Read ‘Em: Comics About Sex
In the immortal words of Salt-N-Pepa, let’s talk about sex—in comics, that is.
A few years ago, my first thought upon hearing “sex in comics” would have been of women as objects, on display in tight latex outfits with shrunken waistlines and unnecessary boobage. As much as that is still a reality, I was happy to see once I got over the hump *ahem* of reading my first comic that there are sex-positive comics and women telling their own stories about love and sex in honest and funny and touching ways. And now I’m hooked.
My first and perhaps the most obvious one was Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. I have to admit that I was somewhat reluctant to read it, not because of the hype but because it was by two men. I was worried it would reek of male gaze. But it doesn’t get all creepy or judgey about Suzie, the main character who stops time when she orgasms. The original story, art, humor, and bookish references made it worth feeling like a weirdo when I handed this to the Chapters clerk, who I wanted to tell, “This isn’t what the title makes it sound like.”
Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi: After adoring Persepolis, I was eager for more of Satrapi’s work, and Embroideries sounded like it would be right in my wheelhouse: It’s basically Satrapi and a bunch of her female relatives sitting around and talking about their sex lives. That was all I needed to pick it up. Their stories were at times funny and at times rage-inducing at the damage of patriarchy, but they were always honest. I only wish I could’ve eavesdropped more.
On Loving Women by Diane Obomsawin: This is a slim collection of short stories based on Obomsawin’s friends’ and lovers’ first realizations that they loved other women. Her style is spare and simple, and the characters are depicted as anthropomorphic animals. This makes the range of stories and emotions stand out, and each heartbreak or joyful self-realization is so close and true.
Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich: After divorcing her husband of 15 years and being disappointed at having slept with only three men, Lena Finkle decides to try online dating. It sounds like the setup for a bad rom com, but Lena Finkle is too complex and flawed to become a caricature. Instead, I felt out of place along with her as she delved into her immigrant background, doubtful as she questioned her body and her worth and if she was doing dating right, and awkward as she realizes she’s so bad at sex that she makes other people bad at it too.
But no, it turns out “magic barrel” is not a euphemism like I had been thinking.
Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22 by MariNaomi: This is literally a person-by-person rundown of all of her crushes, lovers, and everything-in-betweens, written with unapologetic and unflinching honesty. If you’re as nosy of a person as I am, you will love this.
On the biographical side, Freud by Corinne Maier and Anne Simon is admittedly not about the most sex-positive character, but it was still interesting to learn more about Freud and his crazy theories, like the Oedipus complex, especially coupled with the tongue-in-cheek illustrations, which include plenty of phallic symbols and Freud riding a penis like it’s a rocket.
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