COMICS AND BONDAGE AND LESBIANS (OH MY!) – Sunstone by Stjepan Šejić

WARNING: This graphic novel, and its review, both include heavy sexual content. Proceed with knowledge! 

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This was recommended to me by a friend at my volunteer work and I could not be more thankful. See, I don’t usually go looking for books that have to do with BDSM because it usually means that some big handsome dude is tying a poor, naive girl up and spanking her (not that I’m referencing any series in particular… no sir). And that’s just not what I’m about. I harbor no ill-will for real-life relationships between male doms and female subs, but it’s not something I’m at all interested in devoting my own time to. To me, men have too much societal power over women for me to get anything out of a straight BDSM relationship in which the man is the dominant one.

I’m getting a little off track here.

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The point is, when I read what this was actually about, I was both ecstatic and nervous. Ecstatic, of course, because of the subject matter, but incredibly nervous because it was written by a man. I wasn’t really interested in reading something that was just lesbian porn written for men to ogle. Boy, was I wrong.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. You probably want to know what this is actually, like, about, right? Well, the story surrounds a writer named Lisa, a submissive who’s been talking to a domme via a BDSM website’s messenger, a site she posts her own naughty stories on. Soon, they decide to meet in real life, and end up being more compatible than they bargained for. Originally intending to be a friends with benefits situation, they both find themselves falling in love, and it only gets crazier from there. Along for the ride are Alan, Ally’s ex and now friend, who makes a lot of her BDSM furniture and equipment; Anne, a curious bisexual; Tom and Cassie, Lisa and Ally’s married friends who are getting into the lifestyle themselves; and, to an extent, Marion, Alan’s ex who ends up being a dark and crucial part of Ally’s past with bondage.

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Where do I even begin? With the art, I guess. I never thought I would give a male artist kudos for how he draws sexy women. Are all of their bodies virtually flawless? Yes. Do they frequently wear boob-bearing, skimpy clothes? Yes. Are they drawn, technically, through the male gaze? Yes. But the crucial difference between this and, say, a superheroine in a counterproductively sexy outfit is that these costumes were made for being sexy. It isn’t a matter of the artist wanting the women to be sexy for the sake of being sexy, even while doing other things (as a matter of fact, Ally and Lisa’s street clothes are rather modest). It’s a matter of these women (and men) in situations where they want to be sexy, they’re trying to look hot, they’re doing it for themselves. And yeah, sure, I guess the argument could be made that Power Girl chose her boob window of her own free will, but as a character whose main priority is being active, it’s pretty clear that, were she a real person, she’d probably go without and not risk a titty popping out mid-flight. But I digress.

Another aspect of the art I enjoyed were the fact that the facial expressions of each character were strong, emotional, and stylized, not made for constantly looking pretty. When Ally is happy, her grin is wide and goofy; when Lisa is exasperated, her whole face joins in the scowling. Female comic book characters often have what I call resting sexy face, i.e. a complete lack of facial expression in the effort of the artist to keep them looking supermodel hot at all times. Sunstone doesn’t have that problem, except, of course, when Ally is making a solid effort to keep her resting sexy face on point.

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There are some things about the story and writing that I could have done with more of. An overwhelming majority of the speaking characters are white. I can remember two black characters off the top of my head, and one of them is a character in one of Lisa’s stories, so she doesn’t really count. Any of the main characters could have been made a POC and enriched the story; Lisa could have been Latina, Ally could have been Asian, Anne could have been black. The lack of people of color in the comic will be a big issue for some, a deal breaker for others, and I completely understand that and don’t push you to change your mind.

One thing that was beautiful, though, is orientation representation. Lesbians and bisexuals are indicated by name; Ally comes out to Alan as gay after falling in love with Lisa, instead of claiming that she’s an ‘exception’. And beyond that, relationships of every orientation are treated realistically, with little to no tropes associated with same-sex partnerships in fiction. Not a single queer character dies, and, please highlight for spoiler, Ally and Lisa actually end up together.

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And most of all, what I love about these characters is that, above all else, they are people. Not one of them is perfect, and every single one of them does something shitty at one point or another, and addresses it. Lisa is selfish, Ally can be vindictive, Anne is judgmental, and it’s alright, because Lisa is also creative and kind, Ally is dedicated and intelligent, and Anne is talented and curious. There were times throughout the series that I was angry at each of them, but as they owned up to their shortcomings, I found myself forgiving them, just as real friends forgive one another.

For people who are well-versed in the BDSM lifestyle, or a participant, will appreciate the realistic and informative depiction of it. The title of the comic is Ally and Lisa’s safeword, the phrase that will stop any activity the submissive is uncomfortable with, an important aspect in any BDSM relationship. The practice’s catchphrase of sorts is ‘safe, sane, and consensual’, and Ally and Lisa’s relationship is all three. There are even examples of what not to do, with past anecdotes involving the dangers of unpracticed self-bondage, leaving subs alone for long intervals, and keeping BDSM activities moderate without becoming addictive. I would consider it a great read for someone who’s curious about the lifestyle but lacks anyone to experiment with, or a substantial local community.

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Finally, the thing I love most about this series is how it made me feel. There were times that hit close to home, times I was overwhelmingly happy, times I was devastated. But the conclusion made the emotional rollercoaster completely worth it.

Stjepan Šejić is currently working on Mercy, a companion series that follows Alan and Anne. He then plans to start Jasper, which features Marion and her new boyfriend, James.

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See y’all next time!

xoxo Kell

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