Bingo Love is cute as heck. It’s like The Notebook, if Nicholas Sparks weren’t a piece of over-processed, inorganic, white bread soaked in lukewarm milk. Fittingly, it’s coming to a comics shop near you on Valentine’s Day 2018 (that’s this Wednesday coming up!).
Written by Tee Franklin and illustrated by Jenn St-Onge, Bingo Love is the story of two Black women and their life-long love for each other. From their first meeting in a bingo hall at age 13, to their rejection by society four years later, to their reconciliation after 48 years (again in a bingo hall), this book is about ~fate~ and ~soul mates~ and ~true love~ in a way that sweeps you up while also still managing to feel genuine and approachable and not too cheesy — but it’s still pretty cheesy! It’s supposed to be cheesy! It’s a sweet romance! And, perhaps most importantly, it’s a sweet romance for people who all too often do not get sweet romances.
The story is narrated by Hazel Johnson, as a kind of retrospective of her life and of the love (both for Mari, her soulmate, and for her children/family) that defined it.
The year is 1963, and Hazel first sets eyes on Mari. All this panel’s missing are the shoujo flower screentones — but even still, the message is clear: this is a classic romance, a story of love at first sight.
It is ALSO the story of a loving and supportive friendship — a friendship that blossoms into something more. After four years of the internal struggle — can I risk our friendship? what if she doesn’t feel the same way? — the girls FINALLY admit their feelings for each other and experience the euphoric rush of true and reciprocated love.
But, like so many classic romances, there is something keeping our lovers apart — namely, social pressures (as represented here by their respective families). The same day that they are finally honest about their feelings for each other, that happiness it snatched away — all too soon, Mari’s grandmother discovers them making out by the front gate.
Hazel and Mari cannot understand how love could be a sin, or how something so beautiful that fills their hearts with such joy could be shameful.
After this quick peck on the cheek, Hazel knows that she wants to spend the rest of her life with Mari. The purity and beauty of this moment is so clear! Also! The decision here to dedicate a FULL PAGE to Hazel’s emotional reaction, to her daydreams, screams that this is a comic that focuses on women and their interiority — a comic about the worlds that exists inside of women, the stories and feelings that so often go unacknowledged! It is the purest and truest romance.
Years after this initial encounter, when they both know their true feelings, Hazel is willing to sacrifice her relationship with her family for this chance at true love. But, Mari isn’t so sure. She is ultimately unable to sever ties with her family, and so she does as they say: Mari moves down South and marries a preacher’s son. About a year later, Hazel’s family has found an Air Force pilot for her, and she goes along with it.
The years that follow are filled with love, of a kind — Hazel does truly love her children and the ensuing grandchildren. She allows that love to define her, and spends 48 years giving herself entirely to others, until one fateful day at the bingo hall.
I don’t want to give everything away here. I only want to say that Hazel is shown to be emotionally generous to a fault, and when the opportunity arrives to pursue true love, she struggles, deeply, with what that would mean for her family.
Hazel is complex — she is funny and strong and kind, but she is also stubborn — just as Mari is complex; she is sharp and successful and thoroughly affectionate, but she is also impulsive in a way that is sometimes thoughtless.
These characters are interesting! They are given the space and the time to show themselves as such, because this is their story! I’ll say it again: it’s a classic and sweet romance for people who all too often do not get classic and sweet romances!
Not only are these two Black women, but for a large part of the book, they’re two older, Black women; they’re shown exploring their sexual natures from the ages of 65 to 83. This is, ultimately, a story about two Black grandmas in love. And it’s cute as heck!
So much of the hype around this book has been due to the diversity of its characters, as well as the diversity of its creators. We’re finally at a point in comics where people who aren’t straight, white men are making stories about characters who aren’t straight, white men; and these stories are getting backed on Kickstarter for over $57,000 in 5 days; they’re being picked up by major publishers, like IMAGE — it’s a big deal!
It’s taken A LOT of hard work to get here — certainly hard work from the creators, but also hard work from the readers, seeking out these stories and (in the case of crowd-funded projects like this one) supporting their creation, and ultimately, making the market for these narratives known. This push for more diversity can only continue if our hard work continues. We need to create and we need to foster creativity; we need to support as many diverse voices as we can.
We need to stoke the flames of this Bingo Love hype so that everyone sees it — so that people who thought that comics or the comics industry weren’t really for them can see that maybe things are changing; so that big publishers know there’s a market for these stories by these creators, because we live in a capitalist hell and we can’t pretend like marketability doesn’t matter; but mostly so that everyone can experience the pure, sweet, goodness of this story that needs to be told — this story of two Black grandmas in love.