Sex and sex and sex and sex
Hello everyone, our topic today is a particular brand of smut. I’m not talking about merely explicit references or depictions, not talking about naturalism … just plain ol’ porn. Yup – reading this stuff may have something to do with wanting to come soon thereafter, and one may speculate that the very creators themselves, the scalawags, sought this effect upon the readers as a major feature of the work.
I propose a sliding scale (“sliding scale,” snuffle-snort!) with Larry Welz’s Cherry, formerly Cherry Poptart, Phil Foglio’s XXXenophile, and Kate Worley and Reed Waller’s Omaha the Cat Dancer as reference points. You didn’t just make a threesome joke, did you. You’re better than that. Anyway, the scale goes like this:
Cherry is all about set-pieces for drawin’ the dirty; it’s unqualified porn. Cherry & friends (and mom) fuck a zillion people, the end. The scenarios feature the same people but not as a continuing story. The fact that it’s done mostly in a generous and fun spirit, sometimes with satirical wit, puts it in a different category from a lot of other porn, but no one is going to mistake the book’s purpose for anything but the one thing. I state with some dignity that I own no issues … which is really only to say that I had friends who did.
XXXenophile is similarly focused on “lookit these people screwing” in which the typical scenario relies on a touch more plot, the humorous and genre-parody material is often developed as part of that, and the depicted individuals are in understandable relationships or establishing them. It’s a general send-up of gaming, comics, and SFF as well. There’s only a rare nod to continuing characters. Think of it as skits with a single purpose – classic porn-with-plot. I own every issue.
Omaha is a solid multi-issue story with many characters in a big web of relationships and plenty of scenes with people not having sex, but the events frequently contrive to set up character A (or B, or C, or …) with character Z (or Y, or X, or …) with a thorough depiction of just how each one has an orgasm. This is plot-with-porn, and although I may hear howls of rage in saying this, the plot tends to wander and founder in service to the porn. You might be able to get away with telling someone that it’s really a sensitive relationship story which merely happens to be verisimilitudiny, and given any single issue (in fact, there’s one with no sex in it), they might believe you – but not if given three in a row. I own every issue.
You may have noticed that although the covers seem like “one of these is not like the others,” the three click-through images are not distinguishable in terms of erotic depiction. That’s what I’m sayin’, that this is a scale of porn and not away or toward it. How did the Meese Commission on Pornography put it, “What the point of all this is, I cannot imagine!” Which is pretty good evidence for that old two-types-of-people-in-the-world setup, because it seems to me the point is pretty fucking clear.
[Quick side-trip for autobiography – my reading of these titles was most attentive during my first two or three years in grad school, 1989-92, which was also a low point for my own romantic and sexual activity. Well, plenty of activity, but with jarring starts and stops, and all of it full of hassles, recriminations, and unnecessary drama, and by 1992, I was becoming a decidedly angry and difficult person. I found these comics less entertaining than I might have if the real-life equivalent had been more joyous and fun.]
But what’s my point in bringing it up? Certainly not to generalize about explicit sex in media – way too big a task, way too full of non-causal generalizations, and wrapped up in identity politics. Easier to talk about drugs and war, frankly. I have two ends in mind. The first is to point to how strikingly rare this exact sort is in U.S. comics. I’m not confident about frequency/rarity in media outside comics or about specifically within designated pornography or about anywhere else, so let’s keep it in that venue.
For example, I’m not talking about probably my favorite kind of depiction, as seems most common in gay comics like Wendel and Dykes to Watch Out For, but can be found in other sorts too: pretty much naturalistic, part of the story because it’s what people do, just as often a hassle as a pleasurable spectacle – you see Lois’ bush as she’s pulled out of the shower due to her anxiety about a phone call, because being naked is part of how inconvenient an interrupted shower is; you see Ollie’s dick during the nude scenes in the play he’s in mainly because he’s being such a chicken about it. Sex scenes in these and similar titles actually tend not to be very explicit about the genital contact. There’s also a casual audacity in that if we’re going to get into these people’s personal lives, well, we’re gonna see’em naked once in a while because. Which makes perfect sense to me and humanizes the characters immensely.
Nor am I talking about the sex more typically associated with underground comix, in which raunchy fun orgasm is actually practically absent – contrary to the stereotype, prurient spectacle isn’t really what the underground creators were into. I think Crumb might have drawn one such scene once, and most of the creators I wrote about in The way underground depict sex as deeply emotionally charged and difficult to process, or are so audacious that it goes right past satirical and into the zone of existential absurdity. The explicitness serves as a technique toward these ends, to the point that I’d say jerking off to S. Clay Wilson’s work, or sharing it with a partner as a foreplay activity, would be a bit strange.
My second point focuses mainly on Omaha and some odd interactions among creators, settings, and fans – so this has more to do with ‘Verse than with sex as such. You may have noticed the characters in the book are animorphs – so, furries, right? Nope. The depictions are strictly for characterization, and the stories are about people. There isn’t an “Omaha universe,” in which cats and boars and whatnot go about their daily lives as people. There isn’t any reason to wonder about that place, how it works, why Joanne has a fuzzy snatch even though she’s a bird, et cetera et cetera. The story is about people in the world, more or less naturalistically with allowance for drama, in which the animal depiction is an enjoyable device for clarity and easy identification.
With that in mind, reinforced if one cares to believe a creator (always risky) by Worley’s comments in the letter column, I move on to another interesting thing she said there: she’s not a gamer. She says this with some force, describing exactly her frustration with fans who are strangely obsessed with in-fiction causality and for lack of a better word, physics. As an avid role-player, and deeply engaged in Champions especially at the time, that struck me hard – not as an insult, but as a wake-up call. I even avoided Worley when our paths crossed at a pro-party, although I was a big fan of her work, because I was chewing it over and didn’t want to annoy her with gamer-ness. Was I engaged in role-playing, especially comics-based role-playing, as a fan or as a creator?
Huh-huh, you said, “role-playing.” YES YES, I know, fuck off, let’s keep going with this. It’s interesting. Clearly the long-standing need and frankly obsession with in-fiction causality and setting-detailing (by which I do not mean the organic production of setting via multiple episodes, nor do I mean a relevant back-story), is akin to the comics fan’s deep need to think the depicted fiction is “hard,” i.e., is possessed of genuine internal integrity, history, and sense. That the events in past issues literally cause the events being depicted now. That events there are proceeding when they’re not looking at them, or indeed, even when no one is writing or drawing them.
“Hard.” Huh-hah! DAMN IT, STOPPIT –ahem– Whereas my view (‘Verse this) is that comics creation is not only not concerned with such things, but literally dismisses them in favor of – at best – simply decent consequence, constraint, nothing more, toward the end of writing an enjoyable story this time, right now.
Odd, though … it’s so hard to see this and work through it when discussing superheroes, of all things, and yet, when it’s stated right-out-there regarding porn, something I only care about intermittently and on the basis of very specific titles, it’s so obvious.
Next: Splendid little wars
Posted on January 10, 2016, in The 90s me and tagged 'Verse, Cherry Poptart, Kate Worley, Meese Commission on Pornography, Omaha the Cat Dancer, Phil Foglio, Reed Waller, XXXenophile. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.