Comics Time: Thickness #1

Thickness #1
Katie Skelly, Jonny Negron, Zejian Shen, Derek Ballard, True Chubbo, writers/artists
Ryan Sands and Michael DeForge, editors
self-published, May 2011
48 pages
$12
Buy it from the Thickness website

The great altcomix fuckfest continues! Of the recent releases I’ve read that pass smut through the same art-comics filter that science fiction, fantasy, action, and horror have all recently traversed, Thickness is the book that seems most concerned with creating out-and-out pornography. Chalk that up primarily to the anthology’s centerpiece and unquestionable standout, “Grandaddy Purple, Erotic Gameshow,” by cover artist Jonny Negron. “Dreamlike” is an adjective that gets tossed around a lot, by me not least of all, but that’s absolutely the right way to describe the plot of this thing, which starts with two sinister gangster-type figures falling victim to a rooftop assassination, then follows the assassin as he’s rewarded with a Let’s Make a Deal selection of prizes hidden behind three numbered doors, then shows him claiming his prize — a beautiful woman — in explicit detail, and ends with his post-climax black-widow murder. Negron can’t seem to contain his glee during the sex scene: The woman shouts out no-fuckin’-around, let’s-have-fun-with-our-bathing-suit-area exclamations like “Mmm, let’s see how much I can fit in my mouth!” and “Fuck! We’re goin’ to have fun with this cock!”, while Negron frequently breaks down his large panels into sub-grids of as many as nine, 10, or 11 panels, using the layout language of Acme Novelty Library to cram in as many of the deliciously dirty details of the characters’ liaison as possible before running out of room on the page. To quote Maude Lebowski, sex in Negron’s hands is a zesty enterprise. But it’s just one of the arrows in his quiver: His story also features angular artificial environments and M.U.S.C.L.E.S.-style character designs that, when combined with his women’s King magazine physiques and his bad guys’ skinny-suit-and-shades-sporting comportment, makes him come across like a happy marriage of Yuichi Yokoyama and Benjamin Marra. His depiction of action is really a marvel, too: It can be dynamically staged as all get-out, but then he does something off-kilter, like showing a falling man’s impact with the floor and his subsequent post-mortem prostration in a fashion that totally flattens the moment, calls attention to its ludicrousness, and yet somehow makes it feel all the more brutal and unpleasant for that. Ditto the final image, which I won’t spoil.

By comparison the other contributions can’t help but feel slight. Katie Skelly’s “cute-sexy floppy-eared lady has sex with plants in a sci-fi paradise that suggests Vaughan Bode mated with Georgia O’Keefe” entry “Breeding Season” is covering well-worn territory for SF erotica, though her thick rounded inks are nice to look at and she has a knack for capturing certain visual details that entice, like the gap between the fabric of the heroine’s suspender-like bathing suit and her breast and torso when viewed from the side. Zejian Shen’s “Pearl Divers” wrings an amusing dual joke out of its title’s double entendre by anthorpomorphizing both the oysters captured by the titular fisherwomen and their clitorises as they celebrate their catch with some beachside tribadism. Derek Ballard’s “Trap Shadez” is another sci-fi story whose sexual content is actually relatively minimal; for my taste it overelies on angular ’80s-tinged figurework and design that can’t quite overcome storytelling that’s deliberately but still unsuccessfully unclear. The True Chubbo comic that closes out the collection is a solid example of that strip’s unusual charm (it’s more charming than funny), wherein the love between creators Ray Sohn and his anonymous wife comes through all the clearer the worse their ridiculously violent sexual violations of one another get. Sands and DeForge’s high-quality production, including risograph printing that gives each story a fitting primary color ink, certainly elevates each contributor — the murky purple selected for Negron makes that particular freakout even seedier, somehow. He’s worth the price of admission all by himself, and hey, a home run after four singles still puts a lot of runs on the scoreboard.