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True Story, Swear to God: This One Goes to 11
Review by Sean Maher

Story
True Story Swear to God Review Cover Image
True Story Swear to God: This One Goes to 11

Story
Tom Beland
 
Art
Tom Beland

Publisher
AiT/PlanetLar
 
Format
Softcover Collection
 
Publish Date
May 25, 2005
 
Cover Price
$12.95
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This second collection of True Story, which collects issues #5-11 of the series, continues the starry-eyed love story autobiography that creator Tom Beland set up in the first collection (Chances Are…, which introduced the tale of a Napa Valley native falling in love with a woman living in Puerto Rico and discovering all the obstacles of such a long-distance relationship) but adds a second arm to the storytelling by incorporating an episodic, arc-like element that feels much more in keeping with the traditional role of comics as serial entertainment; as a result, we really begin to understand that this is an ongoing, unfinished story, and it feels like the book is really stretching out and exercising as Beland and his beloved Lily endure Hurricane Georges’ attack on Lily’s home in Puerto Rico.

This “episode” in their lives also brings a change in the way the story is told – for the first time, we get to read extended sequences featuring Lily away from Tom, and the book begins to feel bigger as a result – more about the joining of two lives than about the sudden change in Beland’s life. The change in structure mirrors, it seems, the change in Beland’s relationship to Lily – where she took on a more prize-like presence in the first collection, completely rocking Beland’s world (at the cost, to some extent, of her character development), here we learn more about her life and its changes as well, and it’s a welcome development to the series and, I can only assume, to their relationship.

True Story Swear to God Interior Image

In one of my favorite sequences, she huddles in her apartment with two girlfriends, while the storm rages outside, and tells them about Tom and the comic he wrote and drew for her; I really loved exploring how foreign his culture is/was to her, as her friends ask if he collects comics and she replies, “Oh my God… he owns hundreds of them. And he’s read them all!” It’s a really charming scene that brings Lily into the story more, and makes it more of a shared experience.

At the same time, we see an important change in Tom’s personality. While the book is certainly full of the expected romantic one-liners, the most powerful impact of the relationship on Tom’s life is shown more than told, as he finds himself facing a remarkably difficult decision – one that we’ve seen coming for a while – and pushes himself to make a costly but affirming choice. We see his love developing in two ways here: not just his love for Lily, but also his love for himself. Her presence in his life has moved him to pursue his own happiness with a resolve that we learn he hasn’t shown before, and while that isn’t spelled out with the same obvious romanticism as the assortment of doe-eyed lines of whimsy that pepper the rest of the book, it’s even more gripping and warming to read.

I’m also really charmed by the “screen time” given to Beland’s brother and best friend in Napa Valley, Joe. His sick joke of a phone call to Beland during the hurricane terror and his teasing Lily about being “Mexican” is hysterical and crude, and it shows their brotherly camaraderie in a way that makes the impact of Beland’s choice on their friendship much more meaningful.

Art

True Story Swear to God Review Interior ImageBeland’s art develops here, striking more consistent profiles and figures and exploring the range of imagery quite a bit more, with full- and double-page spreads and the usage of more natural imagery than we’ve seen from the series before. For the most part – as with the writing itself – the art seems to try and go unnoticed in favor of simply telling the story. It’s one of the really impressive things about this series; I’m reminded of the chapter in Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics that discusses the power of iconic imagery. By presenting the story in an iconic, undressed style, Beland allows the reader to read him- or herself into the book, and the emotional connection the reader feels to the story is that much stronger as a result. There’s a delicate balance to be struck here; if Lily or Beland himself were written or drawn in too iconic a way, so that they could be anybody, then the story would lose personality and distinction. Beland’s character designs offer just enough personal details to make it his story while at the same time being simple enough to let the reader engage and fill in some blanks.

I also have to mention the lettering here – it’s not often I notice lettering in a comic, because as long as the letterer has “done his job” I shouldn’t notice his work. But Beland letters by hand and uses some stylistic flair to really bring the dialogue alive; the outline around words the characters are emphasizing, the snowflakes around the word balloons of characters who are physically cold – I don’t often see lettering with so much personality in my comics, and it’s nice to find.

Bonus Features
This volume includes a 2-page introduction from Kurt Busiek, in which he cunningly seems to avoid doing any actual work. It fits the book itself well, because there’s a feeling of comfort in the tone of it, as if Busiek is simply talking to friends – there’s nothing stylized or writerly about it, just a fan of the series having some fun telling his experience with something he loves.
Final Words

Between my anxiousness to learn about What Happened Next in the wonderful true-life love story and the stylistic improvements Beland displays in this second volume of the series, I can’t wait for the next one. I don’t know of anything like this being published today, which is a bit of a shame because it leaves me hungry for more (in a good way).

Highly Recommended


Sean Maher (email) lives in San Francisco, balancing his love for comics with a full-time job and a full-time course load studying journalism at SFSU. He keeps a regular blog at The Zealot's Lore, where he's been nominated for a Squiddy Award, and is a regular presence on MillarWorld, the Brian K. Vaughan Cabal, and the Isotope Virtual Lounge.
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