Yaoi Review: Loud Snow by Tina Anderson and Amelie Belcher

Art and Character Design: Manga-inspired and appealing. This is GloBL — so despite the large eyes, you should be prepared for the artwork to feel fairly Western (preview pages can be found here). Artist Amelie Belcher’s characters are wonderfully expressive which makes it easy to understand and share the emotions of this lively bunch. She has mad skills with the adorable: both man and beast look downright huggable in these pages. There’s some native-peoples-inspired art used during a story-telling section that was quite well done. And the leads are both attractive. (Although it must be said that the way love interest Abalu is drawn, he is completely indistinguishable from a woman, at least while clothed. There are even some panels where the light hits his coat such that it looks like he has breasts and an hourglass figure! Our protagonist Anituk consistently looks like a boy, though, and a cute one at that, so at least there’s some eye candy for all of us.) Overall, I found the art both pleasing and compelling.

That said, according to writer Tina Anderson’s end note, this was artist Belcher’s first “entire manga” and there are places where that shows. The action scene in the first eight pages is utterly confusing and I had to re-read it several times to suss out exactly what happened (and where that attacking shark came from!). I had a similar reaction to a scene showing a battle between seals later where there simply weren’t enough panels of art to coherently tell that story. Also, character art wasn’t always distinct enough to avoid confusion, particularly for a black and white comic. (In close up framings, I sometimes couldn’t distinguish bearded brother Nifu from Anituk’s bearded father and, more disturbingly, love interest Abalu from Anituk’s mother.) Things improve greatly as the comic moves along, so I would encourage readers who are feeling impatient with the first pages to continue — the emotionally spot-on and humorous artwork in later pages is worth the bumpy ride through the early action scenes.

Also, I should note here, that the lettering is very present — especially the sound effects — and not always to helpful effect. More on that later.

Characters: Likable and memorable. Every male character has a distinct personality with clear motivations, and while there are a few disposable female love objects for Anituk’s brother to respond to, Mom feels three-dimensional as well. (And the overall tone is certainly woman-positive, even feminist, which is refreshing in a yaoi book.) Our hero, Anituk, starts off sulky, but his intense compassion for all living things, strong need for love and excitable nature soon overwhelm his pouting around so by page 30 we are left with an adorable, boyish goofball to root for. (He actually reminded me a bit of Ryoga with how strongly he felt everything — and that’s a good thing.) Love interest Abalu is optimistic and sweet with plenty of humorous quirks; I looked forward to his appearances. And Anituk’s lusty older brother, Nifu, provides some pleasant comic relief — as well as serving as an antagonist of sorts, but only to help give contrast to Anituk’s personality. There are no bad guys in this book.

Plot: The high concept here is “Boys Love during the Ice Age” and it’s definitely an intriguing hook. We start right in the action with toddler Anituk surviving a shark attack and pick up with him a legally convenient 16 years later as he struggles to prove himself a capable hunter. And that’s when he meets a mysterious and tremendously upbeat stranger who “comes from lands far south”, who seems to take an immediate liking to young Anituk and who won’t take “Stay away from me — you’re weird!” for an answer.

There are some complications touched on here and there, but this is essentially a story of true love overcoming inexperience. And thus, while there aren’t many surprises or obstacles, it’s a sweet ride. There was a fantasy-magical component that I wasn’t expecting — and won’t spoil here — which was fun and added to the prehistoric myth vibe that infuses this work (as well as offering an opportunity for some circle-of-life messaging which seems appropriate for younger readers.) And, while there was some bodily function humor that also made me think this might be intended for younger readers, there were a number of laugh-out-loud visual gags and clever dialogue wise-cracks that had me chuckling, a rarity. Once I got past those first pages, I was engaged and looked forward to finding out what happened next.

Romance: Sweet. Writer Anderson gives us appealing leads and takes the time to make us believe that these two would really like each other, so we root for them. There’s a hunting expedition and a nice scene of poetic storytelling along with other bits of alone time that create a believable bond. I found the thoughtful way Anderson unfolded the love story a pleasant break from the usual forced angst of other yaoi books.

