Archive Binge: The Less Than Epic Adventures Of TJ and Amal
A new year is upon us and Archive Binge is starting off as we mean to go on, with the queerest comics that we can possibly find on the internet.
The Less Than Epic Adventures Of TJ and Amal is one hell of a long title for a webcomic that frequently lapses into silence. At its core the story is a road-trip, but like all great works in that niche subgenre, the places that the characters are passing through, and heading too, are far less important than the history that they are trailing along behind them.
Our two stalwart heroes are the titular TJ and Amal.
Amal is a boy who has just come out to his strict conservative parents as gay to prevent an arranged marriage, and also because he is tired of lying to them. He is quiet and reserved to begin with, deeply conflicted about everything that has happened with his family and the way that it is causing his entire life to unravel. His journey across country to see his younger sister graduate is what prompts the entire trip.
TJ is a slightly more complicated character who has lived a far less comfortable life, he is outgoing and exuberant in counterpoint to Amal’s quiet moments but in every scene there is an undercurrent of discomfort. He seems to be completely content in his own skin, but this is just another layer of deception.
Deception, including self-deception, runs through the story, not only as a source of drama and conflict but also as a study of the two characters inner workings. When the story begins they are strangers, they never expect to see one another again after the journey and that gives them a unique freedom to act naturally with one another. It also comes with the usual reservations that plague people who have just met. It isn’t until almost the last moment of the story that you fully understand both of the men involved, and even then there are still mysteries that can never be fully explored.
The slowly blossoming friendship between the two of them as they travel across the breadth of the United States is awkward at moments, but it is never awkward without purpose, the two characters gradually come to understand each other and one another’s limits, often by trampling over those limits by accident. When the friendship takes on a tinge of lust or romance, then that is just another natural development in their relationship, another natural overstepping of comfort zones that leads to better understanding.
When all of the revelations are done and the characters have grown into more complete people, the story does not give you a happy ending. There is still danger hanging over each of the characters, to varying degrees of seriousness, and the story doesnot find an ending at all, so much as a presentation of possibilities. There is optimism tied up in that and it plays off of the usual heroes journey. Showing that returning to the way things were before the journey is never better than exploring what can come into being after the changes that change has wrought.
A fair warning to the prudish and the sensitive, the Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal does contain scenes of consensual sex between two adult men and hints at an abusive relationship outside of the story’s scope, but these moments are never for titillation or shock, they are just further explorations of what makes the characters who they are, and who they are going to become.
The Less Than Epic Adventures Of TJ and Amal is available online at: http://tjandamal.com/