Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
All this month, Brian is reviewing different comic books with LGBT themes (LGBT standing for “Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender”), based on submissions from the actual creators of the comic books themselves. Some of those creators sent me their comics, perhaps because I review stuff too! Whatever the reason, I’m going to review them too! Here is an archive of the comics featured so far!
Jeff Jacklin’s Hearts & Iron is a strange comic, partly because I’ve only read issue #4 and Jacklin is obviously telling a long-form story, but also because it’s about two gay men in the present whose souls are somehow linked to two Greek wrestlers from 3000 years ago. He doesn’t explain it in this issue, and one of the wrestlers – Kallikrates – even has some knowledge of his “other” life, so I imagine Jacklin will get around to it eventually. But it’s a bit weird if you’re reading just one single issue of this, because the two parts don’t really have anything to do with each other.
The second half of the issue works a lot better than the first, frankly. Carl and John, the modern versions of these characters (the Greek ones are Kallikrates and Ioannes, which is a neat touch by Jacklin), are out in the woods with their dog, camping. The only significant thing that happens is they meet a couple and the woman tells them about Coyote, the Trickster God. Their dog meets a coyote at night while they’re sleeping, and then their souls migrate out of their bodies and end up in ancient Greece. So there’s that. The reason this first part of the book doesn’t work as well is because Jacklin, who apparently writes quite a bit about muscular men, lays on the silly dialogue rather thickly, as Carl and John, shirtless, talk a lot about pumping iron and they strike a lot of poses, and it’s just a bit silly. The flirtation between Kallikrates and Ioannes in the second half of the book feels much more natural – Carl and John are already together, of course, so they don’t pursue each other, but it still feels like the Greek characters are in a more interesting and real relationship than Carl and John, who feel more like cardboard characters. It’s odd, because in this same comic, within 28 pages, Jacklin gives us two different relationships between essentially the same characters, but one feels stilted and the other feels natural. Very strange.
Once we get to ancient Greece, there’s more going on – the wrestlers are practicing for the Olympics and discussing emotions and even meeting Homer; the Greek gods even make an appearance at the very end of the book. There’s just a lot more going on, and Jacklin brings it all in without forcing it. In the present, Carl and John speak portentously, but it feels forced, as if Jacklin needs to lay groundwork for something that’s coming down the pike and he’s unsure how to do it. Again, it’s weird that this is a comic split so evenly between fairly decent dialogue and pacing and rather ponderous dialogue and pacing.
Jacklin’s art is rough but gets the job done. On one of his web sites, his comics are in color, and the art does look a lot better. Obviously, as he’s celebrating muscular men and setting the book in ancient Greece, there’s a lot of male nudity, so be warned. One of the reasons why the first half seems so silly is the one panel of Carl and John naked, where their erect penises are about as long and thick as their forearms. It’s so jarring and unreal that it made me chuckle, which is definitely not the mood Jacklin is going for. I mean, where do they put those things when they’re wearing shorts (as they are the rest of the book)? Do they have them wrapped around their waists? The penises in ancient Greece seem much more proportionate and normal. Carl and John could use theirs as crowd control at major concert events.
Hearts & Iron isn’t the greatest comic, but it’s intriguing how Jacklin is doing something with the back-and-forth between the present and the past. The plot of the ancient Greek story seems, from this one issue, to be much more interesting, and it’s the kind of thing I’d actually be interested in following. If you’re interested, you can check out Jacklin’s site for more of his webcomics and how to buy these issues.
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