[This review is by B. I pointed him towards this comic at MoCCA. I have been really busy, so he kindly wrote this review to keep it fresh in tryharderland. Enjoy. And, if you were wondering, I feel pretty much the same as he did about the book.]
Just two pages into Black Mane I felt like Michael LaRiccia was calling me out. Within those first couple of pages, a Boston townie motorist-cum-monster apparently mistakes Mike, Black Mane’s protagonist, for someone of Middle Eastern descent. And throughout the book, many others seem to assume Mike is Indian, Latino, or some other “other.” Embarrassingly enough, these moments in the book reminded me of my own surprise when the swarthy guy who sold me the book at MOCCA Fest—who, I admit, had registered as, most likely, Latino in my mind’s eye—revealed that he was, in fact, the (Italian-American) author. Having read his book, I have to wonder now whether he could actually see the thought bubble above my head asking, perplexedly, “Italian?”
This is the sort of often-cringeworthy confusion that Black Mane so effectively captures. Mike constantly questions where he fits in in a world that, in varying degrees of subtlety, shows itself to have serious, serious issues with race and, predominantly, gender. Yes, much like the real world, though I suspect most people experience it in a more coded, less jarring way than Mike does--sometimes the brutality of certain episodes in the book detracts from LaRiccia’s generally incisive observations. But this is probably largely because the art is so damn good at capturing the violence that runs throughout the narrative. Rage, frustration, righteous anger—they all cause the male characters experiencing them to metamorphosize over the course of two, three, four panels into truly disturbing beasts. A guy who thinks his girlfriend is cheating on him turns quasi-demonic, eyes bulging and teeth sharpening, while he scrabbles at her car window. A dude being ejected from a nightclub snarls and salivates, his skin all craggy and reptilian as he resists the bouncers and screams (yes, misguided) racial slurs at Mike. But don’t fret, Mike himself has an alter ego—a creature that seems about equal parts lion, bear, and man topped off with the titular wild black mane of hair. Kind of like the meanest, scariest troll doll you could conjure up on your darkest, evilest bad trip.
As a Boston-born, Italian-American, sensitive guy-type myself, I saw a lot that looked familiar in Black Mane. And I suspect the book speaks particularly well, though certainly not exclusively, to other guys who think a certain way about the world and, probably as a result, have a certain amount of righteous indignation, but who realize, like Mike, that they are just “not a fighter.” And hey, that works. As the book suggests, plenty of fucked-up situations can be remedied without going all Black Mane and beating the shit out of the bad guy. Sometimes all you need to do is be smart enough to tell someone who’s bigger than him.