Relationships are some of the hardest, yet most fulfilling, things in life. Not just relationships between a significant other, like that of Long Distance, but between friends, close family members, or coworkers. Relationships are what define us as people and help mold our personalities. With long distance relationships, everything gets harder. I know; I’m in a long distance relationship. Thom Zahler captures the frustration and infatuation of a long distance relationship perfectly in what is just 160 pages of content.
I don’t have a story about a magical meeting during a layover in New York, just a slow burn realization that a friend was becoming much more. The couple featured in Long Distance is designer Carter Blue, who owns his own ad business with his buddy in Ohio, and Lee Smith, a post-doc working at a Chicago university for one of those brilliant-mind-but-not-a-people-person professors. They say you can have love at first sight, but it’s much more complex than that. Carter and Lee’s connection was immediate, but their love grew from a mutual love for pop culture and the ease with which they talked to each other during the three hour delay and subsequent conversations.
But Zahler’s comic doesn’t focus on the nuances of getting into a relationship, which varies greatly from person to person, or trying to maintain one. It, as the title suggests, focuses on the long distance aspects—the little things, like how hard it is to just not be in the same room, much less the same city or the same state. It understands that even being apart when you’re visiting each other is hard; rarely does Zahler place the two lovers apart from each other during their visits. It makes so, so many things feel real when, sometimes, I just try to escape into work or entertainment to forget that the person I love lives 1,500 miles away. Because it feels a little less lonely. Carter and Lee have it easy; they’re only 356 miles away.
I came into Long Distance after chatting for approximately six minutes and twenty-four seconds with Zahler at Wonder Con, having bought the comic itself from him at his booth. I remember seeing it at my local comic shop with, of course, only the second and third issues on the shelf for my jump-into-the-middle enjoyment. I decided, at the time, to wait on the trade. Instead, I completely forgot about it and am happy I stumbled upon it again. Zahler verbalizes what I know inherently about long distance relationships.
Like short distance relationships, you have someone who’s your partner in life and best friend, someone you can share almost anything with. Long distance relationships have been made easier with the advent of cellular telephones; I can text (and send disgustingly cutesy LINE stickers) every day to the one I love. I can also call, skype, or facetime with her when we both have time. Sure, I’m in central time and she’s in pacific, so I stay up a little too late every night, but it’s worth it. Having a job where I go in at 9 helps too though.
Long Distance is a comic with finite space. It’s a story being told by Carter to a stranger at the airport and, as such, things will be glossed over because memories aren’t perfect and also the four, double-sized issues restraint. It doesn’t hit on a lot of things. Like being excited that you’re a layover away from the one you love or lethargic that you’re only a city away and headed in the wrong direction. It doesn’t mention the tears shed as you hug and say goodbye at the airport; the comic specifically avoids them because it’s so hard (and it is!). Or the loneliness you feel on the drive home from dropping them off at the airport. Or how “home” doesn’t feel like home without them. Or how your bed isn’t quite your bed without them. Or how your bed isn’t quite as inviting as theirs.
But all of that doesn’t matter. Because, through it all, the relationship is worth it. Because, as Carter says, not trying is worse than not knowing. Because, even if I don’t know when, we won’t be long distance forever. Carter and Lee can fight through 365 miles of the Midwest and make it out the other side relatively unscathed. So can anybody else. So can I. So can we.