Monday, 26 December 2011

Expect the Unexpected - Pornhounds #2

Before I write a single word on Sharon Lintz’s 'Pornhounds #2', it’s probably worth getting the obvious out of the way first. Judged purely on its title, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a full on 'tits and ass' comic, so it’s perhaps worth taking a moment to clarify that this isn’t a porn comic. Admittedly, the book does have its fair share of adult content as Lintz's aim was to document her tenure as a copy writer for a porn publication. So, yes, there’s plenty in the way of smut, but it’s all in the service of a very personal autobiographical work whose backdrop just happens to be the adult entertainment industry. Much like the recently reviewed 'Paying for it' by Chester Brown, Lintz isn't out to titillate, she's out to educate.

The comic kicks off with a clever little visual trick that serves as a signifier of what lies ahead. In the book's opening panels we’re led to believe the narrator is a man buying a porn magazine, only to discover a few panels later that the narrative voice is in fact that of Lintz herself. It’s a wonderful double bluff, one that proves to be of particular thematic significance as the comic unfolds. As a narrator, Lintz is constantly one step removed from her experiences. First as a ghost writer for Cytherea, the nubile cover star of her employer’s magazine, then as an omniscient observer to her own life when she’s diagnosed with breast cancer. Viewed in the wider context of the comic, shock revelations and all, this brief narrative disconnect suddenly becomes something far more poignant.

The first thirty or so pages of the comic are a relatively light read, unfolding with a welcoming mix of observational humour and gonzo reporting. As we're introduced to Lintz's work environment and co-workers, she teases out all the inherent oddness of the adult industry. There are mind numbing photo review meetings, heated editorial debates on the grammatical correctness of tag lines like 'The island of Dr. More Ho's', and some surprisingly affecting reader's letters. A number of pages are given over to fan letters, reproducing verbatim a selection which range from polite and sensitive to downright dirty. They’re all absolutely fascinating, and this small selection reads like confessional poetry culled from every imaginable walk of life. Very little is held back and reading these letters is, as Lintz puts it, ‘like staring directly into someone's soul’.

'Pornhounds #2' covers topics that you'd rightfully expect to be gritty and depressing, but there's a strong streak of absurdist humour running through the book that keeps things well balanced. During her time at the magazine Lintz churns out reams of erotic fiction that become increasingly ludicrous as time passes. When the boredom and monotony of writing erotic prose sets in, Lintz draws on her love of sci-fi, swiping plot lines wholesale from her favourite films and franchises. We’re treated to horny Psylons, a porn version of 'The Parallax view' and a racy rendition of Alan Moore’s ‘The Courtyard’. The results are quite frankly hilarious and Lintz may have inadvertently penned some of the funniest, not to mention bluest, Battlestar Galactica fanfic you’ll ever lay eyes on.

When news of Lintz's breast cancer diagnosis does come, it marks a significant change in tone for the comic, and as jarring as this is for the reader, I suspect it barely conveys the raw sense of shock felt by Lintz when she first received the news. When the call comes, Lintz finds herself in freefall - her cartoon likeness floating against foreboding blacked out panels. Her childhood comes rushing back in one short sharp flash, as memories of her father’s debilitating illness come flooding back. Her own mortality is suddenly brought sharply into focus as she stares down an uncertain future. This revelation hits with the force of an articulated truck, as the comic veers sharply off the motorway of black humour, through the crash railings and over the cliff edge - straight down into the choppy seas of personal trauma and fear. Anyone who has dealt with illness or loss in their family will find much to relate to, and all credit to Lintz as a writer for rendering it so vividly.

There are moments of sad reflective beauty to this latter section of the comic, but they’re always skilfully balanced by Lintz’s ever present sense of humour. On one page she’ll be clawing her way out from under the weight of her illness, and on the next she’ll be flippantly dismissing nipples as ‘overrated’ when she's about to undergo a double biopsy. Unlike so many artists working in autobio comics, Lintz never once falls prey to the kind gushing self pity that seems so prevalent in the genre. Even when everything’s at its bleakest, she narrates her life with a bemused fascination, delighting in the absurdity of things as she suffers through surgery and chemotherapy. One of the shining strengths of Lintz’s writing is her ability to balance the profound and personal with wit and humour.

In visual terms, 'Pornhounds #2' offers up an even wider palette of moods and styles. Not being artistically inclined herself, Lintz has chosen to call on the skills of a handful of talented artists to illustrate her work. As a result, every chapter has its own distinctive look, which adds real definition to the various chapters. Chandler Wood opens the comic in stylish fashion with art that sits somewhere between photo-realistism and classic clear line art, making a strong visual impression as Lintz sets the scene. Emanuele Simonelli follows this seamlessly, with flowing impressionistic line work that weaves its way around reproductions of the aforementioned reader's letters.

Next up is Nicholas Breutzman, who turns in some of his best work yet, expanding on his darkly vivid style with some inventive layouts that fit the tone of the comic perfectly. Likewise, Nathan Screiber aptly renders the shock and confusion that follows Lintz's cancer diagnosis, using open space to dramatic affect.

Joan Riley's loose, flowing pen work does a great job of charting the transitory stages of Lintz recovery as she reflects on the near deserted Ballardian sprawl of Southern Florida. Ellen Linder provides a refreshingly different cartoonish style that see Lintz grapple with chemotherapy treatment by way of Battlestar Galactica outakes.

As the comic comes full circle, American Splendour veteran Ed Piskor turns in some gorgeously detailed work, which sees Lintz once again stepping outside herself. Pornhound's titualr narrator takes a step back from the world, and sitting in bumper to bumper traffic she stares death square in the face.

Only then does the realisation come that she is not trapped by it, but strangely liberated.

Having read 'Pornhounds #2' in one intensely focused sitting, I came away with as much admiration for Lintz as a person, as I did for her work as a writer. Those in search of autobiographical comics with little time for self pity should seek out Lintz's 'Pornhounds' post haste, because alongside Chester Brown’s ‘Paying for It’ and Tom Neely’s nightmarish metaphorical love ballad ‘The Wolf’, this is easily one of the most enjoyable autobiographical efforts I’ve laid eyes on this year.

Quick Links:

Pornhounds website (with extra added exclusive material!)


Susie said...

Great review! Thanks for sharing it.

Rob Clough said...

Excellent review. This comic is one of the best of the year. The Lintz/Breutzman team is especially effective.