Recent Dorkiness

Smut and Filth: NSFW Quarantine Reviews Are Go!!!

So I’ve been reading a bit about quarantine and sex. Some are speculating that we may see a small baby boom early next year, as people sitting at home bored and scared turn to sex to make each other feel better. Of course, people are also scared of close personal contact, so that may NOT happen. But one thing is definitely happening: people are watching a lot more pornography. Pornhub (the number one free porn site on the interwebs) has been reporting an 11 or 12% increase in traffic since the stay-at-home orders were issued, so even if it’s only for, shall we say, self-comfort… Quarantine has definitely caused an increased interest in carnal matters.

And that got me thinking about funnybook porn. As long as people have been drawing pictures, they’ve been drawing dirty pictures, and so comics have always been a popular medium for porn. Tijuana Bibles, for instance, came about in the 1920s.

These were small comics pamphlets (often about the same size, entertainingly enough, as a Jack Chick religious tract), starring popular comic strip characters and celebrities engaging in graphic sex. If I remember correctly, Mae West and Betty Boop were the two most popular subjects for these things originally, but there were little porn comics done starring just about everybody. The Popeye ones especially crack me up. I couldn’t find an image from one of those that’s clean enough to post, though, so here’s Mickey Mouse instead:

(An Aside: I’m trying to keep the artwork I post here largely R-Rated (or maybe NC-17). So you can expect to see full frontal nudity and sexual positions, but no X-Rated close-ups. Just in case you need to worry about when and where you read this column.)

The Tijuana Bibles are pretty representative of the level of quality you get from most porn comics. Like video porn, it’s often cranked out on the cheap by people of varying skill who need some quick cash. There are exceptions, of course. Manga porn is insanely diverse, and European comics are full of very talented artists who specialize in what is essentially soft-core porn. Milo Manara may be the most famous of those, and not without reason. While I understand his detractors’ complaints about the way he over-sexualizes women even when he’s NOT doing porn, his actual artwork has a sort of delicate beauty about it that I can respect.

But that’s Europe, where they have a more grown-up attitude toward these things. In America, porn is more disreputable. I mean, Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie may have been able to turn porn into literature in Lost Girls, but otherwise… I don’t think we have a Milo Manara here. I mean, maybe I’m wrong. I hardly consider myself a connoisseur of dirty comics. But in my experience, American porn specialists tend to, at their best, be guys like Larry Welz, creator of Cherry Poptart. Cherry is essentially Archie with sex. Which is to say, the art is cartoony, and the stories are short, simple affairs that work mostly in service to jokes. And sex. There’s not a lot to it beyond a cheerfully decadent 1970s kind of pleasure-positive sexuality. Welz is a good cartoonist, though, and there are Cherry pages that are genuinely pretty.

None of these comics are the ones I wanted to talk about this week, though. I just felt like, if we were going to discuss funnybook porn, they deserved at least a mention before I moved on to the actual reviews. Because while I don’t actually own any of the above comics, I do own other comics that can’t be considered anything but pornography. These are books that tend to offer a little something more than just X-Rated action, though, and might actually be worth reading for more than just the sex.

Or maybe I’m just very picky in my perversions…

XXXenophile
by Phil Foglio and Friends

I’ve just kind of dismissed Cherry as nothing more than cartoony jokes and porn, and now I’m about to praise a comic that’s… also nothing more than cartoony jokes and porn. So why do I like Phil Foglio’s XXXenophile better?

