stefan Saito, who colors the story, also does a clever thing with the characters’ clothing, giving Fiona just a slight drabness and Drew a cheery brightness, hinting around at the way they look at life. It’s a neat trick.

Strangely, the worst story, writing-wise, is probably the second one, coming right after “Status Update.” “Freshly Planted Seeds” is a beautiful story – Julia Krase laid it out, Aysegül Sınav drew it, Varga Tomi colored it, and Taylor Esposito lettered it (he letters all but two stories in the book) – but it’s kind of weak. Sınav and Tomi give us a lush, natural world (the story takes place somewhere in Latin America) that also shows the poverty of the people well, and Sınav does an excellent job contrasting the Americans coming to volunteer to help with the natives – Chin-Tanner does a bit with the somewhat condescending attitude of the Americans, but Sınav assists a lot just with the way they stand and the way they dress; it’s well done. However, the story doesn’t quite work. Jill, the new volunteer, falls for Nathan, the head of the project, but it’s a bumpy road for them for a lot of reasons. The reasons could be intriguing – Jill is one of the only volunteers who knows anything about farming, and takes over the planting quickly, much to the chagrin of the others; Nathan is a fairly “hands-off” leader, when that’s really not what’s needed; Nathan is a Christian, and Jill doesn’t seem to be; and Nathan doesn’t want to have sex with her but doesn’t seem to mind getting almost completely naked while they’re making out. It needs to be longer, because neither Jill nor Nathan is a fully-realized character, which makes their romance odd … except for the fact that they’re attractive people, but the story wants to be deeper than that, and it’s not.

The next story, “Falling in Deep,” is a slight, humorous tale that heavily depends on our suspension of disbelief. It’s wordless for a good chunk of the story, allowing artist Julia Krase to show off, which she does beautifully, as two people meet underwater and explore a reef together. Krase does marvelous work with painting the story, from the water’s-eye view of someone on the boat, which she distorts with long, feathery brush strokes (yes, I know it’s probably digital, but that’s what it looks like) to the vibrant colors of the reef, to the expressive flirting of the two principal characters (Chin-Tanner doesn’t give letterer Shawn Aldridge much to do in this story). We have to suspend our disbelief mainly because it seems strange that two people would begin making out in the short amount of time they know each other, but the story is a bit of a joke, so once we get the punchline, the story works better. It’s a fun little story.

“Team Spirit” is the only platonic love story in the book, and it’s not bad. A young man who has moved to the suburbs of New York comes into Brooklyn to visit his old friend and see a basketball game, and things get out of hand when the friend (a woman) hits on another guy’s girlfriend. It’s a paean to friendship and the willingness of some to do anything for their friends, but there are also some weird undertones in the story. Bri, the friend, is the only gay person in the book. She doesn’t have any boundaries, it seems, as she blatantly hits on a girl who is obviously with someone else. Her friend stands up for her, even though she’s clearly in the wrong, which is fine because they’re friends, but the gender politics are still a bit wonky. The woman antagonizes a man, the man threatens the woman, the friend takes over to defend the woman. It’s a damsel-in-distress story that seems needlessly archaic, as the story is really about the platonic love between the man (who, unfortunately, never gets named, unless it’s “Buddy”) and Bri. Chin-Tanner throws the fight aspect in for some action, perhaps, but the story didn’t really need it. Robert Ryan draws the story and Lesley Atlansky colors it, and Ryan does a nice job de-emphasizing Bri’s gender – it’s not a big shock when we find out she’s a woman, but prior to that, she was more gender-neutral than anything, leading to the “surprise” of her hitting on women. It’s a tough story to parse, so I’ll just leave it there!

“Perfectly Distilled” is a fine story, because Chin-Tanner is more subtle about it (well, in some ways). A man walks into a bar and asks the cute bartender for whiskey (and some pointers about whiskey) while he waits for a date. His date arrives, and she is not very much what he expected. Of course, he has a lot more chemistry with the cute bartender, and it’s not hard to figure out where the story goes after it ends. Like “Status Update,” it’s a clever and slightly acerbic look at modern romance, although it has a more traditional happy ending than that story. Chin-Tanner does a nice job not making the guy too much of a douchebag (as he easily could have been) and making the woman with whom he has the blind date oddly sympathetic, even as it becomes clear she has no time for actual romance. It’s a balancing act, but we can see her side of things, even as we wonder if she’ll ever get a man. Meanwhile, Jason Copland’s art (with Michael Wiggam providing warm tones for the cozy bar, in stark contrast to the date’s severe black suit) is well done (as Copland’s art usually is) – some things may have been in the script, but I wonder if Copland added some things, too (I could ask Copland and Chin-Tanner, but I don’t feel like it!). Copland gives us a view of the bartender’s breasts in one panel (it’s not prurient – she’s pouring a drink – but it’s still her breasts), and in two other panels she stretches in a way that gives us views of her exposed midriff. Just that is enough to make her into a more sexual being, contrasting her with the man’s date, who’s all sharp points and angles. The date is beautiful, but in one panel Copland draws her wonderfully ugly as she disparages the bartender. Meanwhile, the dude could easily, as I noted, be a douchebag, but Copland softens him just enough so that we can believe he’d be a better match for the bartender (although he doesn’t know what “neat” in relation to whiskey means – what’s up with that?). Copland has become a fine, nuanced artist, and that’s what we get here.

