A quick little warning The Lengths is not for the faint hearted. It portrays the lifestyle of Eddie, a young gay escort in the hustle that is London. It contains some pages that may offend readers but are required to make sure Howard Hardiman’s story is told in the manner in which he wishes.
Sketched out in a black and white contrast, the artwork sets the background for a powerful script. The black and white style lets the writer dictate the flow and rhythm of the story, expanding from smaller intimate scenes to the larger ones that gives us a insight to Eddie’s crazy life. The front page immediately catches your eye as Hardiman has cast all of his characters as humans, but with the heads of dogs, as well as other canine features such as fingernails being replaced with claws. The style is reminiscent of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, where a similar animal based visual metaphor is used.
For me, drawing everyone with dog heads may symbolize the writer’s feelings to how he sees the human race more like the animal kingdom. The stronger more muscular males are drawn as larger dogs such as the bullmastiff, while the smaller less significant male is portrayed as something weaker and smaller like the collie. Throughout the story, Eddie is confronted with different types of personalities and these are reflected in the type of dogs as well. The rough type being drawn once again as the bullmastiff drawing comparisons to there animalistic nature in the wild.
Not just to be judged as the comic with the dog heads, The Lengths tells a powerful tale of a chaotic and even heart warming story of how a once normal boy leaves his life as an art student to become indulged in the rush and man muscle that is male escorting in London. The dog heads never impact the story so don’t judge it to much on the artwork, there are far more important aspects that made Hardiman’s comic stand above the rest. One of these include the exclusion of speech bubbles. Instead he decided to use the speech as just floating text without any arrows or markings to indicate which character is speaking, although this never clashes too much beyond the few occasions where Eddie has a few inner thoughts that leaves you wondering what exactly is going on.
Eddie’s lifestyle splits opinions between those he meets; to his friends he is a young lad trying to enter manhood and jumps from one relationship to the other or to be crude simply jumping from bed to bed with numerous partners. On the other side of the coin to his clients Eddie is called Ford. As in Ford Escort, a witty and a lighthearted reference the writer drops in to make the novel more than just a twisted cruel world. Of course only Eddie finds this joke funny and throughout this all you find yourself sensing Eddie is searching for something more throughout his numerous sex partners all trying to fill a gap in their lives. Without any luck he winds up feeling like shit and filth looking for a way out. At his all time low he finds himself feeling disgusted seeing himself being advertised in an adult magazine.
Trying to keep business and his personal life separate, Eddie constantly worries about his two lifestyles colliding, using two phones to draw a line between them both, although in one hilarious scene Eddie is seen peeing on one of his client’s while checking his twitter account. Just another clever twist in a story you find yourself getting more and more hooked on. Based on actual interviews with ex-male escorts, The Lengths tells only half the story, with the other half being told through Eddies eyes used only to generate ideas and provide information not shape the mold of the story. Although it provides another dimension to the underground of male escorts that you could find you self wanting to know more.
The Lengths offer a bold alternative to the norm behind the sex and dog heads it offers a bittersweet love story that has you cheering on the lead characters to finally get together. Hardiman deserves praise for the use of so many controversial techniques and for £20 The Lengths could find its way into your favorites list and if you fancy something that’s completely different to what you would buy, then it’s a must read.
Written, drawn and published by Howard Hardiman, The Lengths is available in UK Comic shops and online here.