Written by Tee Franklin
Art by Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, and Cardinal Rae
Published by Image Comics/Inclusive Press
Release Date: February 14, 2018
Imagine living most of your life, knowing what true love is, and not being able to have it.
And then it returns to you in an instant. And it turns your life upside down.
That’s Bingo Love.
Coming off the wild success of a Kickstarter and rolling into 2018 with a release by Image Comics, Bingo Love is the brainchild of writer Tee Franklin, known for years in comics industry circles as the creator of the #BlackComicsMonth hashtag and vocal advocate for inclusion, especially for Black women creators. And with this original graphic novel, hopefully the first of many for the characters, Franklin has put her time and money where her mouth is.
Framed as a story told by an 88-year-old woman looking back upon her life, Bingo Love takes a first person, retro look at what it was like, as a young Black girl in 1963, to realize she was in love with her best friend in a time where that just wasn’t something young girls did.
So much of what we read in looking back at the era both before and after the Stonewall Riots can speak of lost love and the individual pain of being queer and in the closet. But very little of it recalls that not every person was able to break through and, frankly, abandon their families to speak out in the 1970s, into the 1980s, and even today. It’s a presumption by many comic readers, in fact, that people — and thus characters — don’t ever lead a full heteronormative life of dating, marriage, and children, only to come out as queer later on.
And true, Bingo Love is likely not going to be for those readers. But it does recognize a truth, among many, that doesn’t often fit into the popular paradigm of the common “Love is Love” messaging — that family and tradition can still oppress the truth of one’s sexuality, even in 2018 and even when other types of love are present.
I say “among many” because truly, Bingo Love is the perfect storm of representation for queerness, Black women (who are desperately absent from mainstream comics, and not for lack of desire or effort on their part), larger bodies, and age — as we follow Elle and Mari from age 13 all the way into their eighties, as time becomes as much an antagonist as the presumption that good girls marry good boys and make babies.
Franklin carries that notion of time well throughout the book, almost giving us these slivers of frozen minutes at key moments, accentuated by the pink haze colorist Joy San applies. Yes, the march of age is unavoidable in Bingo Love, but it’s not a roadblock to happiness as much as an impetus for the desire these two women have to be together. At times, it does feel that the combination of retelling from the future and the first person narrative results in less nuanced dialogue, owing partly to telling a BIG story in compressed form, and partly I believe as a way to keep the book very all-ages welcoming.
Which is a very big deal. As one representation of Black women, Black families, and unorthodox queerness, Bingo Love tackles so many things the comics industry doesn’t just shy away from, but are fully ignorant of their existence. Franklin isn’t positing Bingo Love as any universal representation of any of the above, but I imagine it would be hard for a lot of readers who rarely see themselves on the page not to get a burst of revelation from the story she’s telling. It’s important to know this isn’t the first book heralding representation of Black queer women, but it means something that it feels like an encouragement for more in the future with the specificity it lends the tale.
So much of that specificity is shored up magnificently by Jenn St-Onge’s work throughout Bingo Love, as she funnels the care and consideration she gave female bodies in Jem and the Holograms into an even more deliberate volume. From the very start, St-Onge gives Elle a specific body type that remains consistent with age, while taking the opportunity to evolve Mari’s from childhood to adulthood and into some bit of frailty at the end of her life.
And the hair! Look at any page with more than a handful of women characters and you get as distinctive and different a look for each character as you would in a super-hero comic with costuming. And the moments where Franklin is inserting hair care — even as simple an instance as Elle not putting up her hair for a night — are brought to life by St-Onge’s smooth sense of curve and curl in every panel. Everything has weight, but is given life and lightness through the artist’s care not to overwork and subtle balance of line.
There’s so much to be said about the virtues this art team brings to the story, from the deliberate shades of brown skin colors by San, to the power that letterer Cardinal Rae gives to certain key moments. It matters when an internal sigh is tucked tiny into a panel corner as much as the way word balloons trail when the speaker is losing steam or confidence. It’s rare to see a creative team so in sync with the delivery of a vision, but when you are developing a graphic novel that will likely have as much shelf-life and importance as Bingo Love, it’s critical.
Bingo Love represents a moment in the path to inclusion for comics that the industry needs to acknowledge and spend some time thinking about. The last few years have been a struggle, with many many successes in self-publishing that are only very slowly making their way into the larger landscape of corporate comic books. And to some degree, that’s ok. Not every creator’s path is to make it big at DC, Marvel, or even Image. It doesn’t have to be.
But for the rest of our sakes, the readers and those looking to see the comics industry as a whole break beyond the narrow worldview it’s supported for over 80 years, we need this book — and others like it — to serve as an allegory for what can be possible. Elle and Mari knew something was missing, just like we do. And making that break to get something truly RIGHT is hard. But Bingo Love shows us it’s worth it. It’s worth it.
The Verdict: 9.5/10