February 3, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 05
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Sunday, Apr 18, 2021



Even preceding landfall, things loved freely once, ignoring gender

by Maggie Bloodstone - SGN A&E Writer

The Mirror Of Love

By Alan Moore and Jose Villarrubia

Published By Top Shelf Productions

Love, love, lovely love, the rarest and most vital commodity in the universe. The more love you have at your disposal, to give or withhold, the more desirable, respected, and ultimately, powerful you are. Who can blame certain folks for wanting an exclusive franchise on the stuff? In Western culture, the most vehement advocates of Love, besides Hippies, are Christians. The same group flexible enough to include both Martin Luther King and Fred Phelps, it has also produced the largest percentage of Gay marriage detractors. This sub-group of a perfectly workable, positive belief system clings so tenaciously to the notion that Heterosexuals, and Heterosexuals only, have the corner on Love that they would actively discourage more public professions of devotion, thus spewing more Love into the universe. (As if a surplus might lower its value-?)

Allowing Gays and Lesbians the same public acknowledgment of affection Heteros have had (and too often abused) for centuries would mean having to accept them as human-bad enough having to share the sidewalk, the workplace, the military, and the miracle of procreation with them. But Love-that would mean that straight Christians might not be as virtuous, or special, as they thought, and they might even have to share Jesus, too!

Novelist (Fag Hag, Closet Case) and comics geek Robert Rodi, in his foreword to The Mirror Of Love, states that the work "&is in fact an attempt to dwarf politics with the imposing edifice of history, culture, and art." And that much is certainly true-there's no dogma or didacticism in Alan Moore's prose or Jose Villarrubia's photographs, but given the current political/social climate, Rodi's statement is a tad disingenuous. Life is, indeed, a drag when one analyzes every move we humans make as a political statement, but fact is, The Mirror Of Love was originally published in a benefit comics anthology, AARGH! (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia), designed to help combat England's loathsome Clause 28, a Thatcher-era reaction to the AIDS crisis which would have prohibited local authorities from "promoting" homosexuality by striking all references from library and school materials, and essentially denying the existence of the word and concept of "Homosexuality", at least, 'officially'. The clause, with the help of thousands of fab-gear Britons, was thoroughly stomped into the soil of Old Blighty and swept under the rug of history. No submission in AARGH! could be considered apolitical with such a dragon to slay.

Never heavy-handed, or 'precious', Moore's sumptuous prose, partnered with Villarrubia's resonant images, traces Queer history from the cradle of life itself, as illustrated by a foreboding blue-black ocean, to an uncertain but promising future, depicted by a limitless golden sky and the words:

While life endures we'll love,

And afterwards,

If what they say is true,

I'll be refused a Heaven

Crammed with popes, policemen, fundamentalists,

And burn instead, quite happily,

With Sappho, Michelangelo,

And you, my love.

I'd burn throughout eternity

With you.

Get the picture, Bush? Cheney? Phelps?

As is too often the case with many a talented artist unlucky enough to be 'discovered' by the star-making machinery, Alan Moore's most widely known works are the graphic novels the films From Hell and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen are tenuously based on. Moore's staunchest fans physically cringe when a film adaptation of his comic book work is announced, because we know that only the meanest scraps of his literary feasts will survive the abattoir that is Hollywood. (The only director who could have done his genre-shattering Watchmen justice was Terry Gilliam, and even the genius behind Brazil had to admit defeat.) Since the early '80's, Moore has produced a body of work that would make the most gushed-over 'real' novelist nauseous with envy for their sheer impact on the comics (or Graphic Novel, if you must) genre. The fact that Moore is not lauded in the same breath as Vonnegut, Tolkien, or even Anne Rice, is due solely to the fact his words are accompanied by lots and lots of 'cartoons'. A self-professed Magus, Moore employs a sort of 'chaos theory' to writing, throwing political, spiritual, sexual, historical, and pop-cultural elements into a potent cauldron that, mixed with simpatico artists, manifest into fully realized universes. His stories, which have covered superheroes (Watchmen, Promethea), totalitarianism (V For Vendetta, his next sacrifice to the box office gods), ritual murder and power (From Hell), sex with fictional characters (The Lost Girls), and the nature of language (The Birth Caul) , seem to have sprung fully formed from his brow, the products of pure artistic alchemy. The Rasputin-locked Scorpion has professed that Magick and Art are comparable in that "Both are the creation of something out of nothing". It's not for nothing discerning comics fans (and they do exist) consider Moore to be God, or, at the very least, bigger than Jesus.

