January 8, 2018

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Staring into the Eyes of Love in Tee Franklin and Jenn St-Onge's Bingo Love

There’s a lot to unpack in Tee Franklin and Jenn St-Onge’s Bingo Love. It’s a love story. It’s a love story of two women. It’s a love story of two women who have to spend a large portion of their lives hiding their confusing-to-them loving relationship. It’s a love story about two women who grow up to realize that their love is natural and beautiful. It’s an LGBT love story that straddles a line of being a comic about the issues and being a comic about romance (but why can’t it be both?). Tee Franklin’s story about Hazel and Mari, two young girls who fall in love only to be forced apart for decades before getting their “happily ever after,” is a wonderfully complex and heartfelt story that is more ambitious than what Franklin and St-Onge can ultimately put on the pages of this comic.

Franklin and St-Onge simply infuse every page with love, whether it’s their love for this story or the characters’ love for one another. St-Onge’s art perfectly captures the uncertain thrill of first love as well as the pain that years apart and even the tears that years together can bring. Taking Franklin’s script, St-Onge and colorist Joy San provide the compassionate spark for these characters. You can tell everything that Hazel feels for Mari through Hazel’s facial expressions. Through St-Onge’s performance of the characters, you get to experience the range of emotions and conflict that Hazel is living through, the joy and the pain that comes along with discovering who Hazel is and the living with the decisions that she makes during a lifetime.

The empathy of Franklin’s story encompasses a life that has many varied and complicated facets. There are many points where Bingo Love could follow one of those facets and become a book almost solely about that one aspect of the story, whether it’s about race, sexuality, age, or even family, but Franklin touches on most of those while keeping the heart of book on the romance and love shared by Hazel and Mari. Love is already a complicated thing to begin even before Franklin throws all of these different complexities into Hazel and Mari’s relationship for them to try and overcome. There’s no doubt that Franklin and St-Onge’s characters are struggling to understand the trials of true love even as they have lives that separate them from one another.

Franklin spends so much time focusing on Hazel’s view of the world that the other characters get sidelined in their story. Mari lives with the same secrets that Hazel does for decades but her own marriage to a man gets written off in one or two lines. As the love of Hazel’s life, Mari barely becomes more than a prop in Hazel’s story, a means to write about “forbidden” love without ever giving Mari a story and a life of her own. The same with Hazel’s husband James, who has his own story and secrets unfairly relegated to a digital-only bonus. Mari, James, and Hazel’s family and children add their own complexities into Hazel’s story but her actions have little ramifications or impact into their stories. Everyone adapts to Hazel without ever growing or changing with her except in the most superficial of ways. For as rich as Hazel is a character, everyone else in this book only exists as an object to orbit Hazel’s life and not as in independent person with their own experiences of this story.

Bingo Love
is an ambitious book, trying to chronicle decades of a couples’ lives into just over 80 pages. That means that they have to breeze by years and years of Hazel and Mari’s life apart from each other which ultimately undermines the impact of those years and what they meant. But even if the history of these characters runs a little too thin, the heartfelt romance of Hazel and Mari is present on nearly every page, through the good times and the bad times. Tee Franklin and Jenn St-Onge’s Bingo Love is a very modern romance comic that has lofty storytelling goals and but isn’t able to get everything it wants to onto the page. But on the pages where you see Hazel and Mari staring into the other’s eyes, the warm spirit of the comic surpasses those goals and gives you a warm feeling that love will ultimately outlast us all.

Bingo Love
Written by Tee Franklin
Drawn by Jenn St-Onge
Colored by Joy San
Lettered by Cardinal Rae 
Published by Inclusive Press (Kickstarter Edition)
& Image Comics (published February 2018)