Promethea Book 2
Written by Alan Moore
Art by J. H. Williams III
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Whoops. I mean – that’s obviously one of the big parts of what Promethea Book 2 is about / focused on but maybe it’s something that we shouldn’t talk about? Sex is private right? Let’s keep it behind closed doors so no one finds out…
My dream / ambition for this Book Club is that every three weeks we not only go deep into whatever particular comic we’re talking about – but also all of the messy stuff that surrounds the comic. You know: using From Hell to talk about serial killers or Maus to talk about Disney or whatever. But then the thing that makes it so interesting is that I can never predict where exactly things are going to end up – because it all depends on who replies and what they say and shit – obviously there’s a whole bunch of things you could say about this comic – Alan Moore’s writing or the writing of J. H. Williams III. The battles. TEXTure. Multiple personalities. Magic. That whole thing with the anagrams and snakes and whatever in the Issue #12…
But let’s try about sex.
Sex and comics in particular.
Alan Moore has obviously been a big proponent of sex and comics for quite a while. There’s that issue of Swamp Thing which goes all in the sexy time (it’s quite an experience if you’ve never tried it – it’s in Vol 2 of the collected books if I remember rightly…) and of course there’s his rarely discussed Lost Girls which he created with Melinda Gebbie which depicts the sexually explicit adventures of Wendy, Alice and Dorothy (I was lucky enough to be given a copy as a present once: but I should admit that I’ve only read it the once….). There’s that famous Alan Moore quote which seems appropriate: ““My experience of life is that it is not divided up into genres; it’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel. You know, with a bit of pornography if you’re lucky.” And it seems like that “a little bit of everything” philosophy is one he follows when he makes his comics: Promethea is particular (the only thing it doesn’t really have is cowboys….).
Obviously the discourse at the moment (such as it is) is all #MeToo and Aziz Ansari and maybe a thread about comic books isn’t the best kinda place to discuss that kinda – or maybe it is.
I mean talking about sex is such a fraught thing anyway. People don’t wanna seem too experienced or not experienced enough and etc and so on. It’s hard enough at the best of times to have a discussion with anyone anywhere about your vulnerabilities – and maybe sex is just an area where humans can’t talk to each other in a collective way without all our self-defenses being raised… But maybe (here’s a hope?) maybe comics could be a good first step with that?
Sex scenes in comic strips? Discuss.
Uh, I think they’re brilliant? Hahaha. Let me rephrase. I think well-drawn, fun-to-read sex scenes are brilliant. I’ve spent too many years cringing at awkwardly-trying-to-be-hot sex scenes in films and TV before finding comics that illustrate them in much better ways that get me giggling and my heart racing. As I mentioned earlier, I think it’s important there are healthy sexual examples on offer in the media for those of consenting age, but when I got to that age I honestly didn’t know where to look.
Or you know: we could talk about Promethea joining the Justice League of America.
Because you know: DC obviously hasn’t fucked with Alan Moore enough (I sincerely hope he burns them to the ground).
But hey – that’s enough from me – over to you. What do you guys think?
Given that this book contains pages and pages of the most tedious sex scene I’ve ever seen, it’s hardly possible *not* to talk about sex. Like, you’d think drawings of people getting it on would be enough to make sexy time, well, sexy. And maybe it would. But once the weirdo stuff about putting his wand in her cup or whatever starts, it’s like “Dude. Stop talking.”
I have an aversion to Promethea which started with the first book, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Now I think it’s the exceeding grossness of the “divine feminine” flimflam with which it’s infused.
This sex scene is a perfect metaphor for the entire book. Some weird old guy with halitosis who stinks of patchouli and B.O. pawing at you and trying to get you into his crusty unwashed bed with a bunch of pseudo-spiritual guru bullshit about wands and cups and worshiping women.
So. Like. Ew. This whole book makes me feel like I need a shower.
On a more technical level, I found this sex scene in particular reminiscent of Luther Arkwright. Both the seventies-esque spiritual babble but also artistically, especially the page spread with the cosmic background.
I think I’m going to sit this one out, hope you don’t mind. See you all for Book Three!
Be seeing you,
> On a more technical level, I found this sex scene in particular reminiscent of Luther Arkwright. Both
>the seventies-esque spiritual babble but also artistically, especially the page spread with the cosmic
This. Bryan Talbot’s work for Brainstorm and Luther Arkwright is ridiculously influential on Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison alike and often goes unnoticed. This is just one of many examples of what are considered iconic comic books, the “I can see you” page in Animal Man, Chester in Swamp Thing and the whole narrative voice of V for Vendetta and The Authority is right from Luther.
Nope, not going to bite.
(Slips through a hole in the back of the argument and reappears in time for Book 3.)
I’m gonna stick my head above the parapet and say I actually thought the sex scene was well done.
One of Promethea’s biggest themes is the divide between the mundane and magical worlds, and That Scene is a reflection of that. It deliberately starts out as mundanely as it possibly can:
A filthy bedroom, all in desaturated browns and greys, an aging hairy dude (without even his face showing, to make sure you just see his physical condition). At this point, even Promethea, demi-god of imagination, is talking about condoms. Very real-world, very dull, very un-sexy, and that’s not done accidentally.
Frankie was saying how it’s nasty, just screwing an old hippy while he mumbles in your ear. And yeah, it is that. I mean, it says as much explicitly at the start:
But if you let yourself fall into the rhythm of it, I think it works as something beyond that. The escalating saturation and abstraction of the images, how the background falls away, I do think that works as a poetic description of how really losing yourself in sex can make it seem like the rest of the world has fallen away. The words might mean something, or they might just be metaphorically talking dirty.
