Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Webcomics: "Boy Meets Boy"
Archive here:

This one really impressed me. As the title suggests, it's predominantly based on a love story between two guys - in case of homophobia, the exit is in the upper-right corner of your browser.

There's a lot to say about this strip in terms of what it delivers, but I want to look at the process of its creation. As I understand it, it started with K. Sandra Fuhr's first series, "Utopia", a sci-fi comedy that featured a vampire threesome: Mikhael, Harley and Tybalt. While developing these secondary characters, Fuhr decided to spin them off into their own series, "This Is Home", making them the protagonists of the story. "Utopia", as far as I know, was removed and is currently undergoing a drastic revision.

"This Is Home", described by the author herself as the product of teenage high school angst, was a bit typical of "fangirl excess a la Anne Rice" - a lot of blood, rape, brutality, pain and horror, not necessarily done for purely artistic reasons. Ultimately, Fuhr felt (rightly so) that it didn't really work, and abandoned "This Is Home" (going so far as to remove it from the Internet altogether), transplanting Mikhael and Harley (eventually followed by other supporting cast members from both prior series) into a realistic setting, and a different genre altogether. This was the birth of "Boy Meets Boy", and it's not hard to see why it became so popular during its run - having removed the unnecessary trappings, Fuhr let the characters make the story; they became accessible and believable as people.

This process of development is interesting because, while BMB stands on its own, it's intriguing to see where and how Fuhr reconfigures her own mythos and characters when making the cross-genre transition. You can't get away with a legitimate threesome in a romantic comedy, the way you might if you were writing a pseudo-Gothic fantasy, so the relationships have to be recontextualized.

BMB itself can also be seen as an ongoing development, in that it's clear Fuhr didn't have every detail planned out when she launched the series (ie: Abby was introduced as a major player, only to summarily vanish when Aurora came in). But where this would trip up the overall narrative of lesser writers, Fuhr takes advantage of the unpredictable angles by working them into the series on a thematic level. Mik and Harley aside, no one in this series ends up where you think they will - it's both the result of changed plans and a comment on the unpredictability of life, circumstance and growth.

So what is "Boy Meets Boy"? It's a very sweet, simple love story laced with humor that ranges from wacky (Tabitha's supernatural hijinks) to irreverent (the "Whee! I'm naked!" running gag) to just plain funny (the "Girl Meets Girl" parody). The series initially centers around the romance of Mikhael and Harley, but once the secondary characters are established it becomes a wider tapestry of interpersonal relationships. There's a very manga-esque sensibility about it: big eyes, a bit of androgyny, odd hairstyles and a general optimism that never allows the story to sink too far into melodrama or tragedy. Sex plays a major role, but it's barely risque - if you can watch "Brokeback Mountain" without flinching, you'll have no problem here.

Most of the characters are gay or at least bisexual - even Cyanide, the token heterosexual guy, has "impure thoughts" about his best friend. It would be a bit monotonous in a "Queer as Folk" way if being gay was an issue, but it isn't. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to see characters who don't succumb to stereotypes - or if they do, there's more to them than just the stereotypes. Orientation isn't a selling point here, the way it was for characters like Northstar or Midnighter and Apollo. Fuhr's characters are who they are, and there's never any qualification or justification given to Mikhael and Harley: they're in love, and they're no different from anyone else. I can only think of one or two storylines where the fact that they're gay is actually brought up as an explicit plot point, but even then, it's a long, long way from the kind of self-hating tripe you'd get in a Kevin Williamson story or a Marvel/DC "OMG GAY!!!" type of thing.

There are moments of saccharine fangirlishness, of the type that made me wince and would probably go over much worse with male readers... but those moments are few and far between, and easily forgiven. Mikhael in particular starts off as this ridiculously overblown romantic archetype (his pickup line is "We are now as one"), but it becomes clear as the story proceeds that this is the whole point of his character: he's so socially inept that he looks to Pablo Neruda as a guide to flirtation. It's also a bit of an in-joke, because while characters in the realistic mode wouldn't talk like this, Master Vampire Mikhael of "This Is Home" probably would.

One of the things I love most about this strip is, as I mentioned before, its unpredictability. Protagonists nonwithstanding, almost every other character's journey takes a 90-degree turn sooner or later. You really get the sense that these people are changing and evolving as time goes by - some (Skids) more than others (Tabitha). I also like that some things aren't resolved: Fuhr never gave Cyanide closure, even though she could have in the name of fanservice. But she stuck to her guns for the story's sake, and wrapped the series up with a string of new beginnings. Friends drift apart, babies are conceived, new relationships start... and we'll never know what happens next. It's the lesson Neil Gaiman taught us in "Sandman": endings always lead to new beginnings, but the story has to stop somewhere.

In point of fact, when Fuhr launched "Friendly Hostility" (a spin-off from BMB focusing on Fox and Collin, introduced midway through the series but originating in "Utopia" - see what I mean about the development process?), she made it very clear that we'd never see other BMB characters in this new series. Not as guest-stars, not in cameos, not even in the background. Because that story is over.

It's almost a mirror image of "Something Positive" in a way. Fuhr tells the story of a group of friends who eventually split apart and find their own paths, whereas Milholland starts his story after the break, focusing on a handful of people who were once part of a larger group. And we never see that group. There was one storyline when PeeJee flashes back to those old friends, but nobody shares her nostalgia; even Davan, who spends most of his life stuck in the past, tells her it's a waste of time to think about the people who were part of their lives once and aren't anymore.

I recommend this webcomic with one reservation only: it may appeal more to women than men. I'd be very interested to hear the straight male perspective on this series, to see if the author's gender influences the way the story is told and if that, in turn, influences the opinions of women vs. men as readers.