“The Lengths” is a graphic novel about addiction, published by Soaring Penguin Press. The title refers to the lenghts to which a young man, Eddie, will go to feed his desire. Howard Hardiman has written and drawn a graphic novel about a youth out of control and in conflict. It is a very rough story about a rough subject that Hardiman navigates quite well. His character, Eddie, is a 24-year-old art school drop out who is gay and unsure about what he wants. He may want a relationship but he is also attracted to what he gets from his role as Ford, an escort. It’s a pretty lurid and gritty premise. Something like this could easily fall apart, as can happen with any story that deals with sex. But sex is only part of what Hardiman has to talk about. And to create some distance to better address and understand the content, he represents all his characters as dogs. It may seem odd at first, but it turns out to be a wonderful narrative device.
There’s a rough quality to the artwork that feeds off this story in an interesting way, evoking images coming from dreams and sketchbooks. A casual observer might bring out a real stinger to a cartoonist and claim the work to be a bit splapdash. It’s not. What someone who keeps with it to the end, and gives this work its full measure, will find is a full experience worth having. The narrative itself, just like the art, is fairly unconventional as it zigzags to whatever Eddie is doing next or recalling. This all makes sense considering Eddie’s life. You definitely get a sense that this is one mixed up and busy kid.
Hardiman has a fine way of expressing dread. He knows how to purposefully disorient the reader. As we follow Eddie on his circling of hell, we see bold use of negative space, and a casual cutting and cluttering of space. He has characters from different times in Eddie’s life seem to bump into each other as Eddie, quite literally, hops from one bed to the next. As his escort self, Ford, he’s hot to try to keep up with his sex mentor Nelson. As his domestic self, Eddie, he attempts to sustain his intimacy with Dan. Throughout, he must acknowledge past lovers, and cope with the harsh realities of excess. Based on interviews with sex workers in London, Hardiman has created a very vivid and touching story about finding one’s place in life.