14 Nights – an adult, emotional, frustrating read….
“Nikita Koshkin is an angry Russian immigrant who is dissatisfied with everything; his boyfriend, his job, himself. When he meets quiet, introverted Lucien, he thinks he’s found the relationship he’s always wanted – that is, until Lucien reveals a secret that makes them both wonder if a relationship between them is even possible.”
This first printed volume of 14 Nights collects the entirety of Part 1 of the 14 Nights webcomic, all 110 pages of it. Stipetic’s already well into Part 2, and will hit 200 pages before long. It’s very adult, in all senses of the word.
Stipetic’s created a delicate, gentle, freakshow of a comic, where the main character has so many flaws that it’s very difficult to feel anything even resembling empathy, and consequently in a storyline so tightly focused on a couple of characters and their relationship that difficulty developing empathy means it takes a while to get into the comic. But once you do, once I did, there’s a painful, faltering love story carefully played out here. My big problem… if anything, it’s just too carefully played out….
That’s Nikita; a very angry, very confused man. Stipetic really tries her hardest to make him unlikeable, and she pretty much succeeds. In time, we see more and more of the reasons he’s as he is; the job he’s not happy with, the boyfriend who still keeps girlfriends around to fool his family, and his difficult nature, this is a man who doesn’t do friendships well; too pushy, too questioning, too angry.
Very quickly, the boyfriend is dumped, and Nikita transfers his affections, or more accurately, his somewhat obsessive behaviour to Lucien; a just divorced, incredibly shy, somewhat confused gay man, with a secret that means dating is something he finds very, very difficult. But Nikita doesn’t really care, he just goes for it, flirting, pushy, presumptuous.
And it all builds from there, with shy Lucien almost coerced into the relationship, but then falling into it like a teenager. Before Nikita knows it there’s little love notes on his desk, Lucien falls into the role of the perfect boyfriend, except there’s never anything more than a kiss, never anything physical going on…. which is when we all find out the secret that 14 Nights is all about.
It’s 60 plus pages into it at this point, and although Stipetic reveals on her website, it’s not revealed on the book jacket, and I’ll keep it that way.
Suffice it to say, there’s problems. Lucien just can’t take it further, wont take it further. And the story of how they attempt to overcome this problem, and the whole reason it’s called 14 Nights, comes with Chapter Two, along with the much more adult, sexually explicit stuff, all handled in a perfectly naturalistic fashion.
But this slow build up of the story, no matter how well it’s done, is my biggest problem with 14 Nights. It just plays it a little too slowly, the pacing seems just too sedate, something I’ve been seeing in webcomics more and more. Given unlimited space, and no pressure on time, webcomics have a tendency to run long. And 14 Nights runs longer then most. There’s a tight, good story, an interesting story involving Lucien’s secret, and Nikita’s subsequent attempts to help Lucien get over his problem.
However, when this long, slow webcomic is in print form, the 110 pages of Part 1 merely serves to introduce and set up the actual storyline. It’s very well done and enjoyable preliminary stuff perhaps, and certainly has a relaxed, organic feel to the characterisation, but I just know that if I’d been reading the print version alone, I’d feel frustrated with the ending, with the lack of a story so far into it.
Once you get to part two online, the story actuallly takes shape and there’s a more defined narrative flow. However, even here, where Nikita and Lucien start on the 14 Nights to solve their problem, it runs long once more. I understand the need to flesh out the characters of the pair, understand that their emotional positions need to be something that develops slowly and with delicacy, but in comics slowly does not have to be something that merely means a lot of pages of very little.
Thing is, aside from that pacing issue, there’s a lot to really enjoy here. I like the art, I like the idea, I like the slow reveal of the characters, their feelings, their emotional state, there’s a delicate feel to it, a real sense of two people, damaged and lost, finding something in each other. I look forward to seeing where it goes.