Review: 'The Lengths', by Howard Hardiman
Eddie, a twenty-something struggling into adulthood as best he can, should be happy that he's got together with Dan, an old friend from art school; but there's a problem. Eddie is also Ford, an escort who has sex with strangers for money. To complicate matters further, he has a hopeless crush on his musclebound pimp, Nelson (as in 'Nelson's Column'). How long can Eddie hide his secret from Dan, and how did he get here in the first place?
Comics about the sex lives of anthropomorphic dogs are pretty common within the furry fandom. Comics on that subject by non-furries are rarer, especially comics praised by both Gay Times and Forbidden Planet International. So when a friend offered me The Lengths, a series of comics by Howard Hardiman about, in the artist's own words, 'dog-headed male prostitutes', I snapped it up.
The Lengths consists of eight issues, the last two in a double volume. Stapled black and white softcover, 28 pages per issue. Individual issues cost £2.50 or £3. A folder containing issues 1–6 is also available for £20.
Over the course of the story arc, we follow Eddie's increasingly desperate attempts to keep his two lives separate. As his relationship with Dan gets closer and his working life seedier, it's obvious that he's going to have to choose between them, but he puts his decision off for as long as possible. Through flashbacks, we see Eddie at art college with Dan and their respective boyfriends, James and Krys, and watch as he leaves his circle of friends to follow the unattainable Nelson into his adult world of paid sex.
Spoiled by the lush, detailed artwork found in furry comics, I found the style of The Lengths crude at first. The pages are black and white and the text is hand-lettered, giving the pages an appropriately zine-like feel.
I thought the artwork improved after issue 1 as the artist got to know his characters, or maybe I just tuned in to it. The London landscape is realistic and evocative, while the clothes and body language of Eddie and his friends conveys a lot of information about their characteristics and relationships. Everyone knows an uptight hipster like Dan, or a laid-back songwriter like James.
Although it's set in the murky world of prostitution, the art avoids the seamier side of things. Sexual acts are presented in a low-key manner, with genitalia always just out of frame or conveniently masked by objects in the foreground. There are, however, plenty of dogs' bodies on display, with enough variety - muscular, skinny, chubby - to suit every taste. (Predictably, my preferred eye candy was the husky character, Tony.)
It took me a couple of issues to notice that the characters don't have tails, although their hands are pawlike, with claws instead of nails. Perhaps the artist thought tails would look too twee, or maybe in this world dogs shed their tails as they evolved.
Many beautifully-drawn comics are let down by poor text. That's certainly not the case here. Speech patterns flow smoothly; the dialogue is modern, idiomatic and often very funny, as when Eddie and Dan converse in internetspeak. The language is rich and modern: spaff, munter, actualolwhut.
Hardiman interviewed male prostitutes while researching the comic, and the little details, both textual and artistic, are all convincing.
I have few criticisms of The Lengths, which I rattled through at a great rate. Read like this rather than issue by issue, the story seemed rather slow-moving - a common problem with works originally released as a series - but I enjoyed immersing myself in Eddie's world too much to mind.
Hardiman deftly avoids melodrama, making the story believable, but perhaps errs too far the other way. Although it's clear that this is a seedy world, Eddie/Ford never seems to be in any danger, or even particularly unhappy, so the tension is never cranked up. The worst that can happen is the loss of dignity that goes with shagging some 'fugly munter'. But his malcontent, 'meh' attitude, the idea that something, somewhere has gone wrong with your life and you can't work out how to fix it, will strike a chord with a lot of readers, regardless of lifestyle or sexual preferences.
Individual issues or the complete collection of The Lengths can be purchased from Hardiman's website.