Queer Comic Review: The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal
Comics can offer empowerment to the powerless in some very literal ways, ever since the first superheroes got in their punches against the world’s greatest evils. But for a lot of people, some of the most powerful representation in comics can come in the most mundane of stories. When you don’t see yourself anywhere else, being able to see yourself in even one quiet, loving story can have an incredible impact.
And, of course, it helps if that story is objectively well told.
Both of these factors are what initially drew me to The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, the ongoing webcomic drama written and illustrated by E. K. Weaver. The actual story opens with Amal Chakaravarthy having just come out to his parents, calling off his arranged marriage, and subsequently being disowned. When he stops to compose himself at the bottom of a glass in a local bar, he finds himself agreeing to travel the across the length of the continental United States with TJ, a cheerfully enigmatic stranger. So begins the titular adventure.
And from there the title is mostly correct: there isn’t much that’s epic about the two’s lazy roadtrip. Most of the comic focuses on the developing relationship between the two unlikely carpoolers, whether it’s through their initial awkward icebreaker games or through the discovery of a shared love of Back to the Future. Weaver manages to perfectly capture the uneasy feeling of getting to know someone, and the even more nervewracking feeling of starting to care for them. The emotional payoff is masterfully paced, and the journey from awkward silences to genuine attachment is subtle and gradual while still reflecting the huge impact of these small emotional changes.
Even with the emotional aspect of the storytelling set aside, the technical components of the comic are nothing short of incredible. The art is incredibly expressive and detailed, and some of the most important moments in the comic come from a single shift in expression between panels. The backgrounds are all beautiful and carefully researched, with a lot of the locations along the trip being so faithfully rendered that you’ll believe you’ve been along for the ride the whole time.
A lot of the comic’s more personal appeal does come from the fact that Weaver’s story tells an unmistakably queer experience. Not only because the main love story is between two men, but because of the way it colors their relationship to the world and the people around them. The story acknowledges the unique challenges faced by both characters without making them appear insurmountable. While that may not seem to be that big of a deal, it’s surprisingly refreshing to see a narrative that recognizes the realities of queer life without painting it as inevitably tragic. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a sweet love story.
Currently the comic is rapidly reaching its planned conclusion with estimates placing the ending somewhere in spring 2014, making now a perfect time to get caught up. The whole thing can be read for free online at the comic’s website, and if you’ve really enjoyed the content, you can find physical copies available for purchase through the their store. If you find yourself loving the comic as I do, you won’t think twice about paying for something that’s technically free.
(It should be noted that TJ and Amal deals unapologetically with some adult subjects, with its fair share of both sexual and drug-related content. These instances are handled very well in the context of the work, but they’re significant enough that I wouldn’t recommend reading just yet if you’re under 18.)
Ellen Perry is a Guest contributor at InQueery and a volunteer at the Pacific Center