Still too occupied by the assignments to dive into the deep river of movies viewed, but here's another review written for Just Out (probably to be published some time in September).

Maria's Wedding and Too Much Hopeless Savages

If, like me, your approach to the world of comics and graphic novels is that of a curious dilettante, the obsessive, feverish relationship many diehard comics fans appear to have to the swords ‘n sorcerers/rigorously-paradigmed superhero “genre” comics can seem impenetrable, if not downright amusing (I’ve had friends in the business confirm to me that when the writers of The Simpsons created the smug, insular “Comic Book Guy” character, it was only a very slight exaggeration).

But then there are the other comics- the most famous examples are probably Peter Bagge’s Hate and Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus series- that offer more expansive, relatable themes to those of us outside the stereotyped comics niche. Oni Press, an internationally admired comic publishing house based in Portland, has a proud history of furthering this non-fantastical vein; many of their books center around recognizably human characters, and their best releases feature poignant, dramatic story lines that leaven a deceptively simple visual style with a certain punkish (or perhaps New Wave-ish) irreverence and a healthy dose of kitchen-sink pathos.

Two recent Oni offerings are of particular interest for placing queer story lines within their panels: Maria’s Wedding, a graphic novel written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir and illustrated by Jose Garibaldi, and Hopeless Savages, a series written by Jen van Meter and illustrated by a rotating group of artists, most recently Christine Norrie.

Savages is the ongoing episodic chronicle of the lives of an ultraprogressive yet structurally traditional punk rock family (the dad’s punk moniker is Dirk Hopeless, the mom’s named Nikki Savage; hence, the coolest hyphenated name ever). Twitch, the second-youngest Hopeless-Savage, is gay. Twitch has apparently had his share of boy trouble, though the latest Savages miniseries, Too Much Hopeless Savages, finds him more or less happily in love with a young Asian-American man named Henry Shi. Claude Shi, Henry’s brother, is dating another Hopeless-Savage, Twitch’s older sister Arsenal (only in the most modern families do monikers like these come into play), and we follow the four along on a trip to Hong Kong, where they receive troubling psychic predictions from Henry’s mystical-soothsaying great-grandmother and are caught in the web of some sort of secret-agent sabotage presumably to be explained in the rest of the series (this is the first of four installments). The zesty, textured drawings, lively story lines, and unique characterizations comprise an enticing mixture of those usually oxymoronic elements, hipness and warmth.

An additional note: Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero, a recently published compilation of the second Savages series, is highly recommended to neophytes; it offers not only the necessary context for maximal appreciation of Too Much Hopeless Savages, it also contains a tender passage wherein Twitch tries to help his sister, who’s having love troubles, by sharing with her what he knows about boys.

Maria’s Wedding opens with a flashback to the Unitarian commitment ceremony of Joseph Pirrelli- the older brother of our protagonist, twentysometing Frankie Pirelli- to his partner, Matthew. Frank and Matthew’s nontraditional union has caused a rift in the extended Italian-American Pirelli clan, many of whom disapproved or refused to attend, and is a major source of tension as they gather for the titular wedding of Maria, Frankie’s cousin, to a man of dubious personality.

All of the action takes place on the day of Maria’s wedding, which makes for a disciplined, focused, short/sweet narrative while still managing to vividly encompass each nuclear unit of the vast Pirelli clan. Each character is charmingly drawn, and there’s an evocative black-and-white elegance throughout. Maria’s Wedding has a fine, cinematic style and sense of framing; it’s like Raging Bull as a family-drama comic book.

It would be too simplistic to say that Hopeless Savages and Maria’s Wedding are “comics for adults,” which would imply that there isn’t a sizable contingent of adults, including a noticeable faction in the queer community, drawn to the labyrinthine mythologizing of the always-popular superheroes, cyberpunks, and mystical odysseys. They are, however, a fresh way of getting at the things a good novel or dramatic film has traditionally given us: The puzzlements and exhilarations of people as they actually are and the setbacks, victories, and romance of life as it’s actually lived.
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