BDSM is commonly misused to show the depravity and evil of a fictional character, especially in popular culture. An interest in BDSM (or rather, the writer’s misconception of BDSM) is often a means to reinforce the villainous nature of an antagonist.
Torture and BDSM are used interchangeably to characterize a villain as a monster (for example, Volgin from the Metal Gear franchise is portrayed as both a sexual sadist and a power-crazy torturer.)
To quote from Greta Christina’s excellent article on Mad Men, “kinky sex and sadomasochism get used in pop culture as narrative markers to show, either how evil a character is, or how damaged a character is.”
Of course, BDSM is still misunderstood and shocking to many people. Its very foreignness marks the villain as “other” and therefore more dangerous. At one point in the Preacher comic series, the heroes visit a sex party. Many of the guests are shown in bondage gear, something that is largely played for laughs. However, there are also scenes that imply bestiality and child pornography. You see, within the world of Preacher, fetish is repeatedly linked to moral depravity and the final outcome of such depravity is abuse of the helpless. Nothing is more helpless and less able to consent than an animal or child.
This shows a profound lack of understanding of BDSM and consensual power-exchange. Healthy BDSM is all about mutually agreed upon activities between consenting adults. Limits are discussed, safety measures put in place and all parties are able to end a scene if they so choose.
In many ways, Sunstone is more than a mere comic. It is corrective surgery removing the cataracts obscuring people’s perception of BDSM.
Sunstone is a webcomic hosted on Deviantart. Written and drawn by comic book veteran Stjepan Šejić (with assistance from his wife, Linda Lukšić Šejić), Sunstone attains a very high professional standard, making it something of a rarity in the world of free webcomics.
The comic is both a love story and a means of educating readers about the realities of BDSM. It doesn’t use BDSM for mere titillation or as a means to show characters as evil or damaged. Rather, the creator goes to great lengths to make the main couple (Ally and Lisa) relatable individuals with jobs, desires and doubts.
Sunstone does its best to cover different aspects of BDSM as well as the dangers of certain activities. It manages to maintain the balance between being an educational tract and a human drama.
The dialogue is reminiscent of Josh Whedon’s scripts – there’s an appealing self-deprecating humor and Lisa’s narration has a charming self-awareness, as shown by the following quote:
“Dear reader, this is the story of how I met the woman of my life, the one that compli… Wait, don’t leave yet! This book has lots of Hot Lesbian Bondage Sex!!!! Good… That got your attention…”
The art, as previously mentioned, is stunning. Stjepan Šejić is a professional who has worked on various top mainstream titles and it shows.
Sunstone has two distinct art styles . One style almost looks like high quality storyboards, somewhat sketchy but still engaging with excellent coloring. The second style is highly detailed realistic paintings possessing an astonishing amount of detail. The artist cleverly uses matching palettes to mesh these styles together flawlessly, making most pages a visual treat.
The plot essentially falls into the slice-of-life genre. It’s all about exploring character interactions within a group of BDSM enthusiasts. In doing so, the comic succeeds in demystifying BDSM and power-play dynamics. The cast aren’t deviants or damaged people – they’re just people who enjoy a somewhat kinkier sex life than most.
It’s this humanity that makes the comic work and I highly recommend it for both people who know about kink and people who want to read something that might challenge their perception of human sexuality.