Love Everlasting is a series that thrives on repetition. Joan, our “lovelorn” protagonist, is stuck in an endless cycle of sappy romance stories. Every time she finally embraces the man she loves, she finds herself back at square one, in a completely different life with another sad sack trying to win her heart. Writer Tom King, artist Elsa Charretier, colorist Matt Hollingsworth, and letterer Clayton Cowles have given themselves a very difficult task: How do they tell the same story over and over, and still keep us interested? Love Everlasting #4 begins to answer that question in a surprising way.
King is making a point of showing that he’s taking his time with this series. He’s asking us to be patient, or even to feel Joan’s impatience, as he teases a story out of subtle clues and little nods. Yes, there’s an overall arc that’s being crafted, but the journey is more important than the answers to all of our questions. Love Everlasting #4 takes us right back to the beginning. We’re with Joan in a love story and there’s very little sense that there’s anything more to the issue than just that – it’s a love story. Period. Joan isn’t trying to escape, she isn’t fighting against the narrative beats and struggling for independence. She’s resigned to what’s happening.
If we didn’t know better, we’d even think that maybe she wasn’t the Joan we’ve come to know, or that this chapter somehow got shuffled into the wrong place of the series. But that’s the beauty of King’s slow moving storytelling. He trusts that the reader does know better. He trusts that he doesn’t have to tell us what’s going on in Joan’s mind for us to have an idea of it. Yes, we’re waiting for Joan to make a move, but we’re not thinking she’s back to being fooled by these love stories. She’s not just the passive character she appears to be. Yet, in spite of all of these factors, King still manages to make us feel something. He does away with the melodrama and the theatrics and tells a quiet, sad story of love during war. Every emotional beat lands despite the fact that we know it shouldn’t – that this is all some strange prison Joan is stuck in. We’re willing prisoners of this story, just like Joan.
Charretier communicates so much through her placement of characters. The first scene we see, Joan and her new lover (Dane) are pictured amongst a group of people. Smoke clouds fill the room, all blown from the mouths of patrons, and we see men gathered around a table having a drunken good time. Joan and Dane are the main focus of a lot of these panels. But as the scene ends, they’re shown in the background. In the foreground, men share drinks and tell stories, but off in a quiet corner we see Joan and Dane having their own private moment. As the issue progresses, the bar becomes more and more empty. Fewer men are returning from battle with each passing month. But we still get panels of Joan and Dane off on their own. Whether we’re separated from them by happy bar patrons or simply by empty chairs and tables, they’re still given their own space. As readers we almost want to lean in to see them closer or even want to hear what they’re saying, just as they themselves lean their heads closer together and intimately whisper to each other. It’s a stunning use of character placement that actually makes the reader mimic what the characters are doing.
Hollingsworth use of color is striking and immediately noticeable. The bar, itself, goes through multiple transformations. At first it’s cast in a deep blue light. When we next see it, the bar looks purple. It almost feels like a nightclub. The richness of the atmosphere is apparent. But when we see the bar again, it’s grey. Some of the life has been drained out of it. And the empty bar at the end of this story is shown in a pale yellow coloring. It feels as though life hasn’t just died in this locale, but it’s beginning to rot and turn. Dane is shown in dark green and you half expect him to keel over at any second. But all through the issue, even in the yellowing bar at the end of the story, we get moments of brightness. Hollingsworth uses the same shade of pink over and over. The first instance is Dane’s face as he’s watching Joan perform. He’s smitten and blushing. (It’s kind of lovely that this color signifies love from this moment on.) When she touches him, the backdrop of the panel is pink. When they embrace, there’s the same pink. It’s a beautiful representation of love surviving in the midst of such dreary realities.
There’s plenty of variation to Cowles’ lettering. The dialogue of drunk men is shown in word balloon’s that have wobbly outlines. Joan’s singing is surrounded by colorful music notes. You can hear the silences in the large spaces between word balloons and you can feel the nervous energy in the dialogue that almost overlaps each other. When Dane returns to the bar, drunker than he’s ever been, he sings one of Joan’s songs. The wobbly word balloons make us fully aware of his inebriation, but the surprising thing is we still see the colorful music notes. Cowles does nothing to make the notes seem pale or twisted. They look just like when Joan sings. Cowles shows us that Dane might sound drunk, but there’s also charm to his singing. It’s another great example of this creative team’s quest to find beauty in strange places.
Love Everlasting #4 pulls us right back to where we started. But by doing this, it shows us the nuances that have been hiding in the margins of these stories all along. And somehow, despite us knowing that these tales are all a part of Joan’s strange imprisonment, this creative team still manages to reel us in and make us care. In a series that parodies and lampoons, we still get issues like this that are unapologetically beautiful and raw. Love Everlasting #4 is available to paid subscribers of Everlasting Productions and will be available for free in the coming weeks.