The webcomics blog about webcomics

Back In The Saddle

Wow, that was a busy week. I’ve got pretty much no idea what’s been happening in [web]comics across the last seven days (except for the news that Raina Telgemeier announced her next two books, because that got reported everywhere).

Enter the secret weapon of the beleaguered webcomics opinionmonger and any right-thinking blogger’s best friend: Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin, who dropped a reminder of my impending mortality and a thoughtful piece about an (at best) unsavory happening in French comics on the same day. The former is linked in the last sentence, the latter begins below.


Before I begin, I must mention there is a language warning for explicit sexual language in this post. Onwards …

Is it possible to be so disgusted with a creator’s behavior that you’re considering foregoing their creations entirely, even those without relationship to the matter at hand? [Editor’s note: Yes. This was definitely answered by Cerebus #186 when Dave Sim went batshit insane, and has only repeatedly doubled down on his misogyny ever since. He is one of the most creative letterers that’s ever lived, and it is impossible to separate the creator — pre-batshittery or not — from the work.]

I have recently been made aware of a new release from Bastien Vivès (who you may remember from Last Man): it is a comic book called Petit Paul which is pornographic, explicitly so even: prominent warning on the cover, in a collection called Porn’pop dedicated to pornographic content, etc. This by itself would not be cause for alarm or even disapproval in the Fleenplex — if it were, we would never have made mention of Slipshine or Smut Peddler, for instance.

The issue (and the reason I have been made aware of that work), however, is that the eponymous protagonist is depicted to be about ten years old.

Let us take aspects one at a time. First, is it actually pornographic, or is the pornography warning just a way to avoid issues down the line for the publisher; and in a related matter, can we distinguish this from pedopornography trial cases where we can’t even know whether this is innocent child nudity? We can answer both questions thanks to Actualitté, who describes the depicted acts¹: not only does the titular Paul have an enormous penis, but he is in erection for most of the book, and he is shown ejaculating on multiple occasions; moreover at some point his female teacher is inflicting a [sic] cunnilingus upon him, for the next sequence Paul’s pants are torn open under pressure from his erection. To hide Paul, only one solution: penetration. Once again without really consulting him, and later on more sexual acts, all involving little Paul.

Nevertheless, that still leaves open possibilities for defense, and some have attempted: what if this is so ludicrous that this ends up being purely parody? But the creator himself has weakened if not foreclosed on these avenues in an interview with the Huffington Post where he is quoted as stating:

Le HuffPost: So you think that comic can be arousing?

Bastien Vivès: I made do with kinks that arouse me personally. […] If it is not arousing, I hope readers will at least get a laugh out of it.

This quote, regardless of the contents of the book, is what caused general reactions of disgust; in particular, Tanx, keeping on her theme of skepticism as to whether the artist can be separated from his creation (the bubbles read: You must separate the artist from the person, erm, well, but then … along which way do you cut?), wrote a reaction to clearly state her stance, which is that she is not invoking state censorship, but rather expressing disgust as to Vivés’ attitude, and that vile ideas can and should be fought with criticism; and that such criticism, even widespread and vigorous, is not censorship. Many creators found Tanx’s words to express their position better than they themselves could.

As for me, I tend to agree with Tanx. In particular, I remained unconvinced by other defenses of Vivès: Gilles Juan for Slate, for instance, sees a double standard between the reaction to the obviously illegal sexual acts depicted there and that for other illegal acts such as murders depicted in movies and comics, for which we do not even bat an eye; but beyond the initial objections (it is much harder to shoot a sex scene without actually performing it than it is to shoot a murder scene without actually performing it, so the distance in case of a depicted sex scene is necessarily reduced by a lot), there is the major objection that, through his ambiguous attitude, Vivés is allowing vile people to gather, and potentially organize themselves, around his work.

As far as I am concerned, this is the criterion for my utter disapproval; it is not a matter of needing writing talent in order to cover “edgy” subjects (though that may help), or even a matter of this work making it more likely for pedophiles to act out on their impulses, this is a matter of making sure the work cannot realistically be (mis)interpreted as validating ideas that must not come back to the surface; and Vivès has completely failed this part of his responsibilities as a creator.

But I am willing to hear everyone’s good faith takes on the matter.


Fleen thanks FSFCPL for spending more time on this than we would ever have asked.

Spam of the day:

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¹ Which is fortunate as I sure as heck was not going to fork over any money to find out for myself.

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