Games with Me Volume 1 by Tina Anderson and Lynsley Brito
Ex Civil-War surgeon George Callahan is a man haunted by his past. Unwilling to deal with the demons of his childhood he turns to opium, and finds back-alley employment with the heartless brothel keepers of San Francisco’s Chinatown. In Volume 1 of this gorgeously illustrated gay historical drama, Dr. George Callahan searches for a Chinese woman from his past, and soon finds himself unwittingly drawn to dim-witted male prostitute Jun, whose own life is complicated by the unwanted attentions of an aggressive bouncer named Roan Baxter.
I saw this graphic novel reviewed by Sarah of Rain on the Roof and the two panels depicted caught my eye. I wanted to buy this novel right away but it’s currently only offered through Amazon Kindle. Well since I don’t own a kindle, there is an option to “rent” the book through another website – emanga. I’ve never shopped there before and apparently you buy points to rent a book for 72 hours. For ~$1 per 100 points you can read the graphic novel through adobe flash. If you spend 300 points you can “keep” the book in your emanga library with no time restrictions. I’m not a fan of this as I’d pay more to physically own the book, either in print or electronic form, but this novel is absolutely worth renting. If you have a kindle, buy it today.
The novel is set in San Fransisco’s Chinatown in the 1860’s. George Callahan is a complicated man. He administers abortions to women during the day and drowns his demons in opium at night. He struggles with his past in the Civil War as well as his family’s abusive history. He has an unwilling attraction to a young man at an all male brothel, Jun, which may have much darker implications.
The author admits at the back of the novel that all-male brothels didn’t exist at the time but I don’t consider that a detriment to the story at all. The details added in are incredible from the setting to the dialogue and the side storylines occurring simultaneously. The time period comes alive rather vividly with the great artwork and the corresponding writing. The characters are well crafted, which is always interesting in a novel that relies on nuance and subtly rather than elaborate writing to convey meaning. Here each character has more complexity and depth than shown on the surface.
There is the sweet, and seriously cute Jun with an innocent mind but very pragmatic and sexual body. The balance of Jun’s sweetness and innocence against his cleverness shows a complicated character that goes beyond just the shy, simpering uke. I loved the scene where Jun barters for the toy train. I wanted to cry for Jun but at the same time, his innate cleverness just shines through. Likewise, George struggles with doing the right thing in his mind versus his needs and desires. He has a past filled with images and deeds he’d rather forget, yet mires himself in them each night as he tries to smoke himself to oblivion. Even the bodyguard is given more depth as he struggles with his attraction to Jun, but his inability to know what to say or do thus acting out in frustration.
The artwork is very interesting and portrays the story very well. Although I’m certainly no expert, there doesn’t seem to be a uniformity to the panels, which keeps interest from page to page. There are enough classic yaoi elements that make the artwork familiar but the story has a dark edge that definitely peaks my interest more than classic yaoi.
If you’re a fan of graphic novels or just want something really pretty to look at with a darker theme, definitely check this out. It’s worth the $3 “keeper” fee even if you can’t own it like those lucky kindle folks.