Book Review: First Time

04/13/2010 at 7:06 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A question: Is an erotic graphic novel considered “Erotica” or “pornography?”

To be honest, this question might be better left for a later, more dedicated post, as for the time being I’d like to focus on this book review as just that – a book review. But in the mean time, as I am still forming my thoughts on this question… To me, the difference between erotic graphic novels and comic book porn skates a very fine line. In my opinion, erotic the graphic novel First Time fits better into the category of erotica – no doubt the presentation is controversial, yet there is no doubt denying that all of the vignettes are artfully presented.

I first heard about the graphic novel First Time from Feminist Review. I already knew I have an affinity to drawn and cartoon porn & erotica, but I had no experience with an in-print version – partly because for a long time I had no safe space to hide such a tome. I put the book on my wish list, and kind of forgot about it for awhile, until recently. Having cleared off some paperbacks from the shelves in favor of electronic titles for my Kindle, I ordered it up and within a few days a surprisingly large package arrived at my door.

The first thing I noticed about First Time when it arrived was the sheer size of it. This isn’t a graphic novel – it’s a monster!

I mean, look how big this thing is! (Note: This is a picture of the back cover, in order to keep this post ~mostly SFW.)

[Description: The back cover of a large, red, square book on a yellow background There’s a UPC code on the lower right of the book cover.]

Now compare this to some of my other graphic novels (nerd alert!):

[Description: Three graphic novels, left to right: The blue cover for JTHM, the conclusion of the comic book adaptation of The Dragons of Spring Dawning with a picture of an armor-clad woman & five-headed dragon on it, and the same red cover for First Time as seen above. All on a yellow background. The First Time graphic novel is clearly much larger than JTHM & DoSD.]

It’s really big! It’s bigger than most of my other comic books. Hardcover, too, so there’s no way you’re going to be able to hide this in your purse or read it in public at the bus stop.This is a book that will be restricted to the bedroom, or, if you’re adventurous, the coffee table. And I’m surprised that for the quality, (It’s one of those books you almost feel bad about cracking open to read) it costs less than $15 on Amazon. It’s not much more expensive than a manga comic volume.

First Time is a series of 10 short sex stories illustrated by different artists. I think some of these artists & the author are using pseudonyms, because I’m having a very hard time looking their biographies and other artistic work online. The unifying theme is that all of the stories are told from the perspective of a woman experiencing a new sexual situation for the first time. That includes first time intercourse, but it also covers a woman’s first time buying a sex toy, visiting a sex club, engaging in a threesome, etc.

One thing I really like about First Time is the wide variety of artistic styles. With a few exceptions, changing artists between new chapters of an overall story is a feature I’ve come to look forward to in graphic novels. Here, the character designs, weight, shading, degree of abstraction, etc. changes with each chapter. No two stories look the same, and I’m surprised to report that there’s no “Anime” chapter. Some of these styles look … familiar to me… I don’t recognize any of the artists’ aliases in the table of contents, so perhaps it’s just a coincidence. Everything in First Time is in black and white, which is kind of a bummer because with webcomics at least, everything looks better in color. The artist I liked best was Dominique Bertail, who shaded his first-time story of pegging with shades of gray. Other artists took a stark black & white only approach, which works, but feels less fluid to me. Indeed, several artists use mostly angles & boxy shapes for their character designs, and the last chapter is so heavily cubist that it looks more like Explosion in a Shingle Factory Nude Descending a Staircase than a couple watching a pornographic video together for the first time. In contrast, the line art in First Time 1 + 1 is so tight, curvy and fluid that it feels more like a cartoon. My brain fills in the gaps between panels well for this chapter and I can almost see the characters moving frame-by-frame.

Some of the art changes during stories as well, to reflect the situation. For example, in First Time Submission, the line art shifts from well-controlled in some places to shaky and wild during sex, I think to reinforce a sense of forfeiting control.

There’s a decent variety of content and sexual activities depicted, and everything could theoretically happen in real life – that means there’s nothing otherworldly fantastic that can happen only in fantasy. Most, but not all of the stories have happy endings. One of the stories ends in heartbreak, and as FR points out, one of the stories about an inanimate sex doll wise beyond her years material doesn’t really fit in well with the rest of the theme.

Areas for improvement: There’s a narrow range of body types depicted, so it would have been nice to see more variety. Also, color.

At about 100 pages with relatively little text (the pictures do most of the talking,) First Time probably won’t take long to read through unless you like to pour over the little details in the art. Which you should do because some of this art is beautiful. The artists weren’t stingy with their ink and the amount of work they put into this project.

Yet for all the uncensored pictures of naked people having sex, none of the stories really fired up my libido while I was reading. No, I would say First Time is more “Erotica” than “Porn.” If it is porn, then it certainly falls into the “Alternative” realm rather than mainstream. It’s more “Sit quietly and contemplate sexuality, then build a fantasy later on,” rather than “Wow that’s pretty hot” instant gratification. Your mileage may vary.

I would say that First Time might be appropriate for someone who already has experience with written erotica, and is interested in exploring visual depictions of sex, but is not quite ready for or fully comfortable with pornography. If you know for sure 100% that porn isn’t for you, this may be pushing the envelope. It may be of interest to those who do enjoy pornography or to comic book collectors. As it turns out, there’s actually a sizable niche market for erotic comics, and Eurotica has produced more than this one volume.

If you choose to spend the ~reasonable $15 or so via Amazon, make sure that you have a private place to store it when you’re not reading it. First Time is highly conspicuous, and you might not want the kiddies accidentally discovering it while pouring over your X-Men and Justice League collection.

Full disclosure note: As with all books reviewed on Feminists with FSD so far, I had to pay for this book out of pocket with my own money, and I receive no compensation for writing this review.

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