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inner city romance 1
brilliant writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 3
total score 10
The Inner City Romance Comic: "Choices"
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1st-3rd Printing / March, 1972 / 44 pages / Last Gasp Eco-Funnies
In Inner City Romance #1, subtitled "Choices," Guy Colwell conveys the story of three men who are released from prison (after several years in the joint) on the same day and go back home to San Francisco to resume their lives of freedom. Two of the men are black, one is white, and they are all about the same age, but they don't share the same vision of their future. This becomes evident early on as one of black men (Marvin; a pimp and a drug dealer) drives them all back to the city. Marvin offers a joint to his ex-con buddies and the other black man (James; a social radical) turns it down, even though he imagines himself smoking it. James asks the other two what they plan to do with their freedom, and Marvin replies "Me 'n Paddy's gon make us some money." Paddy (the white man) adds, "Gettin' a pad, a pussy, an stayin' high."

James is perturbed by their ambitions, but doesn't reprimand them. He declares that he wants to get some pussy, too, but adds, "Then I think I'll get a good gun and go to where my people are strugglin'." Marvin scoffs at that idea, "You ain't got to talk that radical shit no mo! Git lookin' after number one! Baby, we can make money! Choose."

Thus the stage is set for what each man chooses to do with the rest of the day. Marvin acts as the leader of the group as he drives them back to the city, picking up three whores (two black, one white) and a variety of liquor and illicit drugs along the way. Paddy takes a hit of acid as soon as he gets the chance. Marvin takes them to "the pleasure dome," which appears to be a tenement in the city where he has access to whatever rooms he desires.

Each of the men pairs up with a woman in a separate room. James is with one of the black whores, who immediately cooks up some heroin in a spoon and injects herself in the thigh ("so my arms be pretty for you, baby"). James is disgusted and leaves the room, saying good-bye to Marvin and Paddy on his way out of the tenement. He heads downtown and visits the headquarters (or branch) of a black militant organization, where he starts talking to the woman in charge.

Meanwhile, Marvin is having all kinds of sex with the white whore and Paddy is trying to have sex with the other black whore, but he is tripping on the acid he took earlier. Colwell depicts Paddy's hallucination in a fascinating, extended sequence of panels; one of the best portrayals of an acid trip in comics.

James and the black militant woman also end up in bed, but by the time we see them they're talking instead of fucking. James expresses doubt about how his prison friendship with Marvin will survive in the real world and the woman advocates either educating Marvin about the error in his ways or letting him suffer the consequences. James asks if the woman can help him get a gun and she says "Sure, baby, we'll get you a gun."

Back at the pleasure dome, Marvin, Paddy and all three whores are getting it on in a wild, drug-infused orgy. James finally returns to the tenement with his newly acquired gun and busts in on the orgy room. Marvin greets him with arms wide open, "Mah man, mah free brothuh, welcome to de commune!" James stares at the tangled nest of naked whores and ex-cons and imagines two scenarios: one with him in the middle of the nest, getting a blow job and making easy money. The other with a hot pistol in his hand, blowing away the vermin that seduce his people away from true equality.

Colwell does not reveal the choice that James makes, but the dilemma of that decision, in a philosophical context, is one that every person born into poverty, prejudice or injustice must face in their lifetime.

Inner City Romance #1 is a powerful and unique book that illuminates a compelling issue in a straightforward and entertaining story. Colwell's drawing skills have not nearly hit their peak, but they're pretty damn good, and his ability to convey human emotions through facial and body expressions are impressive. His facility for mixing titillating imagery with profound discourse is reminiscent of Robert Crumb, but unlike Crumb, Colwell's intentions aren't cloaked in satire. Colwell clearly sympathizes with the plight and struggles of black people in modern society, which led many of his readers to mistakenly assume that he was a black man. This misconception still lingers even today, 40 years after this comic book was published.

It's not hard to imagine that the character of Paddy, the white ex-con in this story, represents Guy Colwell. Colwell grew up in Oakland and served two years in prison, giving him ample opportunity to befriend the type of black people he portrays in the book. Paddy's LSD hallucination is likely one that Colwell experienced himself, which is why he was so adept at illustrating it. In fact, it seems likely that Colwell based all of the characters in this book, and subsequent issues of Inner City Romance, on people he knew in real life. The actions and dialog of Colwell's characters feel authentic, as if crafted by someone who lived alongside these people in the rundown hovels, broken streets and dark alleys of their ghettos.
There are four printings of this comic book, all by Last Gasp. The 1st printing (20,000 copies), 2nd printing (10,000 copies) and 3rd printing (10,000 copies) all have 50-cent cover prices and are currently considered indistinguishable from one another. The 4th printing (10,000 copies) has a 75-cent cover price.
Guy Colwell - 1-36