Tim Fish's Calvalcade of Boys is probably the only comic book on the shelves that sells itself as a "Gay Romance Comic Book," harkening back to the days when the medium wasn't dominated by supermen in tights, albeit with a limp wristed twist on things. The title gives away the cast: a melange of the queer male spectrum, ranging in age from barely starting college to well on the way towards 401k land, though the cast tends to lean towards the ambiguous mid-twenties and early thirties.
With a sprinkling of women to fill out the cast, the book's characters play out like a list of stereotypes. If I hadn't flipped past the page that lists them like that on my first run through, I might have been put off by that such labels as "Sam: the jock boy" or "Tommy: the whore." While some characters are stuck with such weighted titles, others are given ones as specific as "Eddie: the starved for attention Navy Boy" or as vague as "Andy: the guy in the grey hoodie." Though a rather cumbersome and two dimensional list, it does a good deal of help to keep the 19 or so characters in some sort of order in your head. Gladly, Fish introduces and uses the characters in such a fashion that their number isn't overwhelming and keeping them in some sort of order is not complex. When worst comes to worst, he pulls an aside to catch you up on who a person is if it's been a while since their last appearance.
The labels, luckily, hold only as much as such labels do in real life -- as a function of society's limited view on more complex characters. So, while Tommy may be "the whore," he's got a complete past of escaping small town life for sunny SoCal, chasing after a long term crush with rose colored glasses that didn't allow him to see how insensitive and self-centered the guy is. The guy leaves him high and dry and Tommy's stuck with a new life...
The series is episodic in nature. Things tend to come to some sort of resolution by the final page of each issue, though things rarely end in the "happily ever after" kind of way. While the subject is gay romance, it's more a true to life romance with most relationships having flaws, more than a few being disasters apparent from the beginning, and some very close moments. Many of the best are a beautiful dysfunction that still somehow works through the worsts of each person. The resolutions found at the end of each issue is often understood to be the resolution for the latest hurdle in a relationship that's far from fairytale and each of them isn't necessarily the "right" thing to do. For example, probably one of the most emotionally complex stories involves the Navy boy, Eddie, and his boyfriend, Stanley. Eddie wants more than anything to serve his nation but Stanley, plauged with images of Eddie's death in the current conflict, ends up anonymously turning proof of Eddie's homosexuality into the Naval-powers-that-be who promptly eject him from the forces, all the while being aware of how much being in the Navy means to Eddie. That story also is a good example of how the labels at the front of the compilations of the comic books do more to hurt the story then help as Stanley's title is "the obsessive guy." That label takes much from an action that's more aptly described as human than obsessive. Instead of recognizing the tender weakness in the character, one interprets the action as one of possession and not care, muddying up the waters of interpretation.
It is examples like that which leave me divided on his use of "types." While many of the characters in the comic hold types that are, at times, disturbingly true to life, just like in real life, the use of them takes away from the real complexity that Fish strives for in their depictions. To a point, Fish tries to invert or simply break the molds of these types, but his reliance on types in general hinders his attempt to tell a story of people who happen to be gay rather than that of gay people. Many of his stories suffer from a division in theme between being individualistic and universal: every character attempts to be a sort of "every(gay)man" while being an individual personality. Needless to say, this reflects a lot of what the gay community suffers from in reality: an attempt to be accepted by the greater whole through humanizing of the image while struggling to maintain a "gay" identity (which is something that the majority of minorities suffer from).
Overall, the series succeeds in what it attempts to be: a gay romance comic book. It captures many of the complexities that are relationships and dating, gay and straight, and while it gives a nod to club culture, it never fully slips into the trap of reducing the gay dating world into a series of club-centered hook ups. The stories and the characters are endearing and far too true to life at times as you watch them struggle through the mire that that a modern love life entails.
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Tim Fish's works, including Cavalcade of Boys, can be found at http://www.timfishworks.com.