Sex: You don’t see wee-wees or pubic hair, but it’s surprisingly explicit (at least in terms of what happens) for what otherwise feels like a yaoi book appropriate for readers in their early teens. The characters are often naked and the sex they engage in is believable for first-time encounters. Particularly refreshing is that they don’t immediately go for anal-intercourse which in real-life is rarely a guy’s first experience. The sex scenes were too brief to get my motor running, but they did add to the overall sweet and charming tone of the romance. So, at the very least, they consistently gave a rise to the corners of my mouth. 😉

Overall: Not without its flaws, this is a sweet and engaging yaoi comic by independent Western creators that delivers laughs and warms the heart. If you like your guy-on-guy romance to be cute and fun with strong characters who get adorably worked up and deserve to be together, it’s definitely worth the Kindle price of $4.99 and even the $8.00 pre-order for the print book. You won’t be disappointed.

Not age-rated by the publisher. Content-wise, I think many young teens would find it a good fit. With (albeit brief) scenes of oral sex and naked frottage, however, I would imagine many parents would prefer them to wait. Other publishers would probably rate this 16+. This publisher wishes publishers didn’t have to guess at such things…

Plot summary from the publisher’s website:

Romantic ice-age hilarity ensues as young whaler Anituk’s miserable life with doting parents and an oversexed wife-hunting brother is rudely interrupted by the arrival of Abalu, a tall handsome stranger who delights in encroaching upon Anituk’s angst.

So, Tina Anderson is a fellow Western yaoi creator and up to now, I’ve been hesitant to review her works. Partly this is because she has chosen subjects I know aren’t going to work for me — namely, stories of priests with nazis not to mention romances with mentally-challenged prostitutes (the latter book being, I’ve been told more than once, actually quite excellent). But mostly because she is an online friend and a good one. For my pals, unless I’m their “beta reader”, I really just want to offer encouragement, nothing more, and, in my reviews I can be, well… critical.

And there were things I found to be critical of in this book. In addition to the hiccups in the artwork, there were some logical glitches that gave me pause. On one page, our hero, Anituk, expresses extreme disbelief when Abalu claims his family has seen a land with warm water. He exclaims “They’re full of it! Because without snow and ice, there can be no life!” But, later when telling a beloved story about his family history, Anituk talks about his people coming from a land where “grass grew green… and snow only came when it was cold.” Doesn’t really track. Likewise, we clearly establish that the entire family shares a bed together each night (Abalu actually joins them to get close to Anituk), but when the time comes for our heroes to have sex, they seem to have a tent all to themselves. All nice and toasty and ready for them. In a sudden snow storm. Um, don’t those things take a little while to set up?

But let’s face — these are nitpicks. (And frankly, as a reader, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief quite a bit if it involves cute guys dropping trou.) A bigger concern has to do with the lettering of this comic.

Let me first say that lettering is hard and good lettering is very hard. I letter all the Yaoi 911 comics, it takes me many, many hours and, after those many hours, I’m still not 100% satisfied with the results. It’s an art as much as drawing and writing are — and it’s crucial because, much like sound in film, good lettering is invisible, but bad lettering will distract from the art and take you out of the story. Creating the individual balloons and tails using software is fiddly and there are elaborate conventions you must follow if you don’t want to confuse your reader. Frankly, it’s a bitch. So I have a great deal of sympathy for any creator saddled with this duty. Not easy.

Still, I found the the lettering in Loud Snow more distracting than it had to be. Right off the bat, I was put off by the font choice and large balloons — the typeface felt large and horsey to me and, as a reader, I prefer to see a lot more art and a lot less balloon and type in each panel than what I saw in this comic. My understanding is that the balloons were added after the art was created, so I wasn’t sure why they had to take up so much space and found myself wishing they weren’t covering up so much of the art.

Of course, your tastes and eyeglasses prescription may vary, so such aesthetic quibbles may not matter to you. A much bigger concern is that the balloons have no tails. (You know, those pointy things that are supposed to extend from the white circles to indicate who’s talking? Not there.) When there was more than one character in a panel, this presented a serious problem because I often couldn’t tell who was speaking. And that meant I had to re-read pages to understand the story (and there are some pages where I’m still not 100% sure who said what.) Not ideal. Moving a balloon closer to one character helps — and writer Anderson in her role as letterer does this — but sometimes it’s just not enough.

Now, I understand that there are Japanese comics that do not include tails, so perhaps it’s a stylistic choice. But many do and isn’t the advantage of GloBL that we can take the best of both worlds? I don’t care if it’s a proper curved tail or a simple black line pointing at a character — we need to know who’s saying what. Always.

