I like sex.
Just to emphasize, so it’s extra creepy…
I’m very, very pro-sex over here.
I’m sure you are too. You’re human after all. At least I hope you are. Otherwise the twitter spam bots have won. Either way, be you flesh and blood or marketing algorithm that just sputtered out your first auto-tuned bleep bloop of sentience, if you enjoy comic books— I think what I have to say next holds.
See call me crazy but as much as I’m in favor of sex and it’s right to be expressed, I feel there is a time and a place where the sexual desires of a reasonable facsimile of a full grown adult don’t and should not matter. One of those places being when they’re applied to the characters young people read, or look up to, or project their own burgeoning fantasies on. Characters like the bulk of superheroes. Characters that much of my life is spent working on.
And yet for as seriously as I take that outlook, I still wrestle with the impact my sexual interests and desires have on my life and my work. Oh I’m not cutting my ears off for prostitutes or anything. Or really judging you if that’s in your thing. I’m even okay if you do it dressed as Batman and Robin when y’all do. But hey I think about sex. I act on it too. I feel and consider the consequences and rewards of both. Even when I misstep. Sometimes ESPECIALLY when I do. Because whatever the motivation is— guilt, self preservation, honest to go hope for the future— I think I should. How I feel about sex is very much a part of me, and of my self expression. And the fight against muting or dulling that self expression is part of what being an artist is.
Yet for all my choices, my flaws, and fetishes, and obsessions and desires— I have had the time, freedom and experience to determine for myself what I want of those outlooks and of myself to reflected in both my art and my entertainment.
Most young people have not.
And like it or not superheroes, are inherently appealing to them. They’ve been marketed that way since their inception and still are to this day. Even when the content has said other wise. Don’t buy it? Well young folks do. In the form of toys and video games and underroos. And yeah even sometimes as comic books.
So that’s the big problem. You’re not just selling sex when you draw a superhero or all ages character in an X-rated pose. You’re shaping an impression. You’re making a judgement call on what is of value. And in that position, for once in your life you’re not just any jerk. You’re the person that has the power to mold their favorite characters. You’re not just telling the audience what you value, but what they should value too.
Yeaaaaah. It’s a mind fuck creatively and a minefield professionally, I know. And it’s not just sex. It’s violence. It’s challenging ideas of all shapes and sizes. It’s a hazy and nuanced line. And so much of navigating it is just stupid, raw, gut instinct. Art’s subjective y’all. In all it’s shapes and forms. I mean some of y’all still think Ed Hardy is couture. Y’all know who you are.
But the key, I feel, is to accept that a lot of why we push against boundaries creatively is because we know they exist. Because we think it’s taboo to do so. When really it’s often just frustration. See, a lot of us work on Superheroes for hire. And like any job the need to project something of yourself into your work is always there. The need to leave a mark. Even the most popular and best paid among us feel that sting from time to time. That makes it very difficult to keep in mind that who we WANT to read and accept our work, is not always who does. Most of the time it’s the audience you don’t want or expect that seeks you out.
And no, I’m not saying you can or should keep sex from young people. Or erase it from art. It’s a lie to think you can. It’s indecent even. Besides kids are too smart not to know it’s missing. They’re built to seek it out. Because they see it everywhere else. They’re awash in it from birth.
But that IS why we CAN cut back on it. Or at least choose to actually explore it’s power and it’s meaning. Hell maybe even CHALLENGE our audiences to think about it’s effects. We can make it subversive. Because denial, and challenge, and exploration are all SEXY.
Because comics are still a hell of a lot more skillful at stimulating the imagination than just about any other medium. We’re built to do way more with way less. It’s our superpower.
In comics we CAN openly celebrate sex and the physical form without the thin pretense. Without always wrapping it in the costumes we sell to children on Halloween. Not because it’s wrong or perverse to be attracted to such things as a consenting adult, but because we’re aware that a drawing represents something greater than a human being.
Drawings represent ideas. They’re a vessel that viewers fill up with their own thoughts and feelings. To feel them, know them we have to imagine. And we can certainly treat that imagination and those ideas with more respect than very purposeful and public degradation. Especially when they were created with the intent to do the opposite.
And we can do a hell of a lot better than screaming “censorship” and blaming the audience when it boos. We can step back and realize that we’re the ones forcing them to shut their eyes when they walk or scroll past the work we often times actually intended to offend them. They’re not the ones selling anything. And they don’t owe us applause or a career.
See when we put pen to paper we make choices. And I don’t expect that everyone’s choices have to line up with mine. But I’m writing this so that you’re AWARE that my outlook exists. That the my point of view of has reasons and motive beyond just being “sensitive”.
I’m showing you my line, so that when you push across that boundary you’ll know you’ve actually done something provocative, or shocking, or funny, or wrong. Or maybe even brave. Because truthfully that’s not just my line. It’s a line we negotiate as a culture.
Without that line, without the threat of consequence, all the broken back poses and outrageous insults in the world are just boring and expected and sad. That’s because most of the time you’re not even into it, you just think other people will be. And that’s not art. It’s not even titillation. it’s not comedy. It’s not bravado. Because it’s not truly you. It’s fear. And that fear is an offense to your skill, and your talent and your potential.
See if you look around you’ll see that our world has options. More places to tell stories of all shapes and forms than ever before.
We don’t have to shoehorn things into clothes that don’t fit. We have the potential to reach an actual audience that will trip over themselves to buy as much sex and violence and straight up kinky ass spam bot sexting as you can create.
Take it from me, the redneck scum bucket who co-created SOUTHERN BASTARDS. I’m living proof that there IS a way to have your cake and eat it too. To exercise all that stuff that’s pent up and boiling over without trading in on someone else’s formative experience with our medium and our industry.
But it requires effort. And the choice to make one.