Erotic Fiction isn’t really my deal. I’ve never dabbled in it outside of some really lame urban fantasy romance novels, and it is not a genre that interests me at all. But Stjepan Sejic, yes, I’m a huge fan of the artist. I got into his work through Artifacts for Top Cow and that quickly spiraled into an obsession with his work on Witchblade with all those gorgeous covers of his most of all, and then this year into full-blown fan-gasming with his original series Death Vigil from Image Comics, the fifth issue of which I put up as my top comic of 2014 just last week.
When I heard that Stjepan was putting out another OGN, Sunstone, a BDSM erotica that dealt with the lives of two young women, I was initially hesitant. I love Stjepan’s work, but erotica, not my cup of tea at all. But I decided to give the book a try anyway, to see what kind of a story and characters Stjepan had cooked up. Sunstone has seemingly been a huge hit for him on his DeviantArt page, one of the many reasons why it has eventually gotten a print release, and having read it, I think I can see why. Stjepan deals with the subject matter in a very natural way that puts you at your ease and is never discomfiting. The characters are superb, the story is superb, the art is absolutely gorgeous.
Sunstone is the story of Lisa and Ally, two young women, both professionals and single, who are looking for something to spice up their sex life and then they meet each other on the internet, leading to some major life changes for the two of them. Ally is a domme, and her love life has been rather… fractured because of her sexual interests, interests which have led to trust issues between her and her previous partners since BDSM is an extremely sensitive and private activity that depends on trust and faith between two partners. Lisa on the other hand is the opposite, she is a submissive and her tastes lean that way, though she has been equally frustrated with her love-life/sex-life, which lack a certain spark for her to really care about them.
The meeting between these two however, it changes everything.
What I really loved about this story was that Stjepan dealt with this highly sensitive matter in a very matter-of-fact and natural way. He didn’t make a big deal out of Ally and Lisa being bisexual and that’s exactly the kind of attitude that people generally need to have in real-life as well. Everyone has his or her own tastes when it comes to sex and to consider one more… negative than the other or even… unwholesome, is just wrong. So that was immediately something that pulled me into this story. Both female leads act pretty natural with each other and since they have had some great sessions online, they are ready to take things to the next level by meeting in person and having some fun.
Sunstone is a story that progresses in stages. We meet the characters, the characters meet each other in person. They hang out, chill out, have a lot of fun. They come back to each other again and again. Their shared sexual experiences eventually develop into something else. Stjepan takes each stage as it comes, spends enough time with it to get the reader really comfortable, and then he moves on. Since he is both the writer and the artist on this, he has a very strong and cohesive vision for how to proceed with each stage, and it comes off rather flawlessly.
The pacing of the story is pretty much perfect, and so is the core concept itself. Again I come back to the word “natural”. I can’t stress that word enough when it comes this OGN. You never really feel at odds with the characters and there’s always this sense at the back of your mind that what they are doing is perfectly natural. Stjepan presents everything as it is, without any embellishments or without any male-gazing or visual abuse. Of course, this being an erotica comic with two bisexual leads, there’s a fair amount of sex scenes and much of the OGN is absolutely NSFW, but that’s no big deal.
And it all doesn’t stop there. Given all that we get to see over the course of the OGN, whether narratively or visually, it does look like Stjepan did a fair bit of research for how BDSM works, both as a sexual activity and as a relationship. When Ally and Lisa are talking about it, they often talk in what I think of as BDSM-speak. Lots of name-dropping of various things, and you get the sense that the characters really do know what they are talking about. That is very important for a story like this given my previous point, “natural”. The characters have to feel real when they talk about BDSM. The art has to feel real when the characters are acting out their dominant-submissive fantasies.
Stjepan doesn’t go extreme with what kind of BDSM practices he shows here, but he gives you enough so that you get a really good idea for what it is. But again, the characters are at the heart of everything, and I loved all there was to love about Ally and Lisa. Which was… well… everything.
And the art, well, it is gorgeous in the way that only Stjepan can do it. On the books where Stjepan is the artist, there’s always the fact that his colour palettes are really going to help bring out the best in his characters and his scenes. That holds true for Sunstone as much as it does for anything else from him that I’ve seen. He has a very distinctive style and to see him target something that is not Witchblade or He-Man or Death Vigil or Ravine or what have you, it gives you a really warm feeling inside, like you are watching a proper master at work. There’s a great sense of excitement and naivete in the characters which translates well with the reader.
At least, it did with me. If you don’t like Stjepan’s writing, and you’d be absolutely bonkers if you don’t since I think he is amazing, flip through Sunstone for the artwork alone. There’s a lot of red here, understandably, and it helps give a certain visual cohesiveness to the whole thing. And if I had to pick out my favourite scene from the entire OGN, then I’d pick the spread-page where Ally and Lisa are getting ready for their first meet-up and can’t decide what to wear. That page utterly captures what these two characters are all about and it is a fantastic sequence.
This was a perfect story. It had a great charm and it was extremely immersive. It was also… personal. And finally, Stjepan treated the subject matter with respect and dignity.
What more can you want really?