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posted October 10, 2001

Creators: Joan Reidy and Ron Rege, Jr.
Publishing Information: Highwater Books
Ordering Numbers:

There are any number of ways to enter into Highwater Books' latest release, a collection of Ron Rege, Jr.'s single-page adaptations of zine writings by Joan Reidy. My favorite is to see the book as a one-sided exchange of personal histories. Rege and Reidy attended the same high school one year apart, and a letter from Reidy in the back of Boys details how they met again at a subsequent graduation ceremony. In many ways, since they spent time near each other but did not know one another in high school, the two alums of Sacred Heart High School were meeting for the first time. With that in mind, their collaboration on Boys is almost a way to reconcile first impressions and misapprehensions through its detailed look on what was going on in one facet of Reidy's life.

That facet was Reidy's love life -- or lust life, as she refers to it in her letter. Boys is a set of vignettes about guys with whom she's come into contact, some briefly and others for a longer time, all in various stages of intimacy. There's a spare, poetic sense one gets from Reidy's brief descriptions, a formal replication of the bemused detachment she feels in many of the situations. Reidy's writing is sexually frank, and the stories run the gamut from naughty humor to the disorientation caused by extremely convoluted emotional entanglements. There is, refreshingly, very little in the way of a cumulative effect -- a good sign the reader is getting someone's full range of experiences without a l9ot of self-editing.

Rege's artwork here is wonderfully controlled while retaining its strong decorative qualities. Despite the stylized nature of his work, Rege is equally adept using a number of narrative approaches, from film-style camera shots to more ornate, design-conscoius tableaux. The best pages in Boys are those which use the page to reflect on the narrator's emotional state: one shows Reidy surrounded by suburbia, her calm demeanor radiating within the placid setting in a way that both adds to and contrasts with the backgrounds; another uses the buildings of a city during a confessional walk with a married boyfriend to suggest Reidy's changing perspective on her situation. The fact that both pages are visually interesting in and of themselves is icing on the cake. For instance, the walk through an eerily abandoned city is a nice touch of realism that supports the sobering element of Reidy's anger.

In fact, just about all of the pages in Boys are visually interesting, a fact which improves some of the less potent Reidy observations. In one about how she can't remember the plot of a movie she saw because she was making out, the reader gets to see Rege's oddball version of the Michael J. Fox film "The Secret of My Success," complete with explanatory sub-titles. One page, a rather perfunctory comment about the absence of sex in one's life, is done without a narrator at all. Not only do Rege's illustrations hold the reader's attention for that page, but Reidy's absence is a simple way to strengthen the sexuality of her presence in the other stories.

This is a slight book, thematically and physically. It is the closest Highwater Books has ever come to doing an actual comic book in terms of format. The size is appropriate to the kinds of work Boys contains. A much larger collection of this type of work might even be a chore, as it would by necessity end up illuminating more of Reidy's life than a reader would probably want to know. It's the nature of meeting someone with whom you're already acquainted and learning about them in reverse: a certain number of revelations adds to the mystery of a person you may have taken for granted, while too many shared secrets may become dangerously close to justification for past crimes or even self-indulgence. Boys is an interesting introduction to one writer's life experiences, but is even better as a showcase for Ron Rege's compelling approach to the comics page. Tom Spurgeon