Louis Falcetti writes;
Some panels I don't get to write about right away because of simple logistics, there's only so many hours in a day and our useless scientific advances have still not solved the problem of eating/sleeping yet (this is why I don't f'ing love science on facebook, give me a world where I don't need to sleep or eat! Damn you science!). Other panels I don't write about right away because I'm afraid of rushing it. I don't want to screw it up, because the panel actually connected with me. That's why I want to combine my panel review with a book review (which the panel was actually about promoting).
The panel was called "Anything That Loves" which is also the name of the aforementioned book. It's an anthology put out by Prism Comics, a non-profit publisher that supports LGBT comics, creators and readers. The panel was moderated by the editor of the anthology Charles "Zan" Christensen, who was also the founding President of Prism.
I identify as bisexual, which is part of the reason I chose to cover the panel. Reason the other was that it was in the same room as a panel I was covering prior, and I am an old, decrepit 31 year old man who is motivated by passions and the opportunity to sit in air conditioning for extended lengths of time. I've written about bisexuality before, specifically it's invisibility in popular culture (I asked Jane Espenson at a Husbands panel at NYCC about bisexuality on Buffy, which she responded that she believed that everyone on Buffy was bi, which is a nice thought, but hard to get from just watching the show or reading the comic). I even wrote a letter to Hellblazer asking about John's sexuality, since the "Is he bi or isn't he?" argument seemed to be dead in the water when it came to just fan discussions. (Their reply was a classic DC, "It's up to you!" answer of non-committal).
Have you ever read something or heard something and instantly felt validated as a human being? Whenever I have one of these moments I can't help but go straight to one of my favorite issues of Transmetropolitan, #41, "There Is A Reason", which begins with various mentally unwell folks monologuing about their conditions, and one in particular who realizes that there actually is a chip in his brain and he's not actually crazy, THERE IS A REASON (that's my hazy recollection of the issue, feel free to berate any inaccuracies in the forum). I remember when I heard the band Ween for the first time I thought "This is what I've been waiting to hear my entire life, I just didn't know there was a name for it." Sitting in the airport killing time before my flight home (I spent about 10ish hours in the San Diego Airport, lovely place with great free wifi) I devoured Anything That Loves and sat there with happy tears running down my face thinking, "I'M NOT CRAZY. THERE IS A REASON."
Those moments don't come all the time so treasure 'em when you get 'em. Most of the time I find myself slamming my head into a culture that says "YOU ARE CRAZY. CRAZY AND WRONG. ABOUT PROBABLY EVERYTHING." So when a work can break through the barrier and a collection of voices can impart such a variety of experience in such an honest and real way, it's worth taking note of. And then singing the praises of! And then buying for friends, well wishers, coworkers, etc. In all seriousness, I know many people who routinely give out copies of The Ethical Slut as go-to birthday or Christmas gifts, trying to change hearts and minds. Anything That Loves needs to go on that short list, the short list of gifts that can actually make a difference by getting to the people who need to experience it.
The title is a play on the old chestnut that bisexuals will do "anything that moves", it takes a dumb little piece of throwaway language and turns into something quite beautiful. The title was another draw for me as I had grown exhausted with the label "bisexual" and found it easier to just say that I "had fallen in love with men and women" and leave it at that. I couldn't believe that other people were describing it that way too. Moderator Christensen began the panel (as he does the book) talking about his own experiences with bisexuality, notably a friend from college who experienced torment from both the straight and gay communities of the art school. He lost me a little bit when he referenced a New York Times article that was said to be some kind of test regarding exposure to both gay and straight materials and measuring the sexual responses of men. I've only ever heard about plesmographs being used in those situations, if you cover a penis in weird science-y stuff and then have strangers sit around staring at you, and then staring at your penis and then whispering to each other about what your penis is doing, the lack of response might not be from simply not being turned on by the erotic material presented. It could have something to do with the incredibly bizarre scenario in which you've thrown your member. Whenever I hear about "scientific studies" to measure sexual arousal I have to almost always call bullshit. Unless these tests are being carried out by Michael Pitt in a steam room or Mila Kunis in a french maid costume, I have to believe that boner tests are always going to be silly (but probably fun?). That being said I did enjoy the panel moment when Christensen (while remarking on the work of Kinsey) said that were "No such things as 0s or 6s" to which a lilting voice in the crowd called out "6s exist!".
