A collaborative project from San Francisco-based micropublisher Youth in Decline and Price Tapes, Lovers Only #1 is a risographed romance comic spotlighting tales of teen love by creators Mickey Zacchilli, Cathy G. Johnson and Sophia Foster-Dimino. The common link between each of these stories that they all feature a young female protagonist recognising their feelings for other women but being stifled and confined by external societal pressure.
Johnson’s opening 9-pager is a fractured, almost dream-like account of coming to terms with one’s sexuality at a time in life when it’s all too easy to allow the reactions, experiences and viewpoints of our peers to overwrite our own in terms of perceived validity. Told in snapshot accounts of events that shape its protagonist’s growing alienation with her social environment it’s a rapid fire catalogue of questioning suspicions surrounding close friendships with other girls, fearful withdrawal into self, the scornful reproaches of her peer group, and an increasing sense of detachment from those around her.
Johnson’s visuals – with their smeared, distorted use of colour as images and characters blur into and overlap each other – add to the feeling of claustrophobic isolation that is at the heart of this offering. But it’s that final panel rejection of the traditional pat resolution of romance comics that is undeniably the story’s most affecting moment.
Mickey Zacchilli is an artist whose frantically paced, high energy pages I have been particularly taken with this year in books like RAV 1st Collection and in her contribution to Hidden Fortress Press’s wrestling anthology Screwjob. Her high school protagonist also finds herself swept into a world of feigned social convention, compromised by her awkward participation in the rituals of heteronormativity. It’s full of those busy storytelling techniques that we have come to expect from Zacchilli: the caricatured cartoon-like emotional reactions of her cast, her chaotic and frenzied page layouts, and that deceptive sense of scrawled abandon that marks her distinctive approach to the page.
Sample pages from Cathy G. Johnson, Mickey Zacchilli and Sophia Foster-Dimino’s stories
The final entry by Sophia Foster-Dimino has an introspection that is quietly composed in comparison to the previous two shorts. Here two young women, both in relationships with boyfriends, have been sneaking off to the beach at night for some months to make out. It’s slight in plot construction but profound in emotional resonance; a familiar sensation of living in the moment, of how one over-riding passion can drown out every other concern in life. There’s a clarity and a clean line to Foster-Dimino’s art that mirrors the pensive and contemplative atmosphere of this slightly awkward coming-of-age account.
All three pieces are thought-provoking reminders of the constraints of finding one’s place in a world that still pressures us to conform and comply to the supposed collective “norm”. Lovers Only is not so much a subverting of those twee, melodramatic and saccharine romance comics of yesteryear but a reclaiming and reappropriation of them as something relatable, relevant and vital.
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