Leave Your Spandex At the Door turns 50: the Mirror of Love

Welcome to the 50th column of Leave Your Spandex At the Door! I never thought I’d manage to get so far, and I’m sure my editors never thought I’d manage to do it before the year 2010! This one goes out to Ben “Wizard” Morse for giving me a chance to be part of the (then called) 411comics launch team which then grew into the Nexus family.

For the column’s anniversary, I chose to feature a book that is very close to my heart: the Mirror of Love.

I had briefly introduced this book in a previous column as one of my favourite Indie titles from last year. I was happy to hear back from fellow Nexus writer and friend, Will Cooling, that he had picked Mirror of Love based on my recommendation and that it had resonated deeply with him too. Will is my favourite writer on the Nexus, so I invited him to share this space with me to talk about the Mirror of Love.

Will’s review:

“I Love You”

Three simple words. I’m sure most of the people reading this will have heard them and have their hearts filled with joy. Many will see their parents happy at the words their child has heard. Likewise they’d have been awash with the congratulations of friends and society for hearing these words.

Now imagine a world where people want to deny you the chance to hear such things. Imagine a world where people see you hearing “I Love You” not as a joyous occasion but a sin, a degenerate and immoral act. Imagine a world where you are persecuted for not ignoring these words.

Well welcome to the world of gays and lesbians through the centuries. A world where they and their lifestyle is marginalized and demonised, where bigots latch onto any authority or tragedy to justify their hatred, where with each snide comment and act of tyranny you are made a little less humour.

It’s difficult for us gays, lesbians and bisexuals raised in these relatively tolerant times to comprehend what it must have been like. To empathise with and give voice to the unsung, unholy martyrs who didn’t give their lives to revere some guy who was already long dead but did so ‘cause they wanted to live.

So it’s even more amazing that a straight, married man can do it so well and so beautifully.

Of course Alan Moore is no ordinary writer, such works as V for Vendetta showed he has an empathy with homosexuals that is unusual in heterosexuals but this is his tour de force. The Mirror of Love is a powerful and provocative polemic not for an ideology in any meaningful sense but just for life, for love and for tolerance. He beautifully and carefully shows the winding river that is gay history, the times of plenty when we were accepted such as the Classical era, the lean times when we were taboo such as the Christian era and the droughts when we were threatened with destruction such as the Holocaust. The end as yet another dawn for gay, lesbian and bisexuals proves to be false with the sucker punch that was the gay virus is a heartbreaking tour de force and one of the most moving things I’ve ever read. His words on a blank page whilst at times may seem over wordily speak to something deep inside you and with the turn of each page you become more and more involved in the beauty that is this work. It draws you on and by the time you’ve finished you’ve been touched in ways that few writers can.

But let’s not give Alan Moore all the credit! Jose Villarrubia is as vital to the success of this book as Moore. His beautiful photographs that adorn every other page bring to life the words on the preceding page whether through the sheer artsy of the photos i.e. the Spartan one or the stark simplicity of them i.e. the Holocaust one. He has a love for the words and unlike many artists wants his pictures to support them, not overpower them. His pictures are a touching, and powerful evocation of times and lives long past and add more than can be said to the book.

This is a beautiful book; beautifully written, accompanied by beautiful photography and its even packaged beautifully. It’s a book of real love and care with each page showing the extraordinary amount of time and thought that has been put into making it. I don’t know what a straight person will get out of it and no the words don’t rhyme so don’t expect a “poem” like that but I got plenty out of it.

A big thank you to Manolis for telling me to buy this and letting me chip in for this review.

Btw, keep a look out over at moodspins for a prose piece I wrote straight after reading The Mirror of Love for the first time. It’s called First Kiss, although Mathew Michael hasn’t arranged a posting date for it yet.

-Will Cooling

Manolis’ review:

MIRROR OF LOVE is the most personal book I’ve read this year. It looks back through the history of same-sex love, hinging on the stories of men who have loved men and women who had loved women, and how this same sex love has been welcomed by society: accepted or outlawed, punished or celebrated, hidden or immortalised through literature and art.. It isn’t a history crash-course on homosexuality. As it is revealed inside, that term didn’t even come into play until the 19th century. And it isn’t a sterile recollection of events; it is written in the form of a rhyme-less poem, narrated from one lover to another, binding history with intimate memories from inside the events, taking us near those men and women who loved throughout the course of human history.

