The Mirror of Love
The Mirror of Love
Text: Alan Moore
Images: Jose Villarrubia
Top Shelf Productions, 2004
by Gregory Sanchez
The lusciously gorgeous, deeply meaningful, and intensely personal The Mirror of Love by Alan Moore & José Villarrubia has been generously served by its publisher. This hardcover book features a laudatory cover blurb by well-known fiction and screen writer Clive Barker; a revealing Forward by noted writer Robert Rodi; a loving, in-depth Introduction by inventive playwright David Drake; as well as several concise, thumb-nail reviews on the back cover by other published gay writers, wondrous talents all.
The first glorious image that the reader sees upon picking up this beautiful book is an intensely scarlet rose in full bloom, encircled within the rugged embrace of the letter ‘O’ in the title word, Love. This is certainly no fragile rose of love, carefully protected under thick glass or pressed between the pages of a book, but a dynamic flower bursting forth, alive and transforming. As if one has held up The Mirror of Love and seen one’s own full potential within its limitless reflection.
Yet, the reader be warned, if you but turn this lovely book over, you will find another, contradictory image, fully gracing the back cover. There one gazes upon a plaster-white face of a man, emerging dramatically from shadows into light. Upon his determined lower lip, though, a brush of stark crimson blood has been swiped there. The source of that sacrificial blood is a living thumb, along with determined forefinger, gently cradling the pale chin of that somber face. Sadly, this stark image seems to be saying that any celebration of same-sex love comes with a price. And the cost of our long-forbidden passion has typically been supremely high indeed, even today.
Within these two opposing covers, however, is a rapturous, yet grittily realistic, look at same-sex love throughout the ages. With Alan’s caressing, telling prose-poem stanzas alternating on the left pages with José’s luscious photographs entirely covering those pages on the right, the reader is set upon on a journey of discovery, both self and societal.
One cannot truly know the ‘Now’ of our current, though incomplete, triumphs without delving, writhing, and quaking within the ‘Then’ of our long and troubled heritage on Earth.
Two pairs of complimentary pages within are most telling regarding our communal suffering:
On page 56, Alan describes Germany between the two epic 20th-century wars, the Germany both of Cabaret and of aching economic deprivation, both of which gave rise to the Nazi death camps: “In slaughterhouses,/labeled with pink triangles,/our thousands died.” Opposite these chilling phrases, José even more chillingly depicts several ghastly bullet holes of splattered blood, deeply penetrating pure-crystalline-white snow.
On the page immediately thereafter, Alan defines the consequences of those terrible camps—what it must have been like to have been herded into gas chambers only to realize, too late, that sudden doom awaits those who cannot escape, though none could escape, unfortunately: “The showers, they say,/held bodies piled/as if the strong and desperate/had climbed on lover’s backs/to flee the gas….” The reflective page that follows is a deep, dark, and endless photograph of total blackness. As the gay poet A.E. Housman appropriately defined death more than a century ago, "Night and no moon and never/A star upon the night."
Fortunately, also throughout the book, there is an inherent, enduring optimism that neither time, nor the many terrible times, could obliterate. From the beginning passage, in fact, Alan tells us, “Even preceding landfall,/things loved freely once,/ignoring gender.” An almost violet-blue ocean on the following page seems to beckon that, teeming beneath its vast surface of potential, life and love flourish unabated.
No poem concludes truly without a charming note of enduring optimism, to carry the reader onward in his, or her, continuing struggle. As a prelude to the final photograph of a boundless, cloud-strewn sky, enhanced by a burnished sunlight that could either be setting or rising, Alan warms us with a parting note enthused with the strength of both stolid purpose and enduring character: “I’d burn throughout eternity/with you.”
The ancient Egyptians often fashioned a mirror into the shape of an ankh, their symbol for life, because a mirror reflects life. The Mirror of Love reflects life and love, a particular kind of love that has been despised, feared, and almost universally hounded throughout recorded history, though mostly in Western Civilization rather than Eastern.
The Mirror of Love heavily reflects that Western tradition while it also celebrates those who were able to rise above, even challenge, that tradition at Stonewall and elsewhere. Some unfortunately, like Oscar Wilde, were crushed by that overwhelming Western tradition of fear and revulsion. Even after his jail sentence was over, he left England for the continent, for Paris, where he died a few years later—a singularly broken man. Many others far less famous, who loved as he loved, were simply silenced throughout history, cowered into saving themselves and the ones they loved by remaining protected in the shadows, by not singing out.
The Mirror of Love sings out and consecrates that hidden love, as it celebrates our enduring affection for one another throughout the ages. Someday, surely, we shall finally be set upon an even footing with all others of humanity, those who are able to love and live freely because they conform to accepted norms and traditions. Until that day, we must constantly renew ourselves and never forget our communal struggles. In both words and images, Alan Moore and José Villarrubia have provided us with an elegant transcript, a joint diary if you will, of where we have come and where we may yet go unfettered.
Intellectual honesty requires that I here acknowledge when I purchased The Mirror of Love at the Prism Comics booth at the 2004 Comic-Con International: San Diego, in front of God and everyone else, I got kissed full upon the mouth by José Villarrubia, a warm and affectionate man, as well as a great kisser. If his embrace and passionate kiss has somehow prejudiced my review of their remarkable book, so be it. I was certainly satisfied.
Gregory Sanchez lives in Denver and is the author and publisher of the ten-volume series of LGBT super-hero fantasy novels, Rainbow Arc of Fire. A former missile combat crew commander and English instructor for the Air Force, Greg was forced to resign from the military in 1979 because of his sexual orientation.
You can buy this book here. The Mirror of Love images © 2004 Jose Villarrubia, text © 1988 & 2004 Alan Moore; Review © 2005 Gregory Sanchez.
Prism Comics promotes the works of the LGBT community in comics. It does not implicitly endorse any other material or products associated with those works. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s).