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Love Fights

Believe it or not, romance comics used to be a huge part of the comic book industry. Girls, of their own free will, bought comics…off of racks…that weren’t made in Japan, and continued to do so for decades until the market for them just seemed to die off. Even Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were huge contributors to romance comics. So where did they all go?

Mostly, they went to the small press houses like Oni Press and Slave Labor Graphics, etc., where they could still find an audience after Marvel and DC truly became the Big 2 (not to say that these companies were around then, but there has always been a smaller press in comics). Oni coincidentally publishes Andi Watson’s ode to romance comics by-way-of-superheroics Love Fights.

Watson is one of those writer/artists that I’ve always meant to pick up, but never get around to it. I remember hunting around for a copy of Geisha a few years ago, but giving up after a while. After reading Love Fights, I retroactively regret abandoning that search, because Watson manages to create a believable romance comic set in the less realistic world of superheroes, while creating some very interesting and invariably human characters.

Jack is a comic book artist, working on comics about actual superheroes operating in the city, with an almost pathological inability to talk to women; he’s so flummoxed when someone of the opposite sex talks to him, he chokes when it comes time to get a number. For this reason, his friends have dubbed him “The Dateless Wonder.” And he lives up to the name until he and a reporter for the superhero version of People named Nora keep bumping into each other.

While Jack still seems unable to ask, “Hey, want to get some coffee?” Nora has no such disability. What follows are the trials and tribulations of two young people as they try to get together, while dealing with their own lives and the problems inherent in them. Jack’s comic
isn’t selling and he’s losing his art team, while Nora is desperately trying to gain some respect at work by digging through superheroes’ dirty spandex. And something is definitely wrong with Jack’s cat Guthrie. Something eating a few grass clippings really won’t fix.

The entire book is artfully written and paced extremely well; the pacing being a direct result of
Watson being both writer and artist. But the most exceptional part of the book is the way Watson portrays the inner-workings of Jack’s mind. Watson really captures the feeling of being infatuated with someone in the little daydreams and mental pictures that Jack creates. Whether it be simple daydreams of Nora in more or less than full apparel, or the pictorials of his anti-girl-talking self being beaten down by his newly bolstered self-image, Watson lets the reader really understand what’s going on in his character’s head.

Watson also convincingly conveys what it’s like when you’re first starting out in a relationship; mostly that it runs the gamut of being supremely awesome and sucktacular at the same time. Jack and Nora seem to like each other just fine, and they obviously enjoy each other’s company, but that doesn’t stop Jack from being jealous, irrationally so at times, when Nora is running off to a story and out on a date. Nora fancies Jack, but he might be an obstacle to her career and she gives some thought to that. Watson captures the essence of relationships: that they can bring about changes to our lives that we may not like or even be ready for, but the happier moments of Jack and Nora’s relationship make the reader wonder if those big scary changes might be worth it. Watson knows how to tell modern romance, keeping the passionate swoon-worthy qualities of the old romance comics alive, while making sure the more contemporary sensibility of “it’s not all rainbows and butterflies” is a part of the story.

The artwork fits the book extremely well, which is not overly surprising since Watson wrote the damn thing. I’ll admit that I had some trepidation as to whether Watson could handle drawing superheroes, but his line work is similar to stuff we’ve seen Michael Avon Oeming draw, but more simplistic in facial features, and more heavily nuanced by gray tones and shading.
Watson’s drawing style seems minimalist at first glance, but it surprised me how much detail he really managed to put in. The panels are nothing if not crowded full of visual information, and Watson actually employs backgrounds in most of his panels, which many artists who subscribe to a less detailed drawing style tend to leave out in favor of pure fields of white. Watson employs every trick in the sketchbook: perspective drawing, splash pages,
negative space, gray shading, and I think he even changes pencils here and there, switching lead weights to get a different line thickness in some places.

It’s a well drawn book, and I almost wish the collection had been printed full size rather than the manga-size that every company has been forced to adopt in some way to compete with the Japanese market, as I could have had a better look at the art. Hopefully the size will help
sell the book to the younger (and possibly even female) audience.

There aren’t a lot of romance comics out there to be had, and even less of them grab shelf space in the comic stores because they don’t sell as much as superhero books, which makes Watson’s decision to include superheroes in the story is logical, but at its heart Love Fights really is a romance comic, and a well written one at that. You get the first six issues of the on-going series, plus a neat little “Fighting Love In Tights” Afterword where B. Clay Moore (Hawaiian Dick) and J. Torres (Days Like This, Sidekicks) have a dialogue about Andi Watson doing Love Fights and whether or not it will work. And all this for a paltry $14.95. It is well worth your time, and maybe even your girl-and/or boyfriend’s time, so take a loving stroll on down to Ye Olde Comic Shoppery and buy. After all, what could be a better date than shopping for comics?

Where’d all the women go?


Robert Sparling

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