Kelsey Wroten’s debut graphic novella pierced my queer heart with its classic will-they-or-won't-they gay story. Crimes follows the creative and romantic exploits of Willa, a 30-year-old gay painter and barista, who has a crush on Bas, a 22-year-old poet who's dating Willa’s friend Simon. A meditation on grief, lust, point of view, and communication, the story begins with the death of someone close to Willa, with images of a coffin, and the internal monolog, “Putting people in boxes [...] and so begins my first year without you.” Confident brushwork, pacing, and writing marks this tale of loss and longing. The unruled borders underscore the sense of anxiety vibrating throughout the work.
The cover makes use of a limited color palette, giving a screenprint-like tone to the proceedings. The interior art reflects this austerity with ink washes all seemingly drawn with one brush, which imparts a visual consistency. Technical problems do show occasionally, though, and hinder the pleasure of reading slightly; the hand-lettering sometimes slips into the margins of the book, hurting readability.
In this time when many journalist "boomers" pass judgement around “millennials,” a category these characters fall under, readers will find that Wroten brings a brutal criticism and a sense of empathy to her protagonists’ characterization. The working Willa clashes with the financially privileged Simon, and Willa struggles with the creative impulse in relation to the need for a day job.
The carefully paced narrative hits different beats which reach a crescendo by the book’s end. The piano wire of the story tightens as Willa crushes harder and harder on Bas. Willa gets into druggy escapades with Bas that you wonder if she’d be doing if not driven on by a powerful desire. Willa’s thoughts are represented not by thought balloons, but little words tethered to her by a single line. When Bas gets up close to Willa’s ear and whispers, “Wanna do a little coke?” at a party, Bas’s whisper is punctuated with the word “whisper,” and Willa’s thought reads, “Unfair.” Willa’s heart pumps many times throughout the book, as one does in the throes of infatuation, beating with a “Badum badum” sound effect. The language of comics is strong with this one.
The ambivalence towards identity that I read in the characters, Bas and Willa’s raw chemistry, and Willa’s wrestling with the prism that is grief, all spoke to my soul. The book fits into the modern pantheon of queer comics that includes works by artists like Archie Bongiovanni, Higu Rose, Carta Monir, Michelle Perez, Remy Boydell, and many others. I await with piqued interest Wroten’s graphic novel Cannonball, actually completed before this one, coming from Uncivilized Books in spring 2019. For now, I’ll be sated with this sparkling gem of a graphic novella.