(ASSUME ALL STANDARD
When I realized this column was going to be done on Valentine's Day, I knew I had to do this comic. I missed the first issue, and after reading #2 I couldn't imagine where the story could go next. Then I read a letter from creator Leland Myrick published in Eddie Campbell's Bacchus that said this is a series of one-shots, with no relation to each other. What television used to call an "anthology series," like the Twilight Zone. But you can't really call it an anthology comic, because in this medium that means several stories in one issue, and each issue here has only one.
So I don't know what to call it, but I like it.
Since starting this column, I've made a real effort to look over the racks and pick up things I've never heard of that look interesting. I don't know how long my financial situation will allow me to continue this, but for now it's OK. I can never buy everything that looks interesting, but every month I pick up half a dozen or so comics I didn't order, and there's usually at least one nice surprise. At least two previous "Good Reads" were discovered that way.
I'm not sure what it was about the cover of Sweet #2 that made me pick it up, but I know what made me buy it - I read the first three pages.
That was enough.
Leland Myrick has a spare, clean style - both in art and in storytelling. He doesn't waste time or space. Each panel is succeeded by exactly the panel that needs to come next. Enough background is given so we know where we are, but there is never any clutter. The simple, somewhat cartoony faces are nonetheless realistic enough to be capable of a full range of emotional expression.
The story concerns a prison guard at "State Women's Maximum Security Facility" (as we see on a sign in the first panel). When he goes to work one day, there's a new woman on "the row." It is never specified, but I assume it's death row because I've never heard any other part of a prison referred to as a "row" and she's there for killing her boyfriend. The other guards call her "the librarian" because her cell is full of books and she reads all the time.
Before long, it becomes clear that Benny (that's the guard) is obsessed with her.
"Why did you do it?" he asks her after an escape attempt. We think he means her hopeless attempt to climb the chain-link fence, which has spirals of barbed wire atop it and a brick wall on the other side.
But when she says "What?" he answers:
"Why'd you kill him?"
She pauses, smoothing the hair over her ear. "He didn't give me any choice."
Benny tells his cat about her, starting out "I met this girl," as if he'd run into her in a bar, or at the library. He even makes excuses for her crime, admitting to the cat that she killed her last boyfriend, "But I knew it! I knew she wouldn't have done it if she didn't have to. He was probably going to hurt her."
The cat, wisely enough, stays out of the conversation, munching her food.
The next day (? - exactly how much time is passing is hard to say, actually) he runs into her in the yard. She is sitting on the steps, and of course she's reading a book. "Whatcha reading?" asks Benny.
"Rilke," she answers.
So we know for sure what we may have suspected - that Benny is not the librarian's intellectual equal. He has never heard of Rainer Maria Rilke. It's likely that, except for what he was forced to read in school, he has never read any poetry.
Benny is getting in deeper and deeper, and it's obvious that it's going to lead to trouble. I've given away almost half the plot, which is more than I usually do. On the other hand, I saw someone casually with no spoilers give a one sentence description of this comic that gave away the ending. It's not that the ending is particularly surprising, but I don't believe in doing that, so I won't. But this comic is so story driven, and the story is so simple, that it's hard to talk about it at all without giving much of it away.
Since it's obvious early on that Benny is falling in love with the Librarian (we never find out her real name), I don't feel too bad giving that away. And I have to, in order to tell you why I liked this comic so much I'm going to order issue #1 and put this on my hold list:
Because Myrick made me believe completely in a prison guard who falls in love - hopelessly, desperately in love - with a woman who is not only one of his charges but who he knows murdered her last boyfriend. And I'm not talking about willing suspension of disbelief to get on with the story. I'm talking about coming away convinced that there are probably real Bennies and Librarians out there in the real world, although there are various reasons why their stories aren't likely to turn out the way this one does.
That's quite a feat, and he accomplishes it with nothing but lines on paper.
According to Myrick's letter to Campbell, issue #3, due out in April, will take place on Mars 150 years in the future (according to the back cover of #2, it will be called "The Future of Love"). Although a typo (his? Eddie's?) says #3 again, it's obvious that he means #4 will be set in 1850 Philadelphia. Although he recognizes that he may lose some readers by foregoing serialization and familiar characters and settings, it's obvious that Myrick enjoys the freedom to do anything he wants, within some very broadly defined parameters.
In the letter, Myrick defines the format thusly: "Each issue is a self-contained love story that leans toward the weird and sometimes ridiculous."
A perfect Valentine's Day present for any true afficianado of the graphic storytelling.
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