Ideas

Meet the Feminist Comic Artists Who Draw Porn in Public

Posted by: Kevin Coyle

This post was curated from an article written by Jackie Dives and Sarah Berman for VICE

As both artistic collaborators and friends, Robin Bougie and Maxine Frank have a mildly cartoonish origin story. Though Maxine knew of Bougie’s exploitation film-inspired porn comics long before she turned 18, they thankfully connected when she was legally allowed to buy them, at a screening of a Turkish Spider-Man reimagining in which Peter Parker is an evil mobster. They’ve been drawing porn together ever since.

“We first started meeting at coffee shops,” Bougie told VICE. “I’d draw part of a panel, hand it over to her, and she would draw the other half. Or I would pencil it and she would ink it, or the other way around.” Frank and Bougie both remember the awkward lean-overs, strange glances, and people pretending not to eavesdrop. “We were almost always doing porn.”

Over the next decade, the two have shared pages on several comic projects—the latest being a forthcoming 40-page woman-led adventure called Cyborg Sex Surrogate. “She was created by a weird nerdy guy to be his ultimate girlfriend,” Frank says of the lead character. “She’s finding her own identity, but with a lot of sex.”

VICE caught up with the pair in Vancouver to chat about women-driven narrative, oversharing fans, and what bodies actually look like.

VICE: How do you describe what you do?
Robin Bougie: I’m kind of proud to be a pornographer, I don’t have any sort of shame about it. I think it’s just another genre—if you work within the confines of the genre of porn you’re still expected to come up with something that’s fun to read aside from the sex part. When I’m describing the work I almost take on a carnival barker voice: “Step right up for the most outrageous sights!” That’s how I want it to come across—like a circus midway sideshow.

Maxine Frank: To give people an idea, I like to start with a premise. The one that sells best is Sleazy Slice #5, with the comic “Big Girls, Big Battle.” It’s basically giant naked girls battling each other in Vancouver. You just show the panel of one of them holding the Skytrain like it’s nun-chucks and people say, “OK here’s my money please.”

Robin: That was a fun comic to do when we were getting inspiration. We just walked around the city, got reference pictures of the various buildings and streets and part of our hood, and got home and started working it into the comic. So you have these two women fighting naked in the streets of Vancouver and they’re 20 storeys tall. I think people like to see that. They like to have a comic that reminds them of home, even if it’s something outrageous and crazy like that.

The women are really powerful in this comic, and they don’t look like women in other porn. Is this a statement?
Maxine: Some of the women have rolls on their stomach because that’s how real bodies look… I think there’s an assumption that women don’t create or consume media like this, and I obviously don’t think that’s true. It’s just not talked about because people still think it’s weird when women express any sort of sexual autonomy. We’re not trying to say anything big about human nature or anything, just that porn can be a genre, it’s not just a thing that serves a utilitarian purpose, it can be a whole different way of expressing ideas.

What is your take on feminist porn, and would you describe your work that way?
Maxine: I’m interested in the idea of feminist porn and telling from a woman’s perspective. I tend to focus on women characters and what they want in a situation rather than drawing a parade of women for the male lead to fuck. I don’t know if I would describe it as feminist, but if someone said “here’s a feminist interpretation of it,” that would be very interesting. While I don’t necessarily consider the comics feminist, I am myself a feminist. Some people have this very 80s idea of the anti-porn feminist, but there’s so many ways to be one.

Why include violence with porn?
Robin: I think it works narratively because it does titillate the audience in the same way having a sex scene does, but in a more dramatic way.

Maxine: It’s the same way action and horror are interesting. It can be fictional and outwardly exaggerated, the same way an over-the-top 1980s ninja movie will cut someone’s head off, and more blood than would ever be in the human body shoots out. It just becomes extreme and funny.

Does that fit with your view of feminism? Is there a negative aspect?
Maxine: You can’t predict who is reading. And they project the values they have onto your work. So if they already have a negative view of women, they’ll look at this and say “yes, this confirms my crazy beliefs”—even if that’s in no way shape or form what we’re going for. I’ve always said looking to porn for ways to deal with your sex life is like looking to an action movie for conflict resolution. It’s just a fantasy, and applying it to real life isn’t going to work.

Do you think people have preconceptions about who is making this kind of work?
Robin: Yeah, I do actually. People are surprised I’m good natured and outgoing. We’re not very pervy, really, in our day-to-day lives. We kind of get it out on paper… I do wonder who’s reading, because I know when I’m sitting there working and I have a specific person in mind, but then when I hear back from people it’s totally different.

Do you guys ever get any pervy fan art or mail?
Maxine: TMI stuff, like, I didn’t want to know that, dude.

Robin: Nobody’s sent anything illegal yet, so that’s good. I did a zine one time, it was all about adult incest—incestual experiences that adults have had. And I especially say adult because people always think you’re talking about child porn when you’re talking about incest. But suddenly people are emailing me things that have happened to them, and I wasn’t asking for that, but OK. I guess that’s what happens if you have an online presence and you put stuff out there—suddenly the world comes to you.

Do you think there’s a need to talk about stuff like that? Are you open to hearing these things?
Robin: I would say I am, yeah. I’m not judgmental in terms of that kind of thing, I do want people to open up to me. I’m quite a voyeur, like I want to see my friends naked, for instance. Someone else might be like “Gross, no, don’t send me that” and I’m totally into it.

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