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Issue #134 - October/November 2006

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Close Encounters of the Sexual Kind

By Peter Wong

Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder: Five Crazy Women is the answer for those seeking, in one package, intelligent comics and mature discussions of male-female relations. Superhero comics won’t do the trick. Even the genre's best writers, such as Greg Rucka and Grant Morrison, are constrained, by superhero comics’ emphasis on action, from undertaking deep discussions of the ambiguities of sexual relations. In McNeil’s work, one gets discussions of a variety of sexual preferences ranging from bisexuality to pedophilia.

GRAZIE: What, did your attention span’s pilot light go out again?

Even though Finder is an ongoing comics series, new readers can approach Five Crazy Women without needing to be aware of the fantastic world created by McNeil. The comics creator provides enough details in the story that the reader can get a general understanding of her world. In addition, an extensive annotation in the back pages allows McNeil to provide further background information, as well as critically assess her efforts.

So what is Five Crazy Women about? It comprises two re-tellings of the sexual adventures of Jaeger Ayers. Jaeger is your prototypical wandering bad boy. He can come into a city with nothing more than the clothes on his back and whatever he can carry, yet within a couple of days, he can find a woman willing to share her living space and even have sex with him.

The first section of the book, the Eisner Award-nominated "Beware of Dog," occurs during Jaeger Ayers’ latest visit to Anvard. His gift for finding willing female partners seems to have deserted him this time. The only room he can find is sharing a bar table with an unnamed gay acquaintance. The only sex the resolutely straight Jaeger can obtain is an unexpected public blow job from a guy.

During the long night, Jaeger reveals that he’s an Ascian sin-eater. In terms of that tribe’s mores, he’s an untouchable who also serves as a social purifier or an accepted scapegoat. Good Ascian girls may have sex with sin-eaters, but will never love them. Jaeger started chasing city women as an alternative to being treated as a tool of sexual revenge. Yet he seems doomed to repeat his behavior in the city. This story ends with Jaeger eventually finding a new female companion for the night.

Following an anecdotal interlude, the second conversation begins. Some years have passed since Jaeger last saw his gay friend. This conversation consists of anecdotes centering around five crazy women that Jaeger encounters. Linsey jumps into Jaeger’s bed in revenge for her husband Vic’s obliviousness. Candy takes Jaeger back to her apartment and wants his presence, yet is not interested in having sex with him. She’s also an oddball sugar junkie. Genie is a cute and limber sweetheart that Jaeger encounters at a speed dating event. She also gets sexually excited from crapping into diapers. Yekat bleongs to a weirdly silent family that ties all the family members’ beds together. In the longest tale, Grazie is a television journalist who is attracted to exotic forms of pain and suffering such as people dying of malaria. The book ends with some things coming full circle.

Jaeger’s tales of his encounters with women never come across as male braggadocio. While he may be exasperated by women’s quirks, he never condemns their flaws. Nor does he use the incidents to advance his own superiority. Instead, his recollections provide object lessons from which he draws some hard-won wisdom.

JAEGER: I mutate rapidly under the influence of nice girls.

In keeping with Finder’s emotionally realistic tone, the artwork avoids the heavily thewed men and exaggerated supermodel women look beloved of superhero comics. McNeil’s characters can be visually attractive. But they can also believably look anorexic or fatigued from lack of sleep. On the other hand, panels or even pages that look like illustrated monologues may frighten more visually oriented readers.

Science fiction fans will also be taken by the balance of exoticism and livability that typifies Finder’s world. Pirate television stations and skull-jack phones are juxtaposed with smoky pubs and dirty cobblestoned streets.

McNeil’s fictional world will also evoke the works of Ursula K. Le Guin and Gene Wolfe. The fascinating information about the nomadic Ascian tribes and their cultural mores recalls some of Le Guin’s writings. But the enigmatic nature of Finder’s world suggests a Wolfe influence. A futuristic world might have both domed cities and floating video cameras. Yet the architecture is present day at the latest. The Ascians are a freely nomadic and apparently thriving culture. McNeil leaves the exact nature of her world ambiguous. But her notes about her world’s background indicate deliberate thought and consideration has been put into this work.

Because Finder: Five Crazy Women may not fit into the more commercial categories of genre fiction, it may be unfairly overlooked. For readers looking for intelligent and funny portraits of romance without the painful experience part, Mc Neil’s graphic novel comes highly recommended.

Finder: Five Crazy Women - Carla Speed McNeil - Lightspeed Press - graphic novel

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Finder: Five Crazy Women - Carla Speed McNeil - Lightspeed Press

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Emerald City - copyright Cheryl Morgan - cheryl@emcit.com
Masthead Art copyright Steven Stahlberg (left) and Gerhard Hoeberth (right)
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