The Eisner-nominated creator of Invincible Days turns a fearless, often ironic eye, on his own dating life – a twenty-year odyssey delving into his difficulties finding love as a gay Filipino man in a city notorious for its fickleness.
Dating sucks. It’s scary, exhilarating, heartrending, and intoxicating all at the same time. It’s one of life’s grandest adventures – and one of its most painful and tedious trials. Those who are married usually recall it with a rueful, self-conscious grin, glad that it’s over. Many of us prefer not to think of it at all.
In Fires Above Hyperion, Patrick Atangan’s autobiographical chronicle of dating spans twenty years, starting from his coming out during his first year of college and progressing through the ups and downs of his romantic relationships with the relish of a child picking at a fresh scab. That isn’t to say that Fires Above Hyperion is an unpleasant read. Far from it, in fact.
Atangan possesses too much maturity as both an artist and a human being to revel in the lows. He doesn’t refuse to flinch, however, when discussing his own emotional shortcomings, and he presents even the most humiliating encounters with a good-natured objectivity, often in counterpoint to the harrowing particulars of the event.
Each chapter functions as a self-contained short story connected to the larger narrative through Atangan’s sparse but illuminating monologue. Symbols and color also play a huge role in linking each chapter, reinforcing intense emotional beats and building atmosphere. Permeating everything is Atangan’s peculiar brand of self-deprecating humor.
The setting of Los Angeles takes on a sultry, surreal aspect in Atangan’s hands, taking on the role of a character throughout the entire book. More than just a place, LA shapes Atangan’s emotional growth and his perceptions of dating. He sees in its fleeting, ever-changing façade a metaphor for the relationships in his life – intense and transformative, yet ultimately transient.
At times the city is a calm, tranquil urban oasis, close by the sea; the sky above a vibrant turquoise. At others, as in the titular story, Los Angeles becomes a cypher for Atangan’s turbulent emotional state, the wildfires raging in the hills above the city, casting a lurid, red-hot glow over the streets.
Atangan’s application of basic design principles lends his art a polished, stylish flare that plays off the stewpot of emotions driving each chapter. Art and plot work hand-in-hand to depict a vibrant emotional landscape that seems at odds with Atangan’s typical soft-spoken narration, providing the reader with a constant visual reminder of his assertion that he’s terrible at hiding his feelings.
These are Atangan’s love stories, and even if he’s almost never the hero, in the traditional sense, his struggle for self-acceptance and his uncanny ability to rebound infuses his graphic narrative with an accessibility and sense of careful optimism totally in keeping with the artist himself.
Unassuming yet unflinching, Atangan’s self-deprecating exploration of his twenty-year journey through the trials and tribulations of dating showcases a humility and honesty that resonate deeply with the reader.
Fires Above Hyperion isn’t a chronicle of heartbreak and despair, but rather a celebration of human connection that transcends race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Patrick Atangan (W/A) • NBM Publishing, $14.99.