MacIsaac, Steve. Shirtlifter #1. 2nd Edition. Long Beach, CA: Drawn, Out Press, 2010. 32pp. $5.95. ISBN: 9780979134937. Originally published: Long Beach, CA: Drawn Out Press, 2006.

—. Shirtlifter #2. Long Beach, CA: Drawn, Out Press, 2007. 56pp. $8.95. ISBN: 9780979134913.

MacIsaac, Steve, Justin Hall, and Fuzzbelly. Shirtlifter # 3. Long Beach, CA: Drawn, Out Press, 2008. 87pp. $10.95. ISBN: 9780979134920.

So far, each issue of Shirtlifter tells its tales differently. Shirtlifter #1 is a 32-page one-shot, first published in black and white. (The second edition was reinked and printed in two colors on better paper.) Shirtlifter #2 introduced full color, and five of the ten stories are autobiographic vignettes. Shirtlifter #3 contains the first three chapters of a new work, “Unpacking,” and includes work by two other cartoonists MacIsaac admires. (I’m eagerly awaiting the completion of “Unpacking” in Shirtlifter #4 and #5.)

A strong autobiographic element underlies all MacIsaac’s tales. As MacIsaac comments in Shirtlifter #2, “Even when writing pure fiction, elements of my life tend to surface.” For example, the protagonist in “Unmade Beds,” the issue-length story from Shirtlifter #1, made his living in Japan teaching English ― just like MacIsaac. Whether, fiction or autobiography, though, his plots are poignant and carefully shaped, and the characters are tenderly explored using both narrative and art.

When I first opened Shirtlifter #1, I was reminded of Japanese gay erotic manga artist Gengoro Tagame. MacIsaac’s art is a little stiffer, his characters more realistic, and his eroticism less fanciful than Tagame’s, but there is a definite resemblance. Both MacIsaac and Tagame have an eye for musclebears, and both pay stronger attention to the characters than the backgrounds, pulling the reader into their very personal stories. Shirtlifter #2 shows less similarity ― MacIsaac experiments with many different styles of drawing and coloring ― but Shirtlifter #3 again reminds me of Tagame.

Fuzzbelly and Justin Hall each penned a short subject to fit between chapters in Shirtlifter #3. The brief stories help break up the three chapters by MacIsaac, and they each have styles distinct from each other and from MacIsaac. I appreciated being introduced to the work of Fuzzbelly ― another bear-lover, with a earthier style ― and of Justin Hall, who draws more like MacIsaac, but who tells a darker story.

Like Tagame, MacIsaac does not shy away from drawing the male nude or gay men having sex, which could lead to challenges in more conservative communities. I’d recommend the entire series, though, for public libraries serving established and growing GLBT communities, and to academic libraries with collections of GLBT literature or art.


Reviewed by, John Bradford
Head, Automation & Technical Services
Villa Park Public Library


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