6 examples of ‘adult comics’ for a variety of tastes
I have always found it fascinating that sex and erotic subjects are so much more taboo than violence in the US. Most people will not get in a car chase, fist fight or any kind of life and death struggle with a super villain and yet these are far more common in our fiction than sex and sexual situations. Violence barely gets a mention, as if it was always expected, but any kind of nudity or sexual content then warnings abound. We are very uncomfortable with sex in our society and it shows, particularly when we compare the US with much of the world. So when a “comic book” contains more adult material, it is often labeled as porn. This label scares away many that might actually be interested in the book. Some people because they are afraid of their own reaction, some because they are afraid of the reactions of the people around them.
It is possible to be erotic without being pornographic. Unfortunately if you are fairly prudish, you do not see it that way. It always seems to be the job of people who think they know better to protect us from ourselves. But if you are willing to look for it, you can find some really great storytelling in the form of “adult comics”. There is a difference between “mature readers” comics and adult, of course. Most of the Vertigo line is mature readers. While there is material that I would not recommend for mid teen and under, this is not genuinely ‘adult’ in that there is little to no truly graphic sexual content.
Some material out there IS indeed pornographic but that does not automatically make it bad. Many books do not feature or revolve around eroticism so much as tease or hint at it. Much DC’s Vertigo line and the Max line from Marvel do this to great effect. For this article though I will be discussing books that deal head on with the issue, either as an essential part of the story being told, or as a part of the greater whole.
The advent of comics was followed almost immediately into the market by adult comics. Most frequently in the form of what is called Tijuana Bibles. Cheaply produced, these quick pocket-sized comics were the first real underground books. What for a long while was referred to as ‘comix’, these dirty little buggers were usually done with established characters (Blondie, Popeye, Betty Boop and Lil’ Orphan Annie were particularly popular) or even public personalities placed into pornographic situations. One of the most popular public personalities was Marilyn Monroe, as were most any sexy screen stars.
Many books were done by just about anyone that could pick up a pen, but history has shown that established professionals from the mainstream comic industry were behind some of the better produced books. The cheap Tijuana Bibles evolved and became standardized underground books from many publishers of adult ‘comix’.
First let’s set the ‘wayback’ machine to the dim and distant 1990′s, the book Ironwood is an excellent place to start. While definitely adult material, I have a hard time with the label I’ve seen that call this ‘pornographic’. The writing really is just too smart for that base a description. Sex is very much a part of this story, but it really is just to add spice. The storyline could be told without the sex and it would still be a strong book. The sex just adds fun.
Ironwood is a smart fantasy story that is readily accessible. Filled with lots of wry humor and sex, of course, this book is a true ‘swords & sandals’ style epic. Started in 1991 by Bill Willingham (Yes, THAT Bill Willingham from Fables) Ironwood was 11 issues and was later collected in trade paperback by Eros Comix. I was always a big fan of Willingham’s early work, particularly The Elementals from Comico. The art style in Ironwood is much like the one Willingham used on The Elementals and on the Dungeons & Dragons strip ads. (For those unfamiliar, D&D strips ads were single-page ongoing stories/ads that ran in the back of most comics in the 70’s and 80’s) Willingham’s fun cartooning style made this odd and quirky at times. The story starts out strong, but as it progresses it’s easy to tell Willingham began to find the ‘sex angle’ difficult to believably incorporate and the story started to get stale. Ironwood was a huge step in a creatively different direction for Willingham and is well worth a look.
5. Black Kiss
A more straight-up Porn story is Black Kiss by Howard Chaykin. The sexual content cannot be separated from the story but make no mistake, there IS a story here. A strong tale that is as full of graphic sex as it is full of graphic violence. Black Kiss is very crime nourish, full of deviant behavior, black humor and even some vampires. It is a very Chaykin book! Black Kiss came after the work Chaykin is best known for, American Flagg!, and shows off his visual style very well for a black and white book. There really is not a single character in this book I would call ‘likeable’ but the reader will very quickly finds themselves interested in what is going on. A bit like a car wreck, just more nudity. Black Kiss is not for everyone. Even people who like the weird may find this one a bit much. Black Kiss was released in 1988 (with a sequel in the stores now) and I still remember buying it from my local comics shop and being absolutely amazed by it. Black Kiss pushes every boundary possible and is still a hard but compelling read.
