Dale Lazarov and Steve MacIsaac
Bruno Gmünder ($19.95)

Tom Bouden
Bruno Gmünder ($22.95)

by Jay Besemer

I knew I was in love when I saw his Ape Sex T-shirt. Well, maybe not love, exactly, but I knew I wanted him. Him and his boyfriend and the protagonists of all the stories included in the first volume of the collected gay erotic comic Sticky. For newcomers to the hot, sweet, well-hung world of Sticky, this volume is a great eye-opener. For readers already familiar with the comic, the release of this fine hardcover collection is even more of a good thing—a surprise bonus, like being awoken with breakfast in bed after a long night's frolic.

These stories—lovingly scripted sans dialogue (or inhibition) by Dale Lazarov, with strong, honest, and heartfelt artwork by Steve MacIsaac—are raunchy, beautiful, tender, and fun. From the subtle tributes to classic indie comics (Miracleman, Love and Rockets) to "cameos" by postmodern pop-culture icons (Jerry Springer, Xena and Gabrielle), this is smart-people's porn. The creators of Sticky are not ashamed to come out of the geek closet, or to mix juicy smut with penetrating intellect. We discerning one-handed readers are lucky; it's not every day we're given knuckle-biting intensity and expert storytelling between the same covers.

Wordless storytelling ought to be more commonplace in comics, because of the much-vaunted (and ironically, much-written-about) capacity of images to convey narrative. Especially in these areas of life in which words often fail—the bedroom surely being one—comic writing frequently ignores the true potential of the sequential image. Yet the stories in Sticky are definitely cinematic: a shot of two partygoers getting it on, seen from below, evokes a pounding, rhythm-heavy soundtrack. The visual hallmarks of film (porn and mainstream) are present in these tales, even down to the use of flashback, jump cuts, lighting themes, symbolic props, and set-dressing. The scene framing encourages the viewer to empathize with the characters, and the result is that we're right there in the bedroom with them. Without words to distract us (after all, what can there really be between "oh" and "God!"?) Sticky transmits a pure erotic charge.

It is also one of the most fully human sex-comics I've ever read, because it explodes the lies ignorant people tell: gay sex is disposable and impersonal; pleasure and caring are opposites; hotness is dangerous; humor is unerotic. Even if Lazarov and MacIsaac did not set out to make a political statement, Sticky is political because it refuses to deny that joyous sex is good for people, and that it's people—whole people, not throbbing, engorged body parts—that have sex. In an increasingly repressive society, acknowledging the truth that people fuck may just be one of the most radical political statements anyone can make.

Tom Bouden might agree. "Why do you always draw so many sex scenes?" asks the editor character at the beginning of Bouden's In Bed with David and Jonathan. "I only draw sex so that it's functional," Bouden's döppelganger replies. Functional, to him, means arousing. The gag works, but there's a serious core to the interchange between the characters of author and editor: their conversation highlights the problem of shame. Even in the 21st century, within the legendarily liberated confines of the European continent (Bouden is Belgian), sex is seen as disreputable. To choose to work with sexually explicit material is to risk displeasing someone, at the very least. We may well ask what inspires such cowardice, especially when the sex portrayed is loving, lighthearted, consensual, and shared between obvious adults. Is it because, as the fictional editor here implies, sex on its own supposedly isn't political enough? Do we really think sex has no point other than the orgasm or the wish-fulfillment fantasy that may surround it?

The autobiographical introduction to this superb volume of smutty stories poses these questions rather subtly, by way of setting up the context for the Bouden character's new endeavor—the very book we're holding. In Bed with David and Jonathan is metafiction; like Sticky, these are stories within stories. We can forgive Bouden's self-inclusion because it is not intrusive. And, yes, it's functional. Bouden-as-character responds to an online ad for a "third man," placed by two committed partners interested in a threesome, and as an anniversary gift, gives the pair a copy of In Bed with David and Jonathan. They read it together—and so do we, as if we too were there, lying on the living room floor beside them. As with Sticky, the line between voyeur and participant is very thin.

For porn fans who like relationship dynamics thrown in, Bouden's sensitivity and empathy will not disappoint. For those who want close-ups of penetration, cum shots and ecstatic faces, In Bed with David and Jonathan also satisfies. Again like Sticky, the title story is free of dialogue; the only piece of text in it is David's name and telephone number. Frankly, it's a relief to have a minimum of "let's state the obvious" and absurd onomatopoeic constructions distracting us from the lovely erotic visuals. There are certainly many nice things to look at in Bouden's drawing, which is strongly evocative of the beloved Tintin books.

In Bed with David and Jonathan is a forthright, affectionate, funny look at what five men do in bed (more or less) together. The sex, though rather "vanilla," is certainly functional by Bouden's standards. Vanilla or not, though, this is sex between people. They feel, they vacuum, they get sick, they eat breakfast. There's nothing mechanical or detached about these characters and their fucking. The questions raised in the introduction are not explicitly answered in the stories—but perhaps we readers are meant to answer them for ourselves.

Click here to purchase Sticky at your local independent bookstore
Purchase this book at your local independent bookstore.
Click here to purchase In Bed with David and Jonathan at your local independent bookstore
Purchase this book at your local independent bookstore.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Fall 2006 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2006