Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sequart Reprints: True Porn 2

True Porn Volume 2, edited by Robyn Chapman and Kelli Nelson (Alternative, $19.95). This is a 250-page anthology dedicated to one thing: autobiographical stories about sex. The first volume had a lot of good stories, but also a lot of filler. A number of the stories may have been true, but weren't of much interest (even as porn). The editors, two talented artists known mostly for their minicomics work, did a much better job of selecting material and arranging the 46 stories in a manner that flowed quite well. From the peeping-Tom cover drawn by Chester Brown, we as readers are voyeurs into the worlds of these artists, most of whom are also mini-comics stars, anthology contributors or webcomics creators.

Anthologies are tricky, especially ones that have an open submissions policy like this one. It's easy for the work of one bad artist to taint one's experience of the work as a whole. It's difficult to edit and arrange the stories in a manner that makes sense. Any anthology that is themed often falls prey to repetitiveness, especially when artists tend to mine the same clich├ęs regarding a subject (the 2004 SPX War anthology and all of the awful 9/11 anthologies in particular fell prey to this problem). That's why I was amazed by the overall quality of this anthology, even from artists whose work I generally have no interest in.

The stories in the book did fall into some stratification patterns: serious or humorous, childhood experience, first adult experience or recent experience, cartoony or realistically rendered, demure or hardcore, and satisfying/unsatisfying. Pretty much everything broke down along these lines, and not always in expected ways. For example, Jon Siruno did a story where all the characters were anthropomorphized animals drawn in an iconic style. While this story had its light moments and was not explicit, the ending was remarkably grim. This contrast made this one of the most memorable stories in the book.

The most effective stories overall tended to be either the funny stories or childhood reminiscences. Karen Sneider's "Can't Buy Me Loft" is the most laugh-out-loud story, detailing her fling with a guy she hired to build her a loft in college, with a gag in every panel. Rich Tomasso's "Don't Come In My House" and Fredo's "Circus Peanut" were also hilarious. Yet an all-humor sex anthology wouldn't have worked as well as this did, with the earnestness of some of the pieces contrasting the humor. The whimsy of pieces like Eleanor Davis' "I Wish You Were Tiny", about a silly conversation between her and her boyfriend, proved to be palate-cleansing interludes after a heavy meal of hardcore sex. The editors placed that story after an outrageous, hardcore story, and were wise to do so.

The other memorable pieces were the most bizarre of anecdotes. The talented Nick Jeffrey's story "The Hot Tub", a tale told by a friend of the narrator's that involves a threesome in a hot tub and ends with the suicide of the boyfriend of one of the women involved, is somehow hilarious the whole way through. Justin Hall's "Only In San Francisco", involves three men with quite differing sexual tastes (anal ball insertion, a scrotum licking dog, etc), and a hilarious punchline. The best-written piece may be "Aaron", written by Sharon Lintz. She writes about porn for a living and this tale of a friend of hers in the industry is oddly compelling, as the reader comes to share her admiration of its lead.

Not every story is compelling or even interesting, and that has more to do with the creators than the stories, I imagine. Still, they work in the context of the book, which is a page-turner even with its great length. Talking about one's sexual experiences is a great way for an artist to really demonstrate their basic chops; the rawness of the experience is something anyone should be able to channel, but a good artist should be able to tell a truly compelling story. What's remarkable is that there are so many excellent young artists in this book.

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