23rd June 2017
If you’re a fan of the comics here at angelKat, chances are you like some LGBT* love stories, and if so – Sunstone by Stjepan Sejic should definitely be on your reading list if it isn’t already pride of place on your bookshelf.
I feel that before continuing, I should admit some things, and give a few warnings. Firstly, Sunstone is pretty NSFW – so if you prefer to avoid nudity, bondage, kinky outfits, and kinkier sex – this probably isn’t the comic book series for you. Saying that, this isn’t flat out porn, and if you’re expecting to see hardcore lesbian action – you’re also shit out of luck.
I said I should admit some things didn’t I? So here goes. Much like Lisa at the start of volume one my teenage self discovered certain parts of the internet quite early, and through groups, forums, online fiction… well, let’s just say that it turns out that Lisa and I share some similar tastes. What appeals to me most about Sunstone in this regard though is that it’s one of those rare fetish titles that respects its subject matter, there are no creepy dominants ignoring safe words, cries of distress, or stalking their sub, being glorified as sexy or romantic here, and I’d urge anyone interested even fleetingly in BDSM to stay away from those titles that ignore the core principles of “safe, sane, and consensual”.
We good? Okay. Let’s start the actual review.
Sunstone, at it’s core, is a story about fetishists, but you probably knew that already. What make this story, told over five volumes of gorgeously energetic and expressive artwork, worth me raving about is that it captures the reality of friendship, relationships, love, kink, and all the complications, humour, joy, and occasional heartbreak that those things bring with them.
The best way to summarise the plot of this series? Two awkward internet friends bond over their shared kink, meet up to scratch that itch, and find themselves falling for each other. Over the course of the story they at first deny their crush to avoid losing each other, only to find themselves falling deeper until the struggle is not in denying it any longer – but how to finally admit their love for each other. But, just like anyone who’s ever been in love – they’re awkward idiots who make mistakes, give in to fear and self doubt, and above all else are human.
For a comic that started out as fun one off illustrations about Ally, Lisa, Anne, and Alan and some fetish humour – Sunstone has grown into a master class of how to write not only BDSM but more importantly character crafting. From that first page of Lisa nervously trying to fight that blank screen and type out the story of how she first met her love and Mistress Ally, to those faltering moments of their first encounter, and the rollercoaster of emotions (and indeed lust) that the pair embark upon in their exploration of each other and their shared interest, there’s something special about every character we encounter.
Whether that’s the many roles and masks that Ally plays as Domme versus her goofy, rather lonely, everyday self that combine to make an adorable yet powerful character that makes it hard not to understand why Lisa falls for her. Or the similarly layered and complex character of our narrator and sub, Lisa, herself (and her relationship with ex’s, family, colleagues, and her own preconceptions). These are characters who dispite their humanity, their flaws, and insecurities, form a bond that we as readers see grow into something beautiful – even when we spend pages wanting to shake them both and just yell “tell her!” They make mistakes, they screw up, overthink things that should be straight forward, and let love make them throw all logic and rational thought out of the window (even after characters point out Ally’s resemblance to a Vulcan). As Lisa puts it – they’re nerds, fetishists yes, but fetishists really are just sex nerds.
And whilst I hate to use the word “backdrop” because they are anything but… Sunstone has an amazing set of secondary characters that any other story may have relegated to mere set dressing, but Alan, Anne, Chris, Tom, Cassie, Harper, Tanya, and Marion all have a huge impact on not only our understanding of Ally and Lisa (and the fetish subculture itself), but are also fully fleshed out characters with their own hopes, dreams, demons, flaws, tastes, and insecurities. I do get the impression that Sejic likes drawing redheads though – or just the colour red in general, I’m not sure.
Unlike BDSM fiction contempories such as Fifty Shades, Gor, etc. Sunstone manages to approach this subculture with the respect and care that it deserves, exploring the intense emotions and acting out fantasies in a safe and sane manner with aftercare, humour, wit, and above all trust. There are a few scenes that discuss the consequences of ignoring those aspects – ranging from embarrassment to ambulances – that handle the subject matter well, showing the emotional and physical impact on those involved in a realistic way that warns readers who may indulge in such fantasies to tread carefully rather than encouraging them down dangerous paths.
At this point I should probably talk about the elephant in the room. We’ve mentioned the gorgeous artwork, the refreshingly respectful and well researched BDSM/fetish content, the amazing cast of characters who are equally adorably dorky and creatively sexy… but I haven’t really mentioned the sex. Because there is sex in this comic series (shocker, I know). There’s a throw away line early on in the series where Lisa, our narrator, says that she misses out a lot of the more graphic scenes in her retelling of events explaining that it’s partly because “pretty much every description of an orgasm has already been written”. Although I suspect the fact the original comic was hosted on deviantArt may have had more of an influence (or perhaps Sejic prefers that the readers use their imagination from time to time).
With that said, there is a large amount of nudity, scenes featuring fetishwear, toys, crops/whips, masturbation – but always portrayed in context, no fan service for the sake of fan service. Perhaps I’m strange, but what really sets those intimate scenes apart for me? Those little moments or realism that spoil the mood. The obligatory aftercare shower scene, where things are getting heated only to have the sudden shock of cold tiles against skin. Self bondage sessions turning to panic when Lisa hears her family arriving home early down the hall. Characters planning all week for some amazing sexy time at the weekend only to be waylaid by an ill timed visit from “Aunt Flo”. To me, these small details drive home the realism and believability of these characters, their relationships, and the sex itself. Because let’s face it, sex isn’t the sterile, silver screen parade of plucked/bleached “perfection” the adult industry would like us to think it is. It’s messy, complicated, and sometimes not as sexy (or at least not in the way we expected) as our fantasies lead us to imagine.
All in all, if you want to read about adorable nerds bonding over a shared (kinky) interest and falling in love – and all the glorious messy complications that entails? Then pick up a copy of Sunstone and binge read it like I’m going to do yet again once I finish typing this review. If you want to read an abusive Fifty Shades-eque lesbian kinkfest to get your rocks off to? Probably best you go check out your adult video website of choice instead.
Grab yourself all five trade paperbacks at your preferred retailer below!