The endless copy-pasting of huge crossover events. Multiverse theory so complex that you always need Wikipedia open next to you to grasp that reference to an obscure Silver Age villain. Yeah, superhero fatigue is very real when it comes to comics these days. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of excellent reads outside the tights-and-capes category. Like Sunstone.
As today is Valentine’s Day, it makes sense to give a shout-out to one of the best comic romances of the past decade. Equal parts sexy, sweet and dorky, Sunstone comes from He-Who-Cannot-Be-Easily-Named Stjepan Šejić, a Croatian comics creator probably most famous for his work on Top Cow titles like Witchblade and The Darkness.
Sunstone started back in 2011 as an attempt by Šejić to overcome artist’s block. It began as some silly, saucy illustrations of a dominatrix and her female submissive on DeviantArt. It quickly evolved, though, into a full multi-chapter comic narrative, running over five volumes. It concluded in October last year.
Now there are two things you should know about Sunstone: One, given its central BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission and sadomasochism) component, it is definitely for adults only. Two, you can read all of Sunstone for free online at Šejić’s DeviantArt page. Alternatively, you can buy the revised, and expanded, volumes in print, or digital format. Speaking of the latter, the full Volume 1 is currently available as a free PDF courtesy of Šejić. Just head here.
Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking that Sunstone sounds too hardcore or fetishistic for you. That’s an easy assumption to make, especially since Pop Culture tends to portray the BDSM lifestyle as deeply depraved. Just look at Fifty Shades of Grey, and its depiction of Christian Grey as an abuser and sadist. Sunstone table-flips that perception.
Filled with banter and goofiness that is typical Šejić (you’ll know this especially if you follow him on Twitter), Sunstone is primarily a romantic comedy. It normalises BDSM as a single aspect of people’s otherwise ordinary lives. Lead characters Lisa and Ally are a writer and programmer respectively. Their friends “in the scene” are all young professionals with an assortment of other interests, from death metal to video games and manga. Ally, for example, has a Toy Room but also a Geek Den, complete with Tardis bedspread.
BDSM practitioners appear in the series as self-described “sexual nerds” or “sexual cosplayers and LARPers.” They are very much aware of the cheesiness of their bedroom antics; the performance intrinsic to being a dominant and a submissive. It’s a hobby, and a game with clear rules and procedures. “Sunstone” is the safeword Ally and Lisa use to respect comfort thresholds. Tender aftercare is necessary after every painful play session. And rope play comes with strict safety requirements… for very good reason. Sunstone makes BDSM accessible for casual readers, vigorously erasing misconceptions that things like Fifty Shades of Grey have reinforced.
The plot of Sunstone sees Ally and Lisa meet online and initiate a mistress and sub arrangement – a first for them both. They feel safe pursuing their fantasies with another woman. However, it soon becomes clear that what they feel for one another is far more than simply friends with benefits (although neither will admit this to the other). Because of this story shift, the earlier Sunstone books are more sexually explicit, while the later volumes focus to a far greater extent on the complication of trying to accommodate both romantic feeling and a sub-domme agreement.
What’s most unexpected about Sunstone is that even though it looks like straightforward, get-your-rocks-off gay erotica at a glance, it actually packs serious emotional punch. Crammed full of the honeymoon moments, self-doubts and embarrassments of real-life relationships, the tender love story rings true.
It also doesn’t hurt that Šejić has populated his comic with sharp-witted goofballs, geeks and pranksters. Even as the romance heads into angsty territory, there’s a lot of light-hearted teasing and terrible puns from the support players to keep things entertaining. These same characters, like Ally’s ex-turned-best-friend Allen, are destined to have their stories explored in future spin-off comics. Here, though, they exist to talk sense, shove aside their own insecurities, and stop our heroines from wallowing. You want to be friends with this band of frank, fun, sexually open people.
As a writer, Šejić can be extremely verbose – sometimes to the point of irritation. As an artist, though, he is a master of expression, and extremely versatile. Sunstone is full of memorably intimate moments that benefit from Šejić’s distinct visual style. This isn’t even talking about the big spreads and splash pages, where the creator often switches to a lush painterly style to highlight key instances.
Put simply, Sunstone is a surprise hit, full of surprises itself. If you are open-minded enough to handle its subject matter, and receptive to slice-of-life stories in your comics, you’ll find something heartfelt waiting behind all the latex.
Sunstone: Come for the hot lesbian sex. Stay for the charming love story that will win your heart and leave you grinning like a loon.