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PG Tips No. 19:

For Adults Only

In a PG Tips special edition, Paul reviews comics for adults only.


Manga Sutra Volume 1: Flirtation
by Katsu Aki
TokyoPop
$19.99/£12.99
Manga, or Japanese comics, have an exaggerated notoriety in the West for extreme sexual content, commonly under the labels "hentai" for perverse or "ero-guro" for "erotic-grotesque" at the weirder end of the spectrum. At the same time, modern law has traditionally forbidden the explicit illustration of genitalia and pubic hair, in their comics and in pornography. This has resulted in manga creators censoring themselves by using special visual devices to obscure any offending areas, such as black bars, pixellation and shading effects or complete blanks for the reader to fill with their own imagination, or a whole arsenal of inventive symbols.


Manga Sutra
by Katsu Aki

Katsu Aki’s project is to titillate, stimulate but also educate by showing how his attractive young couple, both twenty-five and virgins, gradually learn to enjoy sex together as newlyweds. Theirs is an arranged marriage, which a footnote explains accounts for about 10% of marriages in Japan today. Both lack any experience, Makoto suffering from premature ejaculation ("And I even yanked one out in the shower!") and Yura from serious inhibitions ("Ooh, this is so embarrassing!"). Their naive awkwardness adds a certain erotic realism and charm to their intimacies, although artist-author Aki confines any clear images of genitals to abstract explanatory diagrams. This first English translation compiles the first two Japanese volumes into one 360-page book, sold in a shrink-wrapped slipcase. In Japan, this mix of steamy soap opera and practical sex manual has been running for 12 years. With sales of over 15 million copies and 35 volumes in print so far, it’s clearly meeting a demand there and there’s plenty more love-making tips for Makoto, Yura and their readers to learn. The second English volume moves on from "Flirtation" to "Foreplay".


Get Her!
by David Shenton
DS Comics
£15.00
David Shenton is one of the true pioneers of British gay comics, publishing sharp, funny strips for nigh on 30 years in venues as various as The Guardian and Positive Nation. In 1983 he unleashed Stanley And The Mask Of Mystery, part graphic novel, part activity book, for Gay Men’s Press, about a muscular, moustached clone dressed in plaid shirts who wakes up one morning to find leather boots and a mask in his bed. Shenton also adapted Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé in 1986 for Quartet, in which he was the first to flesh out a gay subplot only implied in Wilde’s original.


SalomeStanley & The Mask Of Mystery
by David Shenton

In his latest, Get Her!, Shenton has radically re-mixed a decade’s worth of his weekly serialised strip Prisoners Of Love (named after Bialystock and Bloom’s follow-up musical from Mel Brooks’ The Producers) in Boyz magazine. The result is a kaleidoscopic 260-page "drag psycho-drama" whose fluid, ever-shifting plots, characters, locations and sexualities make it a challenge to follow, let alone summarise; self-publisher Shenton describes it himself quite accurately as "stunning, exhausting, mad!".

To give you a flavour, one protagonist is naive Barnsley boy Desmond Bridges, "born on the unmusical side of the Pennines", who finally leaves home aged 22 to pursue his dream of a becoming a singing star. Moving in with his "weird" transvestite Uncle Frank in Manchester, the Candide-like Des has a complete make-over and becomes Dezibelle in a wig, frock and monocle, lead singer in retro "über-group" "Dez und der Moanerz." Our other hero is Jeff Masterson, a butch gay mass hypnotist who falls for Des and whose mother is a Barbara Cartland-style romance novelist.


Get Her
by David Shenton

Ultimately, the story is the eventually passionate romance between Jeff and Des, but along the way the two leading men become embroiled in a string of surreal and satirical scenarios. Jeff, for instance, joins a group of dissidents on the "Isle of Men", now a gulag of "masculine primitivism", who are rebelling against a tranny-led conspiracy to expunge all gays of anything too queer or anarchic. Later we learn that the previous 200 pages are storyboards for a new gay cable soap opera called Get Her!. At one point Shenton jokes, "There they found the other leopard men climbing into firefighting gear… a sight so startlingly homo-erotic, pen and ink can’t do it justice." While his graphic novel may not be very explicit, it works as an utterly idiosyncratic, polysexual romp, best enjoyed by going with the flow and surrendering yourself to its absurdist twists and perversely inventive playfulness.


Clean Cartoonists’ Dirty Drawings
edited by Craig Yoe
Last Gasp,
$19.95
If you are a connoisseur of more explicit pornography and wondering what sort of depraved desires and secret sex fantasies such straight-laced big-time cartoonists as Jack Kirby, Carl Barks or Alex Toth might have let out in their most private, personal artworks, you sadly won’t discover many scandalous answers in this 160-page scrapbook. Perhaps like Robert Crumb’s guilty scrawls, they flushed them down the toilet? Crumb, the quintessential dirty cartoonist, sums up the problem with this project in his one-page intro: "I could find very few drawings in the book that go beyond the level of standard burlesque humour or simple visual elegies to the female form." He concludes: "The cartoonists in this book mostly stayed safely within the perimeters of what was considered acceptable… Risqué, perhaps, but not, weird or perverse."


