Webcomic Review: 'The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal' Is a Gay Romance Comic You NEED To ReadA comic review article by: Logan Beaver
It's strange reading a webcomic for years, then going back to the beginning and seeing the art again. It's both strange and familiar; paradoxically how it was when you first read it and not precisely how you remember it. In EK Weaver's romance comic, The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, this is compounded by the fact that, while Weaver has been telling this story since 2009, the story takes places over the course of a week. If you're not periodically rereading it, it's kinda easy to forget that things you read about over a year ago might have happened yesterday in the story.
This has never bothered me because TJ and Amal manages to work as both a gag strip and a long-form webcomic. Watching the relationship between TJ and Amal grow, and the hijinks that ensue (like the Back to the Future-quoting contest, or when they got caught fucking in a Goodwill), is endearing and funny enough to keep you coming back each week, which is how it works as a gag strip. It also works well as a graphic novel because Weaver has created two characters that are so likable and interesting that she can build an entire story around just learning about them and watching them interact with each other. In the time it took to get from the beginning to where the story is now, you might lose track of some of the things that happened and why some things are important. That's never been a problem for me, though. Reading TJ and Amal never stopped being fun.
Like many webcomics, you can tell that someone grew up on manga. The characters are the biggest giveaway (particularly their eyes), but there's also that extended wordless section where TJ and Amal take in the scenery, and each other, as they drive through the Rocky Mountains. There's more to that, though, than a simple aping of conventions (it's also not just an excuse for Weaver to show off her ability to draw beautiful nature scenes). As cliché as this is going to sound, the American countryside that the characters drive though between Berkeley and Providence is nearly as much a character in the story as TJ and Amal. It seems like when you usually hear this (most often on commentary tracks) they mean that the scenery speaks to the audience in some way or that it contributes something to the mood of the piece (or, at worst, it means "look at all the pretty shots we got of these trees/these mountains/New York City"). What I mean when I say it is that the landscape speaks to the characters, and they react and even change as a result. TJ has never left the Bay Area before, and reacts with childlike wonder to all the beautiful nature around him, making Amal pull over at a lake they pass so he can run into it, only to scream "Jesus that's cold!" and run right back out. Amal laughs at him, and there's a pause before he calmly walks into the freezing lake and stares out into the sky, to affirm that everything that has happened to him in the past few days, the obliteration of his old life, is real, and once he faces that he can deal with it.
Recently, the shoe that's been waiting to drop since the beginning has dropped. It was an interesting moment, because, up until then, the story had been practically bereft of real conflict. What conflicts there have been between the couple and either nameless characters or faceless ones, and they feel only slightly more important than footnotes in the story of TJ and Amal's developing relationship. Then that shoe dropped, and then it was pretty quickly established to not be a huge deal. Mostly, it just led to TJ talking about his past. This story is funny in that if there is a real conflict in there I've never really cared about it. Conflict is supposed to be the fuel in the engine of good stories, right? Especially ones that revolve around multiple complex characters, right? It wasn't until I sat down to write this review that I even realized this, and it's interesting, but the story has never suffered for the lack of conflict (or, at least, a traditional conflict). I don't think I know exactly how Weaver gave the story its momentum without conflict.
I should probably mention somewhere in this review that this comic is... porny? Pornish? Two men have sex. You see penises. Plenty of other comics websites have called it yaoi, a term for Japanese comics about sexual relationships between men that are targeted at women. I've mostly seen the term applied to gay hentai, but this hardly fits that description. It's more of a romance comic. That's another thing that TJ and Amal has got me to do that I would never have seen myself doing: read a romance comic. Generally speaking, it's a genre I pretty much avoid at all times (except that one time Douglas Wolk tricked me into reading 15 Love). Anyway, you probably shouldn't read it at work. You should definitely read it somewhere, though.
Since moving to South Korea, Logan Beaver has written plays, comics, and flash fiction (he did a lot of that before, mind you), gone on adventures and drank more on a Tuesday than is socially acceptable outside of college. He lives there with his girlfriend Collette, and his laptop Pornbot 5000. He is trying to learn how to speak Korean and draw, both of which are very hard. He thinks that, by learning and doing new things, people become something better than they once were, like Pokemon. If he were a Pokemon, he would be Snorlax, though he is generally unfamiliar with Pokemon beyond the original 151.