Review: The Book of Boy Trouble: Gay Boy Comics with a New AttitudeEdited by Robert Kirby and David Kelly
The Book of Boy Trouble
Published by Green Candy Press
Reviewed by Paul Kane
Boy Trouble is an alternative gay zine that was started in 1994 by Robert Kirby, with David Kelly following as joint editor a year later. This book collects together about 50 cartoons and comic strips; most originally appeared in the zine, but there is also some new work from artists who had previously contributed to Boy Trouble.
All of the artists (and writers) represented here are gay and male, but what does it mean to say that these comics are, in some way, ‘alternative’? Well, various challenging themes, even now rather shunned by the mainstream, are touched on here: coming out, living with AIDS, homophobia and some risqué ways to combat it. Myriad aspects of love and lust (‘my first time’ being a popular riff), dating and drug-taking are dealt with. There is a tribute to Kurt Cobain and a fantasy that has Ben Afflick as its object. What links all of these strips as well is that they are urban, contemporary and usually autobiographical. Whilst the tone can be humorous or serious, all are, without exception, honest. One can conclude that The Book of Boy Trouble: Gay Boy Comics with a New Attitude is certainly an advance on Batman and Robin, although in hindsight there was certainly something suspiciously queer about that relationship too. Dear old Dr. Frederic Wertham was right on that score.
Short profiles of the contributors (there are 17, all told) are followed by the comics themselves. The quality is extremely high and one is reluctant to single out a few artists above the rest, but here goes anyway. Michael Fahy’s several contributions (he has 11 in total) are characterised by a wry, sardonic sensibility. One is a self-depreciatory (or boastful?) self-portrait where the artist wears a t-shirt that reads: ‘I give great head ache.’ The artist now known as Anonymous Boy has a series called ‘The Non-adventures of Wayne’ (with two episodes appearing in the book) and the premise seems to be that Wayne will always just miss out on making it with a guy he likes; either because the guy is straight or because Wayne doesn’t pick up on the signals he’s getting, although they are as clear as day to the reader. These are gentle, ironic meditations on sexual attraction. Finally, ‘Pink Dolphins’ by Justin Hall is a beautiful, poignant work. Rather longer than most (extending to 10 pages), Hall’s strip has all the power of a story by David Leavitt and the composition of the panels makes use of many cinematic effects. It is a sumptuous thing.
In his recent Reading Comics (2007), Douglas Wolk remarks that ‘the golden age is right now’; his contention being that we are living through an extraordinarily fertile period for interesting and inventive comics at the moment. The Book of Boy Trouble: Gay Boy Comics with a New Attitude is further proof of this. Indeed, as a showcase for what gay male artists and writers have been doing with the medium, it really cannot be bettered. Incidentally, the girls are doing wonderful things here too. And, as well as the book under review, I’d recommend you check out Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006). It is pretty much a masterpiece in this medium; even a year or two after its publication one can confidently say this.
Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. Hewelcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org