Three is the title of a new comics anthology featuring the work of LGBT writers and artists. If “three” seems like an odd title for a comic, editor Kirby reflects on the ways this simple number saturates our lives: three Fates; three wishes; past, present, future; beginning, middle, end; and of course, the phrase “queer as a three dollar bill.” To his list I would add something Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching (who, just to clarify, is not some long lost, never-seen-on-panel relative of I Ching, mentor to Wonder Woman during her Kung Fu days):
Tao produced the One.
The One produced the two.
The two produced the three.
And the three produced the ten thousand things.
How’s that for a hoity toity reference? I may have just piqued the curiosity of gay spandex-loving readers and lost them a split second later. Let’s hope not because Three is deserving of your attention. My only reason for including these lines by Lao Tzu is to show that even a long dead philosopher knows the importance of “three” out of which all things are made possible.
But how does three apply to Three, you ask? Simple. Three stories in one comic, done this first time out by three people: Joey Alison Sayers, Eric Orner, and Robert Kirby. Orner’s name should be familiar to many from his long running strip The Mostly Unfabulous Life of Ethan Green. Likewise, Kirby should be best known for his Curbside Boys strip and Boy Trouble anthologies that saw life as both an indy comic and two collections from Green Candy Press. I shouldn’t admit this, but Sayers, known for her Thingpart strip, was unknown to me aside from vaguely recalled references to said strip. That was remedied by a visit to her site and clicking around to get a better feeling. One of the things about anthologies is to introduce different creators to readers, so mission accomplished there!
Several years back I rented Yossi and Jagger, Eytan Fox’s film about two Israeli soldiers having a secret love affair. It was my sudden awareness of my ignorance about anything gay in Israel that made me curious when I came across it at the video store (how 1999 is that?). Flash forward to recently when I stumbled across Men of Israel for a very >ahem< different spin on gay men in Israel. Eric Orner’s Weekends Abroad is another take on life and culture in that country, ostensibly through his own eyes as I learned through a little search that Orner’s recently lived in Israel to work on a project. Being Jewish doesn’t mean he fits in with Israeli or Jewish society as it’s expressed there. It certainly doesn’t help matters that he doesn’t understand Hebrew thanks to an incident involving, of all things, Wyler’s Lemonade. This is especially true for him in more devout Jerusalem where he works and less so in modern and gay friendly (or friendlier) Tel Aviv where he escapes. More than not fitting in, he doesn’t want to fit in and this attitude ensures that hijinks ensue from getting on the wrong Tel Aviv bound bus whose only stop is three (there’s that number again) miles out of his way, to a hook up gone south, and early morning meanderings through unfamiliar neighborhoods. Oddly enough it’s this unexpected wandering through Tel Aviv’s mostly empty streets that he finally develops a connection after spotting the person responsible for some curious English graffiti with which he’s been mildly obsessed. Coming across this person who simultaneously negotiates and participates in life both differently and as an outsider brings him to a similar understanding and acceptance.
Orner’s style here is a pleasant surprise, which is not meant as a backhanded compliment regarding his work on the Ethan Green strip. In general it’s more detailed but not overworked. From an artist point of view I’d say that Orner had a lot of fun being freed up from any constraints artists have working on the same characters over a strip’s lifetime. Figures have more detail and unique characteristics and the scenes in which they live and interact are highly evocative of a distinct place. Creating that kind of impression isn’t as easy as you may think. Orner works in black, white, grey tones, and light yellow, a combination that works surprisingly well. This is the same approach Orner is using in his bigger project about his observations while living in Israel that you can see samples of here and here. After reading this story and those samples I’ve realized how my perceptions of Israel and its people have been affected by myopic evangelical Christian notions of the country being the Holy Land. It may be true in a sense, but those ideas are frozen in abstract, subjective fantasies reluctant to admit the greater reality. In any case this larger outsider as observer project has me quite curious to read it.
Number One by Sayers is a short piece about the perils of having to pee when out in public. For sure it’s an odd topic and I bet you don’t usually think about it if only because you may be a guy and, guys, shall we say, have easier options when nature calls. Unfortunately women don’t have that advantage. Sayers’ treats her doppelganger’s situation with humor. Now the story functions on this level just as is, but there’s a deceptive simplicity at work here when you take into account that Sayers is transgender who negotiates spaces in the world that are not always accepting, let alone understanding. Considering this, Number One becomes a gentle and celebratory slice of her new life.
Kirby’s Freedom Flight revisits Drew, one of his main characters from Curbside Boys. It’s been several years since I enjoyed the experience of reading the two Curbside collections back to back and I remember relating to Drew in several aspects. Kirby visits Drew’s adolescence in a brief flash back, and now it seems I relate to Drew in a couple other ways. Drew the child used to hide from adults sometimes to eavesdrop on adults. Only my “hiding” was in plain sight, pretending to do kid things, and it amazed me to hear what adults talked about when they thought I wasn’t paying attention. He also dreamt of flying away on a plane from “everything.” Clearly Drew had some heavy stuff going on as a kid. My mode of travel was by hopping one of the freight trains that came down tracks near one house we lived in. But you’re not reading this to learn stuff about my messed up childhood, are you?
Flash forward to 1994 and Drew’s in his 20s, the boytoy of an older professor he had for film studies. He could be happy living in New York with a boyfriend, but that listless, unsettled feeling of childhood has struck again. When Mitch ignores him again in favor of grading papers (surely one of the banes of teachers all over), Drew simply decides to quietly make a break with the clothes on his back, a little cash, and Visa card for which Mitch is probably the co-signer. Kirby creates an encounter with a three-legged dog that acts in a fashion like an animal spirit guide until the owner appears and bam! totemic interruptus! Anything Drew feels he might have learned from this affable canine muse is gone. And just like that, so is his compulsion to leave Mitch.
Like Sayers’ Number One, Kirby’s story has a lot more going on beneath the surface. Drew the 20 something is in denial over being emotionally handicapped. But there’s more involving relationships, specifically how Drew sees his role. And Mitch has issues, too. While out walking, Drew wonders if Mitch will remember to take his “meds”, a phrase that clued me in to Mitch’s situation Kirby drew a little bottle labeled “AZT” a couple pages later. This is 1994 and AZT was one of only a very few HIV drugs at the time. A long life was often a coveted dream and gay men were selling life insurance policies and living it up in what little time they assumed was left them. And here Mitch sits resigned to grading papers, ignoring the company and hot and sweaty sex with a boyfriend 15 or 20 years younger, perhaps out of fear of infecting him. But he’s the perfect boyfriend for Drew because he’s clearly confused desperation, duty, and martyrdom, and a monotonous routine with love, a sense of purpose, and identity. Or perhaps I’ve just projected my philosophy regarding how living life with a chronic disease impacts relationships.
Art wise, aside from the blue, black and white color scheme, Kirby’s work here is a progression from his Curbside works. Like Orner, Kirby seems to have had fun expanding on drawing more background and scene elements giving a sense of animation.
Ask me what happened in some superhero comic I might’ve read a couple weeks ago and I’d be hard pressed to tell you. Too many are like the comics version of self-gratification. These three stories though, they’ve gotten into my head. sat down and stayed a while. I’ve even watched another Eytan Fox movie, The Bubble. Good job, you three!
Three can be purchased at Robert Kirby’s website . Shipping is quite reasonable. People on tap for the next issue are Machael Fahy, Jennifer Camper, David Kelly, Craig Bostick, Sina Shamsavari, and Jon Macy.
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