Warning: there will be spoilers.
Why this book? Black Wade came to my attention via a post at Babbling About Books. I’ve never been a huge pirate fan (but for Darlene Marshall’s Florida-set privateer novels), but Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, who is by turns swishy and macho and pan-sexual, is intriguing. (Jack Sparrow/Will Turner has much more potential than Jack/Elizabeth. *adjusts slash goggles*)
Black Wade is a new subgenre for me — a gay erotic graphic novel. Before reading BW, I’d read a few graphic novels and a variety of gay romance and erotic romance, but nothing that blended the different formats together.
From the book:
There was a time when ships were the only form of transportation between the Old World in Europe and the new colonies across the waves. In those days, the oceans were full of bold pirates, waiting to seize large war-ships and merchant vessels and rob them of the riches they carried. There was not a port or tavern where the sailors did not recount the tales of the notorious Captain Black Wade, terror of the seven seas.
And from the authors:
The rough and merciless pirate Black Wade and his band are the scare of the seven seas. And just like his greed for gold is insatiable, his sexual craving knows no boundaries as well: When they board a British ship, Wade takes Lieutenant Jack Wilkins as a prisoner to satisfy his lust. At first Wilkins struggles with all his might, but soon he has to acknowledge that he actually has pleasure in the eager sexual encounters with the handsome pirate. In the meantime his fiancée Annabeth is waiting wistfully for the return of Jack, not knowing if he’s still alive. And on the pirate ship emotions are running high as well: Buccaneer Marak keeps a jealous watch over the prisoner Jack. He would love to polish Wade’s gun barrel himself. Due to the rising nervousness Wade realizes that he cannot allow himself the tender feelings he begins to have for Jack. To prove how merciless he is, he maroons Jack on a raft and relinquishes him to the forces of the wide ocean. But that’s nowhere near the end of the story…
BW opens with Lieutenant Jack Wilkins coming to in the dank hold of a ship; readers learn through a flash back series that Jack was aboard a British ship returning tax revenues to England when pirates attacked. Jack was taken as booty along with the gold being transported. His captor and tormentor is Black Wade, pirate captain and scourge of the seven seas. The rest of the 60 or so pages are spent on the sexual exploits of Black Wade and Jack; their eventual separation; and then their reunion and HEA as gay pirate kings.
Did I enjoy the book? Yes, although more for the art than the story told.
First, I know little about the tropes and themes underpinning graphic novels. If there are tropes or themes specific to gay adult graphic novels, I know even less about them. Second, I read the novel with my romance-goggles on, which skews my expectations and filters. A reader with more GN reading under his/her belt would likely have a different take on BW.
The art work was beautiful, from the character portraits to the landscapes to the action scenes. Some of the frames in which the characters had sex were startlingly erotic : not just the frames that were graphic but the frames with smaller details, like the inset focusing on a hand grasping at bedclothes.
The story telling fell a bit short, perhaps because of the brevity of the graphic novel (69 pages). To a reader well versed in graphic novels, the spaces that felt like plot holes to me may be filled with shorthand for the genre. But I was left wondering about many things: How was Jack rescued? How was Black Wade captured – please give more details than a throw-away line about a decoy ship. Who is Warrick and how did he know about what went on while Jack was captive? What purpose was served by Marak & the ogling sailor who was only named in the portfolio art at the end of the graphic novel? Where was the struggle with feelings and then succumbing that is mentioned in the story blurb? (It wasn’t shown on the pages, but maybe I was supposed to read between the lines?)
The basic plot could be one from an early 80s genre romance novel: the hero is kidnapped and held captive, then falls in love with his captor/rapist. Given a chance to resume his “normal” life, he tosses it aside in order to be free and with the man he loves.
There is a scene as end of the book approaches that was rather disturbing. Black Wade is gang raped by a group of soldiers while in prison. Take away the dialog and the art work could be gorgeous and erotic; it could be a man into bondage and multi-partner sex. Add the dialogue demonstrating his lack of consent and their abuse of power, and the erotic turned to squeamish. I’m not sure about the purpose of this section of the novel, unless it is to drive home to Jack 1) the relative good treatment he received while prisoner since he was only raped by Black Wade and 2) how much he loves Black Wade and is disgusted by the hypocrisy surrounding him back in his Old Life.
Keep or pass on? Haven’t decided yet. It was a little expensive, even for a used copy, so I’m not inclined to just toss it immediately.
Would I read more by this author? Yes.
Anything else I want to share? I noticed a than/then misusage fairly early on in the book. Knowing now that the book was written in another language and translated into English makes me slightly more forgiving of this typo, but it still irked me. Given the scarcity of words in a graphic novel, I expect those that appear to be carefully selected. McVane pointed out that the editor had to deal with the art and the words, which is harder than just copy-editing. Acknowledged, but then/than remains one of my pet peeves.
BW was written and illustrated by Franze & Andärle (Italian illustrators) and the novel was originally published as “Jimbo” by H&O Editions, a French publisher. The English language version is published by Bruno Gmünder. IMO, the title and change of name for the English version was good for marketing. Jimbo the dread pirate just doesn’t conjure up a swashbuckling image. Also, for me, the name Jimbo carries a good old boy connotation with a thin rime of racism. YMMV.