Hazel Newlevant (creator)
Distributed by Alternative Comics
You ever meet a girl at a party and find out her professional name as a dominatrix is the same as your everyday name? We’ve all been there. Awkward, right? Sugar Town is about (among many other things) what happens if you get past that awkwardness, let her ask you out, and discover you actually really like each other.
The other day, I realized that at least two-thirds of the people in my life under the age of 40 are poly. I’m probably a bit of an outlier in this regard, but it has rapidly become more acceptable to have romantic relationships that involve more than two people in Western culture. Our media, as usual, is lagging behind. Romance comics/novels/etc. seem especially resistant to this change, possibly because they’ve spent generations rooting their drama in the “tragedy” of love triangles. All of this is to say that Sugar Town is a touching story of a woman and her sweetie and her other sweetie, struggling with her feelings regarding her sweeties’ other sweeties.
It’s all presented in a way that highlights how simple all of this really is. “It’s complicated” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot regarding polyamory, but it’s really not. Examined, healthy relationships with other humans are complicated. They always involve more than two people. Your boss, your mom, your kids, the guy who cut you off in traffic yesterday—they’re all involved. Having one or more of those “other relationships” be romantic doesn’t have to change much. This book operates on a YA sort of reading level and manages to convey all of that complexity and simplicity very well.
Also, can we take a minute to talk to about the pentagram-strap bra thing?
I was introduced to it by Kate Leth in about 2015 or so, and she had a character in Spell On Wheels wear it. I’ve since seen it in Zombie Tramp (as some kind of g-string business), Nico from Kris Anka’s redesign of Runaways, and I’m sure other ones. Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose had something similar in 2000, but that design was only made possible by the bad physics that have given us so many comic book outfits on women. Anyway, Sugar Town uses the pentagram harness bra very effectively and in a thematically appropriate way, and I like it.
Across the book, the art is heart-warming, cute, and full of emotional intensity. A lot of writer-artists have a tendency to keep their coloring pretty simple, especially when they use a more cartoonish or “comic-book” lineart style. Newlevant has used fairly simple shading in keeping with the lineart style (and presumably to keep the workload manageable), but she has employed a wide range of palettes across the different scenes to convey things like place, mood, and emotion, which gives the book a lifelike feel as well as keeping it visually interesting. Also, characters almost never face directly toward the “camera,” which lets her give them all distinctly different face shapes, particularly in their cheekbones. It’s a technique I wish more artists at the Big 2 and other mainstream publishers would use more often.
Slice of life is a genre I’m not deeply familiar with, much less possibly semi-autobiographical slice of life, so something that always strikes me is the way such stories feel more organic and less focused on plot. Sugar Town is short and tightly paced, which makes it read more like an action comic of some sort, but it has a slice-of-life ending feel to it, where you realize that it really is just a small part of a vastly larger story of someone’s life. And that the “point” lies in relating to the characters and their experiences rather than the ideals the characters symbolize. It’s a lovely story I highly recommend, especially to anyone who’s poly and may have some stress and/or doubts surrounding that. It’s very reassuring.