The artists Saiya Miller and Liza Bley set out to make a sex education book based not so much on charts, figures and prescriptive behavior but rather individual experiences. Their idea was to nudge along their own fledgling careers as cartoonists by collecting stories from over fifty writers and cartoonists, divvying them up into appropriate categories. The result is a sort of punk rock version of "Free To Be, You And Me" called Not Your Mother's Meatloaf. Miller and Bley actually do very little cartooning themselves in the book, instead providing just spot illos in their chapters where they talk about their personal experiences with one of their chosen topics. Those include Beginnings, Bodies, Health, Identity, Age, Endings and Personal Best. As a reader, I was disappointed that the 181 page book had so much room devoted to pure text, mostly because the transition was sometimes jarring. There was a certain power in how much Miller and Bley poured their hearts out in a confessional manner throughout the book, but they also tended to repeat themselves a bit at certain intervals. I found myself skimming their commentary that marked the beginning of each chapter in order to get to the comics, which created a somewhat disjointed reading experience.
That said, their choices for contributors for the most part were spot-on, even as the vast majority of them were first-timers or amateurs. The only name I recognized was the excellent Mat Defiler, whose work looked the sharpest and most organized. Defiler's strip about ageism with regard to sex was funny and sharp, pointing out the unfairness of excluding the elderly from the discourse regarding sex. However, the many other strips are crude and raw, both in terms of skill level and content. In the context of this book, that's not a bad thing, because that immediacy, that rawness is exactly what Bley and Miller are going for. And as the book's foreword writer Joyce Farmer notes, "Not everyone will like every story. If this happens to you, just open yourself to a new perspective. Or just turn the page."
Indeed, I found some of the stories to be pretentious and not at all in the spirit of what the editors were trying to accomplish. That was especially true of the pieces that were essentially a single illustration accompanied by a long piece of scrawled-out text. On the other hand, there were a couple of dozen delightful discoveries in this book, some from cartoonists who preferred not to use their full or real names. (It was unfortunate that there was no actual contributor's list for those who did want others to find out more about their comics.) Basha Smolen's anecdote about going to nude beaches as a child was witty and cleverly drawn. Timothy Sinaguglia's story about the excitement yielded when he used to dress up as a girl and stare in the mirror was incredibly intimate and delicately drawn. The artist Kate's "Trouble With My Body" is one of many stories revealing the pain felt in dealing with societal standards and lacking an outlet to express them. The same is true for Jessica Ryan's "The Appointment" (drawn by Nik Masonfield), which is about a horrendous experience at a gynecologist's office, one that was invasive of her personal space and breached trust issues. The book is notable in how many of the stories come from a queer perspective as well as different racial perspectives. The book also goes into detail regarding relationships, giving voice to the various kinds of abuse one can suffer in a toxic relationship--especially emotional abuse. It also talks about kinks and fetishes in a healthy and relaxed manner. Overall, Bley and Miller have created something that is educational but rarely didactic, because so many of the stories are so personal. I can imagine that for queer youth in particular, this book will seem like a miracle. However, for any young person, hearing stories from other young people will be empowering and lead to better sexual and emotional decision-making. It's not a perfect package and it has a lot of rough edges, but the sincerity that went into this book can be felt on every page.