Review: Games with Me (Vol 2) by Tina Anderson and Lynsley Brito (illus.)


Volume 2 of this gay historical drama continues with Dr. George Callahan certain that brothel-boy Jun is the one he knew as a child. When George attempts to better Jun’s life by buying his freedom, George’s intentions are marred by his addiction, and he risks losing Jun, forever.

Review by Erastes

This is volume 2 of what I assume is a two part graphic novel – and here’s the review of volume one. We really loved it here at Speak Its Name and we’ve been looking forward to part two for a long time.

This wasn’t a disappointment and well worth the wait. I read it ravenously first and then nice and slowly a second time, savouring the gorgeous art.

The set up in volume one, that of Dr George Callaghan knowing Jun is resolved, although that’s not really a surprise, but the story twists and turns in a satisfying way before we are given our ending.

One thing I really did like was the way the illustrations were very cinematic, such as sound effects like footsteps when dramatic tension was called for, and not too much of the labelled explanations of emotions, the art speaks for itself in that respect.

As I said, there’s a rather twisty plot, and a lot happens, with a good deal of backstory before we are done. The trouble I found was that there was so much to glean from this volume, that often I found myself guessing what was going on, or filling in gaps from the backstory and hoping I was right but not actually knowing. Perhaps it could have been extended to another volume, but that’s probably not feasible–I’m sure the logistics of getting a graphic novel out are tricky. But it did seem a bit rushed here and there, and a bit squashed for the amount of plot that had to happen. But that’s not really a detriment to the book.

I was surprised to find a few typographical errors, though. misused apostrophes and “your”/”you’re” confusion. With the small amount of speech in a book like this, there’s not really an excuse for these.

Jun is again, touchingly wonderful in this. George takes him out and about San Francisco–the poor boy has never seen a sunset, never been outside the brothel before and everything has a “wow” factor for him. Clothes, trains, traffic, people, he finds everything wonderful. Anderson being Anderson, she doesn’t whitewash problems in historical fiction. “Coolies” are less than second class citizens in this society and when Jun goes missing, the police admit that they wouldn’t waste time on the search, he’s only a coolie.

Due to the slightly squashed feel of the plot, trying to do too much in not enough panels, and the typographical errors, I’m going to mark this at 4.5 – but a resounding five stars for the two volumes as a set. There will also be an omnibus version, in print which I’m very happy about.

Tina Anderson’s Website

Linsley Brito’s Deviant Art Page

Buy at Amazon UK    Amazon USA

Review: Teleny and Camille by Jon Macy

Teleny is the haunted musical genius that everyone desires but no one has truly touched… until the fateful night that he senses Camille’s presence in the audience. The wealthy young man is instantly seduced by Teleny’s dark beauty and smoldering melancholy. This groundbreaking and powerful early gay novel, written in secret by Oscar Wilde and his anonymous circle of writers, is now re-interpreted as a graphic novel, in all its lush, pansexual excess.

Review by Hayden Thorne

When I first found out about Macy’s graphic novel adaptation, I was elated. I read Teleny a while ago and was moved – in so many different ways – by the book. Yes, there’s the breathless, passionate love story between Teleny and Camille, but along with that come scenes of ugly excesses (heterosexual and homosexual), tragedy, and grotesque surrealism, the last item oftentimes bursting at the seams with detail piled upon bizarre detail and written in pretty florid prose. The novel, believed to have been written by Oscar Wilde and a number of other writers (of varying talents) round robin-style, is groundbreaking in its open defiance of Victorian morality. Its uneven narrative style – alternating between painfully purple and elegantly subdued – weakens the story in some instances, but the rawness of emotion and the sincerity of these writers’ efforts in celebrating same-sex passion while condemning hypocrisy also add to the book’s strength, solidifying its place in the gay canon.

It’s very much a visual book, which, to me, makes it an ideal candidate for a graphic novel adaptation.

