Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Life Irritates Art

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 19th, 2006

I don’t really need to review True Story, Swear to God v.2 #1. I’ve made my feelings about Tom Beland’s autobiographical, slice-of-life romance comic known time and time again.  I adore True Story, and I relate to much of what Beland explores in the book.  I’m thrilled that his self-published comic series is about to reach a wider audience with the release of a relaunch through Image Comics.  It’s bound to boost True Story‘s profile significantly, hopefully appealing to the cartooning fans of such other Image titles as Liberty Meadows and PvP.

So no, this is not a review of the new debut issue.  Instead, I want to explore a question that’s rather unique to this comic series: is True Story the same series that it was when it began?  And the truth is that no, it’s not the same book, but it has nothing to do with how Beland writes it now, how he illustrates it or how he markets it.

The change comes in the perspective of some of his readers, namely, those who are aware of the shift in Beland’s life today, as opposed to the past experiences that unfold in the comic.  Beland announced this year that he and wife Lily Garcia had split, albeit on amicable terms.  Developments in the creators’ personal lives are never a concern when it comes to one’s enjoyment of their comic-book storytelling, but in this case, it does have an effect.  You see, True Story is, among other things, a romance comic, and now, the readership knows the ending it was expecting for the autobio title will not come to pass.

We lost our Happily Ever After.

It’s not often a comic book has such a personal and direct context beyond what’s printed on the page.  But True Story started out and was billed as the real-life tale of Beland’s romance with Puerto Rican media personality Lily Garcia. His readers were invested in the relationship. Beland took us along for the romantic ride and gave some us hope that we’d find the same sort of connection, best friend and partner to accompany us through the rest of our lives.

So is True Story a moot point? Should fans abandon the book in the fear that love doesn’t conquer all? Jeeeeesus, no.

True Story is marketed as a romance book. The first self-published comic series was pretty much a romance book when it began. But as those who have followed the series and/or read the original mini-comics know, True Story isn’t just a romance comic, not anymore.

Though it’s the Tom/Lily relationship that serves as the foundation for the book, it’s about much more than finding true love. It’s about family. It’s about work. It’s about growing up in general. Tom’s struggles with social and cultural isolation, his frustrations with everyday inconveniences and his own personal foibles and flaws all have their appeal. One of the reasons the book connects so well is Tom’s depiction of himself as an everyman.  It’s easy to see oneself in him.  We relate to Tom, and therefore, we care about him. The same holds true for Lily.  Though the creator’s adoration for her elevates her to a certain degree, he’s also shown us that she has her own strengths, fears and oddities, and we connect with her as well.

There’s still strength and value in True Story, Swear to God beyond the romantic elements, and should the series deviate from its central focus and delve more into the everyday experiences of the author, I’m confident it would retain much of its charm. It would be a different book, but certainly not one to be dismissed. The audience isn’t just invested in Tom and Lily’s relationship, but their lives, because we’re invested in our own.

OK, so we don’t get our fairy-tale ending. Even if Beland ends the series at the pinnacle of their romance (say, their wedding… it’s a logical place to leave off), we know the story takes a turn well before the scene in which an old couple watches a sunset together on a porch, still just as in love as they were years before.

But there are other happy endings, 21st-century happy endings revolving around sustained friendships, new beginnings, invigorated professional satisfaction and reconnection with family. Sure, they’re not the traditional final chapters, but values and priorities evolve and change with society.

I’ve gone through my five stages about the whole matter. The promise of continued honesty, humor and humility in the new series was more than enough to ease my mind and hold my interest as a reader, believe me. I wouldn’t lie to you. Swear to God.

Addendum: Since this column was written, circumstances have changed. Please read through the comments — notably for those penned by me and Tom Beland himself — for more information.

17 Responses to “Life Irritates Art”

  1. Chris Says:

    This is an excellent article; I love your writing. I too am excited about the new series. I found True Stories Swear to God thanks to the fourthrail.com

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Thanks, Chris! And thanks for following me to the new site.

  3. Randy Lander Says:

    Good article, Don. You know how much I love True Story Swear to God, and I’m glad to see Tom getting more exposure from an Image series.

    On the “lost our happy ending”… I felt the same way, but when I talked to Tom in San Diego, he told me a few things that made me realize that I needn’t have worried. I don’t know how much he wants revealed, so I’ll let him do any talking on that front, but let’s just say that I think there’s a happy ending in store for TSSTG after all.

