Reviews: “Loved and Lost” and “Free Pass” from Top Shelf Productions

Behold…for I am risen.

While this decidedly isn’t a Heroes & Villains column (still figuring that out), I did have the opportunity to check out a couple of great graphic novels that I just could not wait to write about.

Loved and Lost
Jeffrey Brown (W/A)
Top Shelf Productions

Jeffrey Brown is one of those creators whose work I’ve been following for a long, long time now and for good reason too. Brown’s autobiographical comics were some of the first ones I consumed when I was starting to expand my horizons beyond the tights and capes books that made up the comics diet of my late teens and early twenties. 

Coming out May 10th from Top Shelf Productions is Brown’s Loved and Lost: A Relationship Trilogy which collects his books Clumsy, Unlikely, and Any Easy Intimacy. Here’s the blurb:

A pioneer of 21st-century graphic memoir, Jeffrey Brown captures timeless insights into love, intimacy, and vulnerability in three unforgettable relationship  portraits.

Twenty years ago, young painter Jeffrey Brown grew frustrated with the expectations of the art world and wanted desperately to make  something real. In a single sketchbook, working directly in ink, he began  recording his memories of a recent long-distance relationship, matching  the emotional frailty of the young lovers with painfully honest writing  and art. As that book, Clumsy , struck a chord with readers and spawned  the follow-ups Unlikely and Any Easy Intimacy, Brown’s work proved a  watershed for the emerging form of the graphic memoir. Chronicling the  awkward mess of romantic relationships in unsparing and explicit detail,  these works also reflect the fragmentary nature of memory, the risk of  opening ourselves to pain, and the giggly rush of falling in love. Now collected into one volume for the first time, this Relationship Trilogy is a  bittersweet reminder of the everyday joy, heartbreak, and humor that — despite everything— keep us coming back for more.

It’s been ages since I had read any of the books from this collection and revisiting them not only took me back to a time in my life when I was starting to explore books like these but it also served as a postmortem for all the relationships I had as a young person. For the vast majority of us, getting romantically involved with other people for the first time is often a game of high stakes trial and error. It’s painful, but also joyful and necessary to grow as a person and “become who you’re supposed to be.” Maybe it’s easy for some people but I personally probably shouldn’t have started dating until I was in my thirties. My late thirties. 

Loved and Lost is a fascinating memoir which presents Brown’s recollections of events but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s always presenting himself in a positive light. In what’s almost certainly a case of the art holding up the mirror a bit too closely to the viewer, Loved and Lost dredged up feelings of maudlin nostalgia for me which I was grateful for. Maybe I’ll revisit the collection again in another decade or two…

Free Pass
Julian Hanshaw (W/A)
Top Shelf Productions

Something that should already be readily apparent is that Top Shelf Productions is absolutely one of my favourite publishers. Come out on May 3rd from Top Shelf and creator Julian Hanshaw is Free Pass, a fascinating work of speculative fiction. Here’s the blurb:

Free Pass is an intoxicating tale of liberty, suppression, and shame, set in the sticky place where sex, politics, and technology come together.

George Orwell said, “You are free to be a drunkard, an idler, a coward, backbiter, a fornicator. You are not free to think for yourself.” Huck and Nadia are enjoying their twenties: working in Big Tech and developing an adventurous sex life. As they discuss their fantasies, including the possibility of swapping partners and drafting a “free pass” list, they take pride in their honest and transparent relationship. But when it comes to politics, Huck is leading a double life. As a national election looms, he grows more and more uncomfortable with his company’s unelected authority over internet discourse. When the couple receives a bizarre gift — a cutting-edge humanoid sex AI that can morph into anyone with an internet presence — their worlds of fantasy, trust, and consent are blissfully thrown into chaos. In a society growing more divided each day, Huck struggles with the pressure to uphold the boundaries of a binary world at work while everything is collapsing at home.

With Free Pass I went in cold, without having read the above synopsis and discovered a book that was frighteningly prescient. In my adult life I’ve watched the internet move from a sci-fi daydream, to a useful tool (also how I describe myself hey-hey), to a cumbersome annoyance threatening to derail modern society. Ironic since I’m writing this for a blog which I’m told exists on the internet.

Say what you will about pornography but the industry has been in on the ground floor as early adopters of technological leaps forward over the last forty-plus years. From VHS, to DVD, to Blu-Rays, and now streaming porno has been leading the charge by backing formats that become the standard…not that I would know anything about that or would discuss it in polite society.

Free Pass paints a picture of a day in the not-too-distant future where the internet assumes its final form and will allow any user to clap virtual cheeks with anyone who has been online ever. If you’re not getting the “ick” feeling from this then I don’t know what to tell you. The larger ethical questions the book raises are frankly not ready to be addressed by a medium that’s controlled by a handful of billionaires. For every person that would rightfully “nope” their way out of wanting to be party of this there are legions of salivating endusers that “don’t see what the big deal is.”

Free Pass is a fascinating read about what cums comes next and the questions society should be getting ready to answer before someone else answers for us and it’s not to be missed. 

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