- Posted by Johanna on August 21, 2007 at 6:52 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Carla Speed McNeil
- PUBLISHER: Lightspeed Press; $15.95 US
Five Crazy Women follows The Rescuers sequentially, but it’s got more in common with Mystery Date, the book before that. Both deal with that thorny topic of relationships, especially as they are complicated by sex.
It’s the world’s most fruitful subject for art, because there are infinite combinations to explore and built-in reader interest. Especially when it comes to Jaeger’s lifestyle — he avoids the games most civilized people play and the facades they operate under.
As the book opens, Jaeger’s back in town and looking for a place to stay. Which means calling up the various women he knows and seeing if they’re up for dinner and some bed-time. These early, quick cuts are beautifully suited for Carla Speed McNeil’s imaginative, dense style; they let her pack ideas and character bits in quickly, adding to her rich worldbuilding.
Their lives have moved on without Jaeger, unsurprisingly, since he’s a human alley cat. That’s still cool with him, since he accepts anything and everything the way it is, with no pretension or expectations, but many of them aren’t as flexible. Or they aren’t willing to drop everything and rearrange their lives on his schedule. Smart women, since they’re just a means to an end for him… all he really wants is a clean place to sleep, and sex is what he’s willing to trade to get it. That he’ll enjoy it is a nice side benefit.
He knows enough about himself to know all this, but he’s still not able to deny what he wants. He’s also constrained by his tribal status as a sin-eater, a living symbol of rejection, which restricts who’s available to him. He is part of his culture, born into a particular role. No matter how much awareness of human nature, his own and others’, he gains, he can’t change his history. Everyone has elements about themselves they’re given to start and must deal with.
His problems are complicated through his culture’s expectations of proper coupling behavior, which in some ways are the opposite of the townspeople’s patterns. And all of this comes out through sex, which makes it all spicier and more titillating. (That’s the definition of “prurient”.) There’s a universe of kink out there, and McNeil shows us some odd ones.
And all that’s just the first chapter. Now that we have a grounding in how Jaeger thinks about sex, the rest of the book uses him as a vehicle to show us the crazy women of the title. Only there’s a lot more to them than that. They’re warped and scarred by experience and expectations put on them, or by trying to meet needs they won’t admit to themselves.
There’s the tease named Candy with an eating disorder. Genie, the freaky gymnast he meets speed-dating. Yekat, who’s a bit too close with her family. Grazie, who explores how people are turned on by pity and takes him in after an accident. By the end of the book, Jaeger has become a living symbol of how trying to settle in a relationship not suited to your nature will kill you, even if you want to make the adjustment.
McNeil’s art continues to improve with every book. It’s astounding that, good as she already is, she is able to get better. Her characters’ expressions are so realistic and detailed that they carry so much information, deepening the reader’s experience of the story. I love, for example, the look on the face of the woman who plops herself into Jaeger’s bed in the middle of the night while her husband’s asleep upstairs. She’s clearly working out a grudge, and the mean, grumpy look on her face never changes, even when laying naked next to him.
This is the best example of how to do a non-porn comic for adults about sex I’ve ever seen. Admittedly, it’s a small field, because most artists don’t want to tackle the subject. (You run the risk of getting unwelcome legal attention in many parts of the US, and too many people assume that *any* comic with sex and lovemaking is porn.) If you’re old enough to realize that what goes on in the head is more erotic than what goes on in the body, you should read this. It’s a triumph.
You can read a chapter from this story at the Lightspeed Press website.