Lovers in the Garden
Anya Davidson has done it again. She has produced an amazingly vibrant tale of intertwining storylines that come together with a bang, quite literally, as the story comes to a head in a shootout that leaves you wondering who will survive. We follow several characters as they navigate the world of New York City in the 70s, each looking out for number one and each with an end goal that involves the unknowing participation of the others. The story thrums with the hopes and expectations of each character, some dovetailing, some at complete odds with each other. Who will prevail? Davidson ups the ante with each subsequent chapter, and the reader, like a “lobster in a pot of [boiling] water,” gradually recognizes that not everyone—perhaps no one—can come out unscathed.
This is a story of desire. The title, Lovers in the Garden, refers to a 17th-century Japanese print that the drug lord, Dead Dog, has acquired. The print portrays the desires of a samurai and a courtesan, and is emblematic of the desires of each character, for love, for recognition, for escape, for fame. These desires drive each character to go to great lengths to get what they want, but each character is not without complication; they have multiple dimensions that make them spring from the page just as do the vibrant colours that are used to depict them.
Davidson’s three-row panel structure marches mercilessly onwards, drawing the reader with it towards an inevitable explosive meeting of characters. In typical Davidson style, the colours are fantastically intense, expertly blended and layered, increasing the intensity of the story itself. With colours like these, it’s impossible to have a dull moment. In panels where the dialogue threatens to overwhelm the artwork, the colours save the day, blazoning with the determination characteristic of Davidson’s work. A combination of pencil crayon and marker should give Davidson’s work an unfinished look, but the opposite is true. It is incredibly satisfying to see all the layers of colours come together to form something greater than the sum of their parts. Constantly shifting, melding, and merging, Davidson’s colours add a third dimension to her clean line work, bringing characters and places to life.
In Lovers in the Garden, there is no one single protagonist to root for, and it’s up to the reader to decide which characters, if any, are sympathetic. There is Elyse, the hard-partying, hard-working reporter who is determined to expose corruption involving the drug trade in New York City. Rosa is a cop hell-bent on making lieutenant; she is harnessing Elyse’s determination to her own interests, sharing information about the big bust that is coming so that she will be front and centre in the news story when it breaks. Flashback and Shephard are grunts in the drug trade, unenthusiastic hitmen who dream of getting out. While Shephard believes it’s a possibility, Flashback has a more realistic viewpoint and doubts that their boss, Dead Dog, will let them go. And then there are the lovers and faux lovers. Chip wishes that Elyse would take it a bit easier on the booze, and Elyse responds by threatening to ditch him: “I like to fuck pretty boys but the minute they start telling me what to do, I’m through with them!” Shephard is in love with Coral Gables, the undercover alter ego of Rosa the cop, who is sleeping with him to get information. No love is ideal in this story, just as no situation is ideal, and everyone fumbles towards their end goal, improvising as they go.
The beauty in this story lies in the way that these characters’ stories swirl around each other before spiralling down and together into one culminating moment where the shit hits the fan. Davidson expertly switches between storylines, playing one off the other as each character moves towards the inevitable—and sometimes unforeseen—consequences of their desires. Has Rosa decided to move too quickly on her big bust? Will Elyse’s hangover affect her ability to capture the big moment for posterity? Will Flashback and Shephard be able to escape the hit that Dead Dog put on their heads? The way she switches perspectives between characters is mirrored by the way Davidson switches perspectives in her artwork. We see every scene from many angles—close-ups, medium and wide shots, top down, straight on—thereby expanding our understanding of the layout of each setting, just as our understanding of the plot is expanded with each chapter.
One thing Davidson doesn’t do is tie things up neatly with a bow, and the reader is left with unanswered questions. This contributes to the realistic tone of the work: even though events seem to lead up to one defining moment, that is not the end of the story, and it would be misleading to imply otherwise. A desire once met will be succeeded by another desire, and some desires are never achieved at all. Davidson illustrates both these truths in Lovers in the Garden, subverting the tendency that we have as humans to tell stories with distinct endings—in spite of the fact that this rarely happens in real life.
Writer/Artist: Anya Davidson
Publisher: Retrofit/Big Planet Comics