Sunstone – Love, humor, and heart hidden in a BDSM story

Man, it’s been a while since I’ve had to do this but forewarning, the content in question is Not Safe For Work.  Before that scares you off, though, this graphic novel is sold in the normal kind of stores and has a beautiful point for it’s use of sexual imagery.  Also, while this topic may not exactly be anime related, the author of this work in question is a super nerd and takes obvious influences from Japanese media. Plus, it’s my own damn article and I just wanna write about this, okay?

Sorry, that got a little confrontational…  Lemme just start.

Sex is often a very taboo topic, particularly when it comes to where I live here in America.  We’ve become more accustomed to talking about violence and aggression than all that other stuff that gives you cooties.  Basically, you can watch people die horrifically and it’ll get a PG-13 rating but if two girls kiss “OH NO!  Grab the pitchforks ‘cause it’s time fer a burnin’!”

With a bit of a flipped morality like that, it can be hard to find well-written stories that approach the topic of sex with the right respect and openness that it deserves.  Honestly, it seems to me that it’s sometimes easier to find a story that uses rape as a means of moving the plot forward than one that uses consensual intercourse.  And while there are efforts to educate and make things better.  Education is only one side of the coin.  We also need it represented tastefully in our media to expose and normalize the topic along with all the other aspects and types of affection and love.

Enter my exhibit A for the court hearing on tasteful representation of sex: the graphic novel Sunstone.

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Sunstone is the passion project of Stjepan Sejic, a comic book artist and writer with over a decade of work, coming from the smaller but well-celebrated publisher Image Comics to getting his own chance at the big leagues with the art for the new Aquaman series.  He and his wife Linda, a fantastic comic artist/writer herself who helped as an editor and brainstorming partner, put their heads together to fish out and put to digital paper a humorous and emotional story about two women finding love among their kinks.  The story follows Lisa and Ally from their first meeting to their ever after as they explore each other’s fantasies in the land of BDSM.  However, unlike a certain abusive love story that somehow garnered millions of dollars and a movie franchise, this one has heart and care.

For starters, while this story is about BDSM, it isn’t a one-sided abuser and victim situation.  Both Lisa and Ally are intelligent and clever women who are in control of themselves and have equal say in their relationship.  Even in their love life as a sub and dom respectively, there is never a moment in which “no” isn’t an option.  In fact, it’s the basis of the story.  The title Sunstone is their safe word, given to Lisa specifically as a means of stopping if she is ever uncomfortable, and as the story unfolds, we see Ally’s history with this term she gave to Lisa and why there is so much importance put on it.  This story is about respect and equal love on both sides of the relationship and a lot of the larger themes are how sex fits into this, particularly in the case of care and trust that is needed for a BDSM relationship.

Safeword_SpoilerEdit

And on top of this, while it has it’s emotional moments, Sunstone is an exploration of fun and is framed in a more positive tone, something I appreciate after insane amounts of bad endings for gay characters.  Lisa herself introduces us to this story as she fidgets with her wedding ring, thinking back on how it all started in a very How I Met Your Mother way before forcing herself through her writer’s block to begin our narrated journey.  Thanks to this safety net, whatever drama or tragedy might occur, we know these two will get together.  However, just because we know the end, doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy the journey.  The net may be there but boy howdy does this story get emotional at times, covering their lives over the course of a few years.  Thus, it’s less of game of “Are they going to get together?” and more a mystery of “How the hell did they get through this one?”

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I’d make a joke about defeating huns but Lisa beat me to the punch later on in the story.  This is our narrator.

And that becomes the fun of the series, focusing on the characters and how they interact less so than following a build to an end.  In much the same way that there is way more to a relationship than the awkward conjoining of body parts, Sunstone revels in and focuses on the in-between moments, the lively outings with friends, the cuddling up on the couch together for a scary movie, as well as the moments just sitting beside a special someone you appreciate, focusing entirely on them or both people lost in personal projects.  Because of this, I really felt like I knew each character of the main cast like an old friend by the time I was done.  Lisa, Ally, and the whole cast of characters are lively, fun, and unique unto themselves.

For instance, Ally is a computer programmer and a nerd at heart, donning a corset and saying it grants her plus ten to courage.  She also attempts multiple times to try and get Lisa into games, particularly an MMO Ally plays that links this comic to Stjepan’s wife’s work.  In fact, when they first meet up, Ally is more afraid of Lisa seeing her nerdy bedroom than the sex pad she has set up in the guest room.  Ally is the dom in their relationship, but she’s easily anxious, constantly feeling lonely, and later relies on Lisa to be her strength when she’s overwhelmed or caught reliving her past.

