In light of the recent horribleness of the Orlando massacre, I can’t imagine a better antidote than Band vs Band by Vancouver comic artist and graphic designer Kathleen Jacques, a collection of up-beat, adorable, femme-centric comics that couldn’t be queerer if it tried. It spans pretty much the entire rainbow, including L, G, B, and T identified characters. You might not guess who is what at the beginning of the comic, but as you continue to read, you’ll realize that pretty much every character is queer, which is like my favourite thing ever.
If you couldn’t tell from the title, Band vs Band is about a band rivalry: girl bands, to be specific, although technically each band has one boy. Jacques writes that the comic is her “elaborate love letter to everything [she’s] always found magical and appealing about bands as a concept, from real-life groups to ultra-stylized fictional depictions.” You’ll certainly recognize some of those magical and appealing elements as the comic reminds you of Josie and the Pussycats, and fully embraces stories like band road trip shenanigans where tour vans break down in the middle of the desert with band members contemplating cannibalism.
So here’s the cast of characters: Honey Hart is the leader of The Candy Hearts and she couldn’t be more different from Turpentine and her band The Sourballs. Pretty much all you need to know about the bands are epitomized in their names. On the one hand, The Candy Hearts are all sweethearts who just want to do good with their sugary, poppy music, singing for charities about the importance of recycling and wearing sunscreen. The Sourballs, on the other hand, wear torn thrift store wedding dressing while singing punk songs. As Turpentine puts it herself: their songs are about such topics as “always remember to deny Christ and skip class,” “how I think I ate my twin in utero,” “surgery,” and “circus freaks.” Or as Honey calls them: “angry songs about vomit.”
The other band members are just as funny and interesting as Honey and Turpentine. I think my favourite is Atomic Domme, the bass player for the Sourballs. She’s a dry as fuck goth gender studies grad student who, when forced to take front stage when Turpentine passes out, takes the chance to educate the audience on early 20th century erotic feminist poetry. At one point, she forces her band to read through an experimental play that she wrote “about Victorian era social justice” featuring a character named “the patriarchy.” Second place goes to Damon, a self-described “arrogant and pretty” gay boy who always seems to be wearing his band costume of angel wings. At one point , he awakes from a dream in which he is married to a perfect clone of himself and sighs, disappointed: “ugh, this imperfect world.”
The format of the comics is unique and varied: sometimes you get a full page spread of a colouring page featuring the characters, or snippets from local newspaper articles about the bands, or random side stories about tangential characters, or, my favourite, a page helping you decide what your Sourballs and Candy Hearts names would be based on the initials of your real name. (Mine would be Minx Formaldehyde and Sugarcookie Soda, respectively).
Most of the time, though, the comics are about the cute, funny characters doing cute, funny things. When I say funny, I mean it: this comic is really, really funny. It had me laughing out loud many times with its dry, weird, on-point jokes. There are too many funny parts to name them all, but for example, while on stage at their first show after the whole band ate bad sushi, Turpentine yells “Yea! C’mon, let’s tear stuff up! We’re home and we’re no longer infested with parasites!” Her bandmate adds “Shout-out, east side drop-in medical clinic. You barely judged us.”
Slowly, slowly, as the comic goes on, Honey and Turpentine’s frenemy relationship develops. At some point, you’ll probably say to yourself “Ahhh, the lesbian sexual tension, I just can’t take it anymore!” Well you’ll just have to take it some more, and keep reading at the story unfolds, because Jacques’s careful timing is going to draw out this love/hate relationship to get the best out of it. You know the star-crossed lovers only ever get together right at the end, right?
Visually, this comic is as amazing as it is with characters, humour, and story. As Jacques puts it in the intro to volume one, she was going for “overtly feminine aesthetics and a fun design sense and retro inspiration.” These motivations are clear on every page, as Jacques’s detailed, 50s style drawings shine in the limited blue and red-pink colour palette. I mean, look at this:
In short, it’s impossible not to love Band vs Band. Get your copy of volume one here. You can also check out the more recent comics Jacques posts on her website every Monday.