[Review] Sunstone Volume 1

written by Brandon Moore and Kate Spencer

Kate and Brandon are hooked on a comic called Sunstone. It’s a heartwarming tale about lovers finding each other and navigating the turbulent waters of new relationships. Also, they have lots of sex with ropes and gags and stuff. Join us, won’t you?

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
NSFW WARNING IS IN EFFECT

KATE
Not long ago, I discovered Sunstone, a graphic novel which started as a series of images drawn and posted to DeviantArt by Stjepan Sejic. The first page I read was mid-Volume One and…it was hot. I flush with embarrassment at the subject of erotica, and until recently, I probably wouldn’t have even admitted to reading something like this. In fact, this is probably the first one I’ve read with any interest and *ahem* repeatedly read. Maybe it’s because it was girl-on-girl…okay, that was definitely it, but that’s only why I started reading it. What kept me engaged were the characters, the romance, and the well-crafted story.

Sunstone is the story of two twenty-something women with a taste for BDSM. This isn’t something I’m well-versed in and I’ll admit I had a lot of misconceptions going in. Luckily, Sunstone carefully weaves information about its subject into the narrative so that someone like me can learn as they go. My long-standing impressions of BDSM were that it was for people who like to tie up and whip each other and when the one person is tired of being whipped they say a safeword. Beyond that only partly correct assumption, I knew nothing. Early on in the first volume, Sunstone drives home the need for honesty and trust in BDSM. Whether it was Sejic’s intention to purposefully get right what Fifty Shades Of Grey and other stories got wrong isn’t clear, but the writing can definitely lead to that interpretation. After reading both Sunstone and a few excerpts from Fifty Shades, I can tell you that, from an outsider’s perspective, Sunstone is much more educational about its subject matter. Everything I’ve read of Fifty Shades tells me it has as much to do with real BDSM as my exploits in Kerbal Space Program have to do with actual rocket science – hopefully with less catastrophic results.

The framing device of the story is that Lisa, a writer herself, is finally novelizing the story of these events five years later. She’s been pestered to write it by her friends and even went to the trouble of getting their sides of the story to fill in all of the gaps. She begins with some exposition about herself and her submissive tendencies that began in her teens. Those eventually led to her going online and joining a BDSM fanfic community, where she met Ally. After months of chatting and even some cybering, Lisa takes the plunge and asks Ally if she wants to meet up in person. Both are so nervous they look like they want to hide from their computer screens after they type a reply – something I can empathize with – but they agree to meet at Ally’s house.

Ally is a bit of a hoarder. She’s a successful programmer and has seen at least one big windfall, so she’s used that to purchase a large house and enough BDSM gear to potentially make the FBI investigate her for having a torture dungeon. She’s supplied by her friend Alan, another dominant who makes a living building all sorts of interesting gear. Ally is so excited by the idea of having a sub for the first time that she immediately buys a custom-made bed with lots of rings to attach her new playmate to.

It’s implied that neither woman has had much experience with other women, but they aren’t shy about giving it a shot. The way it’s approached, it’s like the two of them are more into the roleplay itself and less into each other physically (at least at first). It’s just “friends with benefits” to them. That leads me to believe that maybe for them, finding a compatible dom/sub was more important than finding a compatible sex partner. Or maybe they’re just pansexual. Beyond the confines of their game, the two share a growing level of intimacy that makes for a perfect romance story, even if it is a little “out of order” compared to traditional relationships.

Now let’s talk about the thing we’re all here for: the hot, spicy porn. Getting this out of the way first – there’s nudity. Not a lot, not a gratuitous amount, but there’s full-frontal and a lot of topless stuff. That said, it’s never over the top or what one might consider “porn for the sake of porn”. It’s actually quite tame. I even find much of Sunstone less porny than the “art” of Greg Land. Despite its BDSM elements and full-frontal nudity, it still skirts the rules of softcore, and if Ally and Lisa were into lawyer/client fetish roleplay, they would get off on that technicality*. Even the BDSM is what I, as an inexperienced and admittedly squeamish newbie, would consider tame. For me it’s actually less scary and more sexy.

