Review by Ian Keogh
Chances Are is Tom Beland looking at the set of toppling dominoes that changed his life. Employed as a cartoonist and layout designer on a regional Californian newspaper, he’s given the assignment to head to what he never names as Disneyworld in Orlando when a colleague pulls out. He’s enjoying himself until the penny drops that looking around he’s the only single person there, and it’s been a fair while since he was in any kind of a relationship. That’s about to change, as over several graphic novels Beland relates how meeting Lily Garcia sitting at a bus stop, as seen on the sample art, was a turning point that set his life in a completely new direction.
Beland makes the switch from newspaper cartooning to serial storytelling almost effortlessly and while his influences occasionally break through, being self-taught has resulted in a compact way of capturing people in very few lines. It looks as if the pages are drawn quickly, but everything needed is present in the looseness. It’s not just the drawing that charms in an opening chapter in which Beland is honest beyond most autobiographical cartoonists, unafraid to let his feelings free no matter whether one person’s genuine emotions are another’s saccharine sentimentality. He’s smitten with Lily from the moment he lays eyes on her, and his declaration is to the world.
That the following chapters share his viewpoints with Lily’s indicates how things progress despite his being in California while she’s in Puerto Rico. They spent a single evening together, but neither can dislodge the other from their mind. Whether or not cooler folk want to admit it, the rush of early love is fairly well the same experience for everyone and there’s a complete lack of guile about how Beland shows it. Yet there are also tragic events to be told, and Beland invests these with a suitable gravitas.
The adult notification is down to language, not Beland taking his and Lily’s relationship into the bedroom, which he does, but not in a voyeuristic way. The four chapters break down neatly into first meeting, longing, the California reunion and the San Juan reunion, with Beland not speaking any Spanish being no impediment in the short term. It’s the fourth chapter that shows how True Story Swear to God might have legs beyond an opening graphic novel as Beland explores Puerto Rican culture and learns that in San Juan Lily is quite the celebrity due to her early morning radio show. He also reveals more about his insecurities and Lily’s personality, giving that final chapter greater depth. The story continues in This One Goes to 11, and is combined with that and other material not otherwise collected in the first (and only) Archives volume, which is the better bet.