Macy’s graphic novel opens with a modern day dialogue involving the artist himself and a friend. Here Macy shows us the difficulties posed by the novel – more specifically, the challenge of making gay men from over a century ago accessible to a modern day audience. There were, after all, limitations to the way they communicated homosexual passion. They had to use metaphors and references to historical figures. There was also the problem of the visuals in the novel and how a twenty-first century artist could translate those without undermining the narrative’s social commentary, considering the pornographic nature of the book.

Oscar Wilde and his circle of friends decided to put down on paper a story so pure in its reveling in homosexuality that it was not just pornography, but a rallying cry for how they wanted to change society.

They were poets and aesthetes, carrying sunflowers and dressing flamboyantly. They shocked society and posted a threat to the status quo.

Every gay stereotype we have today comes from these men. They politicized their aesthetic. They broke all convention. They were the original uppity fags.

It’s impossible to include all of the scenes in the book in an adaptation, so a delicate balancing act needed to be made. In the end, Macy manages to capture the energy and the dizzying emotions through some carefully chosen scenes. In fact, I’ll go further and say that this adaptation of Teleny is practically minimalist in approach without sacrificing the essentials that shaped the narrative and its emotional impact.

And this is the great part about illustration. It captures, in one or two panels, a scene or a pivotal moment in the story that would’ve taken several paragraphs of text to convey.

I’m glad – very glad – to see that Macy didn’t hold back in not only showing the celebration of Teleny and Camille’s romance (angst and all), but also those very important scenes that are antithetical to the physical, emotional, and even spiritual connection these two men have. The brothel that Camille and his school friends visit as well as Briancourt’s symposium are two remarkably vivid scenes of sexual excesses that lead to tragedy. There’s also Teleny’s affair with the Countess, which is a quieter and more personal foil to Teleny’s relationship with Camille.

The chapters that never made it to the graphic novel are mostly found in the middle of the book, and to me, skipping them doesn’t really take too much away from the story’s main point. Those chapters, after all, are mostly about Camille and his desperate and ultimately disastrous efforts at playing the heterosexual card in order to avoid acknowledging his love for Teleny. Wilde and his circle made a point about the extremes that gay men were forced to go in order to play by society’s rules and how they sometimes came at a high price. In Camille’s case, the price is paid by his doomed servant.

If leaving those scenes out proves to be detrimental, the effects are really minimal, and that’s being nitpicky. Camille, for instance, in his desire to commit suicide by jumping into the river, might appear to be overreacting to seeing Teleny with Briancourt or to seeing the depressing nighttime cruising in a park. Before that point in the story, after all, he’s been tested heavily and painfully, but we don’t get to see it in the graphic novel.

But like I said, that’s being nitpicky.

As for Macy’s artistic style, I find it sensual and bold, reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley and certainly appropriate to the story. And as though to mimic the shifting narrative styles of the book from florid and purple to beautifully elegant, Macy’s art changes just as easily, from lovely to grotesque but remains, on the whole, decadent and lush.

And just as Macy uses a preface to tell us about the difficulties of a modern adaptation of a classic novel, he also appends an alternate ending after giving us the original conclusion. To explain this unusual approach, we’re back to seeing Macy and his friend discuss the depressing nature of so many gay novels that end in tragedy.

It’s like we’re too damaged to even dare imagine being happy.

With that, he offers us an alternate conclusion to Teleny and Camille’s love story. Whether or not modern day readers will take to this is ultimately an issue of individual taste, but the context is certainly important. Given the ongoing desperate attempts of social conservatives to demonize the LGBT community, one can consider the more hopeful ending to be just as defiant a celebration of same-sex love as the original novel and its darker conclusion.

Read the first chapter

Author’s Website
Buy the book

Review: Black Wade by Franze & Andärle

Graphic Novel

Dreaded pirate Black Wade has a cruel mind and an explosive sexuality. His mercilessness is legendary, but it wavers when he encounters the young and warm-hearted English officer Jack Wilkins. these two absolutely different men are prisoners to their fate. overwhelmed by their passion they unite in a fight for freedom and love.

