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.