Thursday, January 29, 2015

Review: Second Avenue Caper

I was up in Philadelphia recently and swung by the incomparable Giovanni's Room bookstore. I picked up a copy of the new graphic novel from Joyce Brabner (of American Splendor and Real War Stories fame) and Mark Zingarelli (Weirdo, American Splendor). In Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague, Brabner and Zingarelli give life to a friend's experience creating a buyers' club for AIDS treatments in the 1980s.

Like me, you may be familiar with the concept of a buyers club from that movie about a straight guy (or a straight-washed bisexual guy, depending on who you ask) who contracts HIV and starts smuggling drugs into the United States. Second Avenue Caper, on the other hand, is told from the perspective of members of a queer community banding together against the disease that's killing them and their friends. The whole thing feels much more relatable to me than Dallas Buyers Club, not least because the people involved are far more sympathetic than Ronald Woodruff as he is portrayed by Matthew McConaughey.

Zingarelli's artwork is fairly minimalistic but contains just enough detail to allow you to really lose yourself in the story. The exceptions to the minimalism are transitional panels that highlight one of the members of the buyers club via framed photographs and mementos strewn across a table. They feel very personal and help to speed up our attachment to the "characters."

Definitely worth a read through to get a different perspective on these heroic people working outside the system to help themselves.

Also see Cory Doctorow's glowing review over at BoingBoing and an interview with Brabner at


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