Meanwhile Lisa as the sub is fiercely independent and perpetually snarky, relying on a quick wit to carry her through most conversations.  However, she finds in Ally a comfort and closeness that was missing in her life, which slowly leads to wanting more, a want that becomes possessive.  Even side characters are given time in the spotlight to help flesh them out over the course of the five volumes (or two compiled books).  This is particularly true for Ally’s friend Allen, who’s been dealing with personal demons for most his adult life and has been covering them up to be there for his friends (which makes me excited he and another character are getting their own full story).

The dissection of each individual and how they grow is taken very seriously and helps to flesh out a world of characters that kept me enraptured to the point where I’d find myself wanting to skip the naughty bits were they not so dang beautifully drawn (SFW-ish) and interwoven into the story.  Honestly, though, the biggest turn on for me besides the character development itself was just the humor throughout.  This is, after all, supposed to be a fun and positive roll in the hay, and Sejic never forgets about that.  Even outside of this comic, the man is known to not take everything seriously and has openly expressed that he’s found his own experiences in the BDSM community to be just a group of nerds expressing “sexual nerdiness”, stating that they’re “basically sexual LARPers”, dressing up and having fun with their play.

As such, his story on the subject is interwoven with hundreds of nerdy references and tons of jokes throughout.  In one of my more favorite moments, there’s even a scene later on where a very serious argument is humorously depicted as an RPG battle where each biting sentence is a sword slash or magic spell.  This all helps to make the story much more fun and light-hearted.  It’s nice to have characters that are willing to laugh in the middle of the act when they know that they’re being cheesy and the process helps to normalize the whole experience of people sexily putting on a show for their partners.

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Basically every reader of a romance manwha ever.

As much as I gush about this series, that’s not to say it’s perfect.  Does it cover all genders and sexualities?  No.  Does it comment on the idea of ace or others who aren’t interested in sex with their romance.  Not really.  But what it does do is take what genders and sexualities it covers and represent them all with wonderful, relatable, and endearing characters, delivering it in a fun package that celebrates and attempts to normalize sex rather than depict it as something only for straight people behind closed doors with the lights off.

At its heart, Sunstone is about expressing yourself openly with the one you love, however that may be.  For these two, it’s sexy fun times.  For others, it doesn’t have to be and definitely not to the role-playing extent that Lisa and Ally enjoy.  However, stories like these help to make people feel more comfortable with something that should be considered natural and fun rather than vile.  They also help others feel better accepted for their preferences and kinks.  I went into this series just trying to scratch an itch for my love of fun romances and that’s definitely what I got.  So if that or any of the above are up your alley, give it a go!

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5 thoughts on “Sunstone – Love, humor, and heart hidden in a BDSM story

  1. I enjoyed reading this one. I agree how sex is sort of a taboo topic when it comes to the media and other platforms of story telling and we just have to get over that. But even though I have read my fair share of it, I have never really encountered a piece that I could say is tastefully written. More or less, some would focus more on the graphic scenes but none of the plot..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right, that becomes a difficult issue. Obviously, when people are searching it out specifically for sex, they don’t like to wade through a long plot. And there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what people want as long as the characters and plot are halfway decent. However, I feel when people know what they’re getting into, they may be more interested in longer and more deeply satisfying stories that help to push interesting writing and ideas without as much restriction or hiding from the naughty bits.

      Sunstone I’d personally say fits in the latter category as its focus on the characters around the sexy times is definitely its strong point. That said, I’d argue it’s not alone if you look around. With the boom in independent webcomics and digital works, you can find them, though it’s harder. I’ve only ever read a few but I know some publishers like Hiveworks have tried partnering with others to make collective sites for this stuff and Patreon has been a godsend for a lot of artists (here’s hoping it stays that way).

      Sorry if I’ve made an essay at bottom of my own essay. I’m kinda in word vomit mode right now but thank you so much for taking the time to read and respond. That is legit super cool! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • No worries. I am actually grateful you took the time to write a response (notwithstanding your vomit mode). Naughty bits + character driven plot seems like a good combination. Not sure if I will be checking this one out because I have so many things on my plate (and to be read list), but this post caught my eye. 🙂 Great stuff here!

        Liked by 1 person

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