I forget where I saw this, but I remember Stjepan Sejic saying that he prefaces his graphic novel Sunstone with a hearty, “It’s not what you think.” The cover features two women, one dressed as a dominatrix and the other in a collar, giving the reader the sexy eye – so it’s definitely clear what impression that might make. However, the heart of this book is hinted at by a detail that I almost overlooked when I first saw the cover. Despite the obvious clarity of the roles depicted here, these two women are holding hands.
Folks probably know Sejic best from either his Top Cow work (a lengthy run on Witchblade, or perhaps his recently critically acclaimed/fan-adored Death Vigil), or maybe his hilarious superhero strips that he somehow finds the time to do while drawing multiple ongoing series and covers every month. Sejic is, it’s beginning to seem, basically everywhere. Sunstone, which Sejic initially serialized as a webcomic under the pen name Shiniez before unleashed it on comics shops, has recently become Top Cow’s most pre-ordered graphic novel of all time. Sejic has become one of the top creators in the industry, and Sunstone is proof positive that he’s been producing some of the best comics around for years.
Sunstone is about BDSM, focusing on Ally, who wants to be a dominatrix and Lisa, our narrator, who wants to be a sub. Neither of these women have had an outlet to give into their fetish, until they meet each other online and… all right. I’m stopping here to reaffirm the whole “It’s not what you think.” What follows is, perhaps, the least 50 Shades of Gray imagineable, as Sejic explores the idea of a correlation between BDSM and the way people obsess over the minutia of nerd culture. Sunstone uses two fully fleshed out women to explore sexuality as something to be explored and cherished rather than shamed, doing so in a tender and, perhaps best of all, hilarious way. While it would be easy to hear the concept and assume the book is porny, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it feels far more like Strangers in Paradise than any erotica I could compare it to. It’s written with tenderness and respect, and Lisa, Ally, and Ally’s friend/supply er… supplier Alan are drawn like real life everyday people.
And that, that is what’s beautiful about Sunstone. It takes the idea of kink and humanizes it without condemning or glorifying it, treated the characters involved as people with lives beyond their sexual desires rather than tools with which to explore kink. Sunstone is a perfect answer to a society that, too often, shames sexuality, particularly female sexuality, as something to repress. On top of that? It’s warm, often hilariously silly, and realistically romantic. I kind of just love it.
Also, no one – no one – does back matter like Sejic. There’s concept art, a lengthy explanation of how Sunstone came to fruition as a result of his artist block, and more extras, pin-ups, and strips than I could believe.
Oh, also also? The lettering. You’ve never seen anything like Sejic’s lettering. It spirals, it wraps around, it forms shapes – it helps build character. Dang, this is a great book.
PAT SHAND is a comic book writer (Robyn Hood, Charmed: Season Ten, Grimm Fairy Tales) and pop culture journalist (Blastoff Comics, Sad Girls Guide). He has spent the vast majority of his career, thus far, attempting to convince prospective readers that “it’s not what you think.”