Alfie Deserves an Eisner (or at Least a Fair Shot)

Alfie, a halfling, is being told, "That despite the way you look, you are a foul woman, Ms. Tolman," in an extremely flirtatious way by Marco, a blonde guard. Alfie, InCase, 2018

Alfie is a fantasy webcomic that follows Alpheanea “Alfie” Tolman, and her mother, Vera Tolman, as they experience separate journeys of sexual-self discovery. Written and drawn by the anonymous writer and artist Incase, Alfie has been running for six and half years, and is available to read for free online.

Alfie enjoys popularity as a porn comic; Incase has over 3,200 subscribers on Patreon while other not-always-safe-for-work webcomics like Oglaf have over 2,400 and The Rock Cocks have around 1,051. Popularity amongst porn comic lovers aside, however, Alfie has not entered into mainstream comic discourse or criticism.

A quick search on the web shows that in the six and a half years since its release reviews of Alfie are limited to a youtube video or two made 3 years ago, and one review written in 2018 on a personal blog. Without knowing what Alfie is, it would seem to be almost impossible to find for a new reader. Despite this, popular webcomics such as Oh Joy, Sex Toy list Alfie as one of their personal favorites, even though no major comic outlets have written about it. Alfie has impressive art, creative multi-species character designs, interesting plotlines, and complex characters with layered development. Alfie possesses all the key elements that make it worthwhile for critical study, all of which occur alongside graphically drawn sex scenes. 

Alfie, InCase, 2018

One of the qualities that sets Alfie apart from other popular webcomics is the diversity of and focus given to different sexual orientations. In many stories, queer characters are peppered in for shallow representation, a well-meaning but hollow gesture as it keeps LBGTQ+ characters as exotic sidedishes, who never act out their sexuality on their terms. The queer characters in Alfie are given significant panel space, and the reader actually sees them engaging in queer love, sex, and relationships. Readers get this intimate look at the queer experience, which allows for a fuller range of character development, and in great detail. Incase shows characters reacting to sex for the first time, and experienced sex-havers struggling with the emotional ramifications of hookups that they thought were casual. Before Alfie has lesbian sex for the first time with her friend Mellie, they have a long conversation where Alfie reveals her attraction to women and her subsequent shame over those feelings.

Mainstream fantasy is dominated by stories about those in power, filled with Eurocentric communities and white cis-het characters. These stories rarely focus on people outside of that norm, but Alfie is chock full of them. Vera, Alfie’s mother, struggles immensely with her sexual identity, and she hates her closeted husband for not loving her the way she wants. As a result, she has turned the loneliness in her marriage into homophobia. On the other hand, Alfie doesn’t want to get married even though all the other girls her age in town married years ago. A big part of her reluctance is her coming to terms with her queerness, and with the fact that the homophobic town of Pickering would never allow her to be with a woman. Lydia, a queer woman of color and guard for the caravan that visits Pickering, later shares a story about her similar experience with marriage that echoes a commonly used fantasy and romance trope. Lydia’s family was poor and their landlord’s son was interested in marrying her. In many romance-fantasy stories, Lydia would be married off. In Alfie, Lydia takes charge of her story: “Even back then I knew I only liked girls…They [her family] didn’t understand! I tried to explain but…uh..it got bad. I can’t make myself into somebody I am not. Not even for them. So I left.” (pg. 564). It is important to note here that while Alfie has a wide variety of sexualities present, as of the most recent update in December 2020 there aren’t any trans characters. There may be some trans characters in the background, but there is no way to know without confirmation from the author. 

Incase gives space for characters to broaden their sexual horizons, and ties this with the development of their character. When Lydia discovers that her sexuality may be more fluid than originally thought after a three-way with another woman and a man, it opens up a chance for her to start talking about her feelings and be more vulnerable with other characters later on. Similarly, when Vera gets a job dominating the rich elf who runs the caravan, she learns to choose happiness for herself and work out her own internalized homophobia through a three-way BDSM scene. The sex scenes give Incase unique opportunities to dig into characters and explore their growth. 

The representation in Alfie goes beyond sexuality: characters cover a wide spectrum of age, body types, and even fantasy species. For example, Vera is a middle-aged halvin (similar to hobbits, or halflings) mother and also frequently appears in kinky sex scenes throughout the comic. There aren’t many (or even any) fantasy stories about a middle-aged mother who moonlights as a sex worker as a tool for self-discovery, and then uses the funds earned through sex work to fund her voyage to find her daughter. 

