Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sex in the Comix: Not Approved by the Comics Code Authority

Yes, R. Crumb is still alive. In fact, he seems to be doing better than ever. Of course, he should be in a good head space when discussing his favorite topics: sexually explicit comics and his own life. The two subjects are often deeply intertwined for the artists profiled in JoĆ«lle Oosterlinck’s Sex in the Comix (trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

They are not kidding about the “x” in Comix. Explicit Comix make X-rated films look restrained and prudish. You can find just about every transgressive hang-up given free rein and you can thank the 1960s counter-culture. As Crumb explains, the underground press would publish anything he submitted, no matter how shocking, but they paid a pittance.

So there you pretty much have it. Oosterlinck basically gives viewers a breezy survey of some of the leading lights of redlight district comic book history, essentially introducing their major themes and motifs and then moving on to the next participant. It offers a reasonably broad cross-section, including the classical eroticism of Milo Manara and the macabrely baroque work of Suehiro Maruo (a favorite of John Zorn). However, there seems to be a slight bias in favor of homoerotic and feminist artists and storylines.

Rather tellingly, only the late Tom of Finland and Alison Bechdel’s work are still discussed even though they do not appear as an interview subjects. Yet, it is ironically debatable whether the film passes the Bechdel Test (probably, if we count French autobiographical comic artist Aude Picault discussing her work, presumably with Oosterlinck).

It is hard to really get bored by any combination of sex and comic books, but the fifty-two minutes of SITC never has sufficient time for any truly revelatory analysis. Burlesque performer and comic artist Molly Crabapple’s coquettish persona is not particularly well suited for hosting duties either. Still, it is nice to see Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb looking well, especially considering how much convincing it took for him to consent to Zwigoff’s film.

Having previously co-directed Art of Spiegelman, a documentary profile of Maus creator Art Spiegelman, Oosterlinck clearly has a passion for comic book art as a mature adult form of creative expression. However, the earlier documentary worked better because of its greater focus. Basically a time killer that might have greater meaning for passionate fans of Crumb or Crabapple, Sex in the Comix is now available via VOD platforms, from Doppelganger Releasing.