A little while ago, I had the excuse to revisit the 1988 comics anthology AARGH! Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia in light of more recent political events. In my article AARGH! RESIST! A Retrospective and a Prelude, I briefly looked at how Alan Moore, Phyllis Moore, and Deborah Delano called on comics artists and writers both in the mainstream comics industry and the independent field to contribute to an anthology created against Clause 28 in Great Britain: a measure proposed by Margaret Thatcher’s regime that would essentially outlaw even the mention of homosexuality in schools and society at large. After going through the contents of the anthology, I took the time to ponder what an AARGH! in the twenty-first century, complete with intersectional concerns, might be like, who would organize it, and whom it might benefit.
This was something that I’d been thinking about even before the latest American election, but it almost seemed like I had an answer to my question in an extremely timely manner due to the efforts of Françoise Mouly, Nadja Spiegelman, and Gabe Fowler’s Smoke Signal magazine imprint and their political protest comics anthology RESIST! created for the purposes of “resisting the forces of intolerance.” At the same time, I also mentioned that I was sure that there would be other comics works on the level of AARGH! to challenge social and political intolerance.
I had no idea that something very close to a twenty-first century AARGH! was already underway, or at the very least I only knew about it in passing. In some ways, for me to write about Love is Love, organized by Marc Andreyko, published by IDW Publishing, and co-edited in a joint effort by the former and DC Comics, is coming back full circle. In my four-part article Not By Something As Accidental as Blood: Bash Back, I mentioned that I was introduced to Lawrence Gullo, Fyodor Pavlov, and Kelsey Hercs’ webcomic series through a friend after the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Love is Love is an anthology created to express and deal with the aftermath of the Pulse Shootings. It has a 144 page print edition and also, unlike AARGH! or even RESIST! with the exception of art samples so far a 160 page exclusive digital version: the latter of which is the one I’ve read for this article. Like AARGH! it too deals with LGBTQ+ elements, obviously enough, and its organizer also sent out a call for submissions in the comics field. The process of the book’s organization begins on what seems to be June 12, the same day after the shootings occurred. Marc Andreyko sent out his request for the as-of-yet-unnamed anthology comic book on Facebook for there were quite a few interested parties. On June 16 he formalized this request through a form letter addressing specifically “comics professionals” through a link on both Facebook and Twitter. At this point, he calls this collaboration “the Orlando Benefit Book.” Finally, on June 27, Marc Andreyko begins to refer to the anthology as Love is Love. He also makes it a point to pair up writers and artists together to contribute their one or two pages towards the collaboration.
Marc Andreyko himself, by his own admission and background, is an excellent individual to head up this project. Andreyko is an openly gay male comics professional who has done creator-owned work on Torso, a historical serial murder comic about the Cleveland “Torso Murderer” of 1934-1938, that he co-wrote with Brian Michael Bendis and published by Image Comics, and created the Manhunter series for DC: not only creating Kate Spencer but making one of the few gay relationships that exist in mainstream superhero comics through Spencer’s business partner Damon Matthews and the superhero Obsidian. He also wrote for the modern Batwoman series, featuring the lesbian superhero character Kate Kane – for which he and his collaborators were nominated by the GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Awards for Outstanding Comic Book – and Wonder Woman ‘77. But these examples of Andreyko’s attention to detail, his professional background working with DC, Marvel, Image, IDW, Dark Horse and Wildstorm, as well as his introduction of gay characters and story lines into a comics continuity are only part of why Love is Love and AARGH! have something of a commonality.
In an interview with Love is Love contributor and editor of IGN Comics Joshua Yehl for DC Entertainment, Marc Andreyko explains that he “grew up in the eighties, the age of We are the World and Live Aid and all those sort of artists getting together to generate art. So that was kind of my reflexive action after I heard about it I just went on Facebook and said the comics community needs to do something.” Andreyko has also stated this particular influence in other articles featuring Love is Love in addition to its Afterward.
The eighties is also about the time that AARGH! with Alan Moore and Mad Love began also gathering major voices from the industry and medium to oppose Clause 28: a zeitgeist or spirit of the times in which both Mad Love and Andreyko definitely tap. You can definitely see this in Marc Andreyko’s concluding comic illustrated by Olivier Colpel and coloured by José Villarrubia that illustrates death by AIDS, protests by what seems to be ACT UP with their re-appropriated pink triangles, and a comemeration with candles at the Pulse on page 157 of at least the digital version of Love is Love. Certainly, you could argue that this is one instance where you can see some of AARGH!’s legacy the background leading to something like Love is Love.