Review by Erastes

Age of sail pedants, abandon ship.  But everyone else, climb aboard for a fruity and surprisingly touching naughty-cal romp. (Yes, I know. I’m shameless.)

The review is under a cut because I’ve included pictures which are not for minors. Continue reading

Review: Games With Me(vol.1) by Tina Anderson and Lynsley Brito(illus.)

Ex Civil-War surgeon George Callahan is a man haunted by his past. Unwilling to deal with the demons of his childhood he turns to opium, and finds back-alley employment with the heartless brothel keepers of San Francisco’s Chinatown. In Volume 1 of this gorgeously illustrated gay historical drama, Dr. George Callahan searches for a Chinese woman from his past, and soon finds himself unwittingly drawn to dim-witted male prostitute Jun, whose own life is complicated by the unwanted attentions of an aggressive bouncer named Roan Baxter.

Games with Me is an original German manga published in Germany by The Wild Side in (2009). The English language edition is currently available in digital format only, on the KINDLE reader from Amazon

Review by Erastes

Tina Anderson never conforms, and never shies away from pushing hard at the edges of her genre.  I’m no yaoi expert, as I’ve said before on this blog; the handful of books I’ve read have not gripped me because of the dewy eyed and seemingly mentally deficient ukes and enormous and suited semes–plus rape being a shortcut to love of course, which seems to be a must.

However, here we DO have a dewy eyed, long haired uke AND a angsty stern be-suited seme.  But there the comparison stops dead. And good job too.

Right from the first page we are thrust into Callahan’s bloody world. He’s a doctor all right, but he’s an abortionist at the same time, necessary work for the brothels of San Francisco in 1869.  It’s clear that Callaghan is talented, and has a conscience, but we are also shown –cleverly–that he’s got that certain disconnect that many doctors need to have.  The Chinese think he’s dead inside, a frozen man.

He is a troubled man, and one clearly with a “past.”  He loses himself in opium when he’s not working–what is he trying to forget?

Callaghan calls at a male brothel to collect payment for a job, and asks to spend some time with a young man there, called Jun.  “A retard” according to Roan, the brutish bouncer.  As Callaghan walks to Jun’s room, there are chilling details, a padlocked gate, windows that don’t look out onto the outside world, a man with two obviously underaged boys.  We know, if we hadn’t known from page one, that we aren’t in yaoi land any more.

Jun is heartbreakingly my favourite character in this. So sweet to George (and you can guess, probably to all of his customers) and with the mind of a child you almost feel uncomfortable reading about him, but he’s not a child–the book doesn’t cross that line.  It’s clear that George knows Jun from somewhere, and the first volume here doesn’t do more than tease us with this.

There’s a subplot involving Roan, the bouncer–who fancies the pretty Jun, too, and wants to play “love games” with him.  Jun, to my delight, was nicely pragmatic, telling Roan he had to buy a card to spend time with him. (Red for teatime, White for fulltime, Black for roughtime)  It broke me when George pushes Jun away at one point and Jun recoils in fear “if you want to hurt me, you got gotta buy a black card!” Just. Gah.

But, the writer being who she is, doesn’t make Roan a typical villain. He actually does seem to want Jun, he just doesn’t have a clue how to approach him, how to woo him. Jun is understandably wary of the man, as he’s obviously been abusive–or worse–to him before, so Roan tempts him with toys.

The drawings are beautiful. Brighto doesn’t stick to any fixed layout, but changes it from page to page, sometimes three panels, sometimes less, a full page here, a small insert picture there – I’m sure there are technical terms for this, but I’m afraid I don’t know them. Also it’s nice not to have to read front to back!  The historical detailing is beautifully done, the clothes are good, as is the architecture and the sex is rather warming without showing anything too graphic.

