Bull’s Balls

 Whose idea was the Atlantic Ocean? Sure, it’s pretty and all that, but it has this annoying habit of separating North America from Europe. Not only did that delay the United States’ rather useful involvement in WWII by a couple years, it also prevents Americans from enjoying the full benefits of European culture. Case in point: the comics of Ralf König.

 According to the cover blurb on this U.S. printing of Bull’s Balls, König has produced over 20 full-length books, selling over 2 million copies in 14 languages, and providing the basis for the top-grossing German-produced movie in history. And this is the first I’ve seen of his work. {sigh}

Of course a large part of the reason he’s not a household name in the States is the fact that he’s gay and writes comics about gay men. The fact that his comics also include some nudity and a few sexually explicit scenes probably doesn’t help either. In much of Europe (where nude sunbathing is common and even teen heartthrob magazines feature nudity), that’s not such a big deal. But American publishers (and their buying public) are remarkably neurotic about nudity and sexuality, especially in comics.

Anyway, Bull’s Balls is a story about Paul and Conrad, a couple who’ve been together for some 10 years. They have a mutually loving relationship, but obviously one that’s somewhat open about sexuality. For example, in the first scene, Paul is sitting at home watching porn videos with two of his friends. And when the subject of Paul’s other extra-curricular adventures comes up, Conrad’s main concern is whether Paul practices safe sex (which he faithfully does).

 A conflict arises when Conrad and Paul both find themselves attracted to the unattainable: Paul becomes obsessed with a burly heterosexual construction worker named Ramon, and Conrad finds himself longing for his 17-year-old piano student Matthew. Things get even more complicated when Ramon notices Paul’s interest, and when Matthew’s mother approaches Conrad (whom she doesn’t know is gay) for help, frantic that her son might be gay. Toss in a misunderstanding when Conrad babysits his 5-year-old nephew, and the rumours that start flying around the bars about Paul and Ramon, and you have the makings of a fun comedy of errors.

 König’s art is very cartoony, more along the lines of an American newspaper strip rather than the simplified realism of most American gay comics. (The closest popular US example that comes to mind is Mother Goose & Grimm.) As such, I have a difficult time thinking of this as “smut”. How can you take seriously as “erotic” a man so misproportioned that his penis is a third as long as his entire body? Similarly, I just couldn’t relate to what attractiveness Paul saw in Ramon, who just strikes me as ugly. But in a sense, part of the point of the story was how different folks get off on different things, so I just accepted that Ramon’s simply not my type and went from there.

In case you were wondering, the text in this book is in English. The dialog flows and uses the language well, so it obviously wasn’t “dubbed” by some German hack who learned English from watching Dallas or an American with a semester of high-school German. The word balloons are all exactly the right size and shape for the English text, so I assume it was done (like most comics in multilingual Europe, I gather) in close cooperation with the creator.

 The reproduction of the art itself leaves a little to be desired. I’m not sure if the source this was reproduced from was in color (or just shades of grey), but because it wasn’t just black lines on white paper, it couldn’t be be printed in pure black/white like most black-and-white comics. So instead of sharp edges, all of the lines have slightly fuzzy dot pattern to them. And a few dark scenes with grey backgrounds end up a bit muddy. I’m not sure how to fix the problem (short of getting the originals and doing a first class color-separation and printing job with them, which would undoubtedly be more expensive). All things considered, it’s not bad, and keeps the price to a reasonable $15.95 (for 132 pages of story). (Kitchen Sink is publishing in August what appears to be a different König book about Conrad and Paul, called Konrad and Paul: 96 pages for $12.95; we’ll see how well they do reproducing that one.) Bull’s Balls will be shipping to comics specialty shops in July 97.

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