By Sanda Levins $14.95; Magination Press; 96 pages
Cael is a gay kid growing up in the Midwest, afraid to come out because while his classmates have definite ideas about him, he doesn't know what his parents will think.
In the meantime, he's taking a history class that's discussing LGBTQ rights, and reading by a memoir of a gay soldier that he hides under his bed. There are a lot of storylines in Either Way, a slim graphic novel written by Sandra Levins and illustrated by Euan Cook and, honestly, they're not blended together with any subtlety or much detail. The storylines only unite at the end; in the meantime, there's a lot of wondering about where exactly any of this might go.
Part of what might be off-putting is Levins' author's note. Cael is a composite character based on three real gay men she knows. While she's writing about real experience, she's a straight woman, so there's a certain lack of authenticity and questioning of her motivewhy could none of her models told their story? Nevertheless, Cael's coming-out story feels authentic, if a bit cliched. What's less enjoyable are the history-class sections, which are unabashed info dumps presenting different angles on marriage equality and equal rights, and the fictional narrative of the gay soldier's memoir, which actually just seems jarring if you happen to forget that the book is what's inspiring Cael in his journey of self-discovery.
The art, too, is serviceable but not particularly noteworthy. It's sketchy, harsh and ragged, which works for when Cael is younger and for some of the war scenes, but doesn't suit the history classroom sections particularly well. Vivid art might have made up for the faults of the text, but while Euan Cook is clearly talented, his talents might have been better applied elsewhere.
Faults in storytelling aside, Either Way is not a terrible book: it's just not particularly compelling. Its press, Magination, is run by the American Psychological Association, which might explain why it feels so bland and straight: Perhaps its purpose is more educational than artistic, and psychologists can be notoriously ill-informed about LGBTQ issues. It would never compete against something like Fun Home, where a cartoonist is also a deft writer and manages to wind contemporary history and literature into her biography. There's got to be a young gay artist and/or writer out there, preferably one of color ( almost everyone in Either Way appears white, although the artwork is vague ), who could do more justice to a graphic novel about teens coming out.