[12 January 2006]
I don’t want to reveal too much here, but I am a man in love. I was always cynical about the concept, turning my nose up at friends who mooned over their girlfriends, chanting the mantra, “bros over hos” with absolute conviction and denying my ability to even feel the emotion. It was all a front, of course, a big softie acting hard to hide his feelings. Now, newly married and still a little googly-eyed, I can’t imagine being the same hardened, heartless person I once was.
Had I read Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? in those long-ago days I would have rolled my eyes but, deep down, felt that aching jealousy of wanting to be in love, too.
Will You…? is the first full-length work from artist Liz Prince, a New Mexico native whose work has previously been featured in zines, anthologies and gallery shows. Hers is an autobiographical style in the vein of Harvey Pekar and James Kochalka and is just as confessional, touching and funny. Prince turns her life with her drummer boyfriend, Kevin, into a series of non-sequiturs and squiggly lines that, though intensely personal, speak to the larger issues of relationships in general.
Avoiding the standard “boy meets girl” format, Prince tells her love story through a series of one-page snapshots and crooked panels that sum up the fun, stress and joy of being in a relationship. It’s shockingly personal, revealing the cute, pet-named underbelly of romance with refreshing honesty and humor. The book is so frank, in fact, that Prince, in her one-line dedication, thanks Kevin for letting her “exploit our relationship.”
In a typical scene, Kevin asks Liz if she will snuggle with him in bed. Liz agrees, but on one condition: “If you stop farting,” she says. Kevin rolls over and says simply, “Nevermind.”
Yes, it’s a fart joke and sure, it might be a cheap gag, but anyone who’s been in a relationship long enough to be comfortable passing gas in front of their partner knows this can be anything but funny. The politics of flatulence are completely different when coupled with romance—the rules change. Prince doesn’t exploit this in some South Park-style scene of poison gas or beat the joke into the reader’s head. Instead, she lets the truth of the situation speak for itself as it quietly makes us laugh like a good fart joke should.
Of course no romance is perfect, and while Prince does touch on the harder parts of being in love—being apart, personal hang ups—there is no tension between Liz and Kevin. That, however, isn’t the point of these vignettes: tension and pain and anger and frustration are there, just between the lines. In superhero comics, most of the action takes place between the panels, behind the scenes. In Prince’s tale it’s no different. We see these snapshots but we know they’re just part of the whole picture.
With no real narrative to follow, the book reads very quickly and the economy of the writing lends itself to rereading if only to marvel at how much the story says. The artwork is very stylized, crude at times but perfectly suited for the subject. In some sequences the hatch marks of Prince’s layout are visible, breaking comics’ “fourth wall.” This adds another layer to the story—not only do we see Prince’s relationship in action, but we see her at work. It’s a kind of warts-and-all approach that, unlike the magician revealing her secrets, brings the whole thing to life even more. It brings the reader into the process, as if reading the work is the finishing touch.
One hates to use the term “cute” to describe this book because it’s a superficial description, but the whole tale really is cute, in the best sense of the word. The Liz and Kevin of the comic book page are funny and silly and devoted to one another. They make love appear as it should: precious, sweet and absolutely worthwhile. Though owing little to the pulp romances of the ‘50s and ‘60s, Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? is still, at its core, a romance comic. The story—and its telling—are completely modern and miles beyond the tangled teenage tales of yesterday, but there is still a great big heart beating in every panel, on every page.