Tall, polyamorous, goat people - Alfie, InCase, 2018

Another example is Ozge, a lesbian Voch’Khari (goat-like people with horns and long tails) who sticks out from her community because she isn’t interested in the polyamorous marriage groups that everyone in her community is expected to join. There’s also Cillian, a middle-aged human mountain guide, a vocal advocate for sex workers who struggles when he’s around other people. Alfie features characters from a variety of ages all experiencing sexual discovery – rather than limiting it to just young characters. Furthermore, these characters all come from distinct backgrounds and cultures. This idea is core to Alfie’s success. Alfie is so successful because it gives space to so many ages, body types, and sexualities.

While Alfie succeeds in queer representation, it struggles when it comes to characters’ body types. The majority of the female characters are drawn with large breasts and butts with tiny waists, and there are little to no plus-sized female characters. There are disabled characters, most prominently when the caravan meets the Voch’Kari, but they are mostly side or background characters with little to no lasting impact. 

 Alfie also struggles with racial diversity. There are a few characters of color but overwhelmingly the characters with human skin tones are light-skinned. The large range of fantasy skin tones highlights the lack of racial diversity. But even with these shortcomings, Alfie is an equitable work that represents a variety of lived experiences. 

Another distinctive aspect of Alfie is the prevalence of the sapient fantasy species, who also regularly participate in sex scenes. It would be easy to simply label Alfie as a “niche fetish comic” due to its inclusion of interspecies sex.  However, Incase shows us the emotional lead-up and aftermath to each sex scene, and utilizes the interspecies aspect to enhance the character development and show the differences between cultures. The first time Vera agrees to dominate Alduin, the wealthy, egotistical elf in charge of the caravan, she struggles deeply with the ramifications of cheating on her husband with someone outside her “kind.” 

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, there is the Voch’Kari, where polyamorous marriages are core to their community’s culture, and Ozge is treated as an outsider because she feels uncomfortable with polyamory for herself. The fantasy aspects are approached seriously, and couched in a developed world with developed characters, including showing how the different fantasy species interact with one another. Incase makes a point to discuss the impossibility for certain races to get other races pregnant, and the characters comment on how their bodies interact during sex. When the reader is shown flashbacks of Cillian’s time growing up in a brothel, the reader is introduced to the serpent folk who work in the brothel as well. The serpent peoples’ unique anatomy, which includes having two penises, adds to their appeal and success as sex workers. This detail shows that there is fetishization of fantasy species by other fantasy species within the fantasy world of Alfie. Including fantasy races in Alfie gives Incase the chance to explore storylines that wouldn’t be possible with a cast of all humans. 

Vera and Cillian look at the mountains before them, Alfie, InCase, 2018

There are, of course, problems with examining porn in a critical light. Alfie is, still, a comic with the dual goal of providing a good story and providing sexual gratification. That secondary ideal, providing sexual gratification, is considered in many circles to be “low brow.” Alfie’s fantasy setting works against it, as interspecies sex is often seen as a niche or grotesque fetish. Attraction to fantasy races is often used as a punchline in sex comedies (like American Pie), and that perception reinforces the idea that any work which sexualizes fantasy or sci-fi species is similarly a joke. The subject material is foreign to many people which will create the belief that it is too ‘weird’ to be discussed. This unfamiliarity with the subject matter should only increase a critic’s interest in examining the work. 

Alfie is a good comic on its own terms. It has solid linework, layouts, character designs, and it uses its own premise and pornographic elements to make itself an exceptional comic. Alfie isn’t a good comic “porn notwithstanding” and it isn’t a good comic  “because it’s good porn,” but it’s a good comic holistically. Every part of it locks together to make it a complete product worthy of attention. The integration of sex and story vital to Alfie’s critical makeup, and it’s created a comic that shows the full range of a human story, sometimes without humans at all. The inclusion of porn elements and sex scenes is what makes the comic so interesting. People are naturally reluctant to review sexual content or talk about the sex scenes in stories, and so prevent themselves from talking about how sex relates to the story. Human stories include sex and sexuality (this includes those who choose to not engage in sex or are asexual), and without discussing this critics miss a major portion of the human experience. Alfie is a great starting point for this sort of examination, and after ten years online it deserves critical attention and discussion. 

Anna Bloomfield

Anna Bloomfield

Anna Bloomfield is an acupuncture student and gremlin in training. If she's not reading comics then she is definitely cuddling one of her cats.
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