And To Be Loved

Creator/s: Marisa Brenizer, Michael Yakutis
Run: 2/11-current
Schedule: W/Sa
Section/s: Ch. 7, "One Straw, Please"

Website: The site's background's a glaring orange color, and I found it to be extremely distracting against the black-and-white pages. I ended up taking breaks from the reading to give my eyes a rest, and eventually I just started loading the pages separately using my browser's "View Image" feature. Unfortunately, though, the pages actually have a wide orange border around them, so even using "View Image" didn't help as much as I'd hoped. I have to say, if I'd stumbled upon this site as a casual reader, I would've closed the browser within a few seconds and moved on to something else. It's also not necessary to have the border on the actual pages -- the same look can easily be achieved either by centering the pages inside a division with a background image, or by creating a nine-cell table.

There's a decent amount of extra features, although I dislike how the cast page is less developed than the more miscellaneous stuff. I mean, it doesn't make any sense to me that the creators' real-life fashion inspirations each get their own write-up, but the comic's characters have no information listed at all. Where are the creators' priorities at? The characters do have their own Facebook pages, which is kinda cool, but it's not a very clear way to present them to new readers.

The comic has a "YouTube Debut" video, too, which I thought would be really neat, but it ended up just being someone singing into a microphone for a few minutes. It's not obvious to me that it has anything to do with the comic.

The comic also has its own Facebook page, where fans are regularly informed of updates. It seems like a good idea to me.

Lastly, the bonus gag strips are a good concept, but this comic doesn't seem to work in the gag format at all, so it's somewhat of a wasted effort.

Writing: This chapter's essentially a big build-up to Thomas' dramatic, splash-page realization of R's homosexuality, and this is problematic in sense of the numerous clues the reader's bombarded with throughout the chapter. The creator suggests in the page's comments, "Thomas is dumb. I guess he only saw what he wanted to see," but this doesn't seem realistic enough to me. Instead, it appears the creators have passed Thomas the Idiot Ball in order to force R's goofy double-life scenario and the aformentioned climax. Observe some of the indications of homosexuality in this chapter that Thomas is, apparently, completely oblivious to, despite sharing a bedroom with R:

-- R calls Thomas "hot stuff," and calls it "gross" that Thomas had sex with his girlfriend (p. 114)
-- R walks around in just his underwear, and explains he's not interested in women because he's "asexual" (p. 115)
-- Thomas catches R looking at "gay porn," and complains that R once listed himself in the "men-for-men" section of a dating site (p. 116)
-- R takes his female date to a gay bar, which he calls "my happy place," and ignores her all night (p. 123)
-- R invites Thomas to dance with him, and puts his hands on Thomas' shoulders (p. 126)
-- R refuses to date women again, but succumbs in order to get a gift card to a clothing store (p. 127)
-- The first woman R meets at the speed dating event compliments him on his "metro" look (p. 131)
-- R picks up an attractive guy at the speed dating event (p. 135)
-- R invites his new guy friend over to watch America's Next Top Model, and he explains he likes to "pause it and critique Tyra's unfortunate wardrobe choices" (p. 136)
-- R mentions that he's taking his guy friend "to a show on Friday" (p. 138)

Despite all of this, Thomas never shows any signs that he suspects R might be gay, and doesn't even acknowledge that possibility until R finally says, "Open your eyes. It's right in front of you, Thomas." And that's when Thomas suddenly becomes aware, on pages 139 and 140, of some strange things in his own bedroom:

-- A RuPaul CD
-- A Lady Gaga poster
-- A unicorn doll
-- A poster of a naked man
-- A Care Bear doll
-- Pink clothing

"Thomas is dumb. I guess he only saw what he wanted to see." So is Thomas supposed to be in such an intense state of denial that he's mentally blocking out practically everything R says and does, as well as his own environment? That's too big of a stretch for me. And it's not just Thomas, either -- R's other roommate, Claire, discusses R's dating situation on two occasions, but also never infers she thinks R might be gay. And poor Jane, Claire's friend who gets ignored by R on their blind date, apparently never raises any suspicion to Claire about R.

This leads us to Robert Ebert's term Idiot Plot, which is "any plot containing problems which would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots." I think this term definitely applies to And To Be Loved, and the plot really does fall apart under the consideration of how unrealistic and out-of-character the chapter is -- again, all for the sake of some induced irony and the overblown climax. And not only is the plot a mess, but this all-in climax doesn't work that well anyways, as readers should be reacting to Thomas' big revelatory expression of "He's GAY!" by thinking to themselves, "No shit, moron. You should've realized that 25 pages ago."

