Writer: Joyce Brabner
Artist: Mark Zingarelli
Review: Will Dubbeld
The medium of graphic sequential storytelling is a funny one. Dozens of throwaway books are published per month, from major publishers to basement indies. All of these books are important to the preservation and propagation of the media but every so often a book is published that is important on a broader scale.
Many of our readers were not yet born in the early 1980s, many others young enough to only remember them through a hazy memory, like Vaseline smeared on a camera lens. The remainder, however, will vividly remember those early days when HIV first became prevalent, first as a problem relegated to the gay community, then becoming more widespread and branded an epidemic. Second Avenue Caper harkens back to those early days as a tightly knit group of friends in New Yorks gay community battles misconceptions, lack of medical care, and a general lack of public awareness about HIV/AIDS. The focal character is a nurse named Ray who takes to selling marijuana, first in order to supplement income, then to bankroll missions of mercy.
Experimental drug treatments that would alleviate the symptoms of HIV were available in Mexico at the time, not FDA approved, and this meant smuggling. Ray and his companions use the money from peddling drugs, favors garnered from running errands for the mob, and a sense of familial obligation to make runs across the Mexican border and secure medication for their community.
Although Second Avenue Caper seems largely framed around an altruistic moneymaking and smuggling scheme, the core of the book is about Ray and his group of friends. This is where Brabner's gift as a storyteller shines. The characters are bound, in many cases tighter than their own families, unified and fighting for the gay community and the lives of their peers. A rather sizable group of friends at the beginning of the book dwindles as members die, one by one, driving home the intense feeling of mortality that flows through Second Avenue Caper. Names, likenesses and locations are changed throughout the story, but the events depicted are true and serve as an excellent reminder of a darker time in our society, a heartfelt tribute to those who were there at the beginning, and those who didn't make it through.
I said before that I believe Second Avenue Caper to be an important book, showcasing a piece of American history that doesn't see much exposure in the comics industry. I don't mean in the way that Strangers in Paradise, or Bone, or Watchmen are important.
I believe it's important to society as a whole, not just amongst graphic novelists and comic book readers.