Take all that, and the promise of volume 2 to come, and you certainly have a keeper in my book.  I can’t wait to find out what happens next.  This ranks up there with the best gay historical graphic novels – the other being, of course, Only Words, by Tina Anderson and Caroline Monaco.

If reality based m/m historicals are selling, and are popular, then so do graphic novels deserve to be.  I highly recommend this, and hope that it comes out as a print book at some point–that she gets a publisher to take it on, as it’s only available in English as a Kindle version at the moment. But if you have a Kindle, then don’t miss out of this little gem of a book.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Tina Anderson’s Website

Linsley Brito’s Deviant Art Page

Buy Kindle version

Review: Gerard and Jacques Vol.01 & 02 by Fumi Yoshinaga

Blurb: The heroes of this story meet in a rather unlikely place – a brothel. Gerard, after deflowering the young aristocrat-turned-prostitute Jacques, pays to free him from his profession and spares him a life of selling his body to survive. Jacques shows up at Gerard’s door soon after, willing to work to repay his debt, not knowing that he would soon be tangled up in a web of romance with his new master.

Set in the years around the French Revolution, Gerard and Jacques is a story we’ve all seen before – Jacques is a young man sold into prostitution for whatever reason and comes across Gerard, a man who takes him away from all this (not before raping him, though; this is yaoi after all). “Unlikely” isn’t exactly a word I’d have used either, I’ve read so many books where brothels are involved.

Gerard wants to humiliate Jacques, to make him realise that he might as well be a whore, because he’s of no use—as an ex-aristocrat—for anything else. The boy surprises him by working hard around the house.

Jacques had my admiration for battling on with his chores, until it transpired that he’d learned to shoe horses after just being shown once. Hmmm. I’m not looking for a huge amount of realism in yaoi novels but this really annoyed me. I’m forced to admit that there are aspects of manga that I really don’t like, such as the cartoony faces of surprise like this—I know there’s probably a huge tradition behind this, and it’s what the readers like and expect, but as a grown adult who has jumped from childhood comics to graphic novels with an interim of many decades, I can’t acclimatise to it, and it pulls me from the more realistic drawings that the rest of the novel is drawn in.

I also don’t like the words to describe the actions. If the pictures are drawn well enough, and they are, I don’t need the words “JERK UP!” or “STARTLE!”to describe action.

There’s no real story here, though, in volume one. It’s a little plot, interspersed with backstory, mainly relating to Gerard who was married once.

I’m not enamoured of the homosexual image either – as expected Jacques, being the uke, is unwilling and resentful of his new master. He finds the advances distasteful but in secret he feels a sexual attraction growing – this is expected in the genre, I suppose. However as Gerard’s backstory emerges we find that he was pretty much hetero, but was “lured into m/f/m” by his “evil wife.” When the other man makes advances to Gerard on his own, Gerard rejects these advances calling them filthy.

The sex scenes are a little more explicit than I’ve seen in other yaoi-almost accurate cocks and such like.

There were interesting sections—discussions of politics, literature and philosophy – and I’d have liked a bit more politics and a bit more plot but then that’s probably just me.

Volume 02 was marginally more interesting, but rather repetitive and dull in parts, whole pages of just the same expression, or so it seemed to me, and the plot jumped all over the place which made it very confusing.

I did like the drawing in the main (apart from the aforementioned funny faces) the period clothes were beautifully done, although I’m no expert, and there were touches of humour that really made me smile but all in all the whole angst angst he raped me no no no no oh maybe angst maybe i love him angst angst thing just wasn’t for me. I just think I’m not a natural yaoi reader, I’m afraid.

