Hazel Newlevant mixes together a charmingly queer millennial love story in Alternative Comics’ SUGAR TOWN. With bright artwork and clear dialogue, SUGAR TOWN uses the medium of comics to its fullest potential. In both art and writing, Hazel Newlevant’s world is colorful and endearing. SUGAR TOWN transports the reader to Portland, Oregon. Here, our writer navigates life as a queer woman in an open relationship. Despite the title, Newlevant does not sugarcoat her story. She directly addresses topics of jealousy, love, and communication. SUGAR TOWN sweetly highlights the realities of life in open relationships. 

Open or Polyamorous – Which is it?

It is easy to relate to SUGAR TOWN’s protagonist, Hazel. Newlevant shapes Hazel after herself. Yet SUGAR TOWN is unclear about whether or not it is autobiographical. As a result, we will distinguish between Hazel the character and Newlevant the author.

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While visiting family in Portland, Hazel explores her identity and stays true to loving nature. Newlevant does not directly answer the question posed by one of Hazel’s love interests: “Which is it?” Open relationship or polyamorous relationship?

Generally speaking, open relationships are those where any partner can enter other relationships. Polyamory is slightly more specific. Partners can enter multiple romantic relationships with each others’ consent. The open-ended comic leaves room for interpretation. Queer identities and fluid experiences flourish without being boxed in.

Image courtesy of Alternative Comics.

Hazel’s uncertainty while exploring her relationships with Argent and Gregor captures the joys and fears of young love. SUGAR TOWN acknowledges the complex nature of emotions, especially in the dating world. Over the course of the comic, Hazel feels anxiety, love, jealousy, pain, and uncertainty. However, SUGAR TOWN lacks a dramatic edge. Instead, it quietly focuses on Hazel’s relationship with Argent. Meanwhile, her romance with Gregor takes a back seat, despite their mutual affection. Still, SUGAR TOWN is an easygoing character study that openly examines dating and relationships.  

SUGAR TOWN is not a manifesto on open relationships. Newlevant does not criticize other experiences of pansexuality or different relationship styles. Her comic might challenge readers less familiar with the structure of non-monogamy. However, SUGAR TOWN brings a queer love story to comics without fear or shame. Ultimately, Hazel and her partners use excellent communication techniques that can benefit every relationship.  Happily, SUGAR TOWN does not fall into stereotypical tropes that often plague queer narratives.

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Mix Tapes  

Newlevant’s artwork is colorful and cheerful but still complex enough for narrative shifts. In the crowded nightclub, darker and moodier colors fill the frames. In contrast, in more intimate scenes between lovers, the colors shift to shades of pink. The comic’s bold lines and colors keep the story upbeat, while complimenting Hazel’s wide range of emotions. The bright colors in SUGAR TOWN do not detract from the details in Newlevant’s artwork. In addition, Newlevant plays a lot with angles and lighting. The dynamic frames give a window into Hazel’s perspective and allow the reader to watch the scenes unfold.

Image courtesy of Alternative Comics.

Appropriate to the Portland setting, the dream of the 90s is alive in SUGAR TOWN. With Argent’s dedication to her tape collection, the comic balances millennial fashion with deep nostalgia for the 1980s and 1990s. Cultural throwbacks include mix tapes, boom boxes, and “babe” as a term of endearment. Of course, readers can appreciate the art in its own right. Yet these details definitely add a certain sentimentality.  

Image courtesy of Alternative Comics.

SUGAR TOWN: An Ideal World?

SUGAR TOWN is refreshingly queer. Hazel and her lovers voice the desire to be who they are and with whomever they love without fear. At first glance, the comic might read as naive. However, Newlevant addresses adult experiences in the short comic. Her characters struggle with issues such as self-worth and mental health. One of Newlevant’s most political achievements in SUGAR TOWN is to present a queer sex worker as a nuanced person, not just a caricature. Similarly, the pansexual heroine sweetly challenges stereotypes about bisexuals and pansexuals as “loose.” Hazel is unapologetic about being both sexual and romantic with her lovers. 

SUGAR TOWN is not Newelvant’s first dive into political subject matter. Indeed, Newlevant was editor and publisher of the COMICS FOR CHOICE anthology focusing on the topic of abortion. Additionally, she has created many comics on the subject of abuse, self-harm, and queer identity. The bold drawing and solid colors stray from most of her other works, which lean towards impressionism. However, SUGAR TOWN absolutely matches Newlevant’s usual themes. Its commitment to nuanced queer representation makes it an uplifting and satisfying read.

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Final Thoughts: A Burst of Sweetness

SUGAR TOWN is sweet without being syrupy. Newlevant carefully creates a narrative that combines the dream of more accepting spaces with a realistic portrayal of life as a queer millennial. Its bright artwork and proud depictions of queer romance will make any reader feel hopeful about love. Newlevant’s work reminds us to love more openly, even for those not in open relationships. 

Image courtesy of Alternative Comics.
SUGAR TOWN by Hazel Newlevant
If you have been looking for a queer millennial love story, look no further than Hazel Newlevant’s SUGAR TOWN. This tender comic explores open relationships and queer identity with heartwarming characters and glowing artwork.
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