Dirty Diamonds is one of those anthologies I look for every time I go to a convention like MICE (Massachusetts Independent Comic Expo) mainly because I know there will be something in there I will like. Also because I definitely think women and queer comic voices don’t get the amount of attention they deserve. The anthology itself goes back to 2011 when it was started by the two editors, Kelly Phillips and Claire Folkman. Each volume is funded through Kickstarter and takes submissions from anyone who identifies as female. This volume’s specific theme is sex, and it manages to present a lot of different semi-autobiographical stories about sex itself, our relation to it, and the social pressures surrounding it. I wanted to take a moment to look at some of the stories and issues presented in Sex as well as highlight some of my favorites.
The whole anthology is split into five sections: Identity, Contact, Agency, Expectation, and Connection. The comics that are submitted are then categorized into one of these sections, presenting issues that deal with these specific issues.
In Identity, we are presented with stories about discovering and coming to terms with sexual identity no matter your orientation. One thing that stood out to me in this section was the proliferation of stories surrounding asexuality. Four out of the eleven short comics in this section talked in some way about how they came to the conclusion or accepted their asexual identity. Much of it seemed to have to do with the social pressures surrounding having sex and the stigma surrounding being viewed as a virgin or a prude for not enjoying or wanting sex. I especially liked “Intimacy Imposter Syndrome” by Imas Esther. Not only is her art detailed and expressive, but she presents her story of self discovery using good panel design and contrasting values that made it an even more enjoyable read. Her story speaks a lot to the pressure asexuals face in being accepted for their identity, constantly being made to think that they just haven’t found the “right guy”, aren’t trying hard enough, or that they owe sex to their partners because they are in a relationship. This comic shows Esther testing her identity and coming to terms with the pressures she’s feeling to ultimately accept who she is.
Contact is the next section in the anthology. It features ten comics about embarrassing moments, the act of intimacy, or various experiences with the act of sex. There are quite a lot of great comics in this section that do a lot to stretch their art and storytelling techniques to the fullest, and it’s hard for me to pick just one that I can say is a stand-out of this section. The untitled comic by CB Hart starting on page 67 is notable if only for her very expressive art and minimalism when it comes to her storytelling. “Come in, Come in, Nobody’s Home” by Hannah Messler is the one I think I liked the most for the story. It’s a short, two page comic but it manages to talk about very important issues surrounding body dysmorphic disorder as it relates to bodily agency or willingness to have sex. The art is fairly simple, but I don’t think that detracts from what she is talking about especially when it comes to how self confidence (or lack thereof) can impact our relation to sex.
The third section deals with issues surrounding agency as they relate to sex and sexual identity. Among the twelve short comics in this section are stories surrounding how we take control of our desires and our relationships with our partners. The stories are fairly varied from one girl’s discovery of yaoi manga to another’s love for a certain pair of leather gloves to the way stereotypes affected another girl’s relationships. It’s this last one that I found particularly interesting. Titled “Me and Her” by Lorena Reyes, it tells the story of how the proliferation of the “Submissive Asian Girl” stereotype made her question her relationships and the reasons behind people’s attraction to her. It’s not something I’ve specifically thought about before but it ties into the relationship between expectations, control, and sexual intimacy. It can be hard to let people close if you’re always thinking about the reasons behind their attraction and the expectations they have for you sexually.
The next section is Expectation. It features twelve comics about different preconceptions we can hold about sex, ourselves, and other people. You’ll see another couple comics about body dysmorphic disorder and asexuality as well as one about the relationship between religion and sex. However, I think the biggest stand-out comic in this section is the two page comic titled “Hair” by Lucie Towers. I was immediately drawn to this comic because of its art style and the way in which Towers relays her thoughts on pubic hair. There are no panels, the art just flows across the page, intertwining with other drawings and wrapping around the text. Your eyes are drawn to all corners of the page and you come to understand her feelings slowly as you follow the strands of hair around the page from one image to the next.
The last section is titled Connection. All ten stories in this section speak to the differing connections we make with other people or lack thereof. It starts off with a comic called “Thirsty Eyes” by Madeleine LaPlante as she daydreams about strangers and how that contrasts with her actual relationship. It’s a short and funny comic that is well drawn and a great choice to lead off the section. I think my favorite of the section, though, would have to be “Better than Talking” by Spratty. It’s well-drawn, expressive, and delves deeply into how her attitudes about sex have changed over the years. After the death of a close friend and compounding family problems, she seeks out sex as a sort of escapism. She begins to see sex as the be-all and end-all of a relationship which leads to some less than successful relationships. Its an important issue to discuss, one that I feel a lot of people overlook when it comes to talking about what makes a relationship work. Sex can be an important factor but it is almost never the deciding factor.
Besides the comics I pointed out here, there are a lot of other great artists in this anthology and I encourage you to check it out. Overall, I noticed a lot of discussion surrounding asexuality and the inadequacies with our education system in informing kids about healthy relationships, sexuality, and safe sex. If social issues surrounding sex interest you, I think you’ll really enjoy this anthology. If nothing else, you’ll be supporting female comic creators! There’s one more review going up before I take my break for December, make sure you follow me here or on Facebook to get the most recent updates.