Buy from publisher

Review: The Vesuvius Club (Graphic Novel) by Gatiss and Bass

Review by Hayden Thorne

BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Mark Gatiss presents the first adventure of Lucifer Box rendered in every detail. Lucifer Box, the greatest portraitist of the Edwardian Age and England’s most dashing secret agent, investigates a series of bizarre disappearances and plunges headlong into low life and high society. Who is killing Britain’s most prominent vulcanologists? What secrets lie beyond the grave? And which tie goes best with a white carnation? See him confront the purple undead, instruct the mysterious and beguiling Bella Pok, disguise himself with a false moustache, face an ominous evil in the depths of a volcano, and come to grips with his new manservant, Charlie Jackpot.

REVIEW:
When I purchased Mark Gatiss’s book, I learned that it was also transformed into a graphic novel, and the long-slumbering manga/comic book fan in me stirred, bleary-eyed and pawing instinctively at the computer screen. I’d already seen previews of Ian Bass’s art style since Bass did the illustrations for Gatiss’s novel, and on that basis (in addition to curiosity as to how the novel could be interpreted in a visual medium), I eagerly snapped up a copy.

As I’ve already noted in my review of Gatiss’s novel, I was very much disappointed in the story, particularly in the way the second half seemed to fall apart, plot-wise. In the graphic novel, the story is distilled to the main mystery, and all other subplots have been removed. I’m not an illustrator, let alone a graphic novel artist. However, I’m very well aware of the difficulties that may come with turning something purely textual into something visual. Bass’s decision to rewrite the plot in some places is quite understandable, and to some extent, it does work.

On the whole, I like the art style despite its inconsistencies. Ian Bass’s illustrations work pretty well with the hybrid of mystery, sci-fi, comedy, and history that defines Gatiss’s novel. The characters are distinctive – as in their personalities are nicely captured and given more definition with an exaggerated detail or two. There are occasional decorative flourishes in the background or on the characters that make me think of Aubrey Beardsley – quite appropriate, given the historical period. It’s not a very “pretty” style, and manga fans who’re used to seeing beautifully stylized illustrations when it comes to gay-themed stories will be sorely disappointed in this book. Mark Gatiss’s novel is a romp, and it’s written in a very visual way (considering Gatiss’s writing background involving film, it’s not at all surprising). It translates well into graphic novel form, where the more fantastic elements that might not work in the book are quite at home.

In terms of plot, the graphic novel is rather lean. As mentioned before, subplots have been pruned, and the character list has dwindled to about half, the focus placed mostly on the main characters. If not completely rewritten, several scenes were dropped, many of which involved Bella Pok and her role in the book. Considering that she’s a significant player in one of the subplots (and it’s a subplot that’s really more of the throwaway kind that adds nothing to the overall story), her drastically reduced scenes make me wonder why she’s kept in the graphic novel at all. To show how much of a cad Lucifer Box is, maybe? If so, it doesn’t quite work, given the heavy emphasis on the main mystery, what with all those side stories being dropped. There’s just no room left for Lucifer Box’s amorous bisexual adventures.

What works in this case, though, is that Ian Bass gives us a much better treatment of Bella’s presence in Naples. In the novel, she’s there, and then she’s gone – a plot device that doesn’t work at all. In the graphic novel, she remains in Naples, and everything that takes place in the novel’s climax is squished into one setting, not two.

A final word of warning to readers: this graphic novel is for adults. There’s an orgy scene in a brothel (not very detailed), both het and gay, and one of the characters exposes his genitals. It’s an important detail in the story, trust me.

Buy the book: Amazon, Amazon UK

Review: Only Words by Tina Anderson & Caroline Monaco(illus.)

 

In 1941 Poland, silence is a way of life. Eighteen-year-old seminary student Koby Bruk has watched for two years as the people of his home town allowed the Germans to move in, displace homes and families, and impose their rule on the people who remain. When Koby is bullied by his classmate Irvine, he chooses to speak up against him. This doesn’t sit well with Irvine’s friend, Hitler Youth Oskar Keplar. Oskar corners Koby in an alleyway and makes a sinister promise. 
Words by Tina Anderson, Illustration by Caroline Monaco

Review by Erastes

I’ll say this right here that I don’t know the vocabularly for manga/yaoi/the graphic novel genre, so whilst reviewing them, I’m going to make errors that purists will flinch at, but as I’m hoping that they get more popular in English for the English speaking world, perhaps the vocabularly and tropes won’t matter so much if I get them wrong.

