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How Loathsome

howloathsomeTristan Crane writer
Ted Naifeh artist
NBM Publishing ($2.95)

The following is a review written of a mini series written in 2003. I’m sharing it again in light of Gail Simone’s revelation in Batgirl #19 that Alysia Yeoh is transgender.

How Loathsome isn’t a typical comic story. It’s an unapologetic look at gender, sexuality, power roles, and love – or is it lust? – through the experiences of Catherine Gore, the main character. The story starts with Catherine letting herself be drug to an S & M party. She’s been to her share but there’s nothing better to do on a Saturday night. This one’s just as boring for her until she and her friend Nick discover Chloe, a tall blonde whose enigmatic nature draws them each to her. Back at Nick’s place, Catherine is determined to get Chloe to herself. With a simple, calculated question she gets Nick to realise an obvious truth about Chloe. He leaves the house and through an alcohol haze the pair swap stories. Chloe accepts Catherine’s unspoken invitation into her life. Over the next few days and nights the magnificent pair prowls San Francisco for excitement and adoration from willing strangers. The day after their lastest adventure, they find themselves in a stranger’s apartment and broke. Catherine phones Nick, who brings them back to his house to add some color to a party taking place. After Catherine passes out, Nick spitefully, and just as calculating as Catherine, repays her for tacitly claiming Chloe, ending her euphoria of the past few days.

Naifeh’s style is perfectly suited for the story: stark, refined, sometimes exaggerated line work with grey tones. The full page portrait of Catherine and Chloe is amazing. Thankfully, the art is in black and white. Color would have detracted from the story. These “beautiful monsters” in their magnificence have to be distanced from us in our technicolor world. The decision to use black and white is one of the first things taught to me in art school. To render an image in black and white is to concentrate on the form and substance of a subject. To use color is to concentrate on light and its physical and emotional effects.
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Crane and Naifeh deliver a queer tour de force with the first issue. Catherine’s fascinating character immediately drew me to her. She’s strong in her own right, curious, and willing to forego what she sees as the typical lesbian persona, and chart her own course in life. Chloe’s powerful charisma stems from her intense personal journey of gender identification and transformation. And Nick is simply the hyper sexualized, self serving prick we’ve all known at one time or another. None of the outward circumstances of these characters’ lives are anything like mine currently are. However, inside they are all the same as you and me. We’ve all been shut out in some way, considered freaks who are outside the socially acceptable societal norms regardless of how hard we may try to fit in. We’ve all been frustrated with love, and confused about our sexualities and identities. The important theme is how we decide to travel on our personal and unique journeys through life. How Loathsome is one of the best stories, in comics or prose, I’ve read in some time; as equally fascinating to me as a gender bending novel like Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body.

September 5, 2017
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