by est em
published by Netcomics; $11.99 US
I’d been looking forward to seeing the work of est em, since she was recommended by Matt Thorn, and I need to expose myself to more of the best yaoi. Age Called Blue had an immediately gripping hook — it’s about wannabe rockers, British guys struggling to make a go of music.
Unfortunately, my entrance into the book was stymied by the atrocious computer lettering. It’s so wrong for the passionate material that I kept being reminded I was reading a translation, and a cheaply done one at that, judging by appearance.
The book contains six stories about Nick and Billy, young roommates in a band together, as well as two unrelated tales. I very much appreciated the context of the story, which begins with notice that Billy’s inspiration, Pete Brian of the Rebels, had died. The death of a rock star is a potent metaphor, an experience that most readers have had, where someone you didn’t know but who greatly influenced your life (and maybe what you wanted to be) had passed. Since this is fiction, Billy gets to meet Joe, Rebels guitarist, as a result.
But the core of the book is the dysfunctional relationship between Nick and Billy. In the first story, Billy is disheartedly shopping for groceries when Nick sheepishly reappears. Nick had stolen Billy’s money and guitar to pay off debts, as well as being beaten up by his creditors. In short, he’s the classic “bad boy” irresponsible musician. (A character type I admit I have little patience for; I don’t understand why anyone would indulge and enable such an erratic person, no matter what talent he might have.)
Throughout the story series, Billy struggles with his feelings for Nick, his loyalty to the band, his love of making music, and his frustration with Nick’s immaturity and absences. The art is well-suited to the subject, with attractive but edgy rock guys demonstrating emotion. (You can see samples in this Hooded Utilitarian review.) It’s better as individual images, though, with me sometimes being a little lost in what’s happening between the panels, and some of the backgrounds are very sparse or missing altogether. I was also disappointed with the introduction of the “unexpectedly tragic extreme event” which I find is more common in manga than American comic storytelling. To my eyes, this kind of plot device comes out of nowhere to provide emotional punch that feels undeserved and out of place in the rest of the story.
Still, this is striking work, the more so because it explores an area that should be more common in manga romances: the excitement of music. Later chapters show more about Pete and Joe, in flashback, as is the story of how Nick and Billy first met. The last two stories tell of a painter and his nude model, in a piece I found the most “yaoi-like” of the set, and of two cosmonauts, with one left behind. It’s unfortunate that it’s black and white, since the color blue has a prominent place in the last two.
The flashback story from Age Called Blue in which Joe and Billy meet is told from a different perspective as one of the chapters in Seduce Me After The Show, another est em yaoi collection, this time from defunct publisher Deux. I liked the chapter as an introduction to Age Called Blue, since it made Billy seem like a more independent character, without seeing his acceptance of Nick’s abuse, but the other stories — about a dancer who takes up with a Hollywood actor, or a blocked painter, or a festival performer who left for the big city — didn’t affect me as much. (The cats as people I just found weird.) Strangely, they seem more accomplished in art, although Seduce Me After The Show is an earlier work. Perhaps it’s just better reproduction.