True Story Swear to God Vol. 1 trade paperback
True Story Swear to God #7
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Tom Beland
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US/$3.75 CAN (comic) – $14.99 US (TPB)
When one writes comics reviews on a regular basis (which I’ve been doing since late 1995… oy), one tries to be mindful of the fact that the works being discussed are crafted real, flesh-and-blood human beings. Occasionally, I wonder how my comments — positive or negative — impact the creators who often hold their work near and dear to their hearts. I get e-mails from creators from time to time, and almost universally, they’re thankful and positive in tone, even in reaction to negative reviews. But I have to admit, this is the first time I’ve seen a reaction to my reviews actually in the context of a comic-book script.
With his latest issue of True Story Swear to God, creator Tom Beland has caught up to the publication of the comic-book title itself, and the story features a brief sequence in which Beland seeks out reviews of his work. The Fourth Rail, my previous review site with partner Randy Lander, is mentioned, as is Johanna Draper-Carlson, one of the most thoughtful and intelligent comics critics one can find online. Sure, it was a kick to see one’s name in a comic in such an unusual way, but what’s most striking about the scene is how honest Beland is about his reviews. Despite their glowing nature, he’s surprised and even a little bit puzzled by them. Honesty has always been the greatest strength of this autobiographical series, and the aforementioned example is just one of many to be found in the new issue and new collected edition.
It’s been a wild ride since Napa Valley native and cartoonist Tom Beland has moved to Puerto Rico to be with his one true love, radio/TV personality lily Garcia. He has wrestled with the island’s lackadaisical attitude toward paying freelancers, mixed it up with Lily’s disapproving mother over a radical expression of her faith, engaged in a battle of wills with an incessantly barking dog, worked through the mother of all sunburns and even travelled thousands of miles to visit New York in something of a comic-book pilgrimage. And now, with Lily’s support, he’s finally self-published his own comic book, True Story Swear to God, which brings him face to face with his first reviews and his first fanboy.
Beland’s simple artistic style boasts a friendly, familiar look that makes one instantly comfortable in his world. His work shows the influence of such noted and celebrated cartoonists as Bill (Calvin and Hobbes) Watterson and Charles (Peanuts) Schulz. The comic-book format allows him to play more with perspective and detail at times that brings a more refined, mature look to the visuals. The trade paperback also provides a look behind the scenes, as it were, as Beland shares his thoughts about how he creates an issue. There are also roughs of a couple of pages to see how the final product evolves from his initial vision.
The story title for the seventh issue of the Image is series is “The Fanboy Cometh,” and it features Tom’s encounter with a young Puerto Rico resident who loves his work but has some off-putting eccentricities. While I enjoyed the glimpse into Beland’s first real experience with fandom from a creator’s perspective, I’m familiar with the scenario. Fortunately, it’s really only a small part of the issue. There are multiple subplots at play here, and one gets the feeling one is more vested in Tom and Lily’s life together. It’s not just about their relationship or Beland’s creative efforts, but instead, it’s a more balanced look at life in general.
For some reason, I had it in my head the new trade-paperback collection from Image would be a reissue of the collections of the self-published issues (previously collected and released by AiT/Planet Lar). Instead, the trade is a collection of the first six Image issues. A massive, 540-page collection of the earlier comics is forthcoming later in the year, I’m informed now, and anyone who was introduced to True Story by way of Image would be well advised to delve into the earlier material.
I don’t know why, but after rereading the trade paperback, I felt as though I’d downplayed the strength of the individual issues in earlier reviews. As I thumbed through the pages, I was laughing out loud at some of the sequences and bits of dialogue. “You’re getting your cancer all over me.” The blunt exchange between Tom and Lily’s mother. The sunburn incident. And as entertaining as some sequences are, the emotional resonance of the sadder, more reflective moments are just as engaging.
Some might question whether or not I can be impartial about True Story Swear to God given the mention of The Fourth Rail in the new issue. Io that, I respond with two points. (1) Beland has misremembered the week of release, as only Randy posted a Fourth Rail review of the first self-published issue (which is what led to my interest in the book). (2) Anyone who’s followed my reviews for any length of time at all will realize that I’ve been quite partial to the book from the start. Beland’s honesty is impressive, but so is the universal nature of his experiences. It’s remarkably easy to see oneself in his world despite the exotic locale and the characters’ unusual occupations. 9/10
Note: The True Story Swear to God Vol. 1 trade paperback is slated for release July 11.