THE COMPLETE LOCKPICK PORNOGRAPHY
By Joey Comeau
You may be wondering about the title. What we have here is a bundling of Toronto author Joey Comeau’s Lockpick Pornography together with the novella We All Got It Coming, which is billed as a “thematic sequel.”
The narrators of both stories are Angry Gay Men, and this is what provides the thematic continuity. Their anger is a physical, irrational force that expresses itself in acts of violence and vandalism aimed at heterosexual people and straight culture in general. Lockpick Pornography sets the tone in its first sentence, with the main character putting his boot through the screen of a TV set and then heading out to a straight neighbourhood to steal a replacement.
Why a straight neighbourhood? He is candid: “I steal from straight people because I just don’t like them.”
This unabashed heterophobia proceeds to escalate, as the narrator forms a gang of “genderqueer” crusaders who break into schools to plant gay literature in classrooms and then move on to incidents of random assault and even kidnapping. In the case of Arthur, the hero of We All Got It Coming, the acting out is less dramatic but the anger is still there: like “a pressure behind my right eye” that “keeps on building until I don’t know what to do with it.”
A lot of great writing is fueled by anger, and the source of these characters’ rage – the kinds of casual insults and public discrimination they experience daily – is obvious enough. But their attitude and edge is undercut by the recognition that their mode of response is both “angry and juvenile.”
The people in Comeau’s stories are all young, educated, oversexed and underemployed. Looked at one way, they are like characters from a hardcore Douglas Coupland novel: imbued with the same sense of arrested maturity and small group solidarity, only getting more action. But they also borrow features that are prominent in Comeau’s other work: comic strip writing and horror fiction.
There’s a smaller step than one might imagine moving from Comeau’s last (and best) book, the zombie romp One Bloody Thing After Another to The Complete Lockpick Pornography. Read allegorically, Comeau’s rebellious gays are a besieged community of humanity surrounded by hosts of hetero living dead: zombies of mindless consumerism and straightness that can be attacked, with justification, almost at random. This makes the violence a little unreal – more juvenile, less angry – to the point that when we see strangers being punched in the gut or kicked in the balls it almost seems as though we’re watching a cartoon.
And that is also in character. Comeau is probably best known for his long-running Internet photo-comic A Softer World, and so it’s not too surprising that many of his characters see life as a cartoon or comic strip. But while comics, as we have been regularly told for a while now, are “no longer just for kids,” when the queer gang in Lockpick Pornography wear Bert and Ernie, She-Ra and Velma masks, we may feel there’s some regressing going on. Nevertheless, in We All Got It Coming Arthur defends his preference for Calvin and Hobbes over Anna Karenina because “Comic books are fun. They’re exciting and silly, and they can be about important things when they want to be.”
This is a line that nicely expresses a tension Comeau can’t resolve: between the angry and the juvenile, the important and the silly. A smart, hip, highly readable author, his writing is adult-oriented but not quite mature.
Review first published online June 3, 2013.