Something that probably helps with that is the way Sejic presents these characters. Ally, Lisa, and Alan are all heavily into bondage – Lisa writes stories about it, Alan makes costumes and gear, and hoarder Ally practically has a sex dungeon, but they’re all very normal and easy to relate to. With Ally and Lisa especially, we get to see two sides of them – their everyday selves and the roles they play in their “game”. You don’t have to look too deeply to see parts of their everyday personalities in the roles they play, either. The part that really normalized the more fetishy elements for me was right after their first time together during “aftercare” (something else I learned about in this comic). The explanation of that part of BDSM and Lisa’s narration referring to BDSM people as “sexual nerds” helped change my outlook of the whole thing. It doesn’t fall into the realm of my sexual tastes, but I feel like I get it now.

If you want a comic with gorgeous art, fantastic writing, fun characters, and a really sexy story, check out Sunstone. It’s available at most digital comic sites and several book shops.


BRANDON
I was linked to Stjepan Sejic’s Sunstone by a friend who basically said “Look! Two girls tying each other up! I suspect this will speak to your interests.” What can I say? I’m an easy target. But my interest in Sunstone extended beyond simple titillation. I was intrigued to read more of this comic which appeared to portray BDSM and other less than “normal” sexual concepts in a positive light.

And I’ll be damned if I didn’t fall in love with these sexy dorks along the way.

I was struck by the art right off the bat. Walking a line between realistic and cartoonish, Sejic’s style is attractive and impressively expressive. The faces of his characters easily convey a variety of nuanced emotions. Just a single panel of one of the leads can break my heart or make me laugh out loud. Whether it’s anxiety or ecstasy, I never need a word bubble to tell me how someone is feeling. (Although sometimes the word bubbles do help with their whimsical shapes.) Every once in a while I turn the page and am blown away by a full-page painting which features extra attention to detail. These images are striking and worthy of being framed. (In fact, I believe you can get them from Stjepan Sejic’s deviantArt page!)

So the art is attractive; how is the content? We’re here for the girl-on-girl action! Well, the sex is more sensual than it is pornographic. Nudity and roaming hands aside, there is nothing truly explicit portrayed. Instead, the art and text combine to create a flowing sense of pleasure and desire. The passion the characters share for each other is evident and strong. This is all for the best as you can find good ol’-fashioned smut anywhere on the internet, but the true passion portrayed in this book and these characters makes it something special.

And the BDSM? As this story is told from Lisa’s point of view, we get the most insight into her mind in this first installment. Lisa identifies as a submissive, therefore readers can learn about what makes someone want to be tied up. Lisa speaks about how the tactile nature of the ropes and latex costumes affect her senses and cause her to focus on the moment. By being tied up, she is allowed to really let go and, in a way, be truly free to enjoy herself. Being bound, helpless, and denied of your sight and ability to speak limits you in so many ways that you have no choice but to focus acutely on even the lightest touch on your skin. The theatricality of BDSM is also addressed: the power of titles, costumes, symbolic collars, and proper attitudes all enhance the game and deepen the roles. Lastly, once you are used to the idea that all sorts of tools can be used in sex, there is a certain amount of excitement that comes with seeing new toys, and Lisa absolutely expresses her delight at all the accoutrements that Ally has at hand. “Sex for nerds,” indeed. From safewords to aftercare, I am impressed with how Sejic gleefully portrays BDSM not as something which only damaged, depraved perverts partake in, but just as something people can be passionate about and share together.

In fact, that is perhaps what struck me most about Sunstone Vol. 1. From cover to cover, it is a wonderfully sex-positive story. Two women meet on the internet and decide to get together for casual sex. They enjoy their kinks unapologetically. They have friends who urge them to be careful, but go and have their fun. Close friends speak openly and frankly about sex. Not once is any of this portrayed as strange, wrong, or inappropriate. Instead, it’s just adults enjoying some consensual sexy time and being totally adorable while doing it.

This first volume ends the same way any TV show’s first season does when it hasn’t yet been renewed. There is a promise for more since, clearly, these two women enjoy each other very much. There is still plenty more BDSM to explore as well. But even had there never been a second volume, we’re left on a happy and pleasing note, knowing that these two friends with benefits have found kindred spirits in one another.

Of course, we know there are five volumes, so it’s safe to say we’re in for plenty more fun and almost certainly some pain.

And not just the good kind.

Sunstone can be found in bookstores, comic shops, on Amazon, digitally on Comixology, and entirely free on deviantArt. Kate can be found on Twitter at @WearyKatie, and Brandon at @BluThundur.

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