Written by Jamie S. Rich
Art by Joëlle Jones
152 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press
There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship. Popular culture likes to insist that there is, be it in books, comics, movies, or some other form of media. The reality, of course, is that relationships do have conflicts sooner or later; the real question isn’t so much how long until one hits that conflict, but rather how the people involved then deal with its resolution. I think that’s what hit me so much about Jamie S. Rich and Joëlle Jones’s 12 Reasons Why I Love Her; it’s a book that is as much about the good times as the bad times, but even more so it’s about how each of those extremes shift into the other.
Gwen and Evan met entirely by chance at a movie theatre, but their shared disdain for a third party became a like for each other. As the two begin to get to know each other, though, the fact that their lives are nothing like what they saw in their meeting place is becoming readily obvious. In the end, should Gwen and Evan really stay together?
Rich’s writing in 12 Reasons Why I Love Her shows a real understanding of how people interact. In some ways, reading the graphic novel is a voyeuristic process because Rich doesn’t hold anything back in his showing the ups and downs in Gwen and Evan’s relationship. From raw emotion to carefully phrased responses, every word and action rings true here. That doesn’t mean that Rich can’t be a romantic when he wants to be, though. For 12 Reasons Why I Love Her to work, Gwen and Evan’s love for each other needs to be just as realistic as their problems, and we absolutely get that here. They’ve got real chemistry, and Rich doesn’t let us doubt the sincerity in emotion for each other.
One thing that Rich does in the presentation of 12 Reasons Why I Love Her is present each of the twelve chapters that make up the book out of chronological order. Looking at the order that Rich chose, it’s clear that a very calculated, deliberate decision. The point of doing so doesn’t seem to be for the sake of a gimmick, but rather to provide an immediate contrast between the good and bad moments in Gwen and Evan’s lives. Shifting from the bad ending of their first date to the two celebrating their one-year anniversary shows us each end of their spectrum. The difference in mood between the two is all the more notable because we don’t immediately see everything that bridged the two, as well as the added amusement of going from a dramatic kiss-off at the end of their first date to the intimate tenderness that opens the next scene. If readers want they can certainly sit down and shuffle all the chapters together in chronological order (it’s not that hard), and doing so still results in a good read. As the book’s order stands, though, it’s actually a stronger finished product because Rich is able to move the reader so quickly through Gwen and Evan’s highs and lows.
If one was to compare Jones to other comic artists, it’s easy to see a certain similarity between her art and that of Chris Bachalo earlier in his career. It’s a very stylized art, one with sharp locks of hair and expressions that light up a character’s face. There’s an energy about her art, too; for a book that is light on actual physical action, you get a strong sense of movement that drives you through its pages. Jones’s contribution with author Sarah Grace McCandless to Dark Horse’s Sexy Chix anthology was one of the strongest pieces in the book, but the refinement and additional level of talent on display here is impressive.
12 Reasons Why I Love Her enjoys occasionally playing with the form of comics. It’s to Rich’s and Jones’s credit that a chapter composed of four full-page portraits for each of the four seasons (with accompanying narration) comes across as interesting rather than self-indulgent, for example. Some of the experimentation works better than others; the two pages of Gwen’s face drawn in a six-panel grid while the dialogue is laid over the drawings comes across as a little too trying to be different, while Evan’s narration over portraits of Gwen’s dreams is a perfect contrast to the “four seasons” chapter, the creators really selling each page as interesting and attractive. Best of all, while the temptation may have certainly been there to make each of the twelve chapters in a completely different style, that’s not the case here. Rich and Jones once again understand the idea of how to create a contrast; the difference in form in some of the chapters wouldn’t stand out if there was nothing to compare it to.
Between Love the Way You Love and now 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, Rich seems determined to create comics with the word “love” in the title. So far, that’s proven to be a very good thing for readers. 12 Reasons Why I Love Her is charming and memorable, handsomely written and drawn. For some time it seemed like the only way to get good comics about relationships was to import them from Japan. 12 Reasons Why I Love Her proves that the art of romance is anything but dead in comics.