Bingo Love original graphic novel
Writer: Tee Franklin
Artist: Jenn St-Onge
Colors: Joy San
Letters: Cardinal Rae
Cover artist: Genevieve Eft
Editor: Erica Schultz
Publisher: Image Comics/Inclusive Press
Price: $9.99 US
Purely from a marketing perspective, this book has a lot going for it. The title is a striking one, evoking curiosity and bemusement, and the cute figures on the cover draws one in further as well. On top of that, the $10 price tag is an affordable and inviting one, so Bingo Love was poised to catch some eyes. But I suspect word of mouth would have been all these creators needed to attract an audience. This is a powerfully compelling and charming love story about being gay in America in the past and what it means to be gay today. It’s definitely a celebration of the progress in LGBTQ+ issues. But honestly, the story doesn’t draw its strength from that relevance and importance. Instead, it’s the touching and believable love story that grabs the reader and never lets go, along with the well-realized cast of characters. By the end of the book, this is a story about a family that adapts to the power and promise of love, putting happiness above prejudice and petty concerns.
When teenage Hazel Johnson accompanied her grandmother to a church bingo event in 1963, little did she know her entire life would change. Spying Mari McCray, a new girl in the neighbourhood, ignited a spark in her heart and began to make her realize who she was. It was love at first sight, but Hazel didn’t knew if her new best friend felt similarly. Circumstances forced the girls apart, and Hazel, pressured by family, embarked on a traditional life — husband and kids. She wasn’t in love, but she found happiness in her family — but a chance encounter reminds her there’s another whole level of bliss she deserves and that’s long overdue.
Jenn St-Onge’s cartoony figures are thoroughly attractive and despite the simpler, more exaggerated elements of the character designs, they’re also wholly believable. She has a strong eye for anatomy, and her characters move and breathe in convincing ways, giving them life beyond the two-dimensional lines that delineate them. St-Onge’s style here reminded me a fair bit of the early work of Tim Levins, who’s best known for his pencil art on Batman: Gotham Adventures from several years ago. But before his success at DC, Levins collaborated with writer J. Torres on a creator-owned, slice-of-life comic entitled The Copybook Tales, and the softness and innocence of the characters as they appeared in that book reminded me of the lighter, human touch St-Onge brought to her characters here. The artist’s use of lots of soft curves and ovals also reminded me of the style of animator Chris (Lilo and Stitch) Sanders. I was especially struck by the full, voluptuous depiction of Hazel, both in her teenage and golden years. She looks like a real person, not some impossible model, but she’s delightfully attractive as well. The artist finds beauty and appeal in just about every character that turns up in this story.
The book opens with a flash-forward to the future, with Hazel offering advice to another woman such as herself who’s confused about herself and upset about how her family is handling it. The book comes full circle, and I appreciated the twist that’s revealed in those final pages. However, I don’t think taking the story into a near-future and incorporating a sci-fi element in the technology that Hazel uses was all that necessary. It took a grounded story and introduced an element of the fantastic that seems out of place. The notion of how to address a family member’s illness is a novel one, but I honestly would have rather read about how people would handle such a situation in the here and now.
There’s an argument to be made that Franklin’s plot is a sugar-coated view of a lesbian love story that overcomes hatred, social pressures and expectations. The obstacles the two main characters face are believable, but they’re also mild compared to the sort of tragedies that have unfolded in similar circumstances. But Franklin’s message is definitely designed to be one of hope. The decades that Mari and Elle are apart are hurried through, skimmed over so as to set the stage for the reunion. The goal here is clearly one of positivity, and not just for love stories involving non-traditional sexual orientation. There’s encouragement to be had here for everyone — anyone who’s had a crush they were hesitant to act upon, anyone who’s been told they should put others ahead of their own happiness, anyone who set aside their own passions and interests as a sacrifice to family. Bingo Love is undeniably a love story, but in addition to a destined romance, it’s also about love for oneself. 9/10
Note: This graphic novel is slated for release Feb. 14. Of course.