[Review] Sunstone Volume 3

written by Brandon Moore and Kate Spencer

Sunstone Volume 3 brings the return not only of sexual discovery and witty repartee, but Kate Spencer and Brandon Moore as well!

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
NSFW WARNING IS IN EFFECT


KATE
In my review for Volume One, I touched on a lot of the misconceptions I had about what BDSM was and the type of people who engage in it. I owe a lot of those misconceptions to a kind of sheltered “good Christian upbringing” which screwed me up for the first twenty or so years of my life. Even so-called “vanilla” sex was such a taboo subject that to this day I get flustered during most discussions about sex and fetishes. Blame the American public school system’s idea of sex education for a lot of that. So my understanding of “flavored” sex only came from what I could glean from pop culture. My understanding of BDSM began and ended with the information provided by one-off gags (hah!) on sitcoms and crime dramas where maybe a victim or a suspect frequented a fetish club. Imagine someone basing their opinion of online games off of the CSI: New York episode where they tracked the killer through Second Life – yeah, I really had the wrong idea.

Speaking of having the wrong idea, Cassie’s best friend Anne is doing research for a full back tattoo and wonders what the deal is with this kinky stuff Cassie is into. She Googles “BDSM”.

OH GOD, DON’T DO THAT.

There’s a funny bit of narration here where Lisa equates it to pausing a porn movie and making assumptions about sex based on the faces of the actors. Those snapshots don’t give you an accurate representation of what’s going on and can be extremely off-putting to anyone not knowing what to expect. Anne is about as horrified as I was whenever I saw fetish stuff on TV or in a movie. Unlike me, she’s intrigued enough to keep looking and starts showing a little bit of interest. Later in the book when she’s doing Cassie’s tattoo, she starts asking Lisa questions. Lisa laughs a couple of times and comments “fucking internet!” I’m so glad I have this book to teach me about this stuff so I don’t make an ass of myself in conversations with friends. Actually, discussions like this in the comic go a long way towards demystifying the whole thing for someone like me. Lisa refers to BDSM as a roleplaying game – I can understand that much.

Something else I found myself relating to in this volume was Lisa starting to have doubts about her relationship. After a talk with her older brother about his troubled marriage, she starts dwelling on a past relationship which went poorly due to a lack of communication. She thinks back to all the times her ex asked her what was wrong and she said she was fine. Have you ever been “fine”? I’m “fine” a lot. Lisa has these thoughts of anxiety, fear, guilt, and insecurity all running through her head. She gets to Ally’s door and she’s ready to end their arrangement, but then she sees her and just puts all of that on the backburner for a while. This is one of the ways Sunstone really shines. It would be so easy to make this pure porn with no real depth or emotional angst, but Sejic doesn’t do that. Instead we’re treated to a story with well-rounded characters and given glimpses into their thought processes that really make them relateable.

And there’s also porn.

It’s fine, it’s just a little bit. It’s not gratuitous, it gives you just enough to let your own dirty imagination fill in the blanks. If you don’t have a dirty mind…well, maybe Ally did some ab exercises and Lisa developed a lisp for completely mysterious reasons. Then they play dress up! There are some gorgeous outfit designs in these books, and I don’t know if they’re from the artist’s imagination or if they’re inspired by real fetish wear. It also leads to a profound narration about the shame and fear society often has around sex. How intelligence leaves us in those moments and we give in to “the human animal”. And if you don’t want to appreciate the deep thought of the narration boxes, the actual art is someone masturbating in a sexy maid outfit. There are strokes for all sorts of folks here.

For her part, Ally is feeling a bit possessive in this volume. Or at least what she fears is being possessive. Is she being a possessive domme or is she falling for her friend? Well, considering that in a daydream she imagines Lisa going from calling her “my mistress” to “my love”, obvious conclusions can be drawn. Again the comic puts its characters into places a lot of people have been in: Am I moving too fast? Am I imagining all of this? Do they feel the same way?