Well… I think it’s funnier, for one thing. And it’s also much, much nerdier. Because what Foglio’s doing here is a sex comic that’s also a good-natured send-up of sci-fi and fantasy. That’s why the title plays off the term xenophile: many of the stories are about attraction to the alien. Not just to space aliens, you understand (though there’s a good number of those), but really to anyone or anything beyond the human norm. So you’ve got people having sex with robots, sex with demons, sex with other-dimensional doppelgangers of themselves… Two people have a threesome with the virtual reality ghost of their mutual best friend… There’s characters with modular bodies who can remove their genitalia and leave it for their partners to have sex with while they’re away… Multiple women grow themselves penises with magic, just to try it out… There’s a polymorphing sex battle between a witch and the faerie queen that leads to (among other things) sex with a dragon…

Name a genre trope, and Foglio’s probably done some variation on it. It’s a dizzying array of scenarios, all presented with inventiveness and humor. While I wouldn’t call any of the stories deep, they are very imaginative, and many of them do delve into the motivations and emotions behind this attraction to the alien and unusual. Even when that motivation is only “I’ve always wondered what this would be like,” that still puts XXXenophile ahead of a lot of porn in offering something beyond the graphic sex.

But the series has a sex-positive attitude in general, and that’s a nice thing to see. You may see secret desires being fulfilled or people crossing boundaries they were afraid of, but none of the situations are degrading to anyone, and there’s no misplaced shame after the fact. The overwhelming theme of the series seems to be “Sex is fun.” And that’s a message I can get behind. Because it is. Or it should be, anyway. And too much porn doesn’t really reflect that.

XXXenophile ran for 11 regular issues and six square-bound “collections” that reprinted stories from the original run alongside new material. The sixth of those, in fact, was all new, and it presents a single long-form story involving a stolen gem that contains the libido of a god. It’s essentially a Dungeons & Dragons campaign done as a sex comedy, and it’s one of my favorite stories in the series. That came out in the year 2000, and that is where XXXenophile ended. Phil Foglio and his wife Kaja decided to put the series on hiatus until their children grew up.

I’m sure that’s happened by now, but in the meantime, they launched a new, more all-ages-friendly series called Girl Genius, which has been running ever since. After a brief run as a print comic, they moved it online, where it’s evidently done very well for themThey’re up to volume 13 at this point, with four prose novels also under their belts. So I’m thinking that getting back to their little porn comic probably ain’t gonna happen at this point. That’s okay, though, because Girl Genius delivers a lot of the same stuff, just without all nekkid people. I visited the site when I was researching this column, and found myself reading through it at a brisk pace. Before I knew what had happened, 90 minutes had passed. I don’t remember it working that well in regular comics format, but in that larger chunk, I thought it was a lot of fun.

Of course, because of XXXenophile, I can’t read it without thinking that there’s a sex scene waiting to happen around every corner. Which brings us back to what we’re actually reviewing here. I’ve debated giving these porn comics actual grades, because… Well, they’re pornography. Giving XXXenophile four stars kind of means that I think it’s just as good as, say, Greg Rucka’s Lazarus. Which it’s not, really. But it does what it sets out to do really well, so…

Eh. Screw it. Four stars it is…

Ironwood
by Bill Willingham

In-between losing the rights to his super hero comic Elementals, and launching the enormously-popular Fables a decade later, Bill Willingham did this book, a fantasy series that probably shouldn’t have been done as porn.

I say that not because Willingham wasn’t good at drawing sex. He was. He gave the porn aspect of the book a pleasantly visceral, meaty sort of feel that worked for it. Unfortunately, I can’t get that across visually without posting something WAY more graphic than I want. Here’s the beginning of an early scene, though, just to give you an idea:

(And if you really wanna see a better example, click here. Or here for a lot more.)

So it’s not that the sex was poorly-done. It’s just that Willingham clearly wanted to do a lot more with it than the porn format allowed. He was deep into the world-building on this book, creating a complex and interesting fantasy world complete with its own mythology, rivalries, and power structures. It’s actually a setting he had already used in a couple of issues of Elementals, and the book even features two characters who first appeared there. So what you’ve got is an other-dimensional present-day world where the existence of magic meant that the industrial revolution never happened. And without the democratizing effect of technology, many medieval social and power structures remain in place.