Yet what is truly fascinating is how Love is Love is a joint IDW-DC venture, whereas AARGH! itself was created independently by Alan Moore’s Mad Love imprint. AARGH! utilized artists and writers in the field, but Love is Love is technically a part and child of that industry. This allows for some very interesting developments such as the use of “the Big Three” – Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman – along with Archie characters and Will Eisner’s Spirit, in some of the comics stories included in Love is Love. AARGH! also has backing and participation in the form of tracts from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (the NGLTF) and the Organization for Lesbian and Gay Action (OLGA), while Love is Love only has company and creator-owned stories.
And the differences do not stop there. In fact, Love is Love gains more than just comics professional collaboration. In addition to the aforementioned IGN Comics editor Joshua Yehl, the anthology boasts contributions from the comedian Patton Oswalt, Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, screenwriter and television writer Damon Lindelof, and an Introduction by the director of Monster and Wonder Woman Patty Jenkins among others. Of course, there are some major comics creators in the mix as well such as Paul Dini, Mark Millar, Mike Carey, P. Craig Russell, Gail Simone, Steven Orlando, G. Willow Wilson, José Villarrubia, Carla Speed McNeil and quite a few others. Sadly though, I don’t believe that Kelly Sue DeConnick made it into the collaboration due to work and time constraints, though she was tapped in Andreyko’s various Facebook exchanges. Some of these creators are even suggestions I made in my last article for more intersectional voices in a protest comics anthology about LGBTQ+ issues and challenges.
Love is Love’s content ranges between people’s personal stories, individual stories retold and illustrated by others, poetry, abstract art, some meta-commentary from DC characters, and DC superheroes encountering the Pulse or even reflecting on the challenges and dangers that LGBTQ+ people face.
The book possesses a logo reminiscent of that belonging to Mad Love. Yet while Mad Love’s white heart on a black background symbol was created by the independent artist and Cerebus creator Dave Sim, Love is Love’s emblem was made by Steve Cook of DC Comics: with the white words of Love is Love surrounded by a large black circle and containing a red dot accentuating the word ‘is’ and emphasizing the power of its message. The rainbow flag carried right below it is a contrast to Mad Love’s dystopian warning and gritty, worn battle-hardened Dave McKean cover of solidarity from AARGH! It is held by a statuesque woman also holding the hand of a child and surrounded by a diverse crowd of people in what seems to be a Gay Pride Parade in a bright and sunny future. Even though this book was created before the results of the American election and its spectre of fear, hatred, and uncertainty, I feel this cover – created by Elsa Charretier – still attempts to show the strides that have occurred in a history of acceptance and the hope of what can still be despite pain and suffering.
The cover opens up to the first page which lists the names of all forty-nine casualties of the Pulse Shootings: complete with their ages right beside them. There is really nothing to say about this. In Memoriam: it speaks for itself. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t possess a Table of Contents and, indeed, many of the works inside of this anthology don’t even have titles.
However, the narratives definitely stand out. It begins with the Introduction by Patty Jenkins. Her subject is as controversial as she is in her film Monster: the serial killer Aileen Wuornos. It almost doesn’t feel like a coincidence for a few reasons. Aside from the fact that Marc Andreyko helped to co-write a comic series about a historical series of serial killings, Wuornos was a former prostitute and LGBTQ+ person who, after a life-time of abuse, took out her fury by killing men. At one point in the Introduction, Jenkins goes as far as to ask for compassion for Wuornos: not condoning her crimes, but asking for understanding the context of what shaped her from a victim into a victimizer and pondering what she and others would have been like if her sexuality had been accepted, and that some of the acceptance she ever genuinely felt in her life without love came from the LGBTQ+ community. Jenkins makes a point of stating that people like Aileen Wuornos, and by extension of her thought the Pulse Shooter Omar Mir Seddique Mateen – who had been “struggling with his own sexuality”– are what can happen to people who grow up in a world of xenophobia, homophobia, and violence: a place without compassion or acceptance.