The panel was made up of contributing artists to the anthology, Kevin Boze, Ellen Forney, Josh Trujillo, Lena H. Chandhok, Randall Kirby, and Tara Madison Avery. It's hard to "critique" an anthology like Anything That Loves because it is SO personal and comes from such a real place that traditional comic critiquing approaches aren't really valid. But I can tell you a little bit about the work of the panelists. In Josh Trujillo and Dave Valeza's piece, Josh confronts a dire familial prediction regarding "finding the right girl", he leaves his comfort zone and while ultimately the encounter isn't what he was looking for, holy shit is it brave. The final panel is a quote from Virgil (the poet, not the wrestler)(I think…), "Love begets love, love knows no rules, this is the same for all." Lena Chandhok's piece "Comics Made Me Queer" will definitely hit home with lots of readers who may have experienced same sex feelings early on but then felt they had to hide them as they ventured into the world. Her strip features characters who appear in so many different strips in one way or another I think they deserve their own featured strip and comics continuity, "The Sexuality Police". Her piece (like all of the works within) drips with raw emotional honesty and hits all the harder home because of it. The questions she asked herself and the stages that she went through regarding discovering and owning her sexuality made me feel so much less insane and fucked up.
Eisner Nominated Ellen Forney provides a handy step by step guide to having an all day threesome, as well as illustrations of casual encounters ads. I honestly found the inclusion of Forney's threesome piece to be odd as a reoccurring idea in many of the works was people trying to get rid of the "bisexuality means lets have a 3some" trope. I found it odd for a second, until I remembered Zan's opening monologue and introduction to the book. Anything That Loves isn't trying to say "this is bi" or "that is bi" or to offer any kind of definitive, black and white, hive mind conclusions to the world of sexuality, in fact, the point that sometimes pieces in the book seem to be at odds with each other is a testament to the book's strengths. You really are getting a collection of thoughts from a collection of people, not a lecture from a political group or a sermon from the mount. Of course people are going to view the aspects of bisexual life differently! Thank god!
Kevin Boze compares bisexuals to the platypus, because of the way in which the platypus was not believed to be real and then confounded people with their inability to act like a mammal or an egg…laying…thing. What's the opposite of mammal? I did say earlier that I don't f'ing love science right? Boze also confronts the "bisexuals are just confused" argument with a parable involving salad dressing options. Randall Kirby's piece "The Walk" is a beautiful and simple one, involving two friends talking about labels, specifically pansexuality versus bisexuality coming to the conclusion that labels are silly (I think that was the conclusion, you should read it for yourself). I think the conclusion might've been more about just calling yourself what you want to call yourself and not allowing other people to places labels on you, which yeah, sounds better than "labels are silly", I admit it. Also lunch meat.
Tara Madison Avery's "Split Spectrum" is a stand out strip in a book that's full of them with it's classic "comic" style art and vibrant coloring. She possesses an excellent hand at penciling as well as plotting and dialog. "Split Spectrum" follows a character who encounters loneliness and frustration at both sides of his bisexuality. Many of the strips use a light humorous tone to fight back against the heavier themes and stories, but "Split Spectrum" is straight drama, pulling no punches (literally) and giving readers an uncensored view into an emotional slice of life where it ends not on a "it gets better" promise, but on the aching of a broken heart.
Overall, the anthology (like any good one) is a success because of it's variety of voices and visions. The art inside is just as unique and personal as the creators themselves, so the reader is never bored nor would a reader feel pandered to. Each style is dripping with personality and promise, just as each character speaks from a real place, even if it's a fictional setting. Like the sweary taco in the first strip. I fully support that taco's right to exist and back up it's affirmation wholeheartedly.
The panel consisted of the members sharing their stories and experiences, offering up their views on sexuality and how they've dealt with prejudice from both sides of the culture. It was an inspiring experience and once I got my hands on the anthology it was doubly so. Like many writers, I've dreamt of being able to draw comics (and dreamt of discovering I had Wolverine claws) but I never felt like I had anything worthwhile to say that would be worth the time. Then suddenly I find myself sitting in the San Diego Airport, Anything That Loves on my lap, thinking "I could make a comic about my own experiences with sexuality too!" The voices in Anything That Loves are not only the voices of the creators, but they're the voices of everyone and anyone who's felt different or weird and tried hard to argue that weirdness away. Anything That Loves wants you to own and love your weirdness and now I have never felt more comfortable being weird. I'm not alone! There is a reason! I'm not crazy!