I came to graphic novels with a few pre-conceptions, that the men were impossibly beautiful, effeminate – that there was always a Seme and a Uke (although I still have to check Wikipedia to work out which is which) and there are lot of staple cliches, tie-fetishes, half-clothed sex, power-play, bdsm-all that sort of stuff.

Only Words fulfills some of those fetishes but it packs a very powerful punch by not sticking to the frilly and effeminate and at times it’s not a pretty book at all. It seemed to me to take some of those cliches and turn then against themselves, but I can’t say much more without spoiling. 

Koby Bruk is a Polish trainee priest, whose seminary was closed when the Germans invaded.  Neither he or his nemesis/love interest, Oskar from Nazi Jugen/Hitler Youth, are pretty boys. Koby is sallow, a little malnourished with large eloquent eyes and Oskar is badly scarred, giving him a sinister appearance. 

This novel covers a lot of ground; there’s a lot to take in – it’s certainly not just a tale of two young men who get together and fuck. Koby has rape fantasisies which we learn right from page one and we soon learn that although he dislikes the bullying tactics of the Jugen, and that he is brave/honest/foolish/pious enough to stand up to them, time and time again, he is harbouring a darker fantasy involving Oskar.

Actually I have to admit, I found Koby a little annoying.  He had no compunction in telling tales on his class-mates, blaming his honesty on God, but doesn’t seem to have any shame or guilt about having gay rape fantasies or actually having sex with a man at all. His constant tattle-tale-ing would probably have made me find a dark alley to sort him out at some point, but then I’m not a nice person.

The artist does a really good job. If you don’t agree remember this is obviously subjective, and from someone who has had very little experience of comics since “Bunty” when she was ten years old. The landscapes are stark, and unremittingly depressing. When the Jugen are up to no good there is a preponderance of black shadows and claustrophic locations and the only time when there is any kind of light and air is in the classroom. Anatomically I have nothing to complain about either, and there are few punches pulled when it came to the sex. I don’t know the rules for explicit images in graphic novels but from an entirely personal perspective I’d have liked a little more explicitness.

However, the panel work was very impressive, and I was never in any doubt what was going on and who was saying what, even though there were a lot of dynamic shifts to the set of the panels. There’s probably vocabulary for what I’m trying to explain here.

If you are expecting a Dom/sub relationship story then you’ll probably be disappointed, because the layers here are multiple and deep and no-one is really what they seem. There’s a saying “be careful what you wish for, you might get it” and for a while this runs true, as Koby seems to be getting what he’s been fantasising about – but it gets turned around in a wonderful twist. The classic joke “Hurt me,” said the masochist, “No,” said the sadist, rings true towards the end, but it’s much much more than a classic joke and heartbreakingly so.  I don’t think I need to worry that I’m spoiling you if I make clear that a story based in 1941 Poland is not going to end happily.

But for me it was full of surprises. The way an “alley-rape” turned out to be something else, a rescue of a cat is much the same,  and even Oskar surprised me towards the end, not with his bully-boy tactics but the fact that he ordered Koby to strip and then offered him a cigarette and turned his back, as if in modesty.  I think Oskar broke my heart from that moment on.

For me, this was a hard-to-take and very personal tale that touched on many global issues with a needful light touch. It could easily have been turned into a massive political statement but it didn’t attempt to do so.  It remained for me a story of two young men caught up in circumstnces they are completely unable to change.

It has had the same visceral punch for me as films such as “Se7en” and I know for a fact that Only Words will stay with me for a long long time.  I’m very pleased that this was my first foray into this genre.

Buy:    Amazon UK   Amazon USA

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