  4. Dale Says:

    I remember the first time I saw ANNIE HALL and couldn’t believe they split up in the end.
    After multiple viewings I discovered I love the ending, strangely enough, because it drives home one of the most important lessons in life- people change.

    People change. Even funny, intelligent people.
    They move on and it’s heartbreaking sometimes, but it’s even worse if they stay and live in resentment.

    Hearing the news of the break-up only made me more interested in the comic because I can’t wait to see just how they preserve the friendship.
    That will be the trick.

    They rarely get that one right in the movies much less the comics.

  5. Don MacPherson Says:

    Dale wrote:
    >Hearing the news of the break-up only made me more interested in the comic because I can’t wait to see just how they preserve the friendship. That will be the trick.<

    An interesting take on the situation, Dale… and a great attitude. Thanks for contributing.

  6. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] XHTML Google AdSense Welcome Back, Don CATEGORY: LinkBlogging AUTHOR: Johanna POSTED: 2006-09-20 8:01 pm Don MacPherson, formerly ofThe Fourth Rail, is back online with the solo Eye on Comics. I particularly liked his thoughts on True Story, Swear to God. No comments so far Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> […]

  7. seba Says:

    i love tsstg and it’s you, don, i have to thank for for introducing it to me. i too felt sad about the break-up, and when i say sad i mean sad, and i haven’t even met them! that, to me, is the strength of the book. the fact not just that you relate to tom, but that you consider him your friend. moreover, the fact that he is a real guy makes this apparent friendship less freaky! (many of us also consider bigby our friend).
    but even if tom’s relationship has ended, i think he’s given most of his readers a richer relationship of our own – my own girlfriend (and i know i’m not the only guy here) is hooked up to tsstg. so that’s given us another thing to share with our girls: a comic book. and believe me, for those like me who are crazy about literature in panels, that’s a lot.
    so thank you tom, from this blog. i guess you really are a friend.

    seba

  8. Tomas Says:

    Alright, a new site for Don! I’ve been meaning to check out TSSG for a while (like Chris, a certain review site brought it to my attention ;)) and despite not having read the series yet, Tom and Lily’s breakup took me by surprise as well. But hey, that’s not going to stop me from picking up the first Image issue; the preview pages I read were quite charming.

  9. Tom Beland Says:

    Don, as always, thanks. If anyone outside Napa Valley or Puerto Rico is reading my work… you and Randy are among the top five people I thank for that. Really. You guys have done nothing more than given me a sense of artistic love and respect that other cartoonists/creators can only dream of.

    Now, regarding the happy ending. Tune in to Fanboyradio.com this coming Wednesday, September 27. That’s all I’m going to say… tune in.

  10. Don MacPherson Says:

    Is it me, or does it sound as though Tom Beland is going to propose to Randy and/or myself on the Internet next week? :)

    Kidding.

    Tom, thank *you* for crafting such a great comic series and inviting us into your life. And for putting up with know-it-all comics pundits such as myself who sound off about your life.

  11. Tom Beland Says:

    lol… no, Randy shot me down months ago and YOU… well, we all know how demanding YOU are my friend.

    Ummmmm but seriously… tune in to Fanboy on Wednesday, I’m about to drop a big one.

    And no poop jokes, pahLEEZE.

  12. Don MacPherson Says:

    It seems the cat is out of the bag a bit early, as this video on YouTube attests.Congratulations, Tom and Lily!

    (Of course, now my whole column is rendered moot… and I couldn’t be happier).

    Link via Johanna.

  13. Chris Says:

    this is on newsarama also… http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=85483

  14. Dale Says:

    Looks like Tom confirmed as much with a reply also.

    The ending to ANNIE HALL sucks now that I think about it.

  15. mrskin Says:

    What day is it? Cause I am confused.

  16. Don MacPherson Says:

    Mrskin, if you mean what day is Beland on Fanboy Radio, I believe it’s tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 27.

  17. Isaia Says:

    Tom and Lily’s story really hits close to home.

    I’m going through a somewhat same situation with my special someone.

    In fact I was introduced to True Story Swear to God by that special someone.

    I did get choked up upon hearing that they broke up during that time, and having fear and worry for my own situation.

    But I guess I was completely ignoring the whole point of the story and what it signified, instead of completely gettin bummed out from what had happened in real life and forgetting what worth the story had for what it was.

    THOUGH I SPAZZED OUT HARDCORE upon hearing they got back together. haha