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True Story Swear to God: This One Goes to 11
posted June 16, 2005


Creators: Tom Beland
Publishing Information: AiT/Planet Lar, 176 pages, $12.95
Ordering Numbers: 1932051341 (ISBN)

It's hard to review Tom Beland's continuing series of story about his relationship with Lily Garcia without sounding like you're reviewing the relationship. You know what I mean? Who am I to say that a guy should have placed his emphasis on point A when point B was honestly what was on his mind at the time? And who wants to in any way not give their approval to two seemingly nice people as they work together in order to find happiness? It's like being asked to give Santa Claus a serious job appraisal with a kidney punch if he falls short.

I think what's different between this book and the first is that it still should appeal to people who like this kind of thing, and still falls short of a must-read, only this time there are fewer allowances fans will have to make because they like the Tom and Lily so much. Beland has become a more and more effective cartoonist as the stories have continued -- he draws a bit like Keith Knight, yet with more of classic, less manic approach to setting and backgrounds. He's also funny, has a nice sense of structure within scenes, and when his powers of observation are on they're pretty astute. I can't imagine a better way to point out the running dysfunction of even the best newsroom than this volume's workplace issue of a photographer not being given explicit enough instructions by the reporter and the photographer half-assing the photo assignment as a result. Tom Beland's comics are pleasant company, and I imagine without really knowing for sure his stories have a lot of fans.

I did start to feel a little impatient when the book turned its attention to some slight sexual dysfunction between the couple. It's not the subject matter; it's the shift in tone. In fact, I very much like the story possibilities this incident suggests. Yet Beland fails to work that moment into the tapestry of the story as effectively as some of the quieter times the couple shares, the moments of trust and affection, and from him to her, near-adoration. It's like the story switched into a heavily rendered illustrative style for a few panels without comment before or after. There need to be more or it needs to go away. Such a scene raises expectations for an exploration of aspects of the couple's relationships that I would guess from their general absence either came easily enough for them not to be worth exploring, or Beland doesn't quite have a bead on just yet. Either way, it stops the story pretty solidly for a moment, and it has a hard time recovering.

The other question I have is that when you review a work of autobiography, it's hard to figure where the authorial point of view weighs in on things. Part of the way in which TSSTG slips away from certain kinds of criticism is by being an accuate reflection of the way things happened, like it or lump it. I do wonder if there's some manipulation of the timeline going on here. The hurricane that kicks off the volume takes place in 1998, but I swear the football game that brings to a neat point this phase of the author's relationship with his brother is from 1997. I might be full of shit on that -- I always get confused trying to compare timelines. Still, it makes me wonder if other true stories have been moved around for dramatic effect, tweaked here and there, covering over perhaps even more meaningful anecdotes that don't quite fit a narrative arc. If this is the best way to tell the story instead of the most truthful way to tell the story, Beland opens himself up to a lot more second-guessing.