2017 Graphic Miscellany #6

Now for something completely different, as it’s my birthday and horror is most definitely not on the menu.

Sunstone Volume 1

Written and illustrated by Stjepan Sejic

Fifty Shades of Grey for the graphic novel demographic. Ally is a born dominatrix, but her only experience in real life is with friend Alan, who was also of a domme persuasion, and so that didn’t work out. Financially independent and with a vivid imagination, she’s looking for someone to help take her dreams to the next level. Lisa is a complete ingénue, someone whose fantasies usually involve getting tied up, and who would like to see if that works for her in the real world. Two lonely people, they hook up online and after tentatively sounding each other out decide to meet in real life. The experience turns out to be a revelation and the start of something special. I enjoyed this book a lot more than I did E. L. James’ work. The artwork is superb, with echoes of Chris Achilleos in Sejic’s paintings, with a vibrancy, warmth, and colour that is all his own. The pages seem to glow, so that there is nothing sleazy here, no hint of the perverse. It is sexually explicit, up to a point, but at the same time the S&M stuff is only part of a fully rounded relationship. Ally and Lisa go through all the things that other couples experience – shyness attendant on that first encounter, getting to know each other, and the supporting cast in their lives, wondering if it is just lust or something more substantial taking root. These are engaging and appealing characters, women who know what they want and who are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve happiness on their own terms, regardless of society’s expectations and judgements. And underpinning it all is a delicious sense of humour, the feeling that the creator is having every bit as much fun as his characters. This sense of fun is seen especially in the bonus material, which pokes fun at sexual stereotypes, but at the same time Sejic is aware of the potential for prurience and has his tongue firmly in cheek. When she thinks the story is getting a bit heavy Ally shouts at the readers ‘Wait! Don’t leave yet! This book has lots of hot lesbian bondage sex!’ And indeed it does, but that’s only the most obvious part of the package.

Sunstone Volume 2

Written and illustrated by Stjepan Sejic

Not as much nudity in this second volume, and that makes sense in a way as the relationship moves on and sexual gratification doesn’t loom quite as large. And Sejic’s art doesn’t seem as generous, with panels that feel a lot more restrained and cramped than in the previous book, with a little less invention going into the layout (in the previous volume there were sections where Ally and Lisa’s stories were told on facing pages, a mirroring effect that worked very well in showing their relationship develop). Here the emphasis is on Ally’s friends, with Lisa being accepted into the group and bonding, but at the same time in accepting this widening of their shared social circle Ally puts the relationship at risk through the exposure of her past misdemeanours. Once again it’s an engaging story, one that deepens the reader’s appreciation of S&M lifestyles, while at the same showing that, sexual tastes aside, Ally and Lisa need love, have trust issues, share confidences, want to be happy and secure in their lives – in short, go through all the stuff that other couples do.

Sunstone Volume 3

Written and illustrated by Stjepan Sejic

This volume takes the story further along, with our introduction to some more of Lisa and Ally’s friends and other people in their overlapping circles. We learn more about Alan’s talents as a designer of fetish wear. We meet Lisa’s brother, whose relationship is in trouble. Most significantly we hook up with tattoo artist Anne who is puzzled by all this BDSM stuff, though she has a piercing or two and so perhaps shouldn’t be quite as judgemental. Through her BDSM-curious eyes we learn more of the ins and outs of being ‘in the life’, both as regards physical needs and emotional issues. The book ends with our two leads deciding to move in together, Ally having plenty of room in her big old house, but simmering away in the background is the reluctance they both have to admit their feelings for each other, while Lisa’s fictionalisation of their relationship brings problems too. Woven into the story are the inevitable and engaging sexual interludes, all portrayed in the best possible taste (in fact probably a bit idealised – beautiful bodies, soft lighting, etc.) and accompanying everything else there is some witty and ribald dialogue. All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Sunstone Volume 4

Written and illustrated by Stjepan Sejic

And this time around it all goes pear shaped for our heroines, as the reticence that has cursed their relationship comes bubbling to a head. Alan is around to raise doubts about Lisa in Ally’s mind, and Lisa’s incorporation of friend Anne into the BDSM fiction she posts online adds yet further complications. All of the virtues of the previous books are evident, with fully rounded characters, sparkling dialogue, and relationship problems that have the feel of authenticity to them. Sejic is especially canny in the way in which he merges fact and Lisa’s fiction to misdirect the reader. It ends on a cliffhanger note, one which makes it certain I’ll keep an eye out for Volume 5 next time I visit the library.

I’m not sure if these books qualify as erotica (probably), but they are a lot of fun and at the same time rather moving as you can’t help but relate to these women and care what happens to them. The Sunstone (it’s the couple’s safe word, if anyone was wondering) books offer a pleasant change from super heroics and horror, though I expect to soon get back to those staples of the graphic medium.

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