Writer: Tee Franklin
Artist: Jenn St-Onge
Colorist: Joy San
Publisher: Image Comics
Review by Jameson Hampton
Every once and a while, a graphic novel is so good, so beautiful, and so touching that it tugs on your heartstrings in a way that you just can’t get out of your head. Bingo Love is one of those books.
Bingo Love is a love story spread out over an entire lifetime. It follows the lives of two black women, growing up in New Jersey in the 1960s. Hazel was in love with Mari from the first time she laid eyes on her at the church bingo hall. They were friends for years before Mari was able to admit that she loved Hazel in the same way. However, they weren’t able to be together, because when their families found out, their families separated them immediately, forcing Mari to move down south. They were both married off to men that their families deemed acceptable, and they didn’t see each other for fifty years.
It isn’t until 2015 that these women find each other again, running into each other, beautifully, at the same bingo hall where they first met. It’s a gorgeous moment, but it’s also tragically liminal. When they finally kiss, it’s an embodiment of all the happiness that has been missing from their lives, but when they pull back, anxiety quickly starts to seep in. The decision they have to make to be together is one that they have to make, or regret it forever, but it’s also a difficult one that affects everyone in both of their large families and completely tears apart the lives they were used to.
Everything about Bingo Love is absolutely gorgeous. Jenn St-Onge’s art is consistently beautiful and really captures the feeling of being in love. When Mari and Hazel are kids, I feel all the excitement and nervousness of having a crush on someone, wanting to be around them even though you don’t know yet if they feel the same way about you. When they’re adults, I feel their joy at being together and their relief that life can be more than the dull unhappiness they’d become accustomed to. Their happiness shines on the pages of this book. I can feel how earnestly lucky they feel to have found each other again after they had given up all hope of it.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of beautiful queer love stories like Bingo Love. When Hazel and Mari first reconnect, Hazel goes to her psychiatrist to talk through all the complex feelings its awakened in her. She admits that she’s always been in love with Mari, even though she knew that it was wrong. When her psychiatrist tells her that loving someone is never wrong, she says it’s the first time anyone has ever said that to her. The fact that Hazel has been carrying that guilt for being queer around with her for fifty years breaks my gosh darn heart.
Representation is important and even as representation gets better, there are two things that LGBT media is sorely lacking: happy endings and queer women of color. Bingo Love, refreshingly, features both. Too many queer stories focus on tragedy. There is a perception that because many real-life queer people struggle in their journey to live authentically, it’s only realistic to always portray that struggle and all too often, tell stories that end in heartache. But it has been overdone! Queer people deserve to have characters to relate to, and we deserve to see them happy.
That being said, even Bingo Love includes its share of tragedy; perhaps, in fact, still slightly too much for my taste. Watching the girls be rejected by their families in their youth was painful but necessary for the story to play out the way it did. But the aggressive way that her family, particularly her daughter, initially reacted to her honesty in her old age, was definitely difficult to read. In Bingo Love, at least, there was a satisfying payoff after the struggles that Hazel and Mari had to face. Getting to see two women, especially two women of color, getting to happily spend their old age together made this book very special.
Growing old and being old is also a huge theme of the book. Getting old can be a very scary prospect and a lot of media reinforces the idea that youth is desirable and old age means that you’re past your prime. Bingo Love turns this on its head completely. Even as grandmothers, Hazel and Mari are portrayed as sexy and desirable. In their old age, they have much more agency than they did when they were kids. They have the wisdom and confidence to have a deep understanding of what’s important in life and they don’t have the time to get bogged down by anybody else’s nonsense that might get in the way of their happiness. It’s inspiring to watch them finally put themselves first and make up for lost time by following their dreams, traveling the world and of course, loving each other madly. Plus, it makes old age look not so scary after all!
Verdict: Buy it.
Bingo Love is truly the queer women of color love story that the world deserves. It perfectly encapsulates the feelings of love and loss and evokes emotions so strong, I almost felt like I was the one having these experiences. Coming out on Valentine’s Day, it’s the perfect piece of sweetness that shouldn’t be missed.
Bingo Love will be in stores February 14, 2018.