A spread by Carl Barks from
Clean Cartoonist’s Dirty Drawings

Nevertheless, there are some surprising treasures here, such as Superman’s original artist Joe Shuster, for example, represented by six of his cut-price soft-porn illustrations (and one is probably the book’s uncredited cover). These are more a sad footnote to his failing career and eyesight post-Superman, reduced to working for the foreign sleaze market and hiding his work under the pseudonym ‘Josh’. Jack Kirby’s entries are a one-off sexy gag panel for "a rare pulp magazine" (it would be nice to know which title and issue) and his strange two-page intro strip of Galaxy Green, with no context given. It’s been known for many years that before Disney’s Donald Duck, Carl Barks cartooned for the "racy humor magazine called Calgary Eye-Opener", but one "eye-opener" here is his 1939 reclining nude which, as Yoe rightly notes, "lays to rest any idea that Barks couldn’t draw in a completely realistic style if the master wanted to." That cartoonists like Jack (Plastic Man) Cole, Dan (Archie) De Carlo, Hank (Dennis the Menace) Ketcham, Paul (Mickey Mouse) Murray and others made some bucks doing girlie cartoons is no great revelation and has been copiously documented in a welter of books from Fantagraphics and others. Still, one intriguing drawing shows a nude Wonder Woman by her first illustrator Harry G. Peter, without explanation or provenance. And there are several previously unpublished sketches, self-portraits and other oddities, including pieces by Ernie Bushmiller, Boody Rogers, many from the Yoe archives.


    A spread by Joe Shuster from
Clean Cartoonist’s Dirty Drawings

Yoe gives each of the 70 artists a portfolio of one to five pages and a factual bio with only the occasional insight into their more private output. All but two are American or Americanised, and oddly those two are old masters, Frenchman Gustav Doré and Britain’s even earlier famed pornographer, Thomas Rowlandson. Offering more tease and glamorama than truly self-expressive and downright "dirty drawings", this book doesn’t fully deliver what its title promises, but it does reveal rare examples of drawings considered "dirty" in their day, several of which would still not easily be published in today’s American mainstream newspaper strips and comics. For more details, visit the book’s website here.


Best Erotic Comics 2008
edited by Greta Christina
Last Gasp
$19.95/£12.99
In response to the gauntlet thrown down by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s pornotopian allegory and elegy Lost Girls, first published in 2006 in America and now out in the UK, writer and editor Greta Christina has compiled this 200-page compendium to demonstrate the rude health of erotic comics and graphic novels for adults today and to motivate more creators to aspire to greater heights by fusing their artistic and literary intentions with a celebration of the pleasures and possibilities of sexuality. Of the thirty creators she’s selected, it’s significant that thirteen are women, reflecting their unstoppable and fruitful colonisation of this medium. The varieties of work, styles, stories and moods reflects the varieties of sex itself, covering straight, gay, lesbian, bi, S&M, kinky, black, Latino, and more.

Any ‘Best of’ collection is going to stir debate about what’s included and omitted. Noticeably absent are any manga or comics from Japan, apart from Toshio Saeki’s deliriously transgressive torture illustrations resembling warped nightmare versions of classical Japanese prints. Similarly missing is anything from France, again perhaps due to language barriers, although Europeans like Ralf König entertains here with his hilarious dirty dogs Roy and Al and their gay masters. While Christina’s net may be rather too U.S.-centric, she casts it wider in time, going back to roughly 2000 and occasionally before to include an earlier ‘Hall of Fame’ classic by the late, great Dori Seda and runs a couple of previously unpublished colour strips by Trina Robbins and Katie Carmen. I’m not sure the 22-panel excerpt she chooses from Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel David Boring works that well on its own, whereas another extract, from the short story collection Jokes And The Unconscious by Daphne Gottlieb and Diane DiMassa, stands alone perfectly.

Not everyone is going to cope with the wide spectrum of visual styles here, from the sensous, realistic pencil shadings of Quinn or the sleek halftones of El Bute to other artists’ more naive or rough cartooning or the unsettling bizarreness of Cephalapod Products’ carnal carnivals. Quibbles aside, there’s a strong range of raunch here to arouse pretty much any reader and to prove that comics are ideally suited to bring together art and porn in a plethora of provocative couplings.

Posted: June 29, 2008

These reviews first appeared in 2008 in The Erotic Review.

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Featured Books


Manga Sutra
Volume 1: Flirtation

by Katsu Aki
(TokyoPop)


Get Her!
by David Shenton
(DS Comics)


Clean Cartoonists’
Dirty Drawings

edited by Craig Yoe
(Last Gasp)


Best Erotic Comics 2008
edited by Greta Christina
(Last Gasp)