No Better Words: A Study in Nakedness Versus Nudity

Woman lying on her bed in the dark. "I just invented a metaphor."

No Better Words

Carolyn Nowak
Silver Sprocket

Mallory lusts after Theo so thoroughly she’s taken to creating new metaphors for just how he makes her feel. When Theo throws a party, she gathers her courage and tells him, even though she doesn’t feel she has the right words to express herself. “I—I… had a dream about you.”

No Better Words by Carolyn Nowak: Woman sitting on the floor next to a bed and nightstand, reading cell phone screen
Cover image courtesy of Silver Sprocket

Before diving into No Better Words, I was a bit leery. I blame it on my tendency to spend so much time in comic books you could buy in any LCS. So many of those are created by men for men, which influences everything about them, both aesthetically and thematically. Those themes and aesthetics might be something I tolerate to read a standard tale, but I know from having read enough romance novels, fanfic, and Literotica they don’t do it for me when it comes to erotic fiction. Fortunately, it took only a single glance at the cover to make clear this was a comic by a woman whose target audience was not cishet men. Creator Caroyn Nowak’s decision to frame narrator and main character Mallory between her bed and bedside table, one sock off, nearly naked, but not nude, places the focus on the story rather than Mallory’s body. She is present, but she isn’t meant to titillate.

Nowak wrote No Better Words for anyone who has ever felt desire so strong they thought they might combust if the wind blew in the right direction. She created new ways to talk about an emotion that confuses and terrifies and intrigues, all at the same time. She used blush-reddened cheeks and those metaphors, some original and some common, to infuse each passing panel with tension. It tantalizes the reader, drawing them on with curiosity over whether Mallory will slake her thirst with Theo or discover something different at the center of the maze.

When events ultimately take a turn for the sexy, the events and dialogue feel genuine. (I admit to being a bit vague here, because I think more people should read this, and I don’t want to spoil the fun.) Mallory doesn’t find perfection, but she isn’t searching for perfection. She is chasing something realistic, whether or not she ever catches it. She isn’t after a multi-orgasmic, unending wild tryst, just a connection between two people who share an emotional attachment and want to express it with their bodies, a relatively horizontal surface, and as little clothing as possible.

There is one other major sign No Better Words is not written with cishet men in mind. Not once does Mallory describe her breasts or stare at herself in a mirror while admiring her body in weird detail. In fact, she only focuses on her appearance in a passing way at a single point. Zero moments of breasting boobily down the stairs exist within the comic’s pages. And Nowak’s art emphasizes this perspective. Mallory is curvy, but it’s the kind of curvy that comes with butt dimples and hip dips, and breasts that hang instead of perk. She isn’t the Western feminine idea, and she isn’t drawn for the male gaze. Her body is allowed imperfection in a realistic way, and it doesn’t take away from the comic’s provocativeness in any way. Just the opposite, honestly.

Nowak also clearly understands the distinction between nudity and nakedness, using it to full advantage on the reader. Because there are panels where characters are allowed to be naked, just to be themselves, but without clothing on, not posed to elicit an aroused response from the reader, those moments where the mood shifts to one of sensuality heighten the reader’s reaction. Nowak doesn’t steer clear of nudity; she simply deploys it with a deft touch I found appealing.

Although I approached with caution, No Better Words proved itself worth my time and emotional investment. Nowak embraces sexuality without sacrificing her character’s humanity. In a world featuring more covers of impossibly proportioned and positioned women than you can shake a stick at, Mallory in her lone sock is a breath of fresh air.

Laura Stump

Laura Stump

I'm a constantly sleep-deprived writer who mostly prefers the company of cats to people, although cats (curse their lack of opposable thumbs!) can’t fetch beer from the fridge the way people can.