Love and Comics

On Valentine’s Day, people everywhere shell out all sorts of denominations on flowers, candy and gifts. In honor of that most glorious consumer holiday, it would be seem to be most appropriate to highlight comics that are perfect for Valentine’s Day. Nevertheless, there are enough exhortations to purchase gifts at this time of the year, as such this column will not address what books to buy loved ones. Rather, the focus will be to examine how the traditional ideas espoused by Valentine’s Day manifest themselves in the cartooning work of three different authors, Charles Schulz, Jordan Crane and Chester Brown.

It’s important to start with Charles Schulz, the cartoonist responsible for Peanuts created the epitome of the comics Valentine in the little book, Love is Walking Hand in Hand. It was created as part of a series of Peanuts gift books that Hallmark Cards released in the early sixties. In creating this little book, Charles Schulz, the accidental king of all that is marketable,  birthed the  perfect comic for Valentine’s Day.

Love is Walking Hand in Hand contains illustrated minimalist aphorisms that express the vibrance of love in the mundane. The book displays an astoundingly bold usage of orange red, black and pink color plates. One would argue that given it’s boldness of color and visual simplicity, this book would likely not do very well in today’s world of print comics and picture books.

The color combination would seem to put the reader on edge, forcing them to struggle without much visual breathing room. Nevertheless, by carefully balancing them and letting the black ink rest quietly among the buzzing pinks and oranges, Schulz creates a warm and coherent space for the reader to inhabit for a short while.
At its heart, Love is walking hand in Hand is a celebration of the little moments in which love reassures its presence in our lives. The beautiful thing about this book is that Schulz preaches an all encompassing notion of love. Love is when someone takes a moment out of their day to do something nice for someone else, but is best summed up by his assertion that “Love is the whole world.”

What a perfectly reasonable message to be sending on Valentine’s Day.

One issue that Love is Walking Hand in Hand simply does not broach is loss. It’s crushing, but the truth is that everyone deals with it.

In most contemporary stories told in cinema and television, romantic love goes hand in hand with loss. Nevertheless, the sadness of the loss of a loved one is portrayed as a loss so utterly bleak that it ends everything. There is no life possible after that love. The truth is that, after great loss, one must face the absence of a loved one daily. 

Jordan Crane’s comic, The Last Lonely Saturday, explores the trials of and release from life after loss. Crane beautifully captures the delicate beats of the reverence that a husband pays the spirit of his wife. The story follows the ritualized trip that a husband makes weekly to pay respect to his wife and within no more than a couple of pages, Crane’s story retells a husband and wife’s entire history.

From the comic’s meticulous book design, its quaint size and the roundness of the hand lettered type in the first pages, a reader can definitely expect the story to be heart warming. Nevertheless, what the reader can’t expect is the grace with which Crane pulls at a reader’s heartstrings. While the story is rooted in the traditional American cliché of a pair of lover reunited in the afterlife, the story is told deftly. Without spoiling too much, Crane’s narration of the reunion of spirits is truly gripping.

Similar to Love is Walking Hand in HandThe Last Lonely Saturday is the kind of book that elicits an unparalleled delicately visceral warmth, even on the seventh read.

Now, those that may dismiss the works of Schulz and Crane for their seemingly hokey notions towards the idea of love might think they’re out of luck in terms of Valentine’s Day comics. Fortunately, though, they’re not.

Chester Brown’s Paying for It : A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being A John is the perfect reading material for the reader disillusioned with romantic love and its inherent possessive monogamy. In this book, Brown sorts through all the legal, moral and emotional arguments against prostitution. It is a sober and intense look at the moral and cerebral aspects of prostitution, both from the perspectives of prostitutes and the clients.

The book begins with a record of Brown’s slow disillusionment with the concept of romantic love. It then follows his carefully planned and budgeted forays into the world of being a john. Despite the documentary impulse that transcribes the minutiae of Brown’s experiences, however, Brown’s real concerns lie beyond mere observation. Throughout, he uses his own experiences to make the case for decriminalizing prostitution. In a boldly direct style, Brown expounds on his reading material, inquires after his friends’ stance on the morality of sex work, and, in one sequence, simply sits around in his underwear thinking.

In a conversation with fellow cartoonist, Seth, Brown reveals he is of the mind that, “the romantic ideal is actually evil.” At heart, it causes “more misery than happiness” and causes people to bind themselves for life to the wrong person simply to satisfy society’s dictates.

For the reader that wishes to dismiss this book as nothing more than a series of anecdotes geared towards rationalizing an often persecuted personal choice, Brown presents a series of appendices along with a girthy bibliography that address the full spectrum of issues involved with reforming the way in which Western culture thinks about the relationship between, sex, love and romance.

From Brown’s vantage point, the very moral pillars upon which Valentine’s day stands are inherently destructive and not worth indulging in if a society is to be deemed rational and understanding. In the end, though, Brown’s arguments will need a lot of time to catch on. Simply put, the instincts towards monogamy are part and parcel of Western society.

With so many different perspectives on love, it’s certainly hard to know which is the right one, Fortunately, though, there are plenty of cartoonists to aid in the exploration of the vast emotional territory of love.

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