Howard Hardiman’s self pubbed comic “The Lengths” may seem oddly titled at first glance, but the choice is an apt one. This slice of life story, which swaps out human characters for furries (specifically in this case they’re all man’s best friend), is unique in that it is based on interviews with male sex workers in London. Hardiman’s title comes from his decision to, in his words: “[explore] whether it’s possible to come back from indulging our desires, or whether the lengths we go to in order to chase our passions will leave us forever apart from the world we left behind.” It’s a lofty ambition for a storyteller, and I think Hardiman will be successful in meeting his goal if these first two issues are any indication.
The cast of characters includes Eddie, an art school dropout; Dan, Eddie’s friend from art school days whom he’s recently taken up with; Nelson, a bodybuilder/ escort and the unattainable object of Eddie’s affection or libido, depending on how you see things; James, Eddie’s former boyfriend; and Krys, the rich one with a trust fund. Oh, that isn’t quite all. There’s also Ford, Eddie’s alter ego. No, Eddie doesn’t have multiple personalities. At least not in the psychiatric sense. See, Ford is Eddie’s escort name and dividing his time with living a secretive, double life is becoming more complicated which provides much of the tension in the story because Ford brings the money home working as an escort.
After a two year break, Eddie has reconnected with his friend Dan. Hardiman doesn’t give the pair a neat and tidy reunion though as Eddie’s emotions are a jumble after being rejected by Nelson (a rub indeed considering Nelson persuaded him to become an escort) and Dan doesn’t know what to think the morning after a night of sex. Even that is complicated by evidence of Eddie’s “secret” life that he accidentally discovers before Dan wakes. A delicious mix of conflicted emotions gather just beneath the surface as Eddie departs Dan’s company and ignoring the pangs of remorse as he mechanically hooks up with a client.
A good deal of both issues are told in flashback to Eddie’s and Dan’s art school days revealing the dynamics at work between the friends and the rapidly decaying relationship between Eddie and James. It’s fertile ground for Hardiman as he sets up James as a loving and supportive boyfriend, and a tad less unmotivated in comparison to slackerish Eddie whose guilt and pointless behaviour have ugly consequences that have immediate and delayed consequences. Being so skint leads to desperate measures and denial is a strong coping tool till reality breaks through. A couple of transitions to the past weren’t so clear on first reading and perhaps could have benefited from a simple text signal or a visual clue so as to not interrupt the feeling of how fresh these memories are still for Eddie.
Hardiman’s art style has an indy flavor. Figures are rendered in sensitive line work while in other areas there high contrast black and white is put to good use as well as the occasional silhouette scene such as the Thames River shot in the first issue. Hardiman has a knack for details, such as drawing dog nails rather than human or the various canine-like poses he puts the escorts in as they lay about waiting for clients, that give a depth to the story’s realism, though there are a couple rare panels in which the anatomy confuses me. Page layouts are mostly standard in the first issue with a nice, inventive one here and there while Hardiman seems either to be more relaxed or playful with them in the second one, and a preview image from the third issue teases at more progress. In keeping with the sexual theme Hardiman introduces his characters in a page designed to imitate adult sites. Each of his characters are visually distinct in appearance and personality. Former boyfriend James would be my choice for most striking character, if only for the Retriever-ish profile he sports. Almost all of the lettering is done by hand, a touch that lends charm and personality, with an exception. The credits page is done up to resemble a page of escort ads from “Dogz”. Yes, Hardiman’s idea for a furry “skin” mag and it’s a nice touch but the lettering here needed a more technical hand or a little variety with computer fonts.
As noted, the work has a factual basis How the interviews that informed the characters and plot were conducted isn’t stated. Presumably they were done by Hardiman. If so, kudos to him for putting forth the extra effort. At times I wonder if contemporary porn isn’t viewed through vaseline-smeared rose-colored glasses as fantasy of sexual adventurousness. That’s not to say people shouldn’t be so in real life as they choose. The reality of life as a sex worker just may not be so glamorous, at least not all, especially when circumstances leave few options as can be for people on the fringes. The availability of erotic comics and the presence of artists exploring sexual empowerment, see Jon Macy’s work for example, is welcome and necessary, but investigating other aspects of contemporary gay culture such as here with “The Lengths” is equally vital and relevant.
Will Eddie redeem himself through Dan’s love and friendship or remain the “fuckwit” that he disparagingly believes he is? The rest of the journey and outcome will be worthwhile reading.
Please visit the following sites for more information or to order outside of the UK. Issue #3 will be available on September 6th. Shipping to the US for the two issue package as of the date of this review is £ 2.5.