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True Story, Swear to God: 100 Stories

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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.”

Beland’s new collection is a series of one-page observational and anecdotal strips divided into themes. A Northern Californian who ultimately moved to Puerto Rico in pursuit of the love of his life (a story that is apparently covered in more detail in the first True Story book: Chances Are…), Beland creates strips about tiny moments (e.g., being confronted in the middle of the night by your wife for laughing in your sleep) with a level of honesty that you can’t expect in mainstream newspaper strips. His straightforward cartoonist brush line may remind you of someone like Pat “Rose Is Rose” Brady, but you know that Brady couldn’t get away with a newspaper strip about rectal exams. As a storyteller, Beland occasionally walks a fine line between whimsical and hokey (another reason I thought of Brady when reading this collection), but in his best moments, he produces some believably comic autobiography.
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.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.
  • http://www.saladin.ca/ Paul

    I’m not sure if I’m ready to take another chance on Beland. His first collection was basically:

    1) I think I’m in love…
    2) Will it go anywhere?
    3) I’m in love!

    (Should I have put “spoilers” before that?)

    …which was great for Tom, but wasn’t very thrilling for the rest of us.

  • http://Turk jomama

    If you think the Dells don’t belong in the rock hall of fame I pity your knowledge of real music. They have been the basis of what soul music is all about. Perhaps you are ignorant in this realm. Too much head baggin shit must have dulled your senses. You do not have to be black to understand that soul, r&b, motown, boogy woogy and classic rock, all stem from ones core need to express feeling,generate movement,and produce sound to envigorate ones senses.
    Unlike today’s bullshit that gets on the radio and makes millionares of clowns who couldn’t hold a note if it had a handle on it.