how loathsome is a journey through a world peopled with junkies, rent-boys and trannies. how loathsome is a touching and believable series of vignettes where the characters behave like real human beings, as outlandish as their lifestyles can be for most people.

Writer Tristan Crane and artist Ted Naifeh show varied and complementary sides of their cast. Yes, some are throwing their lives away, with drugs and booze, but having 2.3 kids and a mortgage doesn’t ensure a full and enriching life, does it? The true substance of the book is the relationships between the characters.

The lead is Catherine, a woman who falls in love with Chloe, a pre-op transsexual. She also writes little scary stories, which are included in the comics as a kind of interlude, a counterpoint for the “real” story.
Catherine is engaging. Contrary to most others, her sense of self is very strong, but that doesn’t mean she’s without doubts, whether about her relationships or the welfare of her friends.

Chloe appears to be a bit of a cypher at first, but the authors manage to make her more than a metaphor for self-questioning, a fully-realised person. She has dreams and wants and needs, and after all is said, they’re not any different from the dreams and wants and needs of all the other human beings.

Another interesting character is Alex, a young prostitute and a junkie who’s lost to the power of drugs, his future not very bright before finding himself falling for another boy who’s not quite a boy. So who knows?

Ted Naifeh’s art is an integral part of the charm of these stories. His work is full of shadows and sharp angles, decidedly sensual. He captures a face, body language, clothes and backgrounds with a seeming ease, in a black and white enhanced by a two-colour sepia making good use of all the shades of grey available to an artist, which is all very metaphorical (see here for more art from the series). He also has the skills necessary to change his style beautifully for the material written by Catherine. A phantom story set in a dark wood (how more Gothic can you get?) and a sad love story among Buddhist monks, these present a sense of fate which, of course, eludes the “real” characters.

With its purposely misleading, ironic title, how loathsome is about living one’s life on one’s own terms, about finding and sometimes losing love and friendship in improbable places.