Sexy & Cerebral Comics for the #SFR Crowd
There’s so much to love about comic books. Comics are great in large part because they deliver the visuals of a film with the coziness of a book. Not only that, but with more adult-oriented comics being made than ever before, stories can include nudity, sex scenes, adult themes, and gritty action. I’m a fan of comics, but frankly I’d be a bigger fan if more sci-fi romances were released in that medium.
While it’s easy to envision sci-fi romance comic books, making them is another feat altogether. The surge of SFR ebooks in recent years indicates the ease with which many authors can generate stories in this genre. And many said authors are willing to write on spec with the promise of royalties later. Finding artists willing to do the same type of labor of love in order to team up with authors and create SFR comics is tantamount to asking for the moon.
Ideally, such artists will not only be talented, but also experienced in writing for the comic book medium (which also includes tasks such as coloring and lettering). The chances are low that aspiring SFR comic book writers could find an artist willing to put in months of work on a project that might not generate liveable-wage profit for months or years, if at all.
Therefore, it’s no wonder few comics exist that are specifically SFR in nature. Various SF and superhero comic book series include romance subplots, but I’ve been hard-pressed to find many that feature sci-fi romance as the main ingredient. It’s difficult enough to get any comic book released, let alone a niche SFR one.
I did, however, discover three titles that lean heavily toward SFR and/or hold strong appeal for SFR readers. And finally, my budget caught up with my interest and I was able to read them—with an eye, of course, toward sharing them with you!
Saga – Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Fiona Staples (artist)
When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.
From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.
Saga is pretty much what the blurb promises. It also features a mix of magic and tech, a complex space opera setting, and a diverse cast of characters and gender identities. A few major content alerts for violence, gore, sexual imagery (some romantic, some raunchy), and mature themes. Saga is a wildly popular comic book series as evidenced by its Eisner, Harvey, and Hugo award wins. As of April 2016, there will be 36 issues.
I’ve read up to issue 22. Saga begins with the birth of Marko and Alana’s daughter rather than their meet-cute. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, Saga isn’t advertised as an SFR and it hasn’t ended yet, so all bets are off regarding romance genre conventions. And yet, Alana and Marko’s romance is a key part of the story. Without their romance, the whole story falls apart. Even the actions of the secondary characters revolve around their relationship.
Beginning the series with Hazel’s birth certainly marks an exciting entry point and the focus on a family of fugitives is highly compelling. Personally, though, I would have loved this series quite a bit more if it had begun with the romance, especially since a flashback scene showing how they met is incredibly exciting (and, er, violent).
Saga feels like it’s being written and illustrated by two people who really get romance, so it’s puzzling that they didn’t begin the series at the time Marko and Alana’s romance began. Given the anti-romance sentiment among many comic book fans, though, I could understand if Vaughan and Staples made a deliberate choice to structure the story differently than traditional romances. It’s almost as though they put the romance in a Trojan horse so they could have their cake and eat it, too. Meanwhile, as an SFR fan, I’m sitting here thinking, wow, are there non-romance readers and even anti-romance readers enjoying Saga who don’t realize how central the romance is to this series?
Creatively, Vaughan and Staples made a sound choice, yet now I really crave an SFR along the lines of Saga, specifically one that begins with the romance. Saga provides a taste of what such a comic could be like. My eyes are officially peeled for one!
One caveat: issue 19 of Saga introduces an element that sheds doubt on the couple’s HEA status. I plan on reading further, but wanted to provide a heads up for those who’d want to know. At the very least, where romance readers are concerned, issues 1-18 provide an emotionally satisfying story about Alana and Marko’s romance, marriage, and birth of their first child.
Trillium – Jeff Lemire
Award-winning and fan favorite comics creator Jeff Lemire spins the tale of two star-crossed loved through space in time in TRILLIUM!
It’s the year 3797, and botanist Nika Temsmith is researching a strange species on a remote science station near the outermost rim of colonized space.
It’s the year 1921, and renowned English explorer William Pike leads an expedition into the dense jungles of Peru in search of the fabled “Lost Temple of the Incas,” an elusive sanctuary said to have strange healing properties.
