Anya Davidson’s genre entry Lovers in the Garden packs a tight punch with a roster of characters seemingly straight out of the Roger Corman playbook and the wacky animating idea that maybe, just maybe, women can get on top in this kind of tale. Lovers follows a colorful cast with enough backstory to keep them interesting, and timely references to anchor them in an unspecified, but obviously groovy decade: two rudderless hitmen (one suffering PTSD from his time in the shit in ‘Nam), the ukiyo-e loving sleaze who hires them, an undercover cop hungry for an overdue promotion, and a bottle-hitting journalist saddled with her lovelorn hippie boyfriend. Their worlds collide around a sting set up by a double-crossing secretary that ends in a stand-off and shootout worthy of a b-roll flick.
Davidson’s cartooning delivers, with glassy expressions and shocks of color that push her workmanlike figures over the top. A five-page standoff sequence that detours to a combat zone falls right into order in a story that also touches on the challenges of motherhood and discussions of women career ambitions, without ever crossing the line from pastiche to parody. Davidson can rely on the lived-in spaces she’s created to work out more detail about the characters, which is great shorthand in such a tightly-paced story.
What’s especially excellent in Lovers is Davidson’s ear for dialogue and humor, especially when it comes to dunking on men: the undercover cop convinces her mark her real name is Coral Gables, the dayshift waitress slings insults at the hitmen in her diner, and the secretary Mystic (Mystic!) pulls a gun and declares “This is me asserting myself, you dumb fuck.”
Walking the line between pastiche and parody demands versatility in both storytelling and style, especially for an artist whose roots lie in abstraction. (I challenge you to read Lovers in the Garden back to back with All Time Comics #1 and see the difference between absorbing and reinterpreting genre versus trying to sell it back wholesale for laughs.) To properly express pastiche, a certain mixture of both love and intelligence has to be present, and it’s clear Davidson’s got both. This is the strongest work I’ve seen come out of Retrofit and I’m hoping for more like it.