Liebestrasse is a new original digital graphic novel from Comixology, but it follows more in the European tradition of small, character-focused slice-of-life stories than the bombastic speculative fiction that's made the American graphic novel field so popular. In less than 100 pages, it tells the story of an American businessman named Sam who takes a job in Berlin during the Weimar Republic, where he meets and falls in love with an art dealer named Phillip.
Of course, the dramatic irony abounds. As readers, we know what Germany's immediate future holds—and soon enough, that other shoe does indeed drop. But also as readers, it's easy to get wrapped in the simple tenderness of burgeoning romance and ignore the warning signs that lurk in the shadows—just like Sam and Phillip.
The rapport between the two lovers is charming and realistic, with Phillip's witty flamboyance playing perfectly off of Sam's strong silent Americanisms. Artist Tim Fish does tremendous work with the subtleties of facial expressions; though the style is slightly more cartoonish than what most American readers might expect, I found myself consciously commenting on the acting as I read through the pages, as if these were actual people rather than drawings. I read a lot of comics, and that's something rare and unique, at least in the American market. The color palette by Hector Barros also gives the story a very classical comic vibe that fits the time period. Though the pigments are digital, the simple, solid color patterns evoke a more innocent era. The overall artwork reminded me of Dick Tracy in a way, as if this were a story set in the same universe, but in the queer Berlin underground scene that we never get to see in those crime stories.
But once the story reaches its inevitable conclusion—these are two gay men on the cusp of Nazi Germany—it really starts to resonate. "The parallels between the end of the Weimar Era and today’s global political landscape are too terrifying to ignore and we want readers to see those parallels, too," explained writer Greg Lockard in an interview with Pride magazine, and this connection is hard to ignore. Artist Tim Fish expanded on this in the same interview, saying "I couldn’t help thinking about the gay men and lesbians, living in a relatively liberal place and time, their lives abruptly changed. … Ultimately, I wanted people to be reminded that despite our steps forward in acceptance, there’s always a threat of steps back."
And that's the real strength of Liebestrasse: it's a simple and quiet period piece that starkly juxtaposes our current political climate, while also being eerily similar in ways that are all too easy to forget. These parallels are not an explicit part of the story, but they don't have to be—the bare facts of the reality faced by these queer men makes their story even more frighteningly relevant.
Liebestrasse is written by Greg Lockard, a former editor for DC's Vertigo line, with art by Tim Fish, colors by Hector Barros, and lettering by Lucas Gattoni. It's available exclusively as a digital graphic novel on Comixology.