~written by Dale Lazarov
~illustrated by Amy Colburn and Dominic Cordoba

Out of all of Dale Lazarov's gay erotic comics collections to have so far been released in print--Sticky, Manly, Nightlife, and Good Sports--my personal favorite is Manly. Released in 2008 by Germany-based publishing house Bruno Gmünder (which specializes in gay fiction, nonfiction, comics, art, and photography), Manly was Lazarov's second collaboration to be released by the publisher. In the case of Manly, comics writer Lazarov worked closely with Amy Colburn, a homoerotic illustrator from Virginia. Manly was Colburn's publishing debut as a comics artist. Dominic Cordoba also contributed to the volume by providing the color work. Lazarov self-describes his work as "smart, wholesome gay comics smut" which I feel is an entirely apt description. I would also agree that Manly, which was my introduction to Lazarov's comics, fits that mold perfectly.

Manly collects three short, unrelated erotic gay comics: "Busted," "Clinch," and "Hot Librarian." I say unrelated because the stories do not share any plot or characters with each other, but they do all feature a pair of masculine men who take great pleasure in each other's company. The collection opens with "Busted" in which a civilian aids in the arrest of a criminal, gaining the attention of the lead ATF agent working on the case in the process. In "Clinch," a retired championship boxer and a successful, up-and-coming younger fighter discover their mutual admiration and attraction. Manly closes with "Hot Librarian" which follows a man new to the gay club scene who, after an awkward start, ends up finding love in the stacks instead. As a librarian myself, I couldn't hep but have a particular fondness for "Hot Librarian," but I enjoyed all three comics a great deal; "Clinch" appealed to my interest in fighting arts and the leads in "Busted" were incredibly endearing.

As is true of all of Lazarov's comics, there is no dialogue or narration in Manly meaning that there are very few textual clues to move the narrative along. Instead, there is an even greater reliance on the artwork to carry the story. Fortunately, Colburn is up to the task and handles it very well. Because Manly is largely wordless it allows the comics to be enjoyed by a wider audience without having to worry about language barriers. Since there are no words to slow readers down there is a temptation to rush through the volume as a result, but to do so would mean missing some of the more subtle aspects of the stories--facial expressions, body language, and so on. At the same time, because there is so little text, readers must engage with the comics on an almost participatory level in the creation and interpretation of the stories. And there actually are stories in Manly. I liked that there was a bit of plot to go along with all the sex (and there's plenty of sex, too.) For me, the balance of those two elements in Manly worked nicely.

Manly is sexy and sweet with a touch of humor and a lot of joy. It celebrates the physical intimacy between its men. The comics are explicit with nothing to hide but I wouldn't exactly call them graphic, either. It was great to see an emphasis on safer sex and condom use. In fact, in one story the lack of condoms means that the men have to get a little more creative in their play. Manly is sex-positive and the delight the men find with each other is wonderful. I was consistently left with a smile and even an occasional chuckle. I liked that the men in Manly actually established relationships with each other. To them the sex was more meaningful than just a casual encounter. Although the men in Manly are all unquestionably masculine, I appreciated the range of ethnicities, ages, and body-types exhibited by the characters. Manly is a great if all too brief collection of gay erotic comics. While the volume remains my favorite, it convinced me to seek out more of Lazarov's work. So far, I haven't been disappointed.

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