The second issue of Hardiman’s The Lengths continues his dark and emotional story of one man’s descent into a shadowy world of sex and drugs. It couldn’t be further from his adorable, all-ages Badger, but it’s proving to be a challenging and powerful series.
Howard describes the 8 issue series as:
“….it’s a comic based around a series of interviews I did with male escorts working in London a few years ago and tells the story of Eddie, one young escort (working under the name of Ford), who’s struggling with trying to do the job while craving both the adventure it offers him and the prospect of a relationship with an old friend from the art school course he ran away from when he was seduced by a muscular stranger in the showers at his gym.
As much as it’s a comic about a handsome, troubled, promiscuous drug-using gay prostitute who struggles to come to terms with his identity, it’s not actually an autobiographical story, but I do recognise that there’s a lot of myself in there and this project is very much a labour of love”
I reviewed the first issue of the series back in January, and I’m rather late getting hold of issue 2, as Howard already has issue 3 ready to go to print and it should be out very soon. Here’s some of what I wrote for that first issue review:
“Initially I had a slight issue with Howard’s storytelling. Things seemed too indistinct and unclear on a first read. But on a second and subsequent reading I realised that Howard was simply using everything he’d got to tell this story and it requires a little thought to decipher it’s complexity.
Along the way we get to venture inside Eddie’s thoughts and memories, discovering a messed up young man whose past has come back to haunt him. We see his first entry into the seedy world of prostitution, his growing obsession with fellow male prostitute Nelson and watch as he struggles to deal with what he’s becoming. Howard successfully takes us inside the thoughts of Eddie, and his constant struggle to separate his life as Eddie from his life as Ford. I haven’t the slightest idea where Howard will take his story in subsequent issues but I do know I’ll be eagerly awaiting each issue.”
I’ve included those quotes from that first review as it holds true, perhaps moreso, for this issue. There’s a real complexity to The Lengths that makes it a difficult and complicated read. But I promise you, as I’m about to describe…. it’s well worth the effort.
(Early on in The Lengths Issue 2 and Eddie’s double life is already getting in the way of his relationship with Dan)
In Issue 2, Eddie’s world is both coming together and beginning to fall apart, as he struggles to keep his lives as nice but drifting Eddie and escort boy Ford separate.
His relationship with Dan is getting more serious and he’s got little idea of how to deal with that, and his secrecy is becoming a bigger problem than he ever thought it would. Terrified that Dan will discover his double life, every moment of this burgeoning relationship is fraught with tension for Eddie and even an innocuous question leads him into panic… a panic that can’t help but poison the relationship if it continues:
(Poor Dan, he’s desperately trying to work out where he and Eddie are going, but even this innocent enquiry is met with panic from Eddie, terrified of his double life coming out into the open.)
And then there’s still Eddie’s obsession with unrequited love Nelson to deal with. Plus a seeming continued fall into the world of sex and drugs surrounding the sex trade he’s following Nelson into. On top of that, in the flashback sequences we see more of Eddie’s past, including a look back at a previous relationship and history with Dan, at the time in a relationship with Krys.
You can see what I mean about the sheer complexity of it all can’t you? But it does all make sense, it does all fit together, the sheer emotional intensity of the piece alone makes it something very good indeed.
I’m still not completely convinced that Howard’s storytelling is completely up to the ambitious tale he’s trying to tell. And some of that comes from his decision to not only tell the tale of Eddie’s current double life but also to make extensive use of a series of detailed flashbacks throughout the story, and sometimes it’s difficult to register the shift in either personality (Eddie or Ford) or whether it’s present or past we’re reading about. Of course, I could be selling Howard very short here, because that uncertainty does serve, very well, to create a real sense of the confusion Eddie is suffering from.
Howard’s art is improving all the time, and there’s a tightness here that wasn’t always there in the first issue. Sure there are still moments when what is on the page isn’t always quite up to what he’s seeing in his mind, in his highly personal tale. But, just like the story, with a re-read or two and the willingness to work a little at the comic, it rewards the reader, with a complexity mirroring the reality of the world this is based upon. Interestingly, one area that’s vastly improved is the hand-lettering. It’s tighter and smaller here, and sits nicely alongside the art.
Take this beautiful moment in one of the flashbacks – where we see Eddie’s fragile psyche, desperate for something to cling to, latching on to the Dan and Krys relationship, where he seems like a poor, lost little child wishing his parents wouldn’t shout and argue so much. I saw his expression and instantly my heart went out to him. And that’s a sure sign that Howard’s doing so much so right in The Lengths:
(Love that expression on poor Eddie’s face… so desperate to find stability in some relationship, aware his own are disasters. From Howard Hardiman’s The Lengths Issue 2)
It may have a few problems, it may be Howard throwing too much of himself into it, it may simply be that he’s trying too hard to tell the story he has in his head. But the problems are few, and relatively minor.
What stays with you on completing the comic is a sense of having read something raw, powerful and very real. The Lengths will certainly not be for everyone, but for those that venture into this shadowy, twilight world of Eddie & Ford, there’s a good chance you’ll find a great comic experience awaits you.
The Lengths Issue 2 (of a planned 8 ) is available from Howard Hardiman at his webstore, priced just £2.50.