Titled from Aubrey Beardsley, The Mirror Of Love has no 'cartoons'-while the original, drawn by masterful comic vets Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch, was powerful in its own right, this compact little hardcover boils that work down to its essence: pure words & pictures. In the introduction, playwright David Drake relates how the AARGH! version moved his friend, aspiring photographer Jose Villarrubia to adapt and perform it on stage for the Baltimore Theatre Project in the dark, AIDS-haunted year of 1988. Drake: "What Jose had found&was a meditation as profound as the birth of 'first love'- a meditation in its wily, undying survival: Eternal Love. And it goes without saying that the history of Gayness is a story of survival. T.M.O.L wends its way from 'Three million years of motherhood' to the grim dawn of patriarchy, the optimism of Greece, the setbacks of Christianity, the Burning Times, the ages of reason and science, pink triangles and ovens, realization and liberation, to the plague years and beyond. Moore achieves all this with such historical savvy, compassion, and empathy, you'd never notice he was straight. (But then, like I tell anyone who expresses surprise that I'm not a Lesbian, you don't have to be a chicken to know eggs.) Villarrubia's photos evoke images Gay folks through the ages have looked upon and alternately trembled and thrilled at: rose-bedecked Lesbian lovers in repose, a crumbling statue of a young boy's torso (with the penis broken off), the lipstick-speckled tombstone of Oscar Wilde, a public men's room at night, one of many disapproving popes, two joyous partners of uncertain gender, and the Stonewall Inn, shot through an iron fence (to emphasize the prison it undeniably was-?). All richly, thoughtfully presented by an artist who got to realize a 15-year-old dream of collaborating with another artist who inspired him to make Magick.

Paradoxically, the image that is guaranteed to invoke the most wrenching reaction is also the simplest: in a passage suggesting the cold heartache of the play Bent, Moore writes:

The showers, they say,

held bodies piled as if the strong and desperate

had climbed on lovers' backs to flee the gas

betraying at the last our love,

the thing we thought they couldn't take.

Can you imagine?

Can you?

And the visual that accompanies this nightmare is- a page of solid black.

With this segment, Moore make it clear that Gay history, as with any other, is not full of saintly, incorruptible heroes, but fallible, fragile humans whose victimization is no more tragic or unjust as any other group, but who have the distinction of being persecuted for the most patently absurd of reasons: Love. Hell, even we clueless straight people can dig that.

While it may seem simplistic at least, pretentious at most, to try and distill the history of any people down to 80 pages, however eloquent or visually prescient, Moore and Villarrubia manage to pack the book with enough defining moments- and dropped names- to pique the curiosity of readers who don't happen to hold MBA's on Queer History to seek out more information on the artists and lovers Moore references. For example, I was unfamiliar with "The Ladies Of Llangollen". Not as famous a pair as Alice and Gertrude, these Irish gentlewomen lived in a "romantic friendship" spanning the 18th and 19th centuries, and opened their home to scholars and poets, including such pre-Wilde icons as Shelley, Byron, and Wordsworth. Moore has a burning need to inform, give credit where credit is due, a fetish for accurate research, and an absolute hard-on for footnotes. He also weaves passages from Dickinson, Sappho, and others into his own prose, which shifts from the loftily poetic to the comfortably conversational without missing a symbiotic beat.

Moore and Villarrubia have created a sweet and succinct chronicle of the 'City Of Friends' Walt Whitman wrote of, free of maudlin sentiment and manipulation, just cold hard facts artfully presented and heartfully conceived. Just the thing for you and your sweetie, life partner, pooky-bear, babe, or beloved to read to each other in bed this Valentine's Day.

And I marched

As I loved, my dear, with thee,

Always with thee

The Mirror Of Love is published by Top Shelf Productions, and can be ordered online:

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