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Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Lengths

Writer and Art: Howard Hardiman
Publisher: Self published

What's it about?

What lengths do we go to in our lives? To make money? To meet boyfriends? To keep boyfriends? To survive?

From the website:
"It’s hard being someone’s Mister Right when for a hundred pounds an hour, you’re anyone’s Mister Right Now.  Young ex-art student Eddie has abandoned his course, his family, his lover and his friends to follow a male escort into a world of sex, drugs and unrequited love. Now, he is beginning a tentative romance with an old friend and having to face up to the challenge of being honest in a relationship about what he’s doing in the weird hours he works and the lengths he’s willing to go to to try to please everyone around him."

There's no rainbows in this, no whimsical camp paraphernalia.  It's a seedy, gritty story about a male prostitute coming to a crossroads in his life.  It's sometimes sordid, sometimes touching.  The juxtaposition between the lead's life as Ford, sex worker, and his life as Eddie, drop out art student, is the main message of the story.  Exploring this, we see Eddie with past boyfriends, how he got into sex work, and his blossoming relationship with Dan, who has no idea about Eddie's job.

What's good about it?

Eddie's two lives are often characterised through his two phones - one shiny new smartphone, on contract, for his friends and lovers, and one bog standard pay as you go - simple, utilitarian, no frills - for his clients to book his services. Throughout the series these phones are used as shorthand to indicate who Eddie is at that moment, where he'll go and what he'll do.  This split, this secret identity he has, makes for an intense, emotional story.  It's the kind of story that leaves you feeling unsettled and unnerved.
(Terrible image quality is because it's a photo as I don't have a scanner right now)

The voices of each character are pure contemporary London.  The accents, the turns of phrase, the crudeness of the language, the mentions of LOLing, and tumblr and other internet fads.   It's so rare to find a comic that speaks your language, if you know what I mean.  I'm not from London, but London characters speak to me of the UK and my culture, and in a medium that is saturated with American creators, this is a beautiful thing.  It's obviously written by someone who knows London and knows the subculture he's writing about.

This series doesn't condemn or celebrate sex work.  It's based on interviews that Hardiman did with sex workers in London and, to me, it feels true.  It feels like an honest story.

To be honest I'm finding it hard to articulate the beauty of this series.  Reading it, it was apparent that I had to blog about it and review it.  I had a thousand thoughts running through my mind but I'm not finding it hard to write them out.  The series provoked a very emotional reaction in me - perhaps because of my experiences with depression and isolation, things which affect Eddie in the book.  One thing is for sure - this is a keeper.
(Apologies again for the bad image quality)

What's bad about it?
The first couple of issues are a bit confusing as to what is happening - they jump between now and the past, and on first read it's a bit bewildering.  However, this is smoothed out in later issues.

The lettering in the first issue isn't great - it seems a bit wobbly and rushed but, like the time jumps, this gets smoothed out over time.

What's the art like?
As hinted at above, Eddie feels trapped between two lives.  He's suffocating with the pressure and he doesn't know what to do.  The black and white nature of the art and the composition of the pages add to this feeling of claustrophobia and panic and, yes, despair.

There are occasions when Hardiman's pencil work isn't great.  Sometimes the characters don't look great, sometimes the shapes on the page look too simple and like they could be improved.  But the inking and the layout, the arrangement of characters and objects on the page, the move from panel to panel, and the choice of panel shapes is excellent.  This more than makes up for the odd instance of less than perfect pencils.
I mean look at this page:
Isn't it just a perfect layout?

And this one (this image is another photo from my phone, so not great quality I'm afraid):
And this one (also another photo):

More information
You can buy The Lengths online: http://cutebutsad.bigcartel.com
It's priced at between £2.50 and £5 per issue, or £20 for all 8 issues.  Plus if you buy the 8 issue bundle you get a poster and a limited edition folder to make it a whole pack.
You can also read a 3 page comic, based in the world of The Lengths, that was created in reaction to the 2011 London riots here: http://howardhardiman.com/2012/04/a-game-of-consequences/

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