Sex and sex and sex and sex

xxx1It is going to be most tricky to keep this one SFW. Even saying “embedded” regarding the links makes me snort and snuffle with laughter. Don’t click, people, don’t click!

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

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About Ron Edwards

Game author and publisher via Adept Press / Biology author and former professor

Posted on January 10, 2016, in The 90s me and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I haven’t read Cherry, but I own most of the XXXenophile collections and the first couple Omaha books, and still read them from time to time, along with a smattering of other illustrated erotica. I’ve reached a point where I don’t really feel the need to acquire more, in contrast with my 20s self who avidly, sometimes furtively (but sometimes not) pursued such things.

    None of which really has anything to do with what really struck me about this post, which is the apparent disdain for fans of continuity. I read and enjoy books with a cast of characters who appear in one-off stories that don’t have anything to do with each other, and that’s fine, I can appreciate that. But holy shit, internally consistent continuity is just unutterably more satisfying and viscerally enjoyable to me. Obviously we differ on this point, and that’s what’s interesting to me. I wonder what it is about our respective worldviews or life experiences or whatever that produce such diametrically opposed entertainment preferences along that specific axis, even though our preferences largely overlap along so many others.

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    • I don’t think it’s continuity. Or better, we should review my post ‘Verse this, in which I talk about how great storytelling requires consistency, constraint, consequences, and similar stuff. I’m pretty sure that’s what you like too, and if so, then we don’t differ at all. But I think canon and the term continuity as applied in comics fandom are awful things – and militate against great stories rather than creating them.

      In this post, though, I wasn’t talking about the story structures (independent vignettes in XXXenophile, same characters but non-serial episodes in Cherry, same characters in serial/series in Omaha), so I don’t see how continuity is involved. I or rather Worley wasn’t criticizing that – but rather the notion that characters who were depicted as cat-people and so on were somehow interpreted by readers as being cat-people in a cat-people-inhabited fictional world.

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      • Hm. I’m not sure what the distinction is. I mean, I’m familiar with the difference between anthropomorphic character in the Stan Sakai sense, where animal form is simply shorthand for character traits or temperament, and also in the “these are actually different species of being” that may or may not uplifted or magical or whatever versions of animalified people or peopleified animals. In Omaha’s case, IIRC, it’s the former, where the characters are not anthropomorphic animals so much as theriomorphic people, right?

        There are also anthro comics like, for instance, Better Days, where animal species correspond directly to human racial groups at least to some degree (ymmv on whether the choices indicate any kind of racial prejudice on the part of the author).

        But when you say “characters depicted as cat people were interpreted as being cat people”, I’m not sure I know what you’re saying, if it’s not one of the things above.

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        • Paraphrasing myself: Worley was irritated (or so I interpret her written statement) with readers who failed to understand that Omaha was written as theriomorphic people, just as in Usagi Yojimbo (good benchmark for that), interpreted it as written as anthropomorphic animals and wanted to know lots more about this “world” in which they lived.

          The Usagi Yojimbo reference is also useful because the licensed RPG was written as if the characters were anthropomorphic animals, giving each species “powers” in accordance with that interpretation. I remember groaning out loud.

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        • Right. IronClaw used species as “rpg races” as well, with different abilities. I guess to an RPG writer it would seem like a sin to have animals or anthro characters without doing so- that’d be leaving splat on the cutting room floor. I feel like there might have been one game that did it the other way but I don’t recall off the top of my head. Maybe you know?

          So the point you’re making, if I’m understanding it now, is that readers wanted some kind of setting guide that explained how theriomorph society worked, when that was missing the point- it worked just like our society, only with tails and shit. Is that the gist? Okay.

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        • You know, in all my visits to and departures from furry fandom, I don’t think I’ve ever run into such a clear distinction made between “theriomorphic people” and “anthropomorphic animals.” I’d been conscious of a sort of sliding scale of animal-ness, but that divide very much strikes me as a matter of kind rather than degree.

          My own creative endeavors have tended to be more of the anthro-animal kind. But as I run into more and more pieces of that approach that distract from rather than add to the storytelling, the appeal of therio-humans grows on me.

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        • I’ve always understood my own interest in anthro/furrydom as something kind of primal. Beings of power that are fusions of animal and human characteristics appear in pretty much every culture, and I think to a degree, furry fandom ties into that on a visceral level. Being part animal gives one leave to act well outside the boundaries of ordinary social interaction, as well as draw on the iconic qualities we ascribe to “lower” creatures (which is often based on proto-anthropomorphization itself, I think). I dunno, it’s been a long time since I’ve thought about it, I probably have an essay about all that somewhere in my digital archives but I don’t really have time to look for it.

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      • I’m gonna be one of those gamers here, and note that there is some mention of differing abilities in Sakai’s work, namely that Usage has great hearing (due to his big ol’ rabbit ears), and you have the bat ninja clan who can fly. Don’t know if there’s much more than that.

