-Review by Richard Jao @rikun85
Warning: The following webcomic contains mature themes involving BDSM and NSFW imagery.
Last month around Valentine's Day the world was treated to the hotly anticipated film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, a BDSM romance novel that infamously started as Twilight fanfiction. As expected from a novel trilogy with a dedicated fanbase, said movie broke box office records and already has two more sequels in the works. And like the trilogy it was based off of, the Grey series has a very vocal critics who blast the book for lack of coherence, poorly developed romance, and an astoundingly bad representation of the BDSM community. Many sites have already turned their attention to this pop culture phenomenon, but we here at Mission Start Podcast think fans of this kind of kink deserve much better.
Hence I present to you Sunstone by Stjepan Šejić (Ravine, Witchblade, Death Vigil), a webcomic that proves that a story with kinky leather-clad sex can also be one of the best blossoming romance stories you'll ever read.
Sunstone started off as an excuse for the artist to draw two young ladies getting their kink on in gorgeously rendered BDSM outfits until one day Šejić decided to craft a story behind all the sexy pinups he's been drawing. And while most comic artists could get away with a flimsy story to justify sexy artwork, Šejić has clearly taken the effort to make his two lovely ladies into fully developed characters that you'll love for more than their looks.
Lisa Williams is a writer who is chronicling her own life story about how she met the love of her life, Allison Carter. It all begins with the two chatting with each other in a BDSM forum. From the moment they meet in person, the two start their journey from becoming "friends with benefits" to true soulmates. Along the way we meet other characters like Ally's ex-boyfriend turned best friend Alan, Cassie and her snarky husband Tom, and Annie the sweet natured tattoo artist who gets thrown into the world of BDSM. Their passion for bondage bonds this circle of friends together, and as the story progresses we get to take a peek into how Lisa and Ally's budding relationship affects everybody involved.
The story so far is simple, but the way Lisa and Ally interact with each other not only shows off their burning passion for each other, but the also the little human quirks that make their relationship feel genuine. Šejić possesses a talent for clever writing that puts modern romantic comedies to shame, and with every line of snark he makes his cast feel like more than just Hollywood caricatures. Even the most incidental characters have hidden layers to them that differentiate them from the cardboard archetypes that most writers tend to fall back on in a comedy. Believe me when I say that you're going to laugh hard at much of the snark, but when the drama hits it will smack you like a freight train.
Šejić's artistic skill is on full display in this webcomic. Even when the panels are nothing more than just a talking head with blobby backgrounds, the art has a gorgeously realistic feel that's palpable even in rough stages. The slightly simplified style can also make way for gorgeously rendered splash pages that are practically masterpieces in of themselves. This makes sense given that Sunstone was originally written to justify making BDSM pinups for the fans.
However, the most impressive feat this comic has achieved is shining a realistic light on the BDSM community. Generally speaking this is a subject that most people tend to misinterpret as taboo torture that only deviant minds can muster, and this misunderstanding is often reinforced in Hollywood a la Fifty Shades of Grey. Sunstone, by contrast, makes the effort to show that there's more to the practice than whips and chains, detailing why those who submit to pleasure always have a method and a plan for everything. This kind of community may not be for everyone, and Sunstone shows that those who enjoy the throngs of submissive/dominant roleplay are fleshed out human beings that lead healthy lives and go through the same rollercoaster of emotions that any new relationship will present. While BDSM will always be a central theme for these two, this is a story that's less about the crazy outfits and torture devices and more how two lovers form an unbreakable bond through life's ups and downs.
Sunstone is still active and updating, and you can find it at http://shiniez.deviantart.com/. Just make sure you have an account since many of the pages will be NSFW and blocked from the general public.
Volume one of the printed edition is also available through Image Comics and Top Cow Productions with updated art, in case you didn't think the initial artwork couldn't get any better.
If you're curious about the forbidden world of bondage or if Fifty Shades of Grey has piqued your interest in kinky romance, do yourself a favor and check out Sunstone to see how one does such a story with more heart and respect. You may be coming for two sexy lesbians in bondage gear, but you'll definitely stay for the heartwarming drama of a blossoming romance.