May 16, 2008 – In the span of a single day, Amal calls off his arranged marriage, comes out as gay to his conservative parents, promptly gets disowned, goes on a bender… and wakes up the next morning to find TJ, a lanky, dreadlocked vagrant, frying eggs and singing Paul Simon in his kitchen.
TJ claims that the two have made a drunken pact to drive all the way from Berkeley to Providence. As it happens, Amal promised his sister he’d be there for her graduation from Brown University. And TJ, well… TJ has his own reasons.
The agreement is simple: Amal does the driving; TJ pays the way – but a 3500 mile journey leaves plenty of time for things to get complicated.
The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal is a webcomic by E. K. Weaver, and it is one of the finest comics, in either webcomic or print form, I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It’s a coming out story meets a coming of age story. Part of what makes it so rich and rewarding is the character interaction.
In some ways, the two of them are an modern incarnation of the Odd couple – Amal is organized, book-smart and prone to stressing out while TJ is laid back, non-confrontational and filled with an inherent wisdom in his approach to most emotional situations. Many of the comic’s finest moments come from their interaction and developing relationship.
This is a slice of life comic in the best sense – the reader feels as if they have been pulled into the characters’ lives. You share their emotions, their adventures and their challenges. E. K. Weaver makes you care deeply about these two men and it’s easy to emotionally invest in them.
The pacing is excellent – Weaver is smart enough to let the pages breath. Free of narrative, many of the pages are silent, visually showing the character’s emotions. After Amal comes out to his family, he simply sits in his car, overwhelmed by their negative response. There are no words in this page – the creator is rightly confident that the artwork and layout is powerful enough to portray this moment.
Weaver deftly explores themes of escape – both TJ and Amal are on the run, both from different things. They feel they can use this road trip to escape facing their problems and by the end of the story, they have faced and overcome the very challenges they sought to escape.
The artwork is gorgeous – sensitive, beautifully rendered and consistent. Best of all, one can see the evolution of the art over the chapters. Talking scenes are never dull and erotic scenes balance being understated and exciting.
The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal is an exceptionally good read. It may even be a great comic – one of those works that remind one of what is truly possible with sequential storytelling. If you’re tired of spandex and the latest tired deconstruction of the superhero genre, do yourself a favor and read this work.