Sam Alden’s Ignatz award winning comic Hawaii 1997 presents another example of the male romance pov. In Hawaii 1997, Alden doesn’t make the same mistake that the film Spring made, no part of the emotional resonance of the comic is weighted upon anything about the woman in the story. Alden’s comic represents a more traditional set of values for the straight male romance narrative–which is that fundamentally, the story is not about a male and a female, but about a male, and his feelings. The woman in these stories is a objectified place holder on which the male POV is allowed to reflect it’s merits as a character.
So for instance, Annie Hall, exists to be the girl at the end of Woody Allen’s affections, which allow for his character to come tho the forefront and entertain us. The male POV in a romance is designed to act as a fantasy for the viewer onto themselves. These stories rest how compelling they are on the extent to which we find our central figure compelling. He has to be someone that feels in some ways better than us, but in other ways flawed in the ways in which we could overcome. I don’t think it’s a mistake that as hollywood has perfected this narrative, that role has most successfully been played by comedic actors.
Alden doesn’t give us a compelling male lead–but through his art style and perspective, by suggesting to us form and character–he forces you to meet the book slightly past halfway(he literally draws the reader in at one part, as our eyes blur with Sam’s). The story largely succeeds or fails at that point based upon how fully you can fill in all of the gaps Alden has left.
The story we get is woman as young girl, as gold coin to unlock and achieve through mastery of a game–she pretty much appears to the male character for expressly this purpose. Her existence in the comic is completely defined as the fantasy that she is able to successfully create for Sam and the reader. She engages Sam and the comic to chase her, before finally positing herself balefully out of grasp. She transforms into: the one who got away; who says this is a haunting I have given you, and you will be marked with it. And because the comic has so shoved us into it’s skin to this point, the way we take that information is as the gold coin removing itself, as a time spanning wound–we feel her lack, as a cruel joke on what we deserve–which is to possess her.
This is a very effective message, both because of the suggestive nature of the art, and because it is a central cultural myth for the men of at least western culture–that the world is his to possess–that women are subservient to his desires; and that if he fails to love, it is not for a lack in him, but out of cruel violation by the woman of her part in this play. Hawaii 1997 affirms the male tears for every girl he thought should have loved him, but for some reason beyond his understanding eluded his grasp.
It is okay to have that as what your art is about. It is as I say, a story as old as patriarchal time. But it is also a parlor of cheap tricks and easy affirmations pushing a status quo that over half of the population has seen the other side of. Making your male pov character an empty cipher through which traditional straight male values can flow through to depict women as cruel is cheap poker. Is that a phrase, “cheap poker”? Let’s pretend it is. It’s cheap, it’s easy. And if you’ve ever been a woman who has seen the tears of a man’s entitled unrequited affections–you can’t help but roll your eyes. It’s the comic equivalent of calling your ex a bitch just because she dumped you–but Alden doesn’t even give us a meaningful romance to justify even that. This is the barest most minimal bones necessary to cry about a woman not doing what you felt entitled to her doing.
It’s very successful, and I think that’s what a lot of critics responded to when it won an Ignatz, but I think the question should have been asked “successful at what?”
And though the stylistic choices work to the extent that they are effective in creating both an atmosphere, and a visual that requires the reader to animate it–it is fair to say there’s a lot in it that looks really lazy. The shapes and forms in general are pretty boring to look at. They are largely masked though by shadow, and a two panel per page format which rushes you along like a worried supervisor. There are a few panels worth lingering on, but they are far and few between. As a stylistic choice, it’s short term pay offs in atmosphere are hampered by the long term hindrances they present if you y’know wanted to re-read it. Which in a story so slight of frame, and so short on challenging narrative–is a fairly damning thing.
This comic then ends up at the same place that Spring(2015) did–it all hinges on one thing, and you either buy it, or you don’t. At least, Spring (2015) had cool special effects too.
And while certainly Alden has moved onto bigger and brighter things from this story that was released a few years ago, I think it was and still is emblematic of a strain of comics which confuse ugliness with sincerity, and feelings(especially male feelings) with having something to say.
Validated dudes passing off easy coded messages to the rest of dudedom, and they call it deep.
I mean on the plus side it wasn’t a cute motivational comic, I guess.