‘Elizabeth Beier chronicles true-life romantic tales as she breaks up with a long-term boyfriend and navigates a brave new world: dating women. Beier tackles the complexities of sexuality and self image with a conversational and immediate art style and stories anyone who’s ever struggled with dating can relate to.’
Written/Art by: Elizabeth Beier
Publisher: Northwest Press
Released: 27 December 2017
Creators telling a story about their personal journeys and experiences are often fascinating – ranging from something you can personally relate to, to something you could hardly imagine doing or going through yourself, or even a bit of both – as a good storyteller helps you feel like you are there in the moment with them and understanding what they’re feeling. On the flip side, a creator who can’t convey that story well just leaves you confused and annoyed. It’s really an issue with any story, from personal and honest to completely fictional, but especially important in autobiographical ones. You can see so clearly in your own mind what you have experienced, but when you want to express it in a way that anyone can consume (in whatever media it’s in) with no other context or input or re-explaining in a different way, how do you still make sure they understand what you’re trying to tell them? You can’t, of course; you can only do your best, and it will be your skill and talent as a storyteller that decides how many people you can really communicate your story to, as opposed to how many will be left . . . confused and annoyed.
Has Beier told her story well? I absolutely think so. I haven’t been through a journey just like hers – internet dating, hopes raised and dashed, self discovery and acceptance, discovering new loves and a passion for stage performance – but I understood and empathised with her experiences, and that’s the mark of a good writer. Making up a fictional character with their own flaws and strengths and a history to go with them is one thing. Being brutally honest about yourself (not just in a self-deprecating way for humour) to strangers is another story, both when it comes to what you don’t like about yourself and your personal strengths, and being able to recognise how those things change over time and exactly how they change you. Her interest in other people is just as engaging, with the time covered by her story including the closure of a popular queer bar, Beier’s portraits of some of the people at the bar and stories about the people she dates along the way, all of which lend a real human connection to it all.
Considering the title of the book, I had actually assumed it was going to be about Beier exploring her sexuality for the first time – in my experience, being bisexual is often confusing to realise and figure out at first for many people. If you only know about straight and gay or are mostly one end of the scale but not entirely, you assume you’re one thing and then have to figure out why you don’t seem to fit that. To my surprise, however, it starts with her already comfortable with her sexuality; it’s mostly about entering the queer dating scene after having only been in one relationship, a long-term opposite sex one. So while it does cover some aspects of her wanting to properly explore that side of her sexuality and some general relationship worries, it is far more an examination of Beier herself. Still good and a damn interesting read, but not what I’d expected at all from the title.
All in black and white in ink brush pen, the artwork is lovely, mostly relatively simple but striking (a testament to her reputation for speed), with beautifully detailed chapter header pages punctuating the story, and increasingly reaching out to the reader as part of the main story by the end, expressing herself as more and more real (though more likely a product of increasing skill over the couple of years the work covers). There is an interesting contrast with the inclusion of a 24-hour comic showing a much looser and rougher style done at speed – I find extras like that interesting, though I know not everyone does. The changes in style over the course of the work are fascinating in themselves, including the use of more abstract imagery and interesting panels when it comes to sex (there’s sex, though not graphic, and intimate partner violence is brought up too). Much of the art reminds me of street art in the curves and outlines, giving an energetic feel even to simple conversations, making the later changes and adaptions to the emotion of specific scenes extra interesting.
All in all, I really liked this – Beier is an excellent storyteller, and I’m impressed at how she managed to combine such a storytelling flow with moments of humour and real, intimate, self-reflection, while the bold inks of the visuals bring everyone she meets to life, including her own self-confidence in the final pages. While I personally could only identify with one or two elements of the whole, I felt totally swept along by the journey – as though I understood what she was telling me without having to try or labour the point; the mark of a good autobiographical tale.
Thanks to Comixology.com for providing this issue of ‘The Big Book of Bisexual Trials and Errors’ for review.