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The Journey To Becoming Able

Becoming Abel
Mark Julien
$15 CA digital only

In Becoming Abel Mark Julien revisits his unique concept from his debut graphic novel Justin Case and the Closet Monsters which was released in the spring of 2020. Not to worry if you’re unfamiliar with that story since Becoming Abel functions basically as a stand alone story concentrating on different characters. If you like you can read my review of Justin Case and between it and the following synopsis you should have a basic understanding.

Justin Case and the Closet Monsters centers on two gay men, Justin and Peter, who are struggling to accept that they are gay. Helping both men to come out are two members of the Closet Monsters Guild. Living in a parallel dimension, closet monsters are a large group of magical beings that turns the idea of childhood monsters on its head. As it is with “real world” monsters, each monster from the closet dimension takes on a different outward appearance that makes for entertaining visuals for the reader and interesting challenge for Julien. Some resemble either animals from nature or myth, another is an oddly cute cyclops, while others look more human but with frightful affectations.

Becoming Able focuses on two of the closet monster cast from the first book: the crazy quilt patchwork Abigail and girlfriend Bethanie whose hair evokes Elsa Lanchester’s famous do in Bride of Frankenstein. Playing supporting roles are psychiatrist Dr Lentil Lowenstein and Abigail’s parents. Om the surface Abigail and Bethanie appear to be just another happy couple content in their daily rituals. However, in this fictional world closet monsters can still have problems of their own. So what happens when unresolved personal issues resurface? Older closet monsters serve as mentors to others who are newer to life in this new world. At least that’s the intention. Things turn out somewhat differently with Abigail when recollections of her former life and family memories on earth begin to consume here.

While Bethanie is mostly at a loss on how to help but to her credit she confides in Dr Lowenstein. Closet monsters tend to behave in incredibly human like ways which is paradoxical given that for one reason or another closet monsters became closet monsters because they were unable to come out during their own lifetimes on earth. Julien illustrates this shared trait between humans and their monster counterparts in a number of one to one exchanges between Abigail and Bethanie and Dr Lowenstein. They believe their efforts to help Abigail are well intentioned but have the ring of familiarity is clear as they mirror everyday real world conversations with LGBTQA people. “Life isn’t fair…deal with it.” “Why are you upset?” “It would mean so much to me if you…” “You’ll come around…”

Wanting to say the right words is a very human trait and to be quiet when loved ones suffer feels cruel. This dichotomy to great effect as Bethanie continues trying to coax Abigail to open up. Julien won’t let Abigail’s character become forever lost to depression and sadness though despite the bleakness he lays bare on the page. Abigail’s conscience — or is it spirit? — appears at critical times to comfort with love while speaking soulful truths that are met with replies reflecting anguish, rejection, and self loathing. These powerful scenes alternate with silent passages are a meditation on the Self, evoking empathy from the reader, as Abigail’s inward journey leads from isolation to embracing the truth that was impossible to believe…

Abigail finally becomes Abel and becomes able to bask in the love and acceptance that were never realized while alive.

While Becoming Able and Justin Case share motifs — after all they exist in the same universe — there are a couple stylistic changes. Julien set aside the comic strip format with its interconnected plots that in which Justin was presented in favor of long form storytelling. Artistically Julien’s aesthetic is decorative in that his style is full of patterns and shapes while rooted in a cartoonist’s sensibilities. Here in this new story Julien ramps up the pattern play to maximalist effect. For me the results recall elaborate ornamentation on clothing often seen in Japanese ukiyo-e prints that I remember studying in Japanese art history classes. I know ukiyo-e prints are fairly obscure to most people so just think of the intricate pattern designs in kimonos and you’ll know what I mean.

Watch the Becoming Able teaser trailer on Youtube.

A note of content warning before you consider purchasing to read: suicide is one of the topics brought up in Becoming Abel. While I think Julien has dealt with this topic in a sensitive manner I cannot ascertain that for you, the person reading right at this moment. Please immediately call 988 if you are thinking of harming yourself or taking your life. Go to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Use Find A Help Lifeline for non US residents. Text START to 678-678 to reach the Trevor Project Helpline for LGBTQ youth.

Becoming Able is available for purchase in digital format (EPUB or PDF) directly through Mark Julien’s site.
Copies of Justin Case & The Closet Monsters are available in print and digital.

June 13, 2024
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