VERT! and the Single Girl

A while back, in a Comixology column, I mourned the decline of the good old-fashioned sex comic in the modern comics market. The webcomics world has always been less porny than you’d expect, with few NSFW titles making it out of niche circles (furries, mostly) and into mainstream fandom. It probably says much about the webcomics readership that role-playing games and math jokes beat out naked people almost every time.

Only a few sex-oriented webcomics have shown staying power, most notably the amazingly long-lived Sexy Losers/The Thin H Line, a relentlessly crude manga-style gag strip by a cartoonist using the pen name Hard. Launched in 1999 and still ongoing, The Thin H Line has now run for ten years longer than Masahiko Kikuni’s Heartbroken Angels, the adult gag manga from Weekly Young Sunday magazine that inspired it. The art has developed over the years, and Hard has branched out into non-adult subject matter (most recently in a series of strips about depression), but thirteen years in, it’s still the place to go for lines like, “Look!  I’m fucking the fifty-foot woman!”

But now we may be seeing a renaissance of high-end webcomic raunch, comparable to the era in print comics when titles like Omaha the Cat Dancer, ambitious indie comics that just happened to feature a lot of sex and nudity, were taken as seriously as Cerebus. (In retrospect, Omaha is starting to look like the better comic.) The new indie smut is witty, cheerfully explicit, gorgeously drawn, and takes advantage of the ever-widening audience on the Web.

Leading the pack is Jess Fink’s Chester 5000 XYV, now also published in print by Top Shelf. Silent except for occasional sound effects (it turns out that a robot penis goes VERT!), Chester follows the sexual adventures of a group of Victorians and their loving and lovable sex robot. Fink’s curvy ink-washed art combines elements of steampunk, Victorian/Edwardian erotica, and that innocent, animation-influenced look I’ve come to think of as the Flight style. It’s also a very romantic sex comic; even the titular mustachioed robot falls in love with whoever holds the key to his heart. And his junk.

Less romance, and more soap opera, is Teahouse, by the two-person team Emirain. Set in a vaguely Victorian, vaguely European fantasy world drawn in a lush manga-influenced style, Teahouse takes place in a high-end brothel with both male and female, but mostly male, prostitutes. The residents run the gamut of sexy manga character types (the innocent virgin, the tough guy, the bishonen with a past), while the clients tend to be hot, arrogant gentlemen. Unsurprisingly, Teahouse has a huge following in the yaoi fan community, to the point that Emirain has been known to pack panels at anime conventions past capacity. Despite the racy premise, however, the sex scenes tend to take a back seat to fully-clothed character interaction and intrigue, especially as the world of the comic develops beyond the brothel.

Newcomer strip SS Myra, by the pseudonymous Tom Walker (lots of pseudonyms in the world of sex webcomics) is more funny than sexy, but it's definitely funny. Myra, a far-future hedonist, has her consciousness uploaded into her favorite pleasure starship, hoping to be reincarnated as a sort of spacefaring sex club. Unfortunately, she’s sold to a plain-vanilla pair of newlyweds who are grossed out by the ship’s apparently endless array of sci-fi sex toys—a plant that feeds off semen, a dildo-equipped command chair, a … thing … with penises for eyes—not to mention Myra’s libidinous old friends who start inviting themselves on board. Time will tell whether SS Myra will continue to explore the frontiers of outrageous sci-fi sex or simply become a repository for weird kink jokes, but in the meantime there’s still a lot of comedy to be milked, so to speak, from a hole in the wall under an enormous sign labeled YOU MAY NOT WANT TO PUT YOUR PENIS IN HERE, BUT WHO KNOWS? MAYBE YOU’RE THE TYPE.

But when you’re ready for sex jokes with none of that pesky story getting in the way, and you also have a really raunchy sense of humor, it’s time to check the latest updates on Oglaf, the cackling, fluid-drenched queen of sex comedy strips. Technically anonymous but instantly recognizable as the work of Platinum Grit creators Trudy Cooper and Doug Bayne, Oglaf consists of mostly unconnected strips in a medieval fantasy setting. There are recurring characters and sometimes even running plots, but for the most part it’s whatever the creators want it to be on a given day. It’s not even always smutty. As the intro page warns, “This comic started out as an attempt to make pornography. It degenerated into sex comedy pretty much immediately.”

And so the world was blessed with the sticky adventures of Ivan the sorcerer’s apprentice, his sadistic Mistress, the not-remotely-frigid Snow Queen, various hot lady mercenaries, and the mischievous Cumsprite, all rendered in Cooper’s clean, colorful, expressive art. (Oglaf, incidentally, is the name of a shepherd with magical semen who has appeared in all of two strips to date.) Like Teahouse, Oglaf has attracted a large and loyal fan community, even inspiring its own wiki despite the limited amount of information to catalog. Cooper is one of those cartoonists who just draws funny. But she also draws sexy, and some Oglaf strips are as hot as they are funny. In “2 Arabian Nights,” for example, a Scheherazade character recounts a sexy princess-on-prince boudoir scene, privately imagining it as prince-on-prince. It’s a funny gag, but damn if those boys aren’t hot.

But it’s all in good fun, which is the common element in the New Web Smut: it’s fun, laid-back, witty, sex-positive. Everybody’s having a good time in these sex comics. Everybody but Ivan. But at least the Cumsprite’s happy.