This review originally appeared on Carnal Nation.
Interesting scenarios about sex, simply and skillfully executed, with an eye for both the excitingly hot side of sex and the human side.
Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
Of course, that’s harder to accomplish than it might seem…
First Time, a collection of erotic comics all drawn by different artists and written by the same author, fell into my lap a couple of weeks ago. (Conflict of interest alert: I work for a company, Last Gasp, that sells the book, which is how it fell into my lap.) When you’ve worked around porn for a long time, sometimes you can just smell when something is special. Within fifteen seconds of opening First Time, I knew I was going to love it; within three minutes of flipping through it, I knew I was going to be raving about it.
And yet, it’s hard to put my finger on what exactly makes the book so special.
The art is good on all ten of the stories. It’s excellent on many of them: beautiful, strong, drawing you into the scenes and offering sensual pleasure purely from the ink on the page. And yet, because all ten stories are drawn by different comic artists, I’m hesitant to say that the art is what makes it special. The art varies from good to kick-ass… but it’s not what holds the book together.
What holds the book together, what makes it so special, is the writing.
But the writing isn’t lavishly beautiful, or wickedly perverse, or anything as obvious as that. What makes the writing so special is how human it is. The stories — by Sybilline, a French woman I’d never heard of before seeing this book — are deceptively simple, setting up erotic scenes in a few frames, and fleshing them out in clean language that gives the characters room to breathe. And the characters are… well, they’re characters. These aren’t the kind of erotic comics that try to turn you on by showing you hot characters with luscious bodies and voracious appetites. These are the kind of erotic comics that try to turn you on by showing you how the characters feel about the sex they’re having. Yes, the characters here are tasty and desirable… but the comics don’t get to you by making you want them. They get to you by getting you inside their desires, inside their sensations, inside their skin.
All the stories are about first times: the first time having sex, the first time having a three-way, the first time going to a sex party, the first time buying a vibrator. And that definitely adds, not only to the humanity of the stories, but to their erotic tension. Because the comics are all about first times, every sex act in them is a sexual adventure — from submission and spanking and men getting pegged in the ass, to simple, garden-variety fucking. And unlike sexual adventures in a lot of mediocre porn, where everything moves forward with implausible plastic grace, the stories here have room for imperfection. They have room for anxiety and awkwardness, for doubt and absurdity, for mis-steps and miscommunication… for all the things that make sexual adventures actually feel thrilling and new and adventurous. The two women in the “2 + 1” three-way story are both insecure about how they’re dressed; the woman buying the vibrator in “Sex Shop” feels self- conscious about walking into the store, and overwhelmed by too many options. All of which makes their eventual pleasure and delight feel that much more real, that much easier to identify with… and that much more triumphant. (Even the story about the sex doll — told from the doll’s point of view — gets you feeling what she’s feeling… making the story one of the most kinkily unsettling, and erotically compelling, in the book.)
I won’t say that the book is consistently brilliant. It’s always at least good; but there are definitely higher points and less- high points. Some of the artwork is stronger than others; some of the pages are more fluid, while others are a bit choppy; some of the stories are more evocative than others. Example: Olivier Vatine’s art on “Club,” the sex party story, is lush and rich, conveying the sense of infinite possibility every bit as much as the story itself. The art by Dave McKean on “X-Rated,” on the other hand, is a bit of a disappointment… especially since, as a frequent Neil Gaiman collaborator, he’s probably the biggest name in the book. It’s fine, and well- executed, but it’s a bit too experimental and surreal for a book whose strength lies in its immediacy and reality. The book is lovely, it’s enticing and arousing, it’s good for a quick porny wank and for a lingering repeated read — and it’s extremely promising, I can’t wait to see what this author does next — but I’m not going to say that it’s a tour de force.
What I will say is this: If you care about erotica — stories or art — then First Time should definitely be on your radar.
And if you care about erotic comics, First Time is a must-have.
First Time. Hardcover comics collection. Written by Sibylline; drawn by various artists. Published by Eurotica/NBM. Translated into English. ISBN 978-1-56163-549-8. $19.95.