The first collection of Jon Allen’s webcomic, Ohio Is For Sale, delivered some good laughs and clever themes. His new book, The Lonesome Era, apparently pulls some material from the same webcomic but expands significantly on that, creating this thoughtful, amusing coming of age tale.
Jeremiah is a bit of a train wreck, but Camden is secretly in love with him. There are several apparent problems with this scenario. One, Jeremiah and Camden have been buddies since they were little kids, so love will surely complicate things. Two, Jeremiah is not gay. Three, Jeremiah does not know that Camden is gay. In fact, no one does. Four, Jeremiah, as I said, is a bit of a train wreck, specifically in that way teenage boys can be train wrecks, and any action, any ill-considered word out of his mouth, seems to spell calamity for Camden. And five, it’s still the 1990s, so things have evolved, but coming out is obviously not the easiest thing to do.
Camden is a cautious guy with a sweet demeanor and some low-key interests, like astronomy. But he also likes metal and at a concert one night, events orchestrated by Jeremiah conspire and then careen out of control, resulting in a skateboarding accident and a broken leg, not to mention some law-breaking that’s a bit out of character for Camden. No surprise it’s mostly Jeremiah’s fault. Jeremiah has a way of fast-talking, especially when he comes up with an idea that no way should anyone follow through with, but the mix of Camden’s crush on him and the pushy insistence that forces frantic in-the-moment decision has a way of causing bad situation after bad situation.
Back to problem number five, though. One of the reasons coming out is not so easy is because of the casual homophobia that comes out of people’s mouths, most importantly Jeremiah’s, who, like so many, uses words like “queer” as an insult to some perceived failure of manhood. It’s just guy talk in that context — reprehensible guy talk — and the culture creates a situation where those who use that language are typically oblivious that they might have gay friends who are personally insulted and even wounded by the usage, not to mention shamed and made fearful of revealing their secret. And when friends and bullies alike affect the same language, keeping the secret is not a choice that is made, but a matter of survival.
If this all sounds heavy, well, it is, but that’s not typically Allen’s vibe. Camden is a cat and Jeremiah is a monkey, and the humor of their appearance is matched by the slapstick of their adventures, as well as the sharp humor of Allen’s dialogue. And while the queer issues are front and center, this is effectively a coming-of-age story that I think anyone can find themselves in even if they haven’t gone through the circumstances that Camden has. We’ve all similar challenges at that age, they just take different forms depending on the circumstance. It’s easy and valuable to find commonality in stories that are on the surface about your identity, I think. That’s how understanding spreads through society and works like The Lonesome Era are valuable in that respect.