|Review by Lily Fierro|
Written and illustrated by Jeremy Sorese
Published by Nobrow Press
Released on November 17, 2015
ISBN-10: 191062005X / ISBN-13: 978-1910620052
When you open up Curveball, you cannot in any right mind deny Jeremy Sorese’s impeccable visual style, one so exquisite and palpable that you wish his futuristic, science fiction city and his sea actually existed. In fact, the artwork was so bold and outstanding that I let out a bit of a gasp when I opened up the first page and demanded my husband to look at it before I continued to read further.
Sadly, I wish I could offer the same praise for the narrative of the novel. Underneath the robots, the space scooters, and the sparks (catastrophic bursts of energy that attempt to restore energy homeostasis in the Curveball world) lies a basic love story of longing and pining, one as emotionally complex as any of Jane Austen’s tales of repressed and then reconciled love in the Victorian era.
Though Avery, the protagonist, is a genderqueer individual, she lacks any personality elements beyond their longing for Christophe who is away at sea, making them as forgettable of a character as any in a romantic novel/sitcom/film where the lead protagonist becomes consumed by his/her/their love for someone who does not feel the same in return.
Before you read on and before I continue, I should say that I have never enjoyed Jane Austen type romances. It’s a matter of personal taste, and if extended pining leading up to some enlightenment or resolution of that irrational desire for an individual who does not feel the same is something you enjoy, you may like Curveball as a love story, but you should not triumph it as a groundbreaking story about love for a genderqueer person because it fundamentally does not explore anything about Avery as an individual beyond their obsession.
We get glimpses into Avery’s friendship with their roommate and confidante Jacqueline, but all of their interactions still remain connected to Avery’s lovesick puppy syndrome. We also get some cool machines (including a handheld decrypter, the device that inspired the name of the book) and robots, some corny jokes, and a few scenes of work dysfunction to evoke some level of humor and interest, but these are all mouldings and paint on an rickety, prefabricated house frame.
Given that Avery’s existence as a human stems entirely from their love, why did Sorese decide that his primary protagonist would be genderqueer when we know nothing further about Avery in their gender, sexuality, or really any traits of character? I know Elizabeth Bennet’s motivations and her character (even though I could care less about her), but I just know nothing about Avery Burd, making me even more indifferent about their trajectory over the course of Curveball.
Sure, love is a universal concept, but when the experience of pining love is all you have to empathize with in a modern story, it all feels too thin.
Perhaps I can speculate that Sorese wants to portray Avery’s love like that of every other female we’ve seen in romantic Victorian literature in order to evoke empathy despite the difference in sexual and gender identity, but given that we never get any exploration into Avery’s character, the final story of Avery’s love for the sailor Christophe feels wholly unoriginal and frustratingly all too familiar and facile, preventing me from relating to Avery in any way. I guess I’m just not hopelessly romantic enough…
I so badly wanted Curveball to succeed; it’s an exceptionally beautiful book in appearance, containing nuances of style from Max Beckmann and even Joan Miró. Unfortunately, all of the stunning lines, shadows, and bursts of abstraction in the company of more traditional cartooning techniques exist to support a weak story and cast of characters.
And as a result, Curveball is more exciting and alluring as a coffee table book rather than as a complete graphic novel.