4. The Lost Girls
The Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie is an example of pornography but only by the narrowest possible definition. Unfortunately that label simply does not do this justice. I have managed to finally read the entire collection and it is stunning. Alan Moore and his now-wife Melinda Gebbie worked on this creation for almost two decades and the effort spent is evident. Rather than the run of the mill filth, they created artistic and beautiful erotica. The goal to create an intelligent and highly sexual book was deliberate. Moore has been quoted, saying of most modern porn, “That it’s mostly ugly, it’s mostly boring, it’s not inventive – it has no standards”.
The storyline revolves around adult versions of the fictional characters Alice (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), Dorothy (Wizard of Oz) and Wendy (Peter Pan) meeting in a hotel in Austria just prior to the start of World War I. The three women share sexual stories and fantasies as well as have new encounters while at the hotel. Some of these tales are slightly disturbing to the reader, as you might expect. Anyone who has ever listened to someone tell such a story will be familiar with the mixed feelings. The stories are brief, plentiful, filled with eroticism and a sense of wonder and exploration. There are many references to historical events that give the book a grounded feeling that makes it seem even more real. If anything, this is what would make readers uncomfortable as the illusion of reality is unsettling at times. The reader feels even more like a voyeur than with traditional photographic porn.
The art is delicate and serene as it tells of the encounters between fictional characters. The art style is not one that I would normally enjoy, but it does fit the story and the feel the creators are going for. It reminds me of reading some smutty Edwardian pamphlet like they used to have for the masses. While it is not always pleasing to look at, it is the right art, execution and style for the job. I hope more people get a chance to read The Lost Girls for it is a wonderfully quirky story with enticing visuals.
Following in the tradition of the old Tijuana Bibles came Cherry Poptart (later just called Cherry thanks to threatened legal action from Kellogg). Larry Welz started this book in 1982 and it ran for 22 inconsistently released issues. Cherry was drawn in the style of the Archie comics characters and found humor from turning the wholesome format of Archie-type books on their heads. Not really a true parody as it was very much porn, Cherry has very little real storyline. The book managed to parody different comic genres and contained a lot of political satire. A fair bit of drug humor was also present and would have really made my mom angry if she knew I was reading it in the early 80’s (well before I was 18). I was a sneaky bugger and this was the first adult material I had seen. I wouldn’t call it grown-up though as much of the humor is pretty juvenile. The biggest topic of the book (other than sex) was freedom of speech. Welz felt essentially, love porn or hate it, it is the right of anyone that wants to publish it to do so, and the right of anyone that wants to purchase it to purchase all they want. Cherry is long since out of print along with the collected editions of them, but they can be found on the internet.
2. Manara Erotica
Milo Manara is a master of comics is any form but he is most known in this country for his adult material. His body of work is staggering given the detail and quality involved. Much of his work is being reprinted now a multi volume hardcover set that is just stunning to see and covers the majority of his past works. The most known in this U.S. is Click, and amazingly erotic story that is as timeless and funny as it is beautiful. Manara is a regular contributor to Heavy Metal and his work is adored by all who open themselves up to it. Manara’s work is not always erotic and never full on porn, but it is absolutely ‘adult’ material. Manara’s work is so special. I cannot recommend him enough.
Celluloid by Dave McKean is amazing to see. McKean mixes styles of art, storytelling and endlessly changes throughout the book. A wordless erotic adventure into a surreal mental fantasy landscape, this book requires concentration. The story is about a woman alone at home for the evening. She finds an old movie projector loaded with a film and as she watches, she is transported to a fantasy land of erotic imaginings. There are many ways to interpret the imagery and many different impressions each reader can take from the story. Celluloid requires multiple readings to be sure which is not something that you can say of most erotic books. This is a complex story that demands careful attention yet still manages to be intensely erotic. The wordless nature of the work opens up any imaginative interpretation the reader can create for themselves.
This list is really just a sampling of erotic/adult material that is worth your attention. This is not an ‘all things to all people’ kind of list, but rather a fairly broad variety of some of the better choices out there.
I have never thought there is anything wrong with depictions of sex. It is only in the land of the repressed that these books are anything other than enjoyable adult reads. However, this is America and the right to free speech does not just cover the topics one person likes. There are lots of things I disagree with, but we DO have the right to free speech, and fortunately the extreme right-wing of this country’s political spectrum has not yet successfully removed that right.
What do you think? Leave a comment.