Sometimes you come across a word or phrase in a review that can’t help but send up red flags. For me, reading the blurbs on the back of Tom Beland’s new collection, True Story, Swear to God: 100 Stories (AiT/Planet Lar), the ol’ warning sign started waving once I saw that two different critics (Andrew D. Arnold & Greg McElhatton) use the word “charm” to describe Beland’s work. Charm! Yikes – visions of cutesy elfboymen dreamily contemplating unicorns suddenly popped into my head.
But Beland himself can probably empathize with my moment of Guy Panic: in one of his strips, “The Fem Zone,” he documents his reaction to a glowing review of his first graphic novel by comic critic and blogger Johanna Draper Carlson (“In the end, I was crying because it was so inspiring and affecting with real emotion. . .”) Fearful of being cast as a “chick” story writer, he comically rewrites his first meeting with his wife to incorporate hoary superhero clichés (his love dies a la Gwen Stacy but comes back “as a super powered clone” with impossibly sized breasts), only to have his spouse toss the pages into the flames. Unfortunately, he tells us, wife Lily has “editorial control.”
A few of the strips are meant as visual love poems to his girlfriend/wife Lily (the book, sometimes confusingly, spans more than five years of non-chronological strips) and family – always a risky proposition, though, thankfully, it works more often than not. Some of the strips can be quite funny, though at times you can see Beland the writer straining to get a hammer a joke into the strip (as when he sticks an obvious pun on an entry about a young boy getting his head stuck in a toilet seat). On other occasions, the strip-with-punchline format undercuts the message of a given entry, especially when the final panel is a more sentimental statement (he fumbles an otherwise touching strip about his mother with a capper panel depicting her as guardian angel). Still, Beland’s willingness to open himself up in his comics has me wanting to pick up the earlier Chances Are. . . to get a fuller picture of his relationship with the beguiling Lily.
So screw my initial anxieties: 100 Stories is a fun and (yup) charming batch o’ comics. Powered by Sidelines