You know that thing that all your friends like, but you just can’t get into? Game of Thrones, or Homestuck, or Marvel comics, or whatever. You’ve tried it out a couple times, and it seems like something you should enjoy, but for one reason or another you just can’t get past that initial hurdle to sustained interest. For me, Band vs. Band is one of those things. Lots of people had recommended it to me, but none of the recommendations had ever stuck. But when reader Emily sent me a message saying “How the heck are you not reading Band vs. Band??”, I decided that “uhhh, I dunno” wasn’t a good enough answer, and I needed to give it another shot.
I’m glad I did.
Band vs. Band is about two local bands in New Pacific City, the Candy Hearts and the Sourballs, and the romantically-charged rivalry between the two frontwomen of these bands. The Candy Hearts’ Honey Hart is a wholesome and moralistic meddler, while the Sourballs’ Turpentine is a drunken goth-punk hooligan. The comic’s title implies enmity between the bands, but the other members are mostly just along for the ride; it’s the two main girls who can’t seem to stop gleefully messing with each other.
The comic’s tone draws a lot of inspiration from old Scooby Doo cartoons and Archie comics; beyond the cutesy interjections (“Chee!” “Attaboy!” “Holy moley!”) and people calling each other “finks”, the format tends towards episodic hijinks of the lighthearted variety, usually punctuated by a musical duel of some kind. The Candy Hearts tend to uphold these tropes (they play a show at a roller skating rink at one point), while the Sourballs subvert them (by getting everyone high on mushrooms and band-fighting Satan in hallucination hell). As far as parodies go, it’s a pretty good one, lampooning the original genre enough to be funny, but being close enough of an homage to keep the jokes subtle and not too over-the-top or obnoxious.
So why could I never get into it? My biggest complaint about Band vs. Band is that it’s too hard to read. The art style is rich and dynamic, and the hand-lettered text is typographically delicious, but the overall effect is an extremely busy, cluttered page. My brain just can’t handle it! It took a lot of effort to crawl the entire archive, and I found that I often had to go back and reread things, especially when there was no clear transition between the characters speaking and singing. (A helpful friend pointed out that the lyrical segments that are supposed to rhyme are indicated by musical notes, but these are often easy to miss in the crowded panels.) My love of comics is in part born from my difficulties with sensory processing – comics are usually easier for me to read than pure text – so it’s a bit frustrating to have the same problems cropping up again in a format that is typically more accessible to me.
There’s also a number of subtly cissexist jokes that took me out of my enjoyment of the story. Nothing that offensive, just the kind of ignorant stuff that makes me side-eye a writer – and deduct points.
That said, I have to admit that I really got into the story and its characters. There’s a surprising amount of character development crammed into these pages, and the emotional arc of the story focuses on Honey and Turps each confronting their own hang-ups and baggage around their sexual identities. I grew to love characters I’d barely noticed existed at first, like the Candy Hearts’ unassuming, panda-hatted bassist, Coco, and became deeply invested in relationships that had seemed like side notes, like Turpentine and Arsenic’s lifelong friendship. Not bad for a silly comic about indie music.
There is one character I wish we’d see more of: the enigmatic Sourballs bassist, Atomic Domme. Out of everyone, I feel like I know her the least well, which is disappointing both because she seems like a complex and layered person and because she’s trans and I want trans characters to get more screentime. Her appearances so far have limited her to a narrow role as the only responsible Sourball, the designated driver, the one who gets them out of trouble. This, combined with the fact that she tends to go on about her thesis and speak in academic jargon, makes her seem like a boring stick-in-the-mud nerd – which is totally at odds with her dominatrix-styled persona and the fact that she’s in a horrible goth-punk band. I’d like to see a little more development of Domme, at least to reconcile these two sides of her.
The best part of BvB, on the other hand, is how everyone is gradually revealed to be queer. Even that guy. Yep, her too. I’m vastly more interested in homos than straight characters, so my investment in this comic has steadily increased as the story goes on as a factor of this.
Final verdict: Let’s be honest: you probably already read BvB. If you don’t, you probably should – assuming you can deal with the cluttered art and lettering style.