[Review] Sunstone Volume 5

written by Brandon Moore and Kate Spencer

There’s nowhere for our heroines to go but up when Volume 5 of Sunstone begins. Kate Spencer and Brandon Moore march toward the grand finale, hoping for the best and braced for the worst.

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
NSFW WARNING IS IN EFFECT


KATE
It’s the end of the beginning. Sunstone Volume 5 finally delivers what readers have been wanting and gives a taste of the stories to come. I’m sure on the day of its release you could hear fans getting to those last few pages and yelling “FINALLY!!”

Volume 5 is largely about fixing what was broken at the end of Volume 4. Ally and Lisa’s friendship has dissolved, neither has admitted their feelings for the other, and Lisa moves out, making communication between the two much more difficult. Lisa goes back to her writing to help pay the bills, and when she does she finds that Ally still reads her work. It opens the way for a really clever “story within a story” framing device which gives us the sexy bits of the previous volumes, as well as letting Lisa say the things she could never say out loud.

The “Lisbeth” stories become a sort of bridge between the two, but it’s not the thing that fixes them. They still have to cross that bridge and they still have to say what they’ve avoided saying to each other this whole time. In that way, I’m glad the stories weren’t the easy fix. I’m glad that “Allison” and “Lisbeth” didn’t admit their feelings before Ally and Lisa. It’s something Lisa herself realizes during a moment of introspection where she talks to a personification of her own self-loathing…look, this volume gets kind of weird in places, but I swear it works.

Sunstone is sort of a LGBTQ story, but thankfully it’s not a Hollywood LGBTQ story. It’s not a story about coming out or hiding a taboo relationship from friends and family who just don’t understand. This is a love story which just happens to be about two women who fall for each other. Like I’ve said before, they’re more freaked out that they might be overstepping the Domme/sub boundary than they are that they might have suddenly discovered they’re gay or bisexual. In Volume 5 Lisa has a conversation with a coworker where she admits she didn’t care much about figuring out her sexuality, but more what Ally meant to her. It was more important for her to figure out what they were to each other before they put a label on it. Looking back at Volume 3, Ally was basically like, “I’m gay…but am I being an overly possessive Domme?” It adds up to a story that’s less about the sexuality of its LGBTQ characters and more about their relationship. After watching waaaay too many gay and lesbian movies with the exact same “ehrmahgrd taboo sexuality” plot, it’s refreshing to see something different and done so well.

The art in Volume 5 is top notch. Stjepan Sejic plays with more fantasy and metaphorical imagery this time around, from drawing a phone conversation as an epic sword battle to showing Ally and Lisa’s mending relationship as a flowery bridge. Something I don’t think I’ve mentioned before is how Sejic changes art styles between panels. For most of the comic, the art style is more comic-like while still being very expressive. However, to highlight a particular panel or enhance a scene (usually the BDSM bits) the art takes a more realistic painting-like style. The change between the two styles is never jarring and it enhances the fantasy elements of the panels quite a bit. I feel like there’s some kind of deeper artistic insight one could derive from the style choice but as I’m neither an artist nor an art critic, the best I can come up with is “ooooh, pretty!”

I’m about to get more personal regarding what this story has meant to me and it’s going to be a tiny bit sappy, so fair warning. I made mention of typical LGBTQ stories earlier because it’s something that’s important to me. A lot of people don’t understand the value of representation in media because they don’t know what it’s like to be underrepresented. I’m constantly looking for movies and books with lesbian themes because I just can’t get into straight romance stories. A lot of times I’m disappointed by what I find, because it’s either a story that’s designed 100% for the male gaze or it’s one of those aforementioned “taboo relationship” stories. When I found Sunstone, I was immediately drawn in by the prospect of a lesbian romance story and it never once disappointed me. Stjepan Sejic’s writing and art captures LGBTQ romance and erotica in ways that I struggle to compare to anything I’ve read or seen before. I want more stories like this one, not just for myself, but for others who might read it and see a little of themselves in the characters.

All good things must come to an end, and this ending is beautiful and satisfying while also leaving the door open for future stories. We even get tiny glimpses of that future in a few panels, along with one last flash-forward at the end. There’s been the promise of more with the followup story Mercy being underway and two more planned. While I’m in the mood, let’s plug some more of Stjepan Sejic’s work. Starting with issue 25, he’s going to be working on Aquaman for DC Comics. Earlier this month he released an eighteen-month Sunstone calendar which I received as a gift from my co-reviewer. It’s got eighteen gorgeous images that are cute, romantic, and really silly. Also, you can go to Sejic’s Comixology page or his DeviantArt page and find something you like. While you’re at it, also check out the work of his wife Linda on her DeviantArt page and Comixology page as well. I’m working my way through her comic Blood Stain right now and enjoying the humor and creepy awkwardness.

Now, after eight hundred pages of comics, five reviews, and many hours of enjoyment, the question on my mind is the same as Ally’s at the end of Volume 5: “Got more?”


BRANDON
It’s the grand finale of Sunstone and things get really hot and hea– wait, where is the sex? Where is the long-awaited climax? Where did all this rich and poignant insight on human nature and relatonships come from?

The typical format of these reviews, wherein I ruminate on the portrayal of BDSM and my compatriot discusses the drama of the characters, leaves me little to talk about this time around. Volume 5 focuses less on the kinky fun times, and heavily on Ally and Lisa’s emotional turmoil as they struggle to learn what they mean to each other.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ve fallen in love with these characters, and Sejic expertly makes their emotional distress feel genuine and messy. Large splash pages of metaphoric imagery convey rich ideas and look absolutely stunning. The script is honest. The art is amazing. This is the height of the story and of Sejic’s always polished work.

That’s not to say that the kink is totally missing, of course. It’s nice to see friends talking openly and plainly about sex and fetishes free from judgement or embarassment. Lisa doesn’t stray far from what she knows, eventually using the sexy stories which brought her and Ally together in the first place in order to try to reconnect with her. Ultimately, she even uses their dominant and submissive roles – and reversal of them – to highlight her epiphany. She needs to take the initiative in saying “I love you” rather than letting the normally dominant Ally make the first move.

BDSM is on one level about embracing roles and headspaces which are comfortable, enjoyable, perhaps even natural for you. But just like so many things in life, one musn’t overgeneralize. A submissive isn’t a doormat and a dominant isn’t a paragon of stoic confidence. Whether these roles are just something fun for the weekends or important to someone’s core, they aren’t the entirety of the person. Kinksters are people too! They have complex and conflicting emotions! This fact is represented by Lisa realizing that maybe her wonderful Domme, the person she sees as strong and experienced, could be just as scared and insecure about their love as she is. Only when she remembers that her kinky lover is a person, complete with flaws and worries like anyone else, does she realize what she must do to get her “happily ever after”.

And since Sejic makes little secret of it even in his own books, happily it does end. After being so endeared to these characters, it does my spirit good to see things work out. If you survived the heartbreak of Volume 4, you owe it to yourself to see the happiness at the end of the road.

This whole series is a real gem. A little offbeat and unconventional, yet just as entertaining and heartwarming as the best romantic movies released every Valentine’s Day. Ultimately, it isn’t a softcore Skinemax flick, but a touching and funny romance which uses kink as its medium. Between the writing and the art, Sejic is a true talent who presents one beautifully polished package. He promises more; the next chapter, Mercy, is already underway.

And waiting for it feels like sweet torture.

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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