Look at that final shot, does that not look like an amazing orgasm to you? The explosion of colours, strong simple shapes, everything pointing at the (PG-rated lack of) genitals. Sure, it’s abstracted as hell, but that’s the entire point of the scene! And then the moment passes, the afterglow fades…
And you’re back in the real world, all grey and brown and it’s raining, and Faust’s just an aging hippy again.
Promethea isn’t perfect, the whole comic sure does love to tell you about it’s mythology, but I think the sex scene is a really good abstraction of what sex can feel like rather than just showing people screwing. It could do with having about half the speech hacked out, but that applies to the whole comic.
If we’re talking about sex in comics, are there any other good/bad/memorable sex scenes that people can think of? Something to compare this to would be interesting, and I can’t think of many that don’t just cut away to pillow-talk.
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
I started to read Lost Girls but to be honest – I’m not sure if I’m going to finish it. I mean obviously beauty is in the eye of the beholder etc – but there’s something about Melinda Gebbie’s artwork that I just find unsexy (sorry Melinda!). Like: it looks like it was done with chalk or pastels or something similar and I don’t know – there’s something about it that just makes me squirm for some reason. Maybe because it’s too childlike? And the juxtaposition between that and the type of stuff depicted is pretty uncomfortable.
I quoted Jade Sarson when we started and her For the Love of God, Marie! is pretty explicit and has a whole bunch of different sex scenes… and (ooh! call-back!): there’s a few sex scenes in Punisher MAX: altho hell Frank Castle and Kathryn O’Brien are so damaged I’m not sure it’s really something you can endorse…
Altho: that makes me think of the Jade Sarson article I linked to at the start and particularly this bit which has been ringing around my head like a bell: “It took me a long time to find the rarer comics with sex scenes that were both consensual and lovely (stuff like Embracing Love, which is about a gay couple that actually TALK ABOUT THEIR PROBLEMS instead of dancing around it for the sake of drama! WOW!)”
Because hey – first question: are people only looking for sex scenes which are nice and lovely? And shoot: can we extrapolate from that / does it go further – and that for lots of people they just want stories and comics and whatever that are all about making them feel good? Because well: that would make a lot of things make a lot of sense and would help to explain why I feel so out of step with everyone else (LOL). Like in terms of stories / sex scenes: the ones that I find most interesting aren’t really the ones that are “both consensual and lovely.” Good example of what I mean maybe: the TV show Girls which is all kinds of total genius – not least of which is the fact that every pretty much ever single sex scene is awful and fucked up and whatever the exact opposite of “lovely” is. And shit – because of that: they’re often way more interesting and insightful and illuminating about human life than two nice non-messed up people being perfect with each other.
And also: well – shit: isn’t there also a problem with the fact that once the sex scene in the comic or the film or the TV show or whatever becomes too lovely and brings you in too much: that (at the risk of being super crude sorry): your smart brain switches off and your sex brain takes over? Like: I tend to refute pretty much all the gender differences that people believe in and say that they’re most probably socially conditioned – but maybe there’s a real actual divide here in how men get turned on and how women get turned on and what that does to our perceptions? (Or hell: maybe it’s also just a simple binary obscuring a complex multitude?). But well just speaking personally (and hopefully not oversharing): but there is a dividing line for me between a story and pornography and I like that line to keep things separate: because well – if I’m reading something and it’s turning me on: then it’d definitely not working the same way in my head anymore….
And also well – another difference between me and Jade: a gay couple talking about their problems instead of dancing around it for the sake of drama? I mean: just going by that – that sounds awful. Because well: the drama and the conflict is what a story is all about no? Happy, well-adjusted people talking things over in calm and measured way sounds like the most boring thing in the world… Like: Hamlet sitting down with his mother and uncle and getting some stuff off his chest doesn’t sound anywhere near as compelling as the whole “to be or not to be” stuff. But hell – maybe that’s not what people want anymore?
But hey you know: talking about sex – today I read this and this (and I’d recommend both of them). But the basic theme seems to be: stuff is complex and stuff right?
Or better put: “To hold a lot of opposites in our minds seems to be what the moment calls for, to tolerate and be honest about the ambiguities. If we are going through a true reckoning, there should be space for more authentically diverging points of view, a full range of feelings, space to hash through what is and is not sexual misconduct, which is an important and genuinely confusing question about which reasonable people can and will disagree.”
“are people only looking for sex scenes which are nice and lovely?”
I think it’s Robert McKee that said that “there is no scene more boring than two people sitting and a table. One turns to the other and says ‘I love you’ and MEANS it.” Subtext / Drama is what makes stuff interesting – and gives dimension to character – I don’t know if this is always essential, though.
“Because well: the drama and the conflict is what a story is all about no?”
As I’m writing I’m kind of thinking of situations where this might not be the case – maybe some of the Japanese slice of life manga stories like Azumanga Daioh might be the kind of fodder that doesn’t really revolve around drama, but cute characters doing stuff. The kind of thing that works well in four panels but doesn’t really have a “story”.
Could you could have stories where people have nice and lovely sex all the way through, which nonetheless have drama in other aspects of the story? What would be the point of including those scenes? would they just be there for titillation? What would those scenes show us about the characters?
Again going back to “Shape of Water” – it’s kind of a queer / outsider allegory in that you’ve got two lovers, outcast by their love, where the conflict arises from societal oppression in the shape of Strickland. In that sense the nice and lovely sex the merman and Eliza have binds them together against a repressive force.
Either way, I don’t think it’s bad to depict bad or good sex – life contains both.