        But, yeah. I have the Sanguine Usage game, and it is kinda silly that the various animal types are mechanically different. Not sure if it’s better or worse int he Fuzion version.

        I’m sort of stunned to hear that anyone approached Omaha that way, though. I mean, who reads a passage like the three-way linked above and thinks, “Gee, I wonder how the cat people evolved?”

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  2. What the hell is wrong with our society that sex isn’t treated as a normal biological function like eating, sleeping, and so on?

    Imagine every possible way you and an individual selected randomly from (let’s say you’re picky) a twelfth of the world’s population might sit down for a meal. There is such an insane spectrum of ways that meal can work out–in fact, many if not dozens of such spectra.

    And–once you take procreation out of the mix–it’s the same for sex: sure, it can be hot and the goal of every human being ever (Hollywood blockbuster style), but it can be a zillion, zillion more things.

    Our culture’s fascination of sex in the “pneumatic young bodies goin’ at it all super-horny style” just seems like a colossal mental block. Maybe it’s all in the service of selling stuff, I don’t know, but it just gets really tiresome.

    The best part of sex was discovering that sex didn’t have to be that.

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  3. I guess I’m one of those who would say Omaha is “a sensitive relationship story which merely happens to be verisimilitudiny”, at least in the sense it contrives sexual encounters as much as a typical American daytime soap (though is much better-written), except it doesn’t cut away to soft-focus candles when characters start doin’ it. But, granted, Omaha is one of the few titles in this genre with which I have any familiarity.

    If not, well, I think it straddles (tee-hee) the line pretty well. Sure, the porn is well-done, but man did I end up really caring about all of these characters — especially once some of the melodrama of Vol 1 was left behind for just interesting life stories.

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  4. A bashful reader asked me:

    In the very early 80s, my father, several years divorced from my mother,
    moved into a new apartment and left by the previous tenant was a big ol’
    crate of Conan comics. He gave me the crate.

    As it turns out, mixed in with the Conan stuff was some porno comic. It
    “disappeared” out of the crate soon after… Details are fuzzy, being 35
    years ago and me being in the single-digit ages, but I’m hoping I can
    spout off some details that’ll help identify the comic. (finding out how
    badly I misremember it would be reason enough to find it!)

    * Pudgy white guy, I don’t remember if he was homeless or just
    schlubby and poor, but he was always trying to borrow money from people.
    * When he drank beer, he was transformed into a superhero complete
    with costume and the physique.
    * He would pop a big ol’ boner which broke through his tights.
    * He fought hoodlums which were inner city black stereotypes, led by a
    woman who for some reason left an impression as being very 70s
    blaxploitation in nature. Upon her defeat she is transformed into a
    beautiful naked white woman.

    Very classy stuff.

    Does any of that ring any bells?

    I am clueless. Anyone?

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  5. Of these, I only know Xxxenophile, and that only from the card game (though of course the Foglio’s are also familiar from various incarnations of “Phil and Dixie”). But I’d say your points one and two have essentially the same root/explanation: the inherent difficulties involved in sorting out exactly what thing(s) are operating in service to (har har – oh, shut UP!) what other thing(s), and the maybe-unnecessary but apparently-inevitable geekly amplifications to that.

    That the “other thing(s)” would be in service (to varying degrees, in varying ways) to the “sex-n-ProN” is a bit alien to a fair number of folks, maybe especially the geeky ones. And that “in-fiction causality” might be in service to character and/or porn-driven objectives … well, Ron, you helped me see ignorance of that issue generally (i.e., regarding stories overall, not just pornish things) as unfortunate and often toxic in the RPG context, so I guess it’s no surprise I see pointing at it as entirely sensible.

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  6. Oh, and something I did read a bit of – does Vampirella add anything to the discussion? Evidence of not-quite-so-rare? Not porn-really? I don’t know enough to do more than throw the title out there …

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    • I remember Vampirella having a big stamp on the comics scene in the early 1970s. I don’t think she’s a topic for this exact post, unless some part of her library includes major-explicit sex – I don’t know it well enough to say, or not at all.

      What does interest me is how much she persists in reference. Stan Lee’s most recent discussion of heroics in comics uses her as a major example, including a lot of references from her black-and-white publications which, based on just those pages, look pretty damn dramatic and intriguing. And relevant to your points, my friend Kim Yale, whom I’ve written about here more than once, surprised me with her proud, pleased acquisition of a large fan (meaning the fold-out object, not the person) illustrated with an extremely lurid and in fact pornographic version of Vampirella. Kim was by no means prudish but was also most exacting about objectifying women, so I wondered at the time, and wonder now, what about Vampirella’s history and reception in comics exempted her from that criticism.

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  1. Pingback: Furry People, or Sapient Animals? | The Hall of Twisted Mirrors

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