DRAWN & QUARTERED
This comic doesn't feature doe-eyed debutantes, but chronicles a true relationship
When cartoonist Tom Beland set out to document the ups and downs of his relationship, he admitted he didn't expect to draw much attention. After all, it started with a self-published comic book with the intriguing title of "True Story, Swear to God," subtitled "The True Story of a Real-Life Romance."
But when I first saw the book, nestled amid all of the colorfully garish superhero and fantasy covers on display in my favorite comics store, I was taken by both its appealing cartoon look and honest attempt to show how two real-life people fall in love despite the odds.
Consider the two and the situation: He's a freelance cartoonist from Northern California's Napa Valley, and she -- Lily Garcia -- is a well-known radio and TV personality from Puerto Rico. But after a chance meeting at a bus stop near Disneyland, a long-distance romance blossoms, then (by recent reports) wanes and is now getting its second wind. So there could be a happy ending in the offing after all.
Because it's basically told in Beland's voice and drawings, "True Story, Swear to God" is more of a human-interest story than something strictly defined within the boundaries of the romance comic genre. The adept cartoon drawings and strong narrative should be enough of a clue that there are no teary-eyed debutantes here.
The comic book has been one of those small, word-of-mouth success stories -- or, to be more accurate, an Internet critics' blog success story. Enough buzz was generated about Beland's comic book that it earned an Eisner Award nomination three years ago. Now Beland is available to a wider audience through a relaunch of his title with the independent Image Comics. Three issues in, the story of the relationship still has the warmth, charm and candor that made it attractive in the first place.
While it's easy to pick up the story line with issue No. 1, I recommend searching out the title's previously published collections from AiT/Planet Lar to better acquaint yourself with Tom and Lily. "Chances Are" and "This One Goes to 11" are the first two, with issues 12 to 17 of that first run still to be compiled. Beland also did online strips when he took the leap of faith and moved to Puerto Rico to be with his beloved. Those strips are collected under the title "100 Stories."
The Image "True Story" picks up the couple's story just before the turn of the millennium. You know it's true love, because Beland has moved away from his California family to make a life with Lily -- without even knowing Spanish! The first issue shows his inventive ways of trying to collect some long-overdue freelance wages from his deadbeat contacts.
In the latest issue, Beland does a good job depicting how difficult it is for him to find his place in a foreign culture, brought to light by an annoying dog that constantly barks in his neighborhood.
Garcia, as well, is going through some serious life changes, both personal and professional. She's heartbroken when she finds out that station management is breaking up her longtime partnership with her morning deejay. And a drastic sacrifice in appearance for the sake of her Buddhist beliefs displeases her domineering mother to no end.
In light of recent reports of a breakup and make-up between the two, I'm looking forward to how this will transpire in future issues. "True Story, Swear to God" is a gem and a welcome respite from the usual ilk of dour, superhero-generated crises.