Thursday, December 7, 2023
ComicsComics Corner

Comics Corner – ‘Smut Peddler: My Monster Girlfriend’ shows how spooky can be sexy

[Content note: this week’s column contains explicit language and openly discusses sex, sexuality, and porn/erotica. However, all images are non-explicit, and broadly safe for work.]

It’s not exactly an earth-shaking revelation to note that the majority of porn and erotica is overwhelmingly tailored to men, in any medium. Does that mean that other demographics don’t want or enjoy porn though? Not if Smut Peddler is any indication – for more than a decade, the anthology has been bringing “ladycentric” erotic comics to life, with an increasing array of queer content over the years. Now collectively home to dozens of creators working across numerous themes and genres, Smut Peddler has established itself as one of the more prestigious outlets for premier porn.

It’s not just the longevity of the publication that puts to rest the idea that there’s no audience for more diverse erotic comics, either. Publisher Iron Circle Comics’ recent BackerKit campaign for the latest edition, the supernatural My Monster Girlfriend, saw enough interest to blow past its $20,000 goal nearly ten times over, funding not only the latest instalment of Smut Peddler itself but also Smut Peddler X, a tenth anniversary remaster of the first anthology.

For LGBTQ+ readers, My Monster Girlfriend is a delight, bringing together the work of fifteen creators for over 300 pages of gloriously imaginative spooky, sexy comics. While not an explicitly queer collection, the lines between genders and sexualities frequently blur – a trans man calms a vengeful ghost, a non-binary person and their angelic lover experiment with non-corporeal sex, a scullery maid falls for a she-wolf hellspawn, and an entire coven of witches break reality to be with their other-dimensional girlfriend, just to scratch the surface.

Gayming Mag is delighted to speak with Iron Circle founder and publisher C. Spike Trotman on Smut Peddler’s origins, how the landscape for erotic comics has evolved, and just why monsters are so darn sexy anyway