There’s this joke I heard once that in gay bars, a lesbian will give you two phone numbers: her own and the phone number for the local moving company. Well, Lisa and Ally have a different sort of relationship, so moving in together isn’t that weird…or maybe it’s weirder. Something I actually somehow missed in all of the other times I’ve read this volume is the conclusion Ally reaches when discussing her feelings for Lisa with Alan.

“I’m gay.”

She doesn’t say bisexual, bicurious, or pansexual, she says gay. It might be a bi person overthinking their first real infatuation with a member of the their own sex, but it may also be her coming to grips with years of conflicting feelings. A lot of her sexuality is rooted in kink, so when she was with Alan was it the kink that did it for her, Alan himself, or both? Her reaction during these pages is interesting because of something Lisa will say in Volume Five, but we’ll get to that later.

We still have two volumes to go before Sunstone ends, but that’s just the beginning. Stjepan Sejic has said that Sunstone is book one of a larger story, and I’m really glad because I can’t get enough of these characters.


BRANDON
As Volume Three of Sunstone opens, we are treated with a question that I imagine any kinkster thinks about at some point: what will be the reaction of the normies, the mundanes, the vanillas, the muggles? Anne, a newcomer to the series, turns to the internet to see exactly what this whole BDSM thing is about and gets a healthy case of the dubya tee effs. Working her way into becoming a major player in the story, she questions her friends about the appeal of these freaky things she sees on the internet. These discussions hold this volume’s message about BDSM.

There is no “one true way” to enjoy BDSM. It’s a very broad term encompassing a wide variety of activities and ideas. To assume a dom/sub couple enjoys all aspects of BDSM is like assuming I, as a movie geek, enjoy all movies. Our central couple, Ally and Lisa, have clearly defined their roles and revel in them. Elaborate costumes and games are a mainstay in their bedroom. Another couple in the book keeps things more sensual. There is some rope play, sure, but no pain or strict rules. They also regularly switch up who is the top and who is the bottom because they both enjoy each side of the coin – the liberation of being tied up and the exhilaration of total control. Some people only want some simple mind games in the bedroom, others truly do live out a 24/7 power exchange detailed in an agreed-upon contract, like you may have seen in another popular yet woefully misguided book and film series which can’t settle on a shade of grey. Everyone has their own flavor of kink. Perhaps even more importantly, everyone is always learning, exploring, and finding new things they either like or dislike. Anne herself manages to find an aspect or two of BDSM that she can appreciate.

Also, a public service announcement to all the curious innocents thinking about typing BDSM into Google: remember that porn is not real, as Sejic explicitly points out. It’s a purposefully crafted fantasy. Look at the most extreme, painful bondage situation or images of people dressed as puppies eating food out of a dish on the floor. Are people actually into that? Some are, sure. But any hobby can be taken to levels which others may consider extreme. One must remember that everyone is different, even in the BDSM community. Just because you find images of people on the internet happily drawing blood doesn’t mean your kinky friend down the street has a basement which looks like a horror show. In the book, Lisa describes pain as an enjoyable spice to sex. Some people want just a pinch, others want their mouth on fire. One collar does not fit all.

The healthy points of view on BDSM are great and all, but I wouldn’t still be reading if it weren’t for the characters. Ally and Lisa continue to endear themselves to me at every turn. So far, we’ve spent a good bit of time focused on how Lisa is becoming invested in the emotional relationship she feels is growing out of their sexual one. It’s refreshing to see Ally, the supposedly confident dominant, flustered and nervous about her feelings and taking their relationship further. For as sexy as these two are in their intimate moments, they are equally touching in their tender emotional ones. Sejic’s consistently amazing artwork, funny and emotional dialogue, and some hijinks involving the downsides of latex and a cat named Mr. Bonkers all ensure that I remain eager for more.

Also, apparently Ally’s snoring sounds like a freight train and it’s perfect.

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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