Two disparate souls separated by thousands of years and hundreds of millions of miles. Yet they will fall in love and, as a result, bring about the end of the universe. Even though reality is unraveling all around them, nothing can pull them apart. This isn’t just a love story, it’s the LAST love story ever told.
The blurb doesn’t quite clearly describe Trillium’s premise, so I’ll expand on it further.
In the far future, a sentient virus known as the Caul is wiping out humanity. Nika Tensmith, a botanist, has found a cure, but since Trillium is on a planet belonging to another species, she simply can’t just harvest it at will. William’s South American expedition brings him to a lost temple and, through a series of strange events, he meets Nika.
Trillium is an ambitious project that uses upside down panels to convey Nika and William’s parallel worlds. It’s gimmicky, but a new-to-me gimmick; therefore, I feel it helped immerse me in the two separate worlds and timelines.
I was curious about what a comic book writer-artist without a background in SFR would do with a story that mixes SF and romance. Such experiences can go either way once one ventures outside the genre proper, so I adjusted my expectations accordingly.
I had no idea where Trillium was going to take me, so I enjoyed the ride; however, I found the story inscrutable at times. At other times, various elements seemed derivative. Emotionally, the romance felt flat. For a comic that strongly advertises a “love story,” it seems like Trillium could have used at least one more issue to flesh out the romance.
Nika and William are likeable characters, but they don’t get to spend much time together interacting. The strength of their bond is mainly rooted in their psychedelic cosmic link. Therefore, I’d categorize Trillium as romantic SF.
I consider Trillium to have a bittersweet HEA. One scene brought tears to my eyes, so the story engaged me to an extent. I found the ending moderately satisfying and fitting for the tale. Trillium struck me as a comic that uses romance as a vehicle for commentary about various themes rather than one in which the romance itself is the main goal.
Sex Criminals – Matt Fraction (writer), Chip Zdarsky (artist)
A SEX COMEDY FOR COMICS
Suzie’s a normal girl with an extraordinary ability: when she has sex, she stops time. One night she meets John… who has the same gift. And so they do what any other sex-having, time-stopping, couple would do: they rob banks. In the vein of THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN and BRIDESMAIDS, Image Comics invites you to come along with MATT FRACTION (Hawkeye, SATELLITE SAM) and CHIP ZDARSKY (Prison Funnies, Monster Cops) for the series that puts the “comic” back in “comics” and the “sexy” back in “sex crimes.”
Sex Criminals’s high concept premise sounds pretty gimmicky. And it is gimmicky—there’s no way around that fact. Sex sells, right?
Fortunately, various story elements balance the gimmicky premise. The main one is the grounded, genuine characters who deal with real, poignant issues even while they navigate a fantastical setting. The story’s heartfelt tone, angst, and humor make this series an engaging read.
Sex Criminals stars the very likeable Suzanne, a dedicated librarian, and Jon, an adorable guy who’s an actor by trade. We learn about their life experiences against the backdrop of an external plot: Suzanne’s library is in danger of being destroyed by the bank, so she and Jon use their orgasmic time-stopping powers to rob that very same bank in order to save the library. There are also a few villains in the mix, ones with mysterious origins and motives.
Sex Criminals has strong appeal for SFR readers. After a darling meet-cute and lusty rolls in the proverbial hay, Suzanne and Jon experience relationship woes and conflict while learning to master their joint powers. They also grapple with ethical considerations—is their bank robbing truly a victim-less crime?
This R-rated story features plenty of nudity and raunchy humor. At the same time, it delivers a sex positive perspective. Later issues feature a range of sexualities among the secondary characters, so we get to see, for example, how an asexual character exhibits her superhuman power.
There’s a lot to enjoy about Sex Criminals, but the series isn’t over yet, so an HEA is uncertain.
Saga, Trillium, and Sex Criminals add up for a fun adventure and bode well for future comics that place the SFR experience front and center.
If comic books just aren’t your cup of tea, but you enjoy superhuman stories in ebook form, consider checking out author Daco’s Electromancer, a recent release featuring a superheroine who wields the power of electricity. See the book’s entry in this issue’s New Releases section to learn more!