Sunday, February 17, 2008

Review: Summer Flings: Best Lesbian Love Stories

Edited by Simone Thorne
Summer Flings: Best Lesbian Love Stories

Published by Alyson Books

Reviewed by Kay Sexton

This is a collection of stories as light as candy floss and probably as nutritious, but why not? It’s a perfect beach read for the summer, which is clearly its intention, and it’s about time that fluffy reading was easily available for the gal on the sand. Over twenty short and sweet stories, each one with a more or less happy ending, will allow you to toast your body without straining your mind, and if feel-good fiction is what you crave, this book delivers it in spades. The outstanding story for this reader was “Warm Hands” by Cheyenne Blue, which offered a nice level of conflict and two rounded and attractive characters, before delivering the requisite ‘happy ever after’, but “No Bones About It” by Jessica Newhouse was a lot of fun too, and Barbara Bristol’s “A Taste of Honey” and “The Touch of Cyn” is a perfect wish-fulfilment fantasy set at a women-only music festival.

Buy it for your holiday and feel no guilt; the heavy literature can wait until the autumn!

Kay Sexton is a fiction writer, editor and freelance journalist: she blogs about writing fiction here and has a regular column here.


Monday, February 04, 2008

Review: The Book of Boy Trouble: Gay Boy Comics with a New Attitude

Edited by Robert Kirby and David Kelly
The Book of Boy Trouble

Published by Green Candy Press

Reviewed by Paul Kane

Boy Trouble is an alternative gay zine that was started in 1994 by Robert Kirby, with David Kelly following as joint editor a year later. This book collects together about 50 cartoons and comic strips; most originally appeared in the zine, but there is also some new work from artists who had previously contributed to Boy Trouble.

All of the artists (and writers) represented here are gay and male, but what does it mean to say that these comics are, in some way, ‘alternative’? Well, various challenging themes, even now rather shunned by the mainstream, are touched on here: coming out, living with AIDS, homophobia and some risqué ways to combat it. Myriad aspects of love and lust (‘my first time’ being a popular riff), dating and drug-taking are dealt with. There is a tribute to Kurt Cobain and a fantasy that has Ben Afflick as its object. What links all of these strips as well is that they are urban, contemporary and usually autobiographical. Whilst the tone can be humorous or serious, all are, without exception, honest. One can conclude that The Book of Boy Trouble: Gay Boy Comics with a New Attitude is certainly an advance on Batman and Robin, although in hindsight there was certainly something suspiciously queer about that relationship too. Dear old Dr. Frederic Wertham was right on that score.

Short profiles of the contributors (there are 17, all told) are followed by the comics themselves. The quality is extremely high and one is reluctant to single out a few artists above the rest, but here goes anyway. Michael Fahy’s several contributions (he has 11 in total) are characterised by a wry, sardonic sensibility. One is a self-depreciatory (or boastful?) self-portrait where the artist wears a t-shirt that reads: ‘I give great head ache.’ The artist now known as Anonymous Boy has a series called ‘The Non-adventures of Wayne’ (with two episodes appearing in the book) and the premise seems to be that Wayne will always just miss out on making it with a guy he likes; either because the guy is straight or because Wayne doesn’t pick up on the signals he’s getting, although they are as clear as day to the reader. These are gentle, ironic meditations on sexual attraction. Finally, ‘Pink Dolphins’ by Justin Hall is a beautiful, poignant work. Rather longer than most (extending to 10 pages), Hall’s strip has all the power of a story by David Leavitt and the composition of the panels makes use of many cinematic effects. It is a sumptuous thing.
In his recent Reading Comics (2007), Douglas Wolk remarks that ‘the golden age is right now’; his contention being that we are living through an extraordinarily fertile period for interesting and inventive comics at the moment. The Book of Boy Trouble: Gay Boy Comics with a New Attitude is further proof of this. Indeed, as a showcase for what gay male artists and writers have been doing with the medium, it really cannot be bettered. Incidentally, the girls are doing wonderful things here too. And, as well as the book under review, I’d recommend you check out Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006). It is pretty much a masterpiece in this medium; even a year or two after its publication one can confidently say this.

Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. Hewelcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at