I don’t know what to think about Jenkins’ statement, to be honest. I suspect that by not even mentioning the shooter by name, she herself might not necessarily be comfortable with placing him in the context of this book. On one hand, what she says is true. People like Aileen Wuornos who lash back at the group of people that primarily abused her, at a family and society that told her that her sexuality is wrong, and Mateen’s own potentially internalized homophobia and cognitive dissonance towards what his culture and family may have thought and what he felt are the result of this toxic concoction. Jenkins rightfully points out, obliquely, that the gun-culture around both of them and the forces that shaped them affected and still affect everyone around them.
On the other hand, Love is Love is supposed to be a book for the survivors of Mateen’s crime. Whatever his sexuality or motivations may have been, he still committed a hate crime against an LGBTQ+ space and community. This thought keeps many others from adding him as the fiftieth casualty at the Pulse and I can see how mentioning him, even indirectly, in the book can be seen as offensive. At the same time, I feel that it is less about him and even Jenkins’ example of Wuornos and more about the forces of patriarchy, gun-culture, homophobia and intolerance – of hate itself and its effects on people all around it – that she is ultimately addressing. This is a lot to unpack and I am not going to pretend to be the first or last word on this subject. It is just too big.
It’s also not the only place where I feel like I find myself lacking. Even stepping back into the comics arena, and looking at what I’ve read in Love is Love there are just so many narratives to choose from, and so much about the Pulse and the people in it that I don’t know about. I can already more than imagine that other readers, scholars, fans, friends, loved ones, and family will find and point out works in the book that I haven’t at all touched upon. But what I’m going to do now, going past Mad Love and AARGH! to tell you what stories really stood out for me and why.
I appreciated the anthology’s abstract and poetic comics as well. The comic illustrated by Philip Toth and coloured by Elmer Santos on page 131, where people with heart faces shed out of their body suits in a sunset field of flowers with hearts, leaving hate and suffering behind to find eternal love speaks volumes and Mark Buckingham’s depiction of three giant beautiful statues of Love, Peace, and Unity holding up the world away from and being attacked below by Hate, Intolerance, and Hate on page 83 stays with the mind.
Some of the poetic comics that stood out for me were “Song of Myself (Remix)” written by Alejandro Arbona, inspired from Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name, drawn by Wilfredo Torres, coloured by José Villarrubia, lettered by Todd Klein, and edited by Jamie S. Rich on page 120: each diverse person speaks or shows each line on their body during what seems to be a Gay Pride Parade. Even “Know One Another” on page 126, written by G. Willow Wilson, drawn and lettered by Max Vento draws on a quotation from the Quran verse 49:13 and depicts a Muslim man embracing a gay couple walking down the street: breaking the stereotype of homophobia and hatred that is often assumed by mainstream Western society in men of that religion and culture.
“Triolet for Orlando” written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Craig Hamilton, and coloured by José Villarrubia on page 61 is a poem with a beautiful extended metaphor of blood and soil and how soil isn’t dead or lifeless but it allows for the growth of new life, while “Furious Orlando” written by Pedro Villora, adapted by David Drake, laid out by Lou Prandi and illustrated in manner not unlike something Dave McKean would do by José Villarrubia on page 29 looks at Orlando as if it is a tragic yet powerful mythological figure celebrating and mourning a place where love is briefly accepted. My written summaries of these poems really do them no justice, but there is just something them particularly reminiscent of the epic poetry in Alan Moore’s “The Mirror of Love.” Even P. Craig Russell and David Sexton’s illustration of Christina Rossetti’s poem “The Rainbow” on page 129, coloured by Lovern Kindzierski, it resembles “The Mirror of Love” if only through the lush aesthetics echoing Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch’s take on Aubrey Beardsley’s angels.
Certainly, Love is Love’s DC superhero comics caught my attention. Liam Sharp, Lovern Kindzierski and Carlos M. Mangual’s create a Wonder Woman story on page 75 where she dares those asking about how “life” is on Paradise Island with its all-female inhabitants if they have ever fought and bled for love. On page 58 LGBTQ+ superheroes past and present form something of a meta-commentary at the Pulse due to the creative efforts of Dan Didio, Carlos D’Anda, and Carlos M. Mangual, while Gail Simone, Jim Calafiore, Travis Lanham and Gabriel Cassata create a comic on page 34 with more LGBTQ+ superheroes essentially stating “You can’t stop us from dancing.” Even Paul Dini, Bill Morrison, Robert Stanley, and Sal Cipriano get in on the fun with story on page 10 story called “Harley & Ivy in Love is Love” whose touching interactions leave you with just one question: just why Poison Ivy would want Harley Quinn to become vegetarian when she has a love for plants and an antipathy towards animal meat in general?