The hero (or let’s say “protagonist”) is Dave Dragavon, a handsome rogue type and complete reprobate who’s also nearly indestructible because he’s actually a young dragon in human form. He’s hired by Pandora, captain of a flying pirate ship, who wants him to help her find a wizard named Gnaric, who she hopes can lift a curse from her. But there are more powerful forces at play, and they want something she’s got, and that complicates everything exponentially. It’s all delightfully cynical, and a lot of fun to read.

So fun, in fact, that by the second or third issue, the plot is a lot more interesting than the sex, and a couple of issues after that, the porn is just getting in the way. The sex scenes become shorter and more perfunctory, and less connected to the plot. And though issue 10’s one-man wizard orgy is pretty inventive, Willingham is clearly more interested in scenes like this…

…and so are the readers. I remember thinking that he should have just dropped the porn entirely, and relaunched the book as more of an R-rated fantasy comic. But that was not to be. So Willingham wrapped the whole thing up after releasing just 11 issues over the course of four years. I remember the ending being very unsatisfying until I went back and re-read the whole thing, at which point I realized that he’d set it up a few issues earlier. It’s still too quick, but it’s a lot better than I thought at first.

So while I see Ironwood as something of a missed opportunity, I still remember it fondly. If Willingham ever decided to go back and revisit this world, I would most likely pick it up. Porn or not.

Birdland
by Gilbert Hernandez

And now we venture into the realm of art porn. Birdland is a story of lust and obsession, starring the sisters Fritz and Petra, two strippers named Bang-Bang and Inez, and the confusing swirl of relationships that surround all four of them.

Petra lusts after Fritz’s husband, his brother lusts after Fritz, Fritz’s husband is having affairs with both Bang-Bang and Inez, his brother is doing the same, Bang-Bang and Inez are (sort of) cheating on each other with both of them, they’re both seeking psychiatric therapy from Fritz, and Fritz is secretly hypnotizing her patients and having sex with them while they’re under.

Oh, and Bang-Bang has been visited by space aliens since she was a small child.

So just your typical porn scenario, then.

Ahem.

If you’ve ever read much Gilbert Hernandez, you’ll know that this doesn’t sound too far off from his normal work. He often deals in bad sex and broken hearts, with stories crammed as chock-full of hurtful obsessions as he can possibly make them. The pages I’m willing to actually post from this book, in fact, wouldn’t look too out of place in any issue of Love and Rockets released in the last 25 years. But trust me when I say that Birdland is a lot more graphic. There aren’t many pages that don’t feature stuff that goes way beyond my NC-17 limitation here.

But again, that’s not why Birdland is worth reading. It’s worth reading because, well…

GILBERT.

HERNANDEZ.

And this is early 90s Gilbert, too, so it’s all rock-solid cartooning with perfect linework and composition. It’s super-tight work, too, even for him. There are panels in this thing I can just sit and marvel at, without ever really acknowledging that what I’m looking at is a drawing of a blowjob. Amazing work.

Also because it’s Gilbert, the story underlying all the sex is fascinating, too, with a heavy dose of that emotional car crash quality his characters often display. Some of it is absolutely appalling, but it’s hard to look away. And by the end, the whole thing has dissolved down into pure surrealism. The whole cast winds up in a zero-gravity orgy aboard a flying saucer before everything completely breaks down. Characters swap genders and roles, Fritz hypnotizes the audience, and the final issue is complete porn dadaism. It’s an entirely wordless tour de force that starts with dinosaur sex and runs through multiple timelines and realities all the way to a sci-fi future before settling down to Fritz and her husband having steamy shower sex and deciding to make their marriage work after all. Which I think was the whole point of the thing to begin with.

Whew. Heady stuff. And completely, absolutely filthy.

I can’t quite bring myself to give this book five stars, but it might deserve it…

 

Aaaanndd… That’s all the smut we have time for. Next week, we’ll be returning to less adult topics.

About Mark Brett (570 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

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