‘The Lengths’ by Howard Hardiman
Author: Cathy Camper
November 17, 2013
Eddie, a former art student, has one cell phone for calls from his family, friends and lover. His other phone, and his other name, Ford, is private and strictly business. Eddie works as a male escort–a job he tries, but fails, to restrict to odd hours outside his mainstream life. Sucked into the world of rent boys by his admiration for Nelson, a handsome male sex worker, Eddie soon finds his new occupation, and the duplicity it requires, affects both how he treats others and how he feels about himself.
Though Hardiman’s graphic novel examines a specific underground culture (gay male escorts in London), the questions it asks and the feelings it explores are universal. When Eddie meets Dan, a man he truly could love, he can’t help but observe, “It’s hard being someone’s Mister Right, when for a hundred pounds and hour, you’re anyone’s mister right now!” Readers might not be prostitutes, but most can relate to the stress of living a duplicitous life engendered by a job like this, cheating, addiction or other secrets.
A twist is that Hardiman has chosen to draw all his characters as dogs. Not full out dogs, mind you. These guys wear clothes, have hands and feet and pecs, no tails, and they do it human, not doggie style. It’s mostly facial features that are canine, so Eddie’s graphic artist paramour Dan looks like a schnauzer with a human potbelly (endearing, though for me, his schnauzer beard was not). Nelson is cold, and chiseled, like a muscular Doberman minotaur. James, Eddie’s former boyfriend, has long flowing ears, like a spaniel or Irish setter, while Eddie himself seems to be a pretty fit boxer or pit bull. Hardiman’s adept pen manages to capture just the right amount of human emotions on all these canine faces.
Much of the book is Eddie’s inner dialog as he tries to negotiate his feelings about his work. Judging from his full hooker name, Ford Escort, readers get both his struggling status as a rent boy, and that he has a sense of humor.
Eventually the sex, drugs and stress wear Eddie down. He realizes his idol Nelson may be the perfect escort, but he’s inaccessible. Eddie’s already lost James; he doesn’t want to lose Dan too.
But two men finding each other is not the real happy ending here. It’s about what they have to both concede and share to get to a place of happiness. Eddie has to give up his secrets, and stop living a clandestine life. Dan has to accept him and love him without shame or blame. The added perk to making these hard changes, Eddie discovers, is self-acceptance. “No more retweeting other people’s thoughts to try and sound clever. If I’m stupid, fuck it, I’m stupid.” But readers will appreciate how wise he’s grown.
By Howard Hardiman
Soaring Penguin Press
Hardcover, 9781908030108, 216 pp.