By Tristan Crane and Ted Naifeh
Review by Legs McNeil
How Loathsome is really hard to describe, so I will let one of the writer’s and illustrator, Ted Naifeh, in a 2006 interview with Manolis Vamvounis, for the website insidepulse.com, begin to explain it to you:
“How Loathsome is a faux-autobiographical comic about a semi-gender-queer person named Catherine Gore, who lives in San Francisco. The story kicks off when she meets Chloe, a gorgeous transsexual girl, at an S&M play party. Problem is, Chloe isn’t attracted to girls, and though she’s eager for men to see her as female, she can’t get past the fact that Catherine isn’t really male.”
We didn’t think so.
The introduction to How Loathsome by Danielle Willis, writer and performance artist, who the main character Catherine Gore is based on, explains the story a little more:
“…The subject of heroin (and drug use in general) is yet another potentially literary minefield that How Loathsome manages to navigate unscathed by clichés, hyperbole, or dead babies crawling upside down across kick-room ceilings. Drugs can be a daily routine, something too many writers forget while rushing their characters through a series of melodramatic overdoses and jailhouse detoxes on their way to some inevitable hogarthian bottom. Cigarettes will kill you too, but you don’t see characters who smoke suddenly clutching their throats and dropping to their knees as bloody foam spews from their nostrils.
“Finally there’s stuff by folks who really live here, but can’t write. At best penning the alternative lifestyle versions of ‘Letters to Penthouse Forum,’ or if they’re setting their aspirations a little higher, modern queer-core pastiches of Armistead Maupin full of characters who are little more than a few mannerisms and eccentricities cobbled together and given names.
“To say that Ted and Tristan manage to avoid these pitfalls is an understatement. The San Francisco they create in How Loathsome is one I not only recognize, but have lived in for the last twenty years. Hell, I’ve been to that insect bar that Nick stumbles into… In fact I’ve had a guy who could easily have been Nick living in my closet on Webster Street for six months. He used to shove speed crystals into his pee hole and saw demons on a semi-regular basis. We all sort of believed him.
“…this book chronicles with elegance the lives of this clique of denizens. Their own lives become mysteries to solve, and this is what makes How Loathsome stand on its own, without gimmicks. The questions which arise are just reasons for me to keep reading.
“This book will help you understand. We are not definable. We are not straight. We are not gay.
“We are, however, loathsome.”
Thoroughly confused by now?
Suffice to say that How Loathsome won the Ninth Art Lighthouse award for “Best New Series” in 2003, and was runner-up for its “Best Bookshelf Comic” award in 2004. It is an exquisite example of how adult subject matter can be elevated to literature through the medium of comics. Like a Velvet Underground song transformed into a comic book, How Loathsome thoroughly captures the delicious ennui of being a weirdo.
Publisher: ABM Comics Lit. Binding: Paperback. Authors: Tristan Crane & Ted Naifeh. Illustrated by Ted Naifeh. Lettered by Tristan Crane. Pages: 109, Black & white & brown. List Price: $13.95