But the superhero story that stands out for me with regards to the spirit of this anthology is the Superboy and Saturn Girl story written by Matthew Sturges, illustrated by John Lucas, coloured by Michael Wiggam, and lettered by Sal Cipriano on page 111. It’s in this story that the two superheroes travel back to the 31rst century: where the Pulse has become a monument where humans and other species congregate in a bright futuristic setting. Saturn Girl explains to Superboy that what happened at the Pulse eventually became a watershed moment that changed the Earth and its attitudes for all time. She tells him that one day a certain award-winning female journalist he will eventually meet will pen the following words: “In all my travels as a journalist, I have never met a single soul who did not desire to be loved. It is possible for everyone to be loved. And because it is possible, we must do it to make it a reality. It sounds simple, even naive: love everyone. It is not simple. It’s the hardest thing we will ever do. But we will do it. Because we must. Our future depends on it.”
I think this quote ties well into the following Love is Love comics that really hit home for me. There are two comics that embody this idea of letting non-LGBTQ+ people into the subcultures, art, and life of those who are different. Scott Snyder tells a story, with the comic illustrated by Jock and laid out by Steven Cook on page 32, about how he used to work at Disney World in a custodial unit and how despite his staff’s dismissive attitude towards the people in Costumes, the latter would always invite them to a gay bar after work: how when he was injured and had to work in Costumes instead of ostracizing him, they still kept their invitation open and he accepted. Snyder says that “The door was open to us.”
Tony Bedard tells a similar story with art by Karl Moline and letters by Dezi Sienty on page 60, where he explains that not only did his gay coworkers invite him to the Backstreet club, but he had more meaningful connections with people as a heterosexual man there. Unlike the opening comic page 7 by Joe Kelly and Victor Santos where the narrative tells LGBTQ+ people to be hospitable to potentially “barbaric” or malevolent straight “guests,” we see that not all “visitors” are monsters.
This is something, this ideal of acceptance and love, that continues to be challenged by atrocities and hate and even without it this idea of openness is not universal among individuals of any kind. But whether they are visitors or hosts or even permanent residents in the LGBTQ+ rainbow spaces, I would like to turn it back to the people lost at the Pulse by describing one very poignant comic.
On page 137 of Love is Love, Damon Lindelof, Leinil Francis Yu and Jared K. Fletcher create a one-page comic where Brenda Le Marquez McCool and her son Isiah dance at the Pulse: a mother celebrating being cancer-free and her son happy thinking that his mother will live. This is a mother who, after surviving death, sacrificed her life so that her son and her future could live on.
I think what really gets to me the most, as a reader, as a “visitor” myself, is the general spirit of Love is Love. This isn’t a book about grimness, even though there is a part of it that is. It isn’t an anthology dealing with sadness and anger, though again there are definitely segments that go there. It isn’t a protest against a law per see unless you count the clever and moving story about buying “something dangerous” written by Dave Justus, illustrated by Travis Moore, and coloured by Michael Wiggam on page 36, or the meditation on human tools and guns written by Mark Millar, illustrated by Piotr Kowalski, and lettered by Michael Hiesler on pages 38-39. It’s not about vengeance, fear, or cautionary tales.
It looks at the sadness of death and the tragedy of the shootings. It brings up complex and difficult questions. But, at the same time, there is still that urge to celebrate and rejoice: to keep dancing despite, or because of the ridiculous horror that has claimed all of those lives, and that continues to take lives to this very day. In a lot of ways, it is the only sane healthy thing to do: to not let hate win and embrace love instead. In addition Love is Love clearly portrays gay, lesbian, transgender, disabled, and straight people of various ages and ethnicities – particularly those of Latinx identity who were a major part of the community and membership at the Pulse – coming together to commemorate a loss and life.
It is unfortunate that bisexuals do not seem to have visible stories in the book aside from being mentioned in the usual acronym, along with some other minorities, but it there is quite a bit of intersectionality in this anthology and it doesn’t rule out bisexuality or those other identities. All proceeds for the purchase of both print and digital copies of the book will go to the survivors of, and families of those who died at, the Pulse in the form of Equality Florida: a civil rights organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ equality in the state of Florida.
When it comes down to it, Love is Love lives up to its title. But, in this case, love isn’t mad. In fact, love may well be one of the few sane human emotions in existence, right along with a sense of hope.