When Mirror of Love was first released, it was in traditional comic form, illustrated by Steve Bissette, featuring two hermaphrodite angels. When Jose Villarubia approached the project, he chose to perform it as a stage play. The original idea of staging it as the last slides presentation of a retiring professor was wisely canned in favour of a more intimate setting, with a naked Villarubia performing the monologue to his lover, lying in bed, still wrapped in the bed sheets, dreaming. In this edition of the poem the word is separated from the image, with the image in this case being 40 photographs by Jose Villarubia. These photographs touch on the emotion which the original poem stirred. The images mate flawlessly with the words to bear a child of love that can’t be suppressed by etiquettes and boundaries. I wouldn’t need to know Villarubia’s history with the project (detailed through the introduction by David Drake) to realise how deeply immersed he’s become in this project: after first coming in contact with it as a reader, falling in love with it, adapting it to the stage and performing it himself, and now mating the original words with his imagery.

Going through these verses now, I envisioned the narrator in the setting of Villarubia’s play, as a man talking to his dreaming lover; the language is very intimate and personal, addressed not to an unknown person, but to “thee, my lover”; the palette of emotions covers the whole spectrum, from sadness and bitter irony, to tenderness and hope, anger and despair, trepidation for the future, and of course, love.

The Mirror of Love is a means of finding out more about us. We can only ever understand who we are by looking back at where we’ve been: what we once had and lost, what we have suffered and what we have gained again to bring us to where we are now. Certain liberties that are taken for granted by gay and bisexual men and women today, have been won through the fights for emancipation of older generations, and this work also serves to pay tribute to them: the women who had their teeth crushed for defying the patriarchs of their society, the artists who were imprisoned for simply expressing their emotions, the men and women who were called sinners, or declared ill, and the thousands who were lead into Pink Triangle concentration camps.

It is important to note that Alan Moore, through the medium of comics, was the first to give an account of same sex love (and in extension homosexuality) through history. As noted on the back pages of this tome, when Moore searched the libraries to find the “Big Book on homosexuality”, he discovered there wasn’t any such book, it hadn’t been published yet.

Despite its strong message, Mirror of Love doesn’t preach (as your humble reviewer has a tendency to), but simply remembers, and dreams. Especially in our day, when great freedoms have been won, but a great amount of the public and the world’s governments still frown upon same-sex love, this book should be in every library and every home, to remind people that all forms of love should be accepted, as they used to be.

Mirror of Love is a book that resonates deep inside the reader, makes us more aware of our self and our place in the world and ultimately changes us for the better, by using words and pictures to teach us a thing or two about love. And when the next person comes along who wants to write his or her own account of this history, Moore and Villarubia’s work here will have earned its place in it.

-Manolis Vamvounis

Before closing this column, I’d like to once more thank Will Cooling for his contribution to this column, and Top Shelf for providing me with a copy of Mirror of Love for review purposes. I love you guys!

Top Shelf has also provided the Nexus with extended previews from their upcoming April-solicited books Mosquito and Scalawag. Click on the links below the solicitations to open the preview pages.

MOSQUITO GN (TOP SHELF COMICS)
by Dan James Following in the inspiration of H. P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelly, and Bram Stoker, Dan James presents his vision of horror in his latest graphic novel, Mosquito. This silent South American folktale is an elegant and strikingly stylistic, wordless Vampire story, presented completely in Red Ink. Intriguing and clever, it follows the adventure of a man who receives a curious letter containing Polaroid’s of vampire victims and a map to the small town where the vampire lives. He gathers his stakes, says goodbye to his children, and walks straight into the mouth of evil. From the creator of The Octopi & the Ocean. (CAUT: 4) SC, 8 x 8, 152pgs, PC SRP: $14.95

Mosquito Page 1
Mosquito Page 2
Mosquito Page 3
Mosquito Page 4
Mosquito Page 5
Mosquito Page 6
Mosquito Page 7
Mosquito Page 8

SCALAWAG GN (TOP SHELF COMICS)
by Steve Lafler Dennis, the new piano player in Bughouse, is by all accounts a very funky musician and a genial chap. But before long, the real Dennis reveals himself as a gambling, lying, cheating, two-timing, drunken thief and all around Scalawag! Only when he encounters his doppelganger “Dennnis,” does Dennis reach his epiphany: that the real force at the center of his life is love. Following the premise of Lafler’s earlier title Bughouse, the action is set in an indigo toned, “insect noir” Manhattan of the 50s where all the characters are bug-headed hipster bop musicians. (CAUT: 4) SC, 6×9, 144pgs, B&W SRP: $12.95

Scalawag page 83
Scalawag page 84
Scalawag page 85
Scalawag page 86
Scalawag page 87
Scalawag page 88

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As always, I’m waiting for your comments through email or in the new official LYS@D discussion thread.

Manolis Vamvounis
a.k.a. Doc Dooplove

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