Another concern with the lettering is, what feels to me anyway, an overuse of sound effects. Now, let me say that writer Anderson makes a manga-inspired choice with the sound effects I actually prefer over the Western approach — instead of struggling with onomatopoeia, she often simply uses descriptive words. So, rather than trying to come up with whatever mystical set of consonants would evoke the sound of dragging a dead seal (“SHhwweth”, perhaps?) she merely uses the word “DRAG” superimposed over a blank space in the panel. Very clear and to the point — as a reader I get it immediately and the story flows uninterrupted.

Descriptive sound effects can also be handy in a pinch where an action might not be clear in the art. Let’s face it, it can be tricky to show a physical movement in a single still panel, so sometimes it helps to throw in a “BRUSH” or a “RUB RUB RUB” to, again, keep the story flowing.

But there’s a fine line between making things clear and not trusting your artist. And when you are using sound effects for actions like “SEES”, “SMILE” and “FALLING”, you’ve definitely crossed that line. If you really can’t tell that a character — even an animal — has noticed its prey, the panel or page needs to be redrawn. And if that’s not possible, as the letterer, you just have to suck it up. Reading “SEES” or “SULK” or some other descriptive word for something in a panel that the reader knows should be clear in the art just feels intrusive.

I will say this is another thing that improves as the comic goes along, but it was something that took me out of the story on more than one occasion, even on later pages. As a writer, I am tremendously sympathetic to the temptation of going overboard with the sound effects– my most visible contribution are my words and this is my last chance to make things clear! — but a lot more restraint here would have made for a much more seamless reading experience.

In terms of the gay stuff, Anituk’s explanation for how he figured out he wasn’t like the other boys — that he really liked his own body more than the bodies of girls — also felt a bit off. In my own experience and those of my friends, it wasn’t the superior sexiness of our own bodies that we found compelling, but rather the superior sexiness of the bodies of other cute guys that caught our attention. As narcissism has often been cited as a cause of homosexuality, part of me bristled while reading that dialogue. But other than that one strange note, I should say everything else felt realistic, respectful and believable. Writer Anderson knows real, live gay people, thinks of them as real people instead of objects and it shows. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to a library section for gay youth.

So… after all that — do I think you should still get this book? Absolutely. Because despite these flaws, Loud Snow is just a darn good time. And that’s really what matters.

Unlike a lot of yaoi from the “mainstream” publishers, I found I actually cared about the characters in this book. Artist Belcher has taken the best of manga character conventions, namely cuteness coupled with clear and passionate emotion, and used it to great effect to illustrate writer Anderson’s likable and humorous goofballs. Even now as I flip through the pages of this manga, I continue to stumble on a facial expression that Anituk pulls as he reacts to some craziness around him that just makes me grin. And writer Anderson infuses these adorable sweethearts with motivations that are both understandable and compelling, something that 90% of other writers get dead wrong. This isn’t a complicated story, but neither were episodes of Ranma 1/2 or Tenchi Muyo or any of those other “regular clueless guy being pursued by a hottie” stories that are so entertaining to watch. Ultimately, I was charmed in the same way.

Loud Snow may have its rough edges, but here’s the thing — it’s gets all the important stuff right. Compelling characters, good humor, pleasing art and an hour of very pleasant yaoi reading. And if I’m paying money for a book that matters a hell of a lot more than production value. Yes, Loud Snow is an independently produced graphic novel and it feels that way. But it’s an entertaining and engaging independently produced graphic novel and that makes all the difference.

So, full disclosure: Tina’s an online pal, she’s the one who sent me the review copy and she’s a fellow Western creator, so I want to root for her. But here is my honest take — you should expect a few bumps, but if I’d have paid $4.99 for the Kindle edition or even $8.00 for the hard copy, I would feel it was money well spent. I think you will too.

Want a sweet story of boys living in the Ice Age that offers some good chuckles and leaves you with a smile? Then, yep, you should buy this book.

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7 comments

  1. Thanks so much for the review! Rough edges and all, I'm dying to get my copy of this book (pre-ordered it through her site). I also own Anderson's Only Words and love it to pieces, even with its dark themes.

    I wonder if there's a way to get her to release the English version of Games With Me in print. What's her bribe level? 😀

  2. @Hayden Thorne

    You're very welcome, Hayden – glad you liked it! 😀 And I think you'll enjoy the book once you've gotten it.

    I'm not sure what Tina's bribe level is for putting something into print. I would imagine she'd need a certain number of pre-orders to make it feasible. But I'll send a shout-out to her and maybe, if she has time, she'll be able to give you the real answer. 🙂

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