We’re on something of a Lengths roll here at the blog, simply because I was terminally late with the review of issue 2, which then led straight into the recent preview of issue 3 and now, just a short while later, a review of issue 3.
Back? Okay, so now you know all about The Lengths right? You know how it’s
“…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.”
And you know how issue one and two introduced us to Eddie, full of insecurity, full of self loathing, a drifter who abandons his art school course to lead his shadowy other life as male escort Ford. We’ve also met Eddie’s new boyfriend, his old friend Dan, who may or may not have some inkling of Eddie’s other life. The double life is perhaps some metaphor for a fragile mental state in itself of course, and everything Eddie does seems almost deliberately self-destructive.
(Lovely artwork from the early pages of Howard Hardiman’s The Lengths issue 3, as we focus on Eddie and Dan’s relationship)
The boyfriend is the comfortable option, but the commitment required is something a mess like Eddie just can’t really manage, especially when he still longs after Nelson, the male escort who seduced young Eddie and introduced him to the world of vice he’s now trying to co-exist in.
(Eddie meets Nelson. It’s tempting to say that here all his troubles begin, but Eddie’s been troubled long before this meeting)
Here in issue 3 we’re alternating between Eddie’s life with Dan in the now and his first seduction by Nelson at the gym in the then.
In between the two we see Eddie’s fragile mental state getting worse and worse, temptation pulls at him, panic stops him from really being proper boyfriend material with Dan, and after a few months of proper relationship stuff, he’s falling into the casual sex trade as a means of escaping the pressure he feels. Eddie’s world is not a stable one, and it’s been getting worse:
(I need to be someone else, walking away from my boyfriend to have casual sex for money – poor messed up Eddie)
Here in issue 3 Hardiman’s really tightened everything up. With the storytelling and artwork we’ve lost some of the uncertainty that hampered the first two issues. Yes, we’re still dealing with the complex Eddie/Ford double life, and we’re still flitting between past and present in Eddie’s life. But there’s a greater control in Hardiman’s pages here, little things like very defined physical separation through thick panel borders, or using light and shade to create panels in themselves.
It all seems simpler, as we have just two competing narratives here – the early pages are all about Eddie and Dan, the latter pages concerning Eddie’s past with Nelson and Eddie’s recollections of that time together with an analysis of his fractured life. All the way through we’re building more of a picture of Eddie’s life, of the now, of the then, and piecing it altogether is no struggle anymore, it all begins to fall into place quite naturally.
And Howard’s art is getting better and better. His control of body language and character, as you can see in that gorgeous scene above, with such powerful use of both figures and white space, is beautiful to look at.
But although Hardiman’s figure artwork and his backgrounds are really coming on, there’s a little too much going on at times in the artwork, and it’s possible Howard has a little too much fun playing in the toybox – once the cleanliness of those beautiful black borders from the first few pages (as you can see from the preview we did) are gone too many of the pages have superfluous detailing that detracts from the quality of his figure work, which simply gets better and better throughout the series.
Look at the picture below, then the picture above…. in both it’s the characters and Howard’s controlled body language that sells the scene. There’s just no need for the fiddly, superfluous stuff below.
(A touching moment between Eddie and Dan. But why the random shapes when Howard’s figures on their own sell the scene so well?)
However, despite those little niggles, The Lengths is getting better and better as we get deeper and deeper into Eddie’s life.
The heartbreaking reality of it is that we can see (I think) that Eddie knows Dan is so right, so good for him. Howard really makes their scenes together ones of pure contented coupledom. But Eddie’s reactions to this comfort are too familiar, a feeling of entrapment, of panic… and he’s off down the path of temptation once more. There are no perfect characters in The Lengths, merely very human ones (and the dog heads don’t matter one bit). That I’m so involved with the characters, that I care so much for Eddie and Dan this early on shows me that Howard’s doing so much so right.
It’s powerful, dark, sexual material. But more than that it’s an exploration of relationships and the ways in which we sometimes seek to destroy things we know are good for us, temptation is always there, and as Eddie’s finding out, it’s so easy to succumb. Three issues in and I’m convinced that not only is The Lengths going to be a powerful record of human frailty and mental instability, it’s also going to get better with every one of the eight issues.
The Lengths Issue 3 (of a planned 8 ) is available from Howard Hardiman at his webstore, priced just £2.50.