LovingLoving, Ohio

Writer: Matthew Erman
Artist: Sam Beck
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Scheduled Release: August 2024

Review by Sean Dillon

When looking at America from the outside with a critical lens, it’s pretty obvious that people frequently miss the point. Oftentimes, outsider perspectives focus on the failures that sprout from their own countries. Most of the time, the core critique is viewed as being an outgrowth of imperialism or fascism or capitalism (when those words aren’t synonyms). And while these are vital concepts to understanding the abject horror, outsider perspectives oftentimes boil down the nature of America to just these concepts. Everything else wrong with America is a symptom of the disease of Colonialism.
But this is missing the core flavor of it all. Yes, America is the by product of Imperialistic action that has resulted in countless deaths, cruelties, and horrors that are so monumental it staggers belief. But so’s England. The flavors of American cruelty, the ones currently making the world an abjectly worse place to live in, can not be boiled down to “England, but Bigger.” From the inside, it becomes all too clear what is wrong with America:
It’s a cult.
Consider, for example, the origins of America. While the foundations were built on the colonialist actions of the likes of Columbus, the actual people sailing on the Mayflower were religious exiles who rejected the societal norms and wanted their own land. In the centuries since, America has been the hot bed for a great number of cults from Heaven’s Gate to Charles Manson to Mormons (as explored in the excellent American Cult). To say nothing of the outgrowth of nigh fanatical worship of celebrity. Indeed, the methodology of separating kids from their parents, locking them up in cages, and indoctrinating them into worshiping a new God is very cult like indeed.
But nowhere is this thesis more potent than in Loving, Ohio. The graphic novel by Matthew Erman and Sam Beck tells the story of four kids in their senior year of high school. For a while now, other kids have been going missing in the town and there’s this mysterious Chorus Temple that has made its presence known. But what’s more interesting is how normal it all is. Sure, there’s a psychedelia to the colors utilized to tell the story and  there’s a supernatural killer stalking the streets. But the actual vibe of the book feels more in line with Tillie Walden than Emily Carrol.
Our four leads are painted with an air of humanity and warmth befit of many a coming of age story. In particular, our core protagonist Sloane is given a distinct melancholy as she deals with her father’s embrace of the cult at the heart of the book. We see her as at once an academic failure, a punk kid, a good friend, a coward, a hero, and so much more. There’s a warmth and empathy for our characters that truly makes you want them all to survive.
Like all great cult stories, it’s about the need for community. We see the rituals of the town, the mourning with music, the wandering through the woods, school, and so much more that makes a place a home. But there’s an emptiness to the town. Streets are often empty save for the leads. The only place full of people are schools and memorials. This is a dead town that is being feasted upon by a monster. The only thing that saves our characters is each other.
And I’m struck once again by the vibe. The low key, elliptical serenity that permeates the pages. Like looking at old photographs depicting the most horrific of things from your past. Most stories about cults opt to, in the words of Robyn Chapman, view the events “through the lens of scandal– the weirder and gorier the better. The members of these groups are nothing like us. They’re brainwashed freaks.” And it’s certainly true that Loving, Ohio is a weird and gory story. But it also remembers that these people are like us. They are us. They have families, experience hardship, do good things.
Because the monstrosity at the heart of America relies on us not noticing that there’s something wrong. That it’s not normal to watch kids get murdered in school halls. That it’s not acceptable to see people reject the reality of gender and sexuality and writing it off as a blight upon humanity. It’s not fine for kids to be put into cages. It’s not right that people think a plague can be denied because it’s curing us of the real blight upon this sacred world.
It’s not ok for kids to die.

You are not alone.

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