Following on the heels of 2018’s I Feel Machine, editors Krent Able and Julian Hanshaw’s recently-released second anthology collection for publishers SelfMadeHero, I Feel Love, isn’t so much beholden to a hard and fast “theme” as it is to a central organizing principle: the downside to, or at least unexpected consequences of, falling head-over-heels for someone or something. Questioning our relationship with technology, as Able, Hanshaw, and their contributors did last time around, then, is all well and good, but questioning our relationships with each other? Well, that strikes this critic as being both more ambitious and, perhaps, more perilous on the whole — after all, it takes a pretty deft artistic hand to communicate the number of ways in which the thing most of us live for above all else can be fraught with danger.
To that end, it’s probably just as well that Able dispenses with all notions of subtlety in his detail-rich cover, a gloriously gory and detail-rich zombie number that wouldn’t feel at all out of place adorning an EC horror mag from seven decades ago and leaves no real doubt as to the subversive goals of the project itself, but the assemblage of cartoonists on hand each take highly individualistic approaches as they explore the darker side of the one emotion everybody not named Chester Brown agrees is a fundamentally wonderful and amazing thing to experience. In I Feel Love, expect everything from kids watching on in horror from a locked car as their mother copulates with a Swamp Thing stand-in to a sad sack trying to reignite his dormant libido by means of voyeurism. Love is served a generous side of the sardonic in these six stories.
Each story features an artist operating fairly comfortably within their own pre-established wheelhouses, beginning with Ben Marra’s yarn about the aforementioned swamp monster, which is both written and drawn in a self-consciously “Bronze Age” style and comes complete with the “drug scare” messaging of so many of the comics of that era. It jams in perhaps a few too many “in-joke” references — both generally and specifically — to be completely satisfying for anyone other than a veteran comics reader, but as a metaphorical “table-setter” it serves its purposes well enough, and also introduces the biological and “body-horror” themes that, whether by accident or design, seem to pop up in a number of the strips in the book as well. I’m not always enamored (to say the least) with Marra’s over-emphasis on the ironic, but this story at least represents an appropriate application of his rather specific skill set.
The next entry, from Anya Davidson, ups the ante considerably, however, and one could even argue that her considered take on mental deterioration by way of over-immersion (with an assist from a mutant garden slug) into the world of “slash” fan fiction appears too soon in the volume, as it amounts to a pretty tough act for everyone else to follow. On the plus side, it’s so well-thought-out and equally well-illustrated that it’s worth every penny of the book’s cover price in and of itself, but placing it second in the running order almost guarantees a let-down once it’s over — or does it?
Co-”emcees” Hanshaw and Able are up next, with a Euro-comics influenced Hitchcockian tale of a guy’s hapless attempt to spice up a failing relationship by watching others do what he wishes he could. This wordless, futuristic Co-“emcees” Hanshaw and Able are up next, Hanshaw with a Eurocomics-influences Hitchcockian tale of a guy’s hapless attempt to spice up a failing relationship by watching others do what he wishes he could, and Able with a wordless, futuristic, Satanic “spy-thriller” that, again, weaves in a fair amount of biologically-based horror (as well as some OTT violence) before giving us the closest thing the book offers to a Hollywood-style happy ending (can man and female goat-headed Baphomet live happily ever after?) and offers Able plenty of opportunity to show off his considerable visual storytelling chops.
The story that contains the most depth and density in terms of ideas explored is Kelsey Wroten’s. It’s also drawn in the loosest and most expressionistic style of the bunch, which makes for a rather delicious dichotomy in and of itself. Add in the fact that it’s literally bursting at the seams with gorgeously vibrant colors while focusing its narrative on the plight of a medieval woman who literally walls herself off from the world in an act of voluntary penance, and it’s pretty obvious that what we’ve got here is a study in contrasts through and through. Wroten — one of the most intriguing new cartoonists to emerge in recent years — is firing on all cylinders here creatively and single-handedly manages to pull the project back toward a more thorough-going exploration of its (admittedly loosely) staked-out emotional territory after Able’s high-octane thrill ride.
Closing out the collection is yet another exploration of love gone awry courtesy of the botanical and biological by another rapidly-ascending talent, Cat Sims. This strip hews the closest of any of them to traditional “mainstream” comics storytelling, both in terms of intent and execution, and occupies a kind of middle ground between Michael DeForge’s Big Kids and Jeff Lemire and Phil Hester’s Family Tree, if you can conceive of such a thing, but the most inevitable comparison that will be drawn here is to the Moore/Bissette/Vetich/Totleben era of a certain muck monster whose name was dropped near the outset of this review. This is about as well-executed as horror (specifically horror/romance) shorts get, make no mistake, and serves as an interesting counterpoint to the tongue-in-cheek approach taken by Marra to material that inhabits the same genre “neighborhood,” thereby giving the book as a whole the feeling of a “closed circle” that starts in one place, makes a journey through a number of others, and ends up back where it began, but seen through a whole new set of eyes.
All of which means that, while at times uneven, I Feel Love is a thoroughly satisfying anthology that’s probably best experienced in its entirety rather than absorbed in piecemeal chunks. Carve out a couple of hours for it some afternoon or evening and you’ll find yourself disturbed by it, challenged by it, entertained by it, provoked by it — and, ultimately, more than a bit smitten with it.