“I’m tired of the moral high ground. We’ve already got more than our share of Ghandis in ‘the movement.’ We need a General Patton.”
If you’ve spent any time at all exploring the creative offerings the Internet has to offer, you might have heard of a webcomic called “A Softer World.” It’s not a cartoon, nor does it have any recurring characters or a plot or any of the things you typically associate with sequential art. The strip, written by Joey Comeau, features text spread out over three panels made up of photographs taken by Emily Horne. The strip typically has a dark sense of humor, though it is equally at home being melancholy, absurd, or heartbreakingly sad. Regardless of the individual strip’s sensibilities the overall impression is that the various, ever unseen narrators are struggling with the world, which can mean anything from broken relationships and longing to slipping sanity and zombies. Confusion and/or helplessness are the order of the day.
I bring this up because Comeau’s debut novel, Lockpick Pornography (as well as its spiritual sequel, We All Got It Coming, also included here), shares a similar tone with his webcomic. It’s a book that’s funny, angry, and sad all at once, raging against the injustices of the world while occasionally taking a long hard look in the mirror. In many ways Lockpick Pornography resembles a more overtly queer, scaled-down version of Fight Club (right down to having an unnamed narrator). Like the latter, the characters in Lockpick Pornography channel their anger and frustration through acts of mischief and chaos, and spout off catchy, hilarious platitudes (“DEATH TO THE CARTOON HETEROSEXUAL PARADIGM”… I’ll clarify that in a bit). Unlike Fight Club, the narrator of Lockpick Pornography is constantly questioning his actions, and the consequences thereof. He often wonders if his targets are necessarily deserving of his attacks, going back and forth on whether he buys or rejects his own reasoning. (One act in particular the narrator seems to struggle with is punching a pretty blonde girl in the solar plexus for buying into and perpetuating an unrealistic standard of beauty.) This running commentary acts as a ballast that lets Comeau get away with some truly wild and outrageous material. These range from the highly questionable (tricking a dudebro high school boy into getting head from a man) to the absurd (complaining to a McDonald’s manager that the restaurant’s Coke turned him gay).
While the heterosexual community bears the brunt of the narrator’s wrath, he is not entirely comfortable with the gay community either. While he certainly loves gay men (in many very, very graphic scenes) he is extremely critical of the TV-ready personalities who try to make homosexuality palatable to the mainstream, and insist to heterosexuals that the gays are “just like them.” One particularly evocative line finds the narrator asserting that the writer of the MIT lockpicking guide he has studied is “the kind of queer who hates the word ‘queer.'” It’s clear that a unique “queer identity” is important to the narrator (as well as the writer), and that watering it down is something of a betrayal. This is further evidenced by his efforts later in the story to write and distribute a pro-gay children’s book. He even describes it as something that he would have loved as a child, a ray of positivity and validation in an often volatile world.
That pro-gay children’s book, by the way, represents the spine of the story. It all begins with the narrator overhearing an insipid conversation about how Bert & Ernie from Sesame Street, and several other cartoon characters, are gay. This serves as a springboard for the narrator’s big idea: all these neo-cons claim that these fictional characters are pushing a homosexual agenda, so why don’t they appropriate the images to actually push a homosexual agenda. Give the bigots the very thing they say they’re afraid of. After several mutations the narrator and his friends decide to break into schools wearing cheap masks of Bert & Ernie and other supposedly gay characters and leave their pro-gay children’s book in elementary school libraries.
Joey Comeau is a hell of a writer, always ready with a witty turn of phrase or an interesting, radical idea about sexuality and gender politics. Lockpick Pornography is packed with ideas, covering a lot of ground in a highly entertaining fashion.