I’ve been following the artist of this comic for a while on Instagram and have been keeping up a bit with the hype on this comic for awhile. So when it was finally released not too long ago, I knew I had to pick it up and check out the story for myself. I have to say, for any LGBT and/or African American comic fans out there, I would highly suggest you pick this up. Even for general lovers of queer romance stories, I think this comic has something major to offer to the general narrative surrounding queer romance, especially for older couples. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have some problems with it overall, it just means I think the comic’s ability to bring a new and compelling story to the romance table may outweigh some of its faults.
The plot of Bingo Love surrounds the multi-decade love story of two women named Elle and Mari. They both grew up during the 60s when the concept of lesbian or homosexual love was still criminalized and heavily looked down upon especially by many religious communities. Elle and Mari happen to meet each other at a church bingo event while they’re with their grandmothers. Over the course of the next couple weeks, they become best friends, and Elle tries her best to hide her growing romantic feelings for Mari. But after having their sexuality discovered by their families, both girls are forced to separate, marry traditional husbands, and they never see each other again for nearly 50 years. That is until a fateful night at a bingo hall.
Please check out the comic first before continuing. Spoilers below.
The comic is a collaboration of a large team of comic professions: Tee Franklin as writer, Jenn St-Onge as artist, Joy San as colorist, Cardinal Rae as letterer, and Erica Schultz as editor. It originally started as a Kickstarter campaign launched back in March of last year and, by the end of the end, the amount pledged surpassed their goal by more than 30k. In October, it was picked up by Image for publication, finally releasing on Valentine’s Day of this year. Jenn St-Onge and Joy San do a great job on the art, with character designs that accurately represent their African-American characters as well as the various time periods. St-Onge was also one of the artists for the comic Jem and the Misfits as well as the Giant Days holiday special. I do really love her art style especially the way she captures the character’s expressions. I do also love the incorporation of multiple two-page collage spreads. I think those provide a different level of interest to the pages instead of just relying on panels to move the story along.
Tee Franklin also does a great job on the story of Bingo Love, giving us a deeper look into LGBT and African-American culture from the 60s to the not-so-distant 2038. The comic itself is marketed for a teen audience, and in a way that is right, but it definitely not a story just for teenagers. It’s a story that spans many different ages, from teenage years to motherhood to old age, each period of Elle and Mari’s life having something different to say about the nature of love. In their teenage years, we a get a story centered around adolescent love and discovery of identity that ends with their tragic separation. It also becomes a story about past family values, as Mari rejects Elle’s offer to run away in favor of staying with her family. In this we begin to see just how much family means to both of them, a sentiment that carries through the rest of the story.
As Elle and Mari move on and marry other people, we also begin to understand more of the pressure surrounding LGBT love during that time and the fear of coming out. It becomes easier for Elle to marry a man she doesn’t really love than fight for the life she actually wants. It’s only in her later years, after seeing her children grow up and have children of their own, that she feels confident enough to pursue her dream of being with Mari again, but not without some emotional struggle. It’s at this point that I think the story gives us a fresh look at romance by focusing on an older queer couple. Franklin was right when she remarked that her motivation for starting this comic was because there wasn’t enough representation of queer, African-American characters and voices in the comics field. One of Bingo Love’s greatest strengths falls in this vein of being able to present a different voice and a different story from the norm. Seeing Elle and Mari struggle with whether or not they should divorce their husbands in order to be together and seeing them struggle with the trials of old age is something new in the realm of romance. This is why I’m not surprised that their Kickstarter went so far beyond their goal.
However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few issues with it, mostly centered around the ending. The whole story is set up as a frame story wherein Elle is retelling their love story to Mari whose mind has deteriorated from Alzheimer’s to the point where she can’t remember the past 50 years of her life. It’s a fairly solid narrative choice, but one that could also be seen as fairly corny in some respects. I would also say that the ending, where both Elle and Mari die in their sleep together is also a little on the corny side, but I’m hesitant to call it a bad choice because the story overall is still pretty sweet. My main problems come from the insertion of futuristic elements into the ending like the holographic technology and the fire prevention hoses that come out of the ceilings. The year 2039 isn’t that far away, and in all honesty, we’re closer to coming up with a cure for Alzheimer’s than we are for holographic camouflage. I also thought that leaving out the reveal of Elle’s husband’s homosexuality in favor of dropping a box pointing to another comic was a poor choice. It ruins immersion for the reader if you break the fourth wall like that and deny crucial bits of story. You can definitely expand on his story in another comic, but leave the box saying so until the end.
I do still highly recommend you pick this up if you haven’t already. For anyone who’s been looking for diverse romance stories, Bingo Love is a great place to start. Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below, and be sure to recommend any other diverse romance comics you’d like me to review as well.
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