Friday, July 13, 2012

Anthologies: Little Heart

2D Cloud's Kickstarter-funded anthology Little Heart is uneven as far as the quality of its contributions goes, though in some respects that's beside the point. A portion of the book's proceeds went to [MN]Love, a nonprofit dedicated to marriage equality in Minnesota. As an adopted North Carolinian, enduring the results of Amendment One this past year was disgraceful, as it made so-called "marriage protections" part of the state constitution. Until the US Supreme Court rules otherwise, more states are in danger of having to deal with these barbaric and discriminatory practices. As such, one can forgive that some of the entries in this anthology either aren't comics or else display more enthusiasm than skill.

Let's take a closer look at the stories themselves. One thing that I liked about the anthology is that there was no specific requirement for the contributors to make their story about gay marriage. Indeed, a number of the stories are personal accounts from people who are single or have no desire to get married. I thought two of the better (if on-the-nose) stories came from Virginia Paine and Maurice Vellekoop, respectively. Paine talked about that even when she dated men, she never thought of marriage as an attractive option, but did say that having a choice like anyone else is important.Vellekoop, the great Canadian illustrator, interviews some friends after nearly a decade of equal access under the law in his country. It's a fascinating piece and a nice capstone to the book, as some of his friends discuss the pros and cons of marriage as well as their own mixed feelings about the institution. A couple of his friends felt it was too imitative of the straight world (a quite common claim), while others liked the idea of being part of an ancient institution and making it their own. It's a fascinating discussion of some finer points of the experience that many don't think about, drawn in Vellekoop's trademark angular, attractive style.
A couple of stories were personal accounts of deciding to get married, focusing in on specific aspects of the experience. For Emily Carroll and Kate Craig, their story focused on the simple engagement ring purchased online, which had an inscription from another couple. It's a simple sentiment, wondering about who these people were but focusing more on the present. Mari Naomi's account of proposing to her husband was more complicated, as she spoke to one queer friend whose less than enthusiastic "How nice for you, that you're able to do that" spoke to the divide between gay and bi individuals as well as the dilemma many hetero partners feel when they think about marrying. That said, the sheer enthusiasm and nervousness comes through on every page, and the splash page featuring the proposal was nicely understated, as Mari Naomi puts the image of her proposing in the bottom left hand corner, surrounded by tons of white space.

Some of the strips focus less on the idea of marriage than the experience of being queer and exploring that identity.Alex Fukui's "Footsie" for example, is a painful example of having desperate yearnings as a young person and wondering if someone you have a crush on is interested in as well, with the added layer of total fear about being a teen and being gay. Ed Choy and Sam Sharpe's "Roosterlegs" is by far the best-looking strip in the book thanks to the bold, confident lines, clever character design and interesting use of spot color. It's a strip about a young person trying to investigate the realities of what being queer means in nature and exploring the possibility of trans identity.

Other stories focus on being alone vs being with someone and the sacrifices one makes in either scenario. Christopher Adams' evocative silent story about a priest going about his day, hanging out with members of his congregation, speaks to the nature of the solitude of his position and the peace he has ultimately made with it. Hannah Blumenreich's story of a lovable pre-teen oddball who earnestly believes that she is psychic is endearing precisely because of her lack of self-awareness, even as she makes subtle shifts in attitude when reality dictates it. Joseph Remnant's excellent story about a guy crushing hard on a girl he sees at a bookstore and subsequently talks to at an art show is funny because of the quite deranged nature of obsessiveness overriding reason. The fact that this story gets a happy doesn't feel like a cheat so much as an indication that the leads occupied the same place in their circle of friends and really did find out by accident that they were perfect for each other. Noah Van Sciver's account of Richard & Mildred Loving's struggle to have their mixed-race marriage accepted in the south is especially poignant given that their union was opposed on many of the same supposed moral grounds as gay marriage is today. Jeremy Sorese's story about his divorced parents remarrying provides the structure for his own mixed feelings about marriage in an elegant and stylish series of highly stylized images. He gets at an interesting point: even if gay marriage is a big deal, why should a 23 year old be worrying about marriage anyway?

Most of the other stories are pleasant enough, if forgettable. I thought the inclusion of spot illustrations didn't do much to strengthen the anthology, especially since few of them were especially memorable. The handwritten coming-out story of Tammy Ray was impassioned but wasn't really comics, and Rachel Kowarski's poem did not fit at all. Editor Raighne Hogan likes to take risks in his anthologies and errs on the side of leaving in submissions that perhaps should have been cut. He leaves it up to the reader to decide their worth, which is admirable, but I'd love to see him exercise a firmer editorial hand. Of course, this anthology wasn't necessarily the place to do so, and erring on the side of enthusiasm in this case made sense. There's no question that it's a beautifully designed book, as all 2D Cloud projects tend to be, and I hope that it makes a difference.

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