I’ve seen q v i e t attributed to a young unknown cartoonist named Tracy. I’ve also seen it linked, somewhat more persuasively, to Gaze Books veteran Andy Burkholder. Frankly I only care who it’s by insofar as it’d enable me to seek that person out and shake her or his hand. q v i e t takes sex and does to it what it does with its own rubbery, loose-lined, exuberant, exhilarating cartooning: twists it, stretches it, turns it inside out, makes unexpected connections, uses it to reveal things that usually stay hidden away.
Some of q v i e t‘s year or so’s worth of multi-panel comics are just intelligently constructed, randy gags about sex and sexiness. “Maximum Capacity” uses astutely selected first and last panels for a look at a masturbatory interlude pushed, perhaps, farther than the actual pleasure of the act merits at this stage in the game; the meaning of those panels and the title only become apparent when viewed in concert. “Runner’s High” seems less complicated — it’s pretty much just a series of shots of a girl’s butt in form-fitting runner gear — until you hit the hilarious facial close-up in the final panel and wonder whose high we’re talking about, the runner’s or the person fortunate enough to be right behind her.
Others play with sex on almost a formal level, seizing upon visual resonances between different organs or fluids, or better still on how these things look when cartooned. Men’s urethras become women’s vaginas, and both become nipples or eyeballs or assholes; tears and breast milk and sweat and semen flow interchangeably, like Habibi‘s great river. It tends to be in these strips where the structural solidity of Burkholder’s seeming scribbles reveal themselves, where his grasp of visual logic gives his comics (seems odd to say this given that this is a gag comic, but whatever) real storytelling power. The results can be clever, like “It’s Clean, Too” which metonymizes the sex act to two pairs of legs — one hairy, one smooth — colliding in a Looney Tunes cyclone of flying limbs. Or they can be gross-out funny like “Turn Around Slowly”, which takes the cameltoe to reductio ad absurdum levels. Either way, boy, are they effective.
But as that last strip might indicate, q v i e t can take you to some awkward, even unpleasant places, just like sex itself. “Female Gaze” shows a grotesquely male artist (all mustache and unibrow and male-pattern baldness) interpreting the site of a nude woman’s breasts and vagina as a sort of challenge or rebuke, an abyss gazing also. He responds by angrily painting a nude of his own, then jerking off all over it. Can’t get more direct about the frequently resentful power dynamics of sex than that…until you hit “I Got You Babe,” I suppose.
Burkholder can also do straightforward desire, when he wants. “Again + Again” utilizes a comparatively realistic drawing style replete with hatching and crosshatching, a nine-panel grid, and a couple of black-to-white color shifts to chronicle the act of groping a woman’s breasts and removing her shirt. The repetitive imagery, referenced in the title, emphasizes the monomania that’s such a huge component of sex: In this moment, only this matters. This can be both enormously pleasurable and mightily disconcerting, depending on your state of mind, and Burkholder’s comics respect sex enough to have it both ways. If “Again + Again” is sort of the interactive version of Burkholder’s take on this phenomenon, one where, presumably, the partner’s pleasure is a factor, then see “Someday When I Have Gone Insane I Will Really Be Able to Let Loose” or “A Field So Bright” for a demonstration of how a glimpse of IRL cleavage or glossy softcore imagery can reorder our experience of the world into a narrow-focus fixation on the flesh in front of us.
The aptly titled “All I Want” may well be the apotheosis of all these trends in q v i e t. A loosely cartooned man stares bug-eyed at the spread-eagled woman in the pornographic magazine he’s holding, then looks down at his erect dick with his one (yes, just the one) extended eyeball. The two protuberances merge, then that hybrid body part replaces the man’s head, before his real noggin flashes back into existence for the final panel. The gaze, porn, both the schism and the link between visual pleasure and genital pleasure, the absurd sensation that that ineffable relationship between someone else’s body, your eyeballs, and your dick can completely take over your entire brain, the use of the language or comics and cartooning to discuss all of this by rearranging its visual-metaphor building blocks at will — it’s all there. If someone else out there is working this fearlessly with the silliness of sex, I’m almost afraid to find out.