Sunstone [Feature]

With Valentine’s Day having passed by and Fifty Shades of Grey becoming this growing mutated mass made of leather whips and rope that has droves of women going to movie theaters and book stores to consume what looks more like a sad example of adult writing, I thought of recommending something more human and heartfelt that still involved whips and rope as part of intimate activities (whatever makes you happy). One of the great things about Sunstone is that you don’t need to shelf out hard-earned money for a ticket — it’s free.

This is not the type of thing that people who know me would expect me to talk about; I’m usually all about video games, technology, and fighting — manly and nerdy stuff. Whenever I admit to watching a romantic comedy, people scoot forward with looks of disbelief. I’m the same guy who would admit that the movie Up and the manga Hajime no Ippo had me shedding tears, so I should be alright with talking about a comic on how a lesbian couple got together through their common interest in BDSM.

Also, this was a much more productive thing to write than just a half-ass review of Fifty Shades of Grey, which I can’t be bothered to do anyway even under pain of death. If you really have to read one, then here is a hilarious review by a retired MMA fighter.

NOTE: This article deals with content that is considered not safe for work (NSFW). You have been warned.

Overview

Stjepan Šejić is a Croatian comic book artist best known for his work with Aphrodite IX, The Darkness, and Witchblade for Image Comics and Top Cow Productions. Nowadays, he is becoming known for Sunstone and Death Vigil, as well as Ravine. The latter two are on the deviantART account Nebezial, while Sunstone is on Shiniez. He is married to fellow comic book artist Linda Lukšić Šejić, who also has her own webcomic series entitled Blood Stain in her deviantART account Sigeel.

Here is a brief synopsis for those who haven’t read Sunstone yet:

It’s a story about Lisa, an aspiring writer with submissive fantasies, and Ally, a successful software entrepreneur and closet dominatrix. For years, they have had to deal with not having their desires fulfilled as they go through life as twenty-something women. Then after meeting each other in a BDSM-themed chat room, they agreed to meet for a sexual encounter. What then follow are friendship, meeting others like them along the way, dealing with each others’ past, and being caught in a budding romance amid all the lust-filled kink.

The art style is detailed and beautifully colored, and the character designs have good variety, although it seems that the Šejić couple have an almost unhealthy fascination with redheads (as well as two-toned hair at times). Frontal nudity and sexual imagery are featured, but they’re tastefully done and shouldn’t have too many people getting up and arms about its depiction of women (but you’d never know with some people).

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The combination of drama and comedy is well-balanced, giving the story moments of lighthearted joy and frustration without breaking flow of the narrative. There are a few niggles; since it’s an indie webcomic, typographical errors are present from time to time. To his credit, the artist continually works to improve every panel; even going so far as to modify the female characters to give them more “realistic” proportions.

The interesting thing about Sunstone is that the ending is already kind of spoiled by the artist — Lisa and Ally end up together, as shown in the beginning of the story as told through Lisa’s perspective. New characters and future relationships were also revealed through various artwork. For instance, the character Anne hadn’t come up yet in the comic itself, but fans already knew of her in advance. The good thing is that all these “spoilers” end up building more anticipation for the readers, so they look forward to the next parts. It’s not about if they did end up together, but how they got together.

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My Experience with Sunstone

I don’t know much about Death Vigil and Ravine, which haven’t hooked me deep enough at this point. I was more compelled by Sunstone, which I discovered one day in 2013 while idly browsing around. At first, it was the sexual content that pulled me in, but it was then the human element of the narrative that made me stick around. The interpersonal conflicts and misunderstandings, as well as how they’re either resolved or compromised on, are what helped me connect with the characters.

So when I told people about this, some raised their eyebrows while others had already known of it as it had been running since 2011. When told that it’s about a lesbian couple who like to play with unconventional toys in the bedroom, many would respond with “Eww” and “You’re a pervert,” which are to be expected anyway. But for those who are familiar, their impressions are mostly positive.

It must be said that I myself am not really into being bound up or practicing my scout knots on my partner during sex, so the paraphernalia depicted in the comic are not up my street at any degree. However, it doesn’t change the observation that it seems to represent the BDSM world better than Fifty Shades of Grey and other mainstream depictions of that niche.

Comparison with Fifty Shades of Grey

What seems to be the reason why Fifty Shades of Grey has become such a hit is its novelty in the mainstream market. BDSM still seems to be fringe in the eyes of most people (but not as fringe as furries), so something like this being in the box office is head-scratching for the most part. There are a lot of haters, myself included, due to various reasons, from the dubious quality of the writing to the handling of the material itself.

As literature, there is a lot to fault here for those who have read something racier than this. Upon reading various excerpts of the book for the first time, I immediately started comparing them to stories from Literotica, an adult fiction website. But then again, we live in a world where the Twilight series exists and had movies made out of it. There are people who like them, so perhaps we shouldn’t waste too much time poking at their liking for this stuff.

Perhaps it’s better to spend more time talking about the alternatives. With that said, Sunstone has more substance and character depth in its narrative. It’s easy enough to say that it’s all just leather, latex, rope, and handcuffs, but it then paves the way for a story that could easily hold its own without the BDSM. However, the characters here are shown as ordinary people from various walks of life who just happen to have a fetish for pleasure with pain.

They’re not just rope-loving aliens like how a lot of people like to view them, but human beings with their own lives and personalities, as well as their desire for companionship. That’s where the significance of the title comes in and how it relates to the main characters and the development of their relationship.

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NOTE: Some spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.

The word “sunstone” is Ally’s chosen safeword — a code word agreed upon that the submissive may speak out when the proceedings are going “too far” for his/her liking. From what I can understand, that safeword is important since whenever the activity has crossed a physical, emotional, or moral threshold in a bad way, the dominant may not be aware of the submissive’s plight since he/she would be absorbed in the act of domination. It sometimes hints continuation at a reduced intensity, but it more often means having to stop entirely.

Letting a dominant take over is an issue of trust, which seems to be part of the thrill for the submissive, as well as making sure that the play is kept safe and sane. That trust element is a major part of the story, from when Lisa and Ally found each other by chance on the Internet to when they spend more time together beyond the sex and kink.

On the other hand, I’m not sure if Fifty Shades of Grey does well in communicating this human element to audiences. It does have the whole “between my thighs with his long-fingered hands” bit down with varying degrees of success, but it may give the wrong impression to audiences who are previously unfamiliar with both the act and the subculture. But then again, maybe I’m just biased and prejudiced against FSOG’s popularity, so I may not be assessing it objectively enough.

Would I Recommend Sunstone?

Yes, but only if you’re okay with the sexual content.

This is an adult story that is not safe for work and should be read in a relaxed and private setting. It depicts non-vanilla casual sex between two individuals of the same gender that eventually leads to a romantic relationship, so some people with certain moral and religious inclinations may not be okay with it. Personally, I don’t think it does much to offend sensibilities, but I do know there are plenty of people out there who are vehemently against content like this, whether due to its depiction of sex or homosexuality. For those people, just take note that you’ve been warned beforehand.

Also, it will take some getting used to reading it through deviantART, even if they all have been arranged by chapter. You can look them up somewhere else like Imgur for easier viewing, but it’s still better to give Mr. Šejić the page views on his dA account. If you wish to support the artist further, you can buy a hard copy of his work from Amazon.

Images used here are from Sunstone by Stjepan Šejić.



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