Another long story, “Cachet-22,” comes after this, and it’s another good story with some ambiguity. James Boyle gets to draw most of the nudity in the book (another story has very little), as Raj and Jenny have frequent and, it seems, enjoyable sex. The casualness of the nudity is appreciated – they sit on the toilet nude, they microwave popcorn nude, they watch television nude (as well as, you know, bang). Raj is a dude at a tech start-up and Jenny is a waitress, and the story unfolds with Raj having to decide whether the job is more important than the relationship. It’s a classic scenario, and Chin-Tanner does a good job with it, but the ending is a bit odd, because we seem to jump over some important developments in the romance. Raj and Jenny reach a critical point in their relationship, and Raj does something that Jenny doesn’t like, but it seems that he made his choice too quickly. I don’t know – yes, they’re struggling a bit, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve reached a point where it has to be the job or the relationship. It’s frustrating, because it seems like one more page might make the story work a lot better.

The funniest story in the book is “On the Stump,” in which a man running for Congress takes a detour on his way home and ends up strapped to a chair by a dominatrix. That’s all I’ll say about it, because the entire story is a joke, and a pretty good one. Mac Cooper (with Wiggam again coloring it) gets to draw the story, and he does a terrific job, making the candidate a happy and honorable family man on one page and a leering pervert on the next, plus he gets to draw a smoking hot dominatrix. Good times!

“Thaw” is an interesting story about Marine vets (of Iraq or Afghanistan, we don’t know) and the way they come back into society. The protagonist, Sean, is friends with Duncan, who’s dating Adrianna, whom Sean immediately digs. Duncan cheats on her, but Sean can’t tell her that, because he and Duncan went through a horror in the war and they stick together. Duncan lost a leg, and we don’t find out what happened to Sean until the very end of the story. It’s a sad story, because it questions how much you owe people with whom you shared a traumatic event, and is it right for them to hold that over you. Tadd Galusha does a good job with the art, giving us interesting characters, a good sense of place (the story occurs in San Diego), and excellent colors, from the sepia-toned flashbacks to the hallucinatory scene at a nightclub. He really nails the ending, as Sean makes a decision that could change everything (I don’t want to get into it, but it’s heavy) and Galusha does a wonderful job with the wordless pages, both in the way the characters look and the early morning light of the scene.

The final story, “Swan Song,” is another joke, as a man and woman go on a picnic and the man tells the woman something that will change their relationship forever. It’s a goofy story, but fun, and Jeannette Langmead’s art and Wiggam’s colors are perfectly fine for it, although there’s a few panels were perspective is a bit wonky, and it makes something look smaller than it actually is, which is a bit confusing. I don’t want to write anything else, because it would spoil the story. It’s a fun way to end the book, though.

Despite some of the criticisms I had, overall it’s a good anthology. Chin-Tanner doesn’t limit himself to rote stories about falling in love or falling out of love, which is nice. He explores different kinds of love, even platonic love, and he shows romance from many different angles and considers stuff like jobs in the romantic equation, which is often not the case. People fall in love in a lot of odd ways, and Chin-Tanner does a nice job showing that. He gets good artists to draw the stories, too, which helps quite a bit. The biggest problem I had with the book is that a few stories feel like they could be a page or two longer to flesh things out just a bit more. That’s not a bad problem to have, I guess. Ironically, it’s some of the longer ones (“Freshly Planted Seeds,” “Cachet-22”) about which I feel this. Oh well!

(Loved & Lost also sports this sweet pull quote by someone who knows what he’s talking about:

You can trust this guy!

For what that’s worth!)

I’m a bit of a sucker for a good love story, so this anthology is right up my alley, but even if you’re not a big fan of romance comics, this is still a good book. Chin-Tanner is writing about love, yes, but he’s also writing about people trying to figure out their lives, in all its myriad ways. That’s a fine topic to explore, and the book does it very well.

You can pick up the book from Amazon, at the link below. Remember – if you use that link and buy anything, I get a bit of money. Just a reminder!

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