Flogged with Love: Stjepan Sejic’s Sunstone
Story and art by Stjepan Sejic
Top Cow Productions / Image Comics
Volume 2: April 29, 2015; Volume 3: September 19, 2015
My question when I hit the third volume of any graphic novel series is: will this be the last one I read? The first volume is an introduction and plot teaser; the second volume deepens the plot and starts character development; the third volume is where numerous titles have lost me. This is where you find out just how interesting the plot and characters really are—or aren’t. Fly or flop, baby, we’re gonna find out right here, right now.
Sunstone? Here’s the short answer: I’ll definitely be picking up volume 4. In fact, volume 3 drops this month. Go get it, then join me in chomping at the bit as we wait for the next volume. (Pun intended; you’ll get it if you read volume 3.)
As for how to describe Stjepan Sejic’s BDSM series, I highly suggest you read my colleague Wendy Browne’s “Put Down Grey and Read Sunstone Instead.” In her review, Wendy discusses the touchstones of Sejic’s very human series: trust and consent with a good dose of nerdy humor. (By the way, if you’re new to that acronym, click here for a text-only primer.)
To summarize briefly, Lisa and Ally are both searching for someone to scratch their BDSM itch. After getting to know one another online, they agree to meet in person to find out if they would be good sexual partners for one another. Neither anticipates that the relationship will be anything more than that, although they’re both lonely in their own ways. When the spark between them refuses to dim, they must each wrestle with their hearts—are they ready for more? Do they want more? Is gaining love worth the possibility of losing a close friend and sexual partner?
After reading volumes 2 and 3 of Sunstone, I have another word to describe it: honest. Awkwardly, humorously, embarrassingly, endearingly honest.
Here’s the thing about humans: there’s so much more to us than is deemed socially acceptable. We usually don’t talk about bodily functions—sexual or otherwise. We usually don’t talk about feelings. We usually don’t talk about what we really want. But in BDSM, that’s exactly what consenting partners need to do: talk about sex, talk about feelings, and talk about what they really, really want.
Hey, wait a minute here. That sounds like pretty solid relationship advice, period, no matter who you are or what kind of relationship you’re in. Ahh, there we go. That’s it precisely: Sunstone is a romance set against the backdrop of BDSM.
[pullquote]“The way I see it, there is a burden of societally programmed guilt many of us feel about our sexuality. Some of us live with it, others shake it off … Me? I use that shit to fuel my orgasms!” —Lisa[/pullquote]It’s also an exploration of self-identity and self-acceptance. Self-love, even (in many senses of that term!). In volume 1, we learn that both Ally and Lisa have known about their sexual preferences for, respectively, domination and submission for many years. In volumes 2 and 3, we meet other characters who are new to BDSM. As one of these characters, Anne, watches her best friend Cassie experiment; she wrestles with disgust, curiosity, and maybe even a hint of jealousy.
In a similar vein, Ally and Lisa wrestle with the fact that they’re both falling in love—with a woman. Does this mean they’re lesbians? Is that now part of their identities? For each of them, engaging in BDSM with a woman did not necessarily indicate emotional attachment; and now, they’re both suddenly and unexpectedly wrestling with their identities. Wait, you say, that’s confusing! How can you separate sex from sexual orientation? To which I say: sexual orientation isn’t always straightforward, folks, and we all have ways to surprise ourselves.
Sejic’s sleek, sexy art complements the story quite well—which is no surprise, really! The story wasn’t a story to begin with; after all, it was a series of pin-ups that Sejic executed to work his way through a creative block. And then the subjects of the pin-ups became characters in their own right, and eventually Sejic had a full-blown relationship story on his hands. As far as style goes, the comic retains that pin-up feel: bold gazes, dynamic poses, rich colors, and risque costuming. It’s luscious, to put it simply. Sejic’s linework is fast and rather sketchy, but that’s not a critique. If I were to pick on anything, it’s that I would really like to see more body and facial types in this comic. With a few exceptions, there’s a clear style to the characters: sharp lips, shadowed eyes, strong chins and noses. This doesn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the comic; I’d just love to see Sejic illustrate many different kinds of sexy bodies with bondage. I know he can do it!
Sejic weaves together the stories of surprisingly complex characters throughout this little romance called Sunstone. He doesn’t shame his readers, but he does educate them. Sejic pokes and prods at the judgments and assumptions we all make about one another, steadily undermining preconceived notions and expectations in ways that are honest but also gentle. Also: Sejic is a nerd, and all of the cute, sweet, nerdy role-playing jokes are just adorable.
So yes, I’d like everyone to read Sunstone please. Like romance? Read Sunstone. Like sex? Read Sunstone. Don’t know much about BDSM? Read Sunstone. Tried Fifty Shades of Grey and loved it? Read Sunstone. Tried Fifty Shades of Grey and hated it? Read Sunstone. Think kink and homosexuality degrade humanity and cause society to fail? Read Sunstone.
Want to read Sunstone? You should! And hey, lookit that. Here’s a free (slightly NSFW) preview of volume 3 for you! Read Sunstone.
(Just FYI, the review was written prior to receipt of the preview—but hey, a bonus!)
Editors note: a link originally included in this article was removed because it erroneously linked to a different artist’s work.