The height of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a lot of comics-making online; the Instagram boom is the catalyst for Crisis Zone by Simon Hanselmann, Dog Biscuits by Alex Graham, and Birds of Maine by Michael Deforge, to name a few. Some of these comics were easy enough to follow in real-time; their creators had become sufficiently viral so as to conquer the capricious social media algorithms that determine who and what we get to see on the internet, and much of North America was hunkered down with nothing to do but look at the internet. My experience of the pandemic is largely centered around these comics and the constant fear of bringing home COVID from work, and those comics remain a central part of my memory of those years. While the popular examples are easy to find and easy to talk about, there are plenty of hidden gems that missed the broader popular discussion. Cam Marshall’s Matchmaker is one of these, a queer rom-com published on Instagram during the pandemic that has now been collected in a single volume by Silver Sprocket.
Cam Marshall’s Matchmaker follows a pair of queer friends – Mason, an anxious gay man who is looking for his first boyfriend, and the spunky and excitable Kimmy, a nonbinary matchmaker whose scheming knows (practically) no bounds when it comes to getting their best friend a date. The comic follows a sort of day-a-page format, with some obvious longer arcs that allow Marshall to dig into storytelling beats that require a little more time to get to a satisfying conclusion. Set in the depths of the pandemic, the pair has to navigate the convoluted and horrible working conditions of the time while still managing to pay rent, and the comic largely spends much of its first chapter getting the characters established and making anime jokes. Things progress relatively quickly when the pair meet newfound friend Marlowe at a COVID testing facility, which introduces some character tension and a potential romantic interest for Kimmy. As the comic moves forward, it collects more characters (similar to other webcomic soap operas like Questionable Content, Ménage à 3, and Dumbing of Age), and, by the end, Marshall has collected a whole found family of cute and relatable queers, all trying to make their way in an unforgiving world.
Inspired by slice-of-life manga, the comic is a slow but steady progression through the lives of its characters, making slight detours for the benefit of the reader’s understanding when the author finds it necessary. I’m reminded of comics like Kimi ni Todoke or Horimiya, where the emphasis is on the emotional heart of the story while simultaneously there’s a lot of important character development swirling around in the background. While not as chaste as the classic shojo manga, the positive emotional heart of Matchmaker is clear and well-referenced to manga published in English over the last 10 years. Marshall’s drawing is clearly manga-inspired, with big eyes, expressive faces, and a cute style that invites casual reading. The comparison to manga doesn’t end with its content – Silver Sprocket has picked a Shojo Beat/Shonen Jump paper stock for the book, and if it weren’t a 6” x 6” book, you could easily imagine Matchmaker being shelved in the manga section of your local Barnes & Noble.
As Matchmaker moves forward, multiple characters grow and get into relationships, except for Mason, who increasingly becomes the center of attention in the 5th and 6th chapters. The whole cast coalesces around Mason’s crush on Adam, a gay man who works at the local coffee shop where Marlowe takes a job while recovering from a hand/arm injury induced by drawing too much furry smut. As Mason continues to have boy problems, there are planned dates, false starts, and lots of wine and weed gummies. The ending of the book comes in somewhat of a rush, and after Mason gets the man, a final and predictable twist puts the cherry on the proverbial sundae. That’s hardly enough to mar the book, but it ties things up a little too neatly, as though the comic had gotten the bad news from the editorial team at Shojo Beat that it was being canceled in 5 issues and needed to be wrapped up.
Matchmaker has a consistent humorous tone: one-liners abound and a little physical comedy makes the volume a pleasant yet predictable read. The book is positive, affirming, and welcoming, while still managing to deal with things like long COVID, antidepressant use, stress from gender transition, and other heavy topics. That being said, the tone of Matchmaker is largely one-note, and the conflict, inasmuch as it exists, is between the characters and the State of Things (main character Kimmy at one point complains that “Capitalism is trying to stop me from having gay sex.”) Being broke and sharing cash is a large part of the comic, but economic fragility and being working class are more often part of the one-liners that carry the comics’ humor. To be fair, Matchmaker does have a lot to say, politically, in its obvious and affirming queerness, which is in itself a radical act when contrasted against the current social milieu. But in any other aspect of life, Matchmaker gestures at politics rather than having a political argument.
And honestly, that’s just fine. The thing Matchmaker is attempting to do is to create a character-focused drama that’s queer, cute, cozy, and sort of slutty, and it does that really well. The comics are funny, the cartooning is simple but attractive, and it holds itself together pretty well, even if the ending feels a bit rushed. It’s a wholesome chicken soup for the queer soul. If that’s what you want out of a book right now, well, Matchmaker is prime picking. Throughout the book, what rests with you as the reader is the conviction of all its characters that everything is going to be okay. In the depths of a horrible pandemic, and in a society that discriminates against queer people, that simple assertion, that “everything is gonna be alright,” carries enough weight to pull Matchmaker through to a satisfying conclusion.