But enough of R's dating situation. I was more interested, actually, in Thomas and Claire's relationship, which is very underdeveloped. They're apparently supposed to be a pretty intimate couple (I mean, they're having sex and living in the same house), yet they sleep in separate rooms and basically ignore each other. It could be that they're in a spat, but they get along great when they're together; and I considered that they could be living in coed college dorms, but R shares a room with Thomas and said "no" when asked if he goes to school, so that rules that out. I'd like to see their relationship given a little more attention, and it doesn't help that whenever they're together, all they do is talk about R's dating issues. It wouldn't hurt to give Thomas and Claire some additional character development, anyways, since R hogs so much of the chapter's focus already.

Another problem I have with Claire is that she tends to pop up out of nowhere in a way that doesn't really make narrative sense. Specifically, I'm referring to this page and this page. In both cases, Thomas and R are talking about very private stuff that they wouldn't want Claire to know about (Thomas even says "Don't tell Claire!"), yet Claire's sitting just a few feet away from them, in a way that'd be impossible not to notice. The scene tries to sort itself out by having Thomas be surprised, asking, "How long have you been sitting there?", but this makes no sense, either -- again, how could Thomas be at the kitchen table with his girlfriend, openly contemplating cheating on her, yet be unaware that she's right next to him? The inevitably awkward scenes that follow seem very forced as a result. And how is it realistic at all that she somehow interprets Thomas' fish-related dating metaphor literally? It's either that, or she doesn't care that her boyfriend's talking about dating other women, which is equally unrealistic. And the last possible explanation, that she has headphones on or is distracted in some other way, isn't plausible -- she's obviously just sitting there listening to them. Really, all the scenes with Claire are poorly thought out, and it's a major issue since she's such a prevalent character.

Lastly, R isn't as interesting and multi-dimensional as his starring role demands. Throughout the chapter, he's arrogant, annoying, conceited, and materialistic, and while this simplistic approach might be alright for a minor character, it doesn't work for a character who gets an entire chapter based on revealing their sexual orientation. R needs to be more well-rounded, which would include giving him some positive characteristics.

Art: The comic's redeeming feature is its sharp, professional-quality artwork. The creator displays a knack for black-and-white renderings, utilizing a combination of heavy inking and hatching to skillfully convey details and shadows. This page in particular stood out to me as an example of the creator using his careful ink work to help convey the mood and tension of the scene. He's clearly also quite capable at drawing realistic and expressive people, with this series of intricate, portrait-esque pages being a highlight of the chapter. Some of the anatomy in the earlier pages is weaker, but the chapter's second half is very strong, and the creator really hits his stride there.

The backgrounds in this comic are outstanding, and it's like a breath of fresh air to me since so many webcomics blatantly neglect their backgrounds. All of the various scenes are time-consumingly rendered, with even a mundane kitchen scene being conveyed down to every drawer and appliance. The various outdoor scenes are also very detailed, with the big tree being used as an excellent prop and focal point. (Anyone remember me writing about using props in my review of How to Save the World I posted a few months ago?) Another instance I feel compelled to commend is here, where the creator goes out of his way to show the reflection of the room in the mirror, using very thin lines to achieve the right effect. I'd appreciate it if more webcartoonists tried to emulate And To Be Loved's background style, as it really helps the setting and characters seem more real and interesting.

One thing that bothered me with the art, though, is that every character has the exact same frame: thin torso, lanky limbs, and a large head, which makes all the characters look like scrawny young boys. The gay studs in this page and this page are probably the most extreme instances of this in the chapter. It'd be okay to have some of the characters like this, but to give all the characters, including the women and minor characters, a very similar body type comes across as a lack of variety and imagination to me.

The creators have obviously put some notable consideration into their characters' choice of clothing, and while this isn't an area that interests me much, I appreciate that the clothing shows a lot of detail, and that the creators have worked to portray each character as having their own unique sense of style. Something I'll point out's that I like how the creators added a graphic to Thomas' shirt in this page. It makes the panel more visually interesting, and it shows a bit of his personality as well.

Lastly, the dramatic colored pages at the end of the chapter look great, and I think it's a perfectly fine direction for the comic to go in. If anything, the color looks much better against the site's orange background, and that instantly makes the comic more readable.

Overall: And To Be Loved joins a myriad of GLBT webcomics out there, and while the story and characters aren't anything special, the exceptional artwork sets this comic apart to an extent, and should make it easy for it to draw in new readers once the site's made more appealing. A comic's reader base is largely fueled by attachment to the comic's characters, though, so quality art only goes so far -- elaborate characterization and an engaging plot are necessary elements for a dramatic story like this. Fundamental to this problem is that R fails at being the outrageous, exuberant, drama-filled protagonist the comic tries to portray him as, leaving the rest of the cast seeming like underdeveloped background characters in desperate need of a little T. L. C. in the writing department. It's up to the creators whether And To Be Loved will do a better job of giving R the center stage, or if it'll try to foster a more robust group of characters, but in any case, its plot's currently about as anemic as its empty cast page.


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