Festering Romance (Oni Press)

festering-header.jpgTwo young singles on the road to romance deal with both literal and metaphorical ghosts in this mostly tedious romantic comedy.




184 pgs., B & W; 11.95

(W & A: Renee Lott)

You might know someone like Janet. In fact you might be Janet, in which case Festering Romance may be just the comic for you. Janet is an art student and she seems to be reasonably cute and pleasant but she doesn’t have a boyfriend or much of a life. What she does have is a very safe best friend, Paul, with whom she lives and watches TV and plays video games. She’s afraid to leave her comfort zone but her pushy frenemy Freya sets her up on a blind date with fellow student Derek. They are attracted to each other but also have to act out some resistance and be unhappy before they can be happy.

Both are harboring a secret, you see. Janet’s friend Paul is a ghost, and Derek also lives with a ghost: his ex-girlfriend Carol. Or maybe not so ex. Secrets are revealed and after some bickering and recrimination Janet and Derek banish the ghosts from their lives and healing ensues. If that’s not metaphorical wisdom laid on with a trowel I don’t know what is.

Click for a larger image.That’s the story: the characters barely do anything but ruminate on their feelings which are not all that interesting. Derek has a job giving ghost tours (the comic is set in Savannah, GA) and there are a few references to attending class but nobody makes any art or does much of anything at all. More troubling as far as relating to the comic is the fact that the characters seemed to be frozen in a junior high school mentality because when it comes to potential romance because they have only two modes: total desperation and total panic.

Of course that may appeal to some people: Festering Romance reminds me of the "Cathy" comics by Cathy Guisewite (talk about celebrating the contradictory impulses of your main character in an infantilizing manner!), so if you like those you may like this one as well. But I just wanted to leap into the frame and tell the characters that plenty of people younger than them are functioning adults supporting their own families so maybe it’s time to get on with it. When Lott’s characters get their desires and affections straightened out they’re so chaste they might as well be living in the 18th century. Could this be a stealth attempt to promote chastity among the young and unmarried?

As you can probably tell, I found the whole thing tedious. The only character with any emotional reality is the obnoxious Freya, perhaps because nearly everyone knows a Nosy Parker like her. We get some back-story about the ghosts but not enough to establish an interesting ghostly universe. Just for the record I have enjoyed other relationship comics in the past including Love the Way You Love (review here: http://www.playbackstl.com/content/view/8948/167/), which is also published by Oni Press. But the characters have to be interesting enough to be worth my time and there has to be some plausibility to the action.

Lott’s art is more interesting than her storytelling. It’s influenced by manga conventions: extreme distortions indicating emotional states, expressive backgrounds, and lots of aspect-to-aspect transitions. She has an interesting feel for characterization but there’s a lack of variety in the frame layouts (six equal rectangles per page is the most common) and she doesn’t take advantage of the available space to put much detail into her drawings: it’s almost as if they were planned for a smaller format. The cover sketches, which are in color, actually look better than most of the interior art.

You can check out samples of Festering Romance at the author’s web site: http://festeringromance.fridgewithfeet.com/?page_id=13. Maybe you’ll like it better than I did. | Sarah Boslaugh

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