It's rare that comics created via collaboration between a separate writer and artist attain the level of quality of Sharon Lintz's Pornhounds series. Part of Lintz's success, I think, is due to her remarkable ability to write to the strengths of each of her artistic collaborators. Part of it is that the artists she selected are quite talented. It's astonishing that she's able to treat the subject matter of the first part of this comic (working as a writer/editor for a porn magazine) with such sensitivity and respect while at the same time finding new angles to discuss in the second part of the comic (her experience with breast cancer). Lintz's attention to detail extends to every aspect of the comic, from its design to the illustrations chosen for the front and back covers.
Let's unpack those for a moment. The cover image by Nic Breutzman (the artist with whom she shares a connection that is honestly reminiscent of the early Pekar-Crumb collaborations) is of a nude woman, sitting back on her legs and wearing high heels. It's a sexualized pose, yet once it becomes clear that this woman has had a double mastectomy performed it becomes an unsettling image, one where objectification is suddenly muddled with sadness and perhaps shame. At the same time, there's a bone-dry sense of humor to it, a humor that is present throughout this comic. The back cover (by the great Danny Hellman) is a "visible woman" image of a cancer patient on a stripper's pedestal, ogled and leered at by various medical professionals. It's funny and unsettling in a different way, but in a manner that also reflects Lintz's experience of feeling like meat as a cancer patient.
The comic opens with Lintz revealing that in her former job working at that porn magazine, she was the "ghost writer" for porn star Cytherea. That meant not only penning monthly "publisher's statements" but also answering mail and reviewing porn DVDs wearing another woman's identity. Trying on different identities and roles is a repeating motif in Lintz's work, something that comes with a certain sympathy with the outliers of society. Her story about the letters she received is surprisingly touching (and frequently hilarious), as is the way she responds to people (in Cytherea's voice) in an effort to make them feel like their voice has been heard.
The comic kicks into high gear with "Daily Office Life" and "Photo Meetings", the two chapters illustrated by up-and-coming cartoonist Breutzman. He captures both the sleaze and the quotidian dullness of office life as described by Lintz, though porn provides a number of hilarious but incidental laughs. (Lintz' idea for a porn based on The Crying of Lot 49 made me laugh out loud, but not as much as the bizarre tattoo found on one naked actor in an orgy scene.) Transformation is a motif in this comic, first communicated in the scene where the "dirty diaries" she writes become increasingly bizarre and sci-fi oriented, like one based on Alan Moore's The Courtyard where the attraction to Ancient Ones results in women getting eight extra vaginas. "Photo Meetings" is a feverish chapter that alternates the boredom and politics of sitting through a meeting looking at photos the magazine might buy with memories of her mother losing her mind in a mental hospital and watching "stag films" with her friends as a teen.
The first chapter about cancer is the most conventional in this comic, due in part to the bland renderings of Nathan Schreiber. Even here, Lintz manages to draw laughs by talking about her obsession with getting a C-cup with her breast reconstruction while at the same time connecting this experience to her father receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. "Tampa/Reconstruction", drawn by Joan Reilly, adds a bit of grit and detail to her experiences, with Florida acting as a sort of fever dream backdrop. The mutation and transformation of flesh is once again raised; at one point, Lintz notes feeling "like a cyborg," referring to the implants that were part of her reconstructive process.
The Ellen Lindner-drawn chapter "Chemo" continues in this vein, as Linder draws Lintz with glowing eyes when Lintz notes that "after chemo, you feel like a heated piece of foil." The elegance and density of Lindner's line is a perfect counter to both the rattier line of the Reilly story that precedes it and the thinner, Crumb-influenced line of Ed Piskor in the following story. Lintz reflects on her side career as a teacher, where she assigned works, like Hamlet, that focus on death. After having stared death in the eye, this work struck close to the bone (as it were). In some respects, Lintz reached the "acceptance" phase of the five stages of grief without actually dying, giving her a certain earned serenity.
The final chapter, "And By The Way...What Is Cancer?", neatly ties together the themes of both halves of the book. Lintz cleverly ties the cellular effects of cancer (it is, in essence, a detrimental cellular mutation) with the theme of transformation and her own science fiction fantasies. She first does this by comparing cancer to horror films, which she notes tie directly into our fear of disease and our own bodies. Then she brings up Videodrome, which is all about the way in which a tumor gives a man visions. Lintz spins that into imagining a future where her tumor was genetically modified into becoming a new kind of sex organ, which made her "the most famous porn star in the universe," chanting "Long live the new flesh!"
This was an ingenious way to tie in the imaginative and transformational powers of porn into her own imagination as a writer and her experiences literally experiencing the transmutation of her flesh at both a visceral and cellular level. Lintz went from being a thinker and dreamer who "feels alone in the world" to someone who was forced to connect to her body, her community, and her world. This comic might have had a greater impact if Breutzman had drawn the whole thing, though the Reilly-Lindner-Piskor trio did a fine job of conveying different aspects of her experience with their unique visual style. That said, this comic is an astounding leap of quality from the first issue, which in itself was an assured debut by Lintz as a comics writer. I'm excited to see her branch out into genre work as well as continue to write about her own life in such a humorous, self-effacing and ultimately warm manner.