Reading The Hazards of Love on a grey, rainy day in winter is a real balm for the soul. Reading it on a grey rainy day in the middle of a lockdown is even more of a good idea; I might not be able to go far, but here is a brightly coloured, zany looking graphic novel to whisk me away somewhere else. I almost said somewhere better, but I’m not sure that the main character, Amparo, would agree with that assessment.
The Hazards of Love, the work of writer and artist Stan Stanley, will not be new to anyone who has been following the story on Stanley’s website. Like most webcomics that become published volumes, it is still there for you should you choose to read it digitally. But I’d be inclined to try and persuade you to splash out on the physical copy; with something like this, you can’t quite replicate the feeling of lingering over a beautifully drawn page, holding the book close to you as you notice more details and appreciate the colours.
The Hazards of Love follows Amparo, a queer teen from Queens. Amparo has been in some trouble at school, and early on in the narrative makes a very bad decision that sees them transported to Bright World – a place where humans are few and far between, and a myriad of interesting creatures rule the roost. Amparo soon finds out that getting home again isn’t going to be a case of just clicking their ruby slippers together. They might just be in it for the long haul. Meanwhile, back in Queens, Amparo’s kind of girlfriend Iolanthe is fairly sure that there is something dodgy going on, and she’s going to find out what it is.
Although the main characters are teens, I wouldn’t fall into the trap of defining this graphic novel as a Young Adult read, for fear that people who look down on YA wouldn’t pick it up and give it a chance. That would be their loss; there is so much to enjoy and appreciate about this book. It’s bright; the heavy outlining on the artwork really works here, and serves to make the vibrant colours all the richer. I love how Bright World lives up to the name; Queens isn’t exactly black and white, but the colours there are much more muted, and sparser. The story is spooky and more than a little bit creepy, especially as Amparo becomes more accustomed to their new world and begins to discover more about it. That colour palette – and the name of Bright World – becomes more of an irony as the story progresses.
For sure though, the real strength of The Hazards of Love is the characters – in particular, Amparo and their mysterious new employer, El Ciervo. The two of them have a complicated relationship, to say the least. Amparo is a servant, working begrudgingly for the strange doctor. El Ciervo translates as the deer, and that name does exactly what it says on the tin in terms of character design (remember that Bright World is run by animals). Amparo and El Ciervo are very funny, their humour dry and uncompromising. My favourite line comes when Amparo asks, ‘Is all that blood mine?’, and El Ciervo simply replies, ‘Not anymore.’
But underneath the humour, there is a real sense of underlying threat on every page that the two of them share. Amparo knows that the doctor is not to be trusted, even as he seems to be giving them more freedom and responsibilities. El Ciervo is the darkest thing in Bright World, both literally and metaphorically; he’s never portrayed as out of the shadow, so much so that you’d think he was an absence of light. And everyone else in Bright World is wary of him, or downright scared. By the end of the novel, El Ciervo’s appearances are not the same enjoyable thing they were at the beginning. Stanley manages this very skilfully, with almost no change to El Ciervo’s artwork or his character – it’s just how Amparo perceives him.
I’ve barely touched on Amparo’s queerness, and that is because Stanley also treats it with a very light touch. Amparo doesn’t have any words to describe themselves, apart from repeating that they’ve always ‘been bad at being a girl.’ The story just isn’t really about that; some of the Bright World characters ask, and when Amparo shrugs it off, they do too. Amparo is just Amparo, and in this nightmare world, the only thing that really matters is finding a way out.
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