Fires Above Hyperion


By Patrick Atangan (NBM/Comics-Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-986-1 (TPB)

Bad times for human beings, these days. With people dying in incalculable numbers and denied the simple solace of friendly or familial contact at the end, with most of the world’s leaders fumbling the ball as the planet dies from commercial abuse and exploitation and with haters and bigots proudly – and without a trace of shame – spreading their bile again, it seems odd to moan about comparatively minor issues.

Nevertheless, I’m adding another sin to the menu. Perhaps the cruellest and most pitiful of the minor horrors besieging us at the moment is the simple absence of a chance to congregate with friends and assert the right to live life your own way (hypocritically, that’s a right I’d happily deny every racist, fascist and homophobe in existence, but hey, I’m “complicated”)…

After millennia of struggle, a large proportion of mankind eventually decided it was okay for men to love men, women to love women and in fact every variety of person to enjoy the company of any other person or persons as long as it was consenting.

I know it’s hard for some to let go of hate and fear, but we’d made a good honest start. Over time people even convened in vast, colourful bustling parades and parties: a rowdy affirmation of a struggle that was generally being won.

That’s not happening this year, but LGBTQ+ folk are resilient and have adapted. Go join an online or distanced event if you can. And then there’s books and comics. The fraternity is superbly proficient at using art and narrative and the Queer comics genre is vast, expansive and astoundingly worthwhile and entertaining. Here’s one of my favourites, still available in paperback and many digital formats that you really should see…

It’s long been an aphorism – if not outright cliché – that LGBTQ+ comics are the only place in the graphic narrative game where real romance still thrives. As far as I can see though it’s true; an artefact, I suppose, of a society which seems determined to demarcate and separate sex and love as two utterly different – and even opposite – things.

I’d prefer to think that in the 21st century – at least the more civilised bits which actually acknowledge and welcome that times have changed – we’ve outgrown those juvenile, judgemental, religion-blighted bad old days and can simply appreciate powerful, moving, wistful, sad and/or funny comics about ordinary people without any kind of preconception. That battle’s still not completely won yet, but hopefully thoughtful, inspirational memoirs such as this will aid the transition…

Californian Patrick Atangan (Songs of Our Ancestors, Invincible Days) is a multi-talented Filipino-American creator with many strings to his creative bow: as deft and subtle in his computer-generated comic tales and retellings of Asian myths as with the tools he uses to craft high-end designer furniture.

Here, to his printed canon for youngsters, he’s added a wry, charming yet deeply moving collection of short intimate musings and recollections on his “romantic gaffes and failures” and the results are enough to make the toughest cookie crumble…

Pitched as if “Sex and the City had been created by a gay Charlie Brown” these utterly compelling, seditiously humorous slices of a life lived a little too much inside one’s own head kick off with chronological logic as the still-closeted Patrick attends his ‘Junior Prom’. The problem is that he is escort to obsessive beard Mildred, whose attention to detail and determination to make the event “absolutely perfect” cannot help but fail. At least the string of disasters the fervent Promzilla endures takes the spotlight off his own failings, petty jealousies and perceived inadequacies…

‘Secrets’ skips ahead to the emotional liberation of college as our introvert resolves to reinvent himself and begins an ongoing process of Outing which gradually encompasses friends, family and everybody new in his life. Sadly, that in turn leads to a sort-of romance with Calvin who never really comes to terms with his own sexual identity…

On leaving academe, another character-building debacle involves ‘Gary’; someone our author judged far too lovely for a dweeb like himself – and therefore something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – before eponymous vignette ‘The Fires Above Hyperion’ turns the screws even tighter.

The tale finds Patrick coolly contemplating the now-annual forest fires threatening Los Angeles whilst foolishly attempting to rekindle or reinvent the three-year relationship he has just ended with Roger

Eschewing his usual ‘New Year’s Eve’ ritual, the narrator attends a big party and suffers inebriation, gastric trauma and the humiliation of mistakenly putting the moves on a chain-smoking straight guy before ‘APE Shit’ reveals the sorry fallout of a trip to San Francisco to attend his first Alternative Press Expo in a decade: a concatenation of domestic disasters comprising old friends with new children, commuter congestion and a total change in the way Indy comics are sold.

At least he connects with gorgeous, seemingly ideal Bryan – before Fate and Patrick’s own conscience play a few pranks to spoil what might have been a perfect moment…

More notionally self-inflicted trauma comes out of ignoring the custom of a lifetime and attending a wedding as a ‘Plus One’. Naturally he didn’t mind his “date” Julia going off with a guy, but when Patrick zeroes in on wonderful, apparently available Peter, events and the author’s own treacherous tuxedo conspire to make the soiree memorable for all the wrong reasons…

A heartbreakingly harsh assessment of Patrick’s failings then lead to the awful conclusion that he is ‘Nobody’s Type’before the excoriating romantic recriminations end with another ill-fated, self-sabotaged first date that founders because of too much introspection and an accumulation of ‘Baggage’

Insightful, penetrating, invitingly self-deprecating, guardedly hopeful and never afraid to be mistaken for morose when occasion demands, this collection of misjudged trysts and missed chances offers a charming glimpse at the eternally hopeful way most folks of every persuasion live their love-lives and the result is magical and unforgettable.

This is a must-have item for anyone graced with heart and soul…
© 2015 Patrick Atangan.