Review by Win Wiacek
The demands of drama dictate that true love never runs smooth but that’s not the case in real life. The trade-off is that those actual romances standing the test of time and tedium are painfully devoid of the remarkable circumstance and miraculous “gosh-wow” moments of fiction. But this remarkable account proves That Ain’t Necessarily So…
In 1999 independent publisher Juno released a small graphic novel memoir, written by Samuel R. Delaney and illustrated by Mia Wolff. It recounts how a celebrated gay black literary giant, college professor and social theoretician with a mantelpiece crowded with awards, and a teenaged daughter in tow, met and romanced one of society’s most outcast and forgotten souls.
At the time of publication, they had been a couple for some years and they are together still, more than 25 years later. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere won’t be in this movie and not a single dragon or muscle car had to die.
Following an introduction from Alan Moore, this welcome and long-overdue new edition reveals how “Chip” Delaney took a walk on New York’s Upper West Side, bought a book from homeless Dennis and struck up a conversation with the kind of person most people refuse to acknowledge the very existence of. In seamlessly seductive understated style the words and Wolff’s pictures detail how gradually, gently, unsurprisingly they became first friends and then lovers.
In the manner of all lasting true romances, this is the history of two full equals who accidentally find each other, not some flimsy rags-to-riches Cinderella tale of predestination and magical remedies. The brilliance and position of one is perfectly complemented by the warmth, intelligence and quiet integrity of the other, and although far from smooth – or rose scented – their path to contentment is both tension-fraught and heart-warming.
Oh, and there’s sex: lots of rapturously visualised sex. If you’re liable to be upset by pictures of joyous, loving fornication between two people separated by age, wealth, social position and race who happily possess and constantly employ the same type of naughty bits on each other, then read something else.
This lyrical, beguiling tale is embellished throughout with interwoven extracts from the poem Bread and Wine by German lyric poet Friedrich Hölderlin and illustrated in a mesmerising organic monochrome variety of styles by artist and Delaney family friend Mia Wolff, and you really need to have it unfold for you.
This sweet, uplifting comics love story is rich with sentiment, steeped in literary punch and beautiful to behold. Moreover, this lavish, stout and steadfast hardback (also available in digital formats) includes a celebratory commentary by Chip, Dennis and Mia and other protagonists in the afterword, plus a sketch-packed, earnest and informative interview with the creative participants.
Strong, assertive, uncompromising and proudly unapologetic, this is love we should all aspire to, and Bread & Wine is another graphic novel every adult should know.