Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
Writer/Artist: Lisa Maas
Having spoken to a lot of queer comic creators over the years, the one thing the majority of them seem to crave more than anything else is representation. At the end of the day, they want to be seen and portrayed as regular people (because, newsflash, THEY ARE). And while these kind of stories are definitely important, the message I’ve been given is that not every queer story needs to be about characters coming out or suffering homophobic abuse, much in the same way as stories featuring POC don’t need to be solely based around racism or slavery.
Having said all that, I’m fully aware that I’m perhaps not the target demographic for a book like this, meaning that a lot of the subtleties of the narrative and the authenticity of the characters may have gone sailing right over my head. Yes, it’s an immensely LGBTQ positive story, but the characters are so strongly written that they come across less like “two gay women” and more like “two human beings.” Now granted, those things aren’t mutually exclusive, but in the hands of lesser writers – or indeed writers who aren’t drawing on their own personal experiences or the experiences of people they know – we all too often get the former without the latter.
Either way, FORWARD, a brand new graphic novel from Lisa Maas, fulfils the request for representation admirably, delivering a touching and gentle love story about two baggage-laden characters overcoming their issues, struggling to put their lives back together, and gradually opening up to the possibility of new relationships. Rayanne is still raw from an abusive relationship years after the fact, resigning herself to a life that consists of her job, her cat and her numerous unfulfilled crushes, while Ali is struggling to come to terms with the death of her wife, sleepwalking her way through life and closing herself off to the notion of “being in a relationship”.
It’s the personal touch that really helps Mass to infuse the events and dialogue with a wonderful sense of believability, delivering an understated sense of charm during the sweet, awkward and sometimes uncomfortable exchanges between her two leads. Sure, there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking at play here, and we lean pretty heavily into some clichéd rom-com tropes along the way, but Maas manages to keep her story’s head above water with some strong characterisation and a wonderful juxtaposition between the intentions of Rayanne and Ali that helps keep the pages turning throughout the course of this near 200-page graphic novel.
The layouts and sequential narrative flows smoothly, and Maas’ ink-washed style adds a softness to the pages, shifting her palette during the frequent ‘erotic daydream’ or ‘grief-filled flashback’ sequences. My one minor niggle with the artwork is the fact that every character’s face looks incredibly similar, almost like the same person wearing a different wig. It makes it difficult to discern exactly what’s happening at times, especially when we’re flitting backwards and forwards between different times and settings. And while it doesn’t really derail the story in any significant way, it did require some occasional pausing as I tried to figure out who was talking to who.
At the end of the day though, while the story beats and eventual outcome are undoubtedly familiar, there’s something genuinely endearing and uplifting about FORWARD, and Maas should be applauded for infusing what is, on paper at least, a somewhat by-the-numbers rom-com with an impressive level of humour, heart and positivity.