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From queer to eternity: comics master Alan Moore tackles the history of homosexuality in the epic poem The Mirror of Love.

Comic books contain a melding of words and pictures, at their best combining to form a visual poetry that can tell stories both banal and sublime. Now two of the comic book industry's top talents--Alan Moore and Jose Villarrubia--have set out to tell the story of homo history. Instead of using word balloons and graphic imagery, they are mixing an epic poem with lush photography. The result is the new hardcover volume The Mirror of Love (Top Shelf Productions, $24.95).

A professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, a fine-rot photographer, and a comic book artist, the openly gay Villarrubia adapted Moore's poem into a 1998 stage piece that was directed by David Drake. In the new hook version Villarrubia combines artistic elements, alternating each page of poetry opposite a piece of photo art. His alluring images include Oscar Wilde's gravestone with lipstick kisses covering it, entwined rose-covered women, and other still-life moments of activism, passion, and pride. "I generally start by sketching what I want to do as a form of brainstorming," says Villarrubia. "Then I get the models, props, and location ready, shoot photographs, and later manipulate them in Photoshop."

Author Man Moore, best known for such award-winning comic book projects as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, is stunned by Villarrubia's "visual alchemy. I think they're some beautiful photographs that Jose has come up with. They illuminate, in the very best sense of the word, the verses that they accompany. There's a passion, a savagery about some of the pictures, a savage beauty."

The Mirror of Love originally appeared in 1988 in a publication called AARGH! (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia). The comic book was organized and published by British-born Moore and friends as a project benefiting the fight against the United Kingdom's homophobic Clause 28. "Whenever any of our countries take these sudden, nasty fascist lunges, then I think it's down to all of us to actually stand up and say something about it," Moore says. He also admits that although he is "monogamously, blissfully attached" to female comic book artist Melinda Gebbie, "most sex is in your head, and I'm sure that I've had as many homosexual fantasies, probably, as I've had heterosexual ones."

Moore's Mirror of Love is an epic poem that compresses gay history into a few thousand words, covering the dawn of humanity and ancient Sapphic and Spartan love up through the AIDS crisis and the gay-baiting media of the modern world. The poem is "sweeping--melodramatic, perhaps, Moore say. "It's got a very Shakespearean tone to it, but it felt like a big story that deserved to be spoken of in epic tongues. Some of the men and women that we mentioned in it--these are titans. They are the pillars of human culture, let "alone gay culture."

Villarrubia recalls that upon first reading The Mirror of Love, "I was very taken by it, since it was unlike anything I had ever read. It had me in tears by the end. I am not sure what a genius is, but if there's such a thing, Alan is one. I consider him an incredibly gifted artist who consistently imbues his work with great beauty and, even more importantly, with a great heart."

Avant-garde comic publisher Top Shelf Productions is releasing The Mirror of Love in March as a 136-page hardcover volume that includes not only the text and photos but also extensive historical and bibliographical information. "I would like the straight people who read it to realize what an incredible contribution gay men and women have made to human culture--to realize how important, and indeed vital, they've been and continue to be," says Moore. With a chuckle he adds, "And I would like gay people who read it to realize exactly the stone thing. If you are in a certain situation where you feel oppressed because of your sexuality, I'm not saying that it would solve everything for you, but it might help if you had a sense of the tradition that you are in. If you had a sense of these men and women in the past, ranked behind you--if you had a sense of your culture, what it had achieved, what it might be capable of--then I think that might make you feel empowered."

Though it may be a bit late for Valentine's Day, The Mirror of Love is meant as a testament to the beauty and power of same-sex affection throughout time. "I hope readers get a sense of context, of history, and of persistence," says Villarrubia. "I also hope that they will be as moved as I was by the words and that it confirms or renews their faith in romantic love." Moore agrees, citing his hero, gay author William Burroughs: "I was reading his journal the other day, and the last entry before he died, the last words are, 'The most powerful thing there is, love.' And you can't argue with that."

Mangels is a best-selling novelist, comic book author; and past editor of Gay Comics.
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Title Annotation:books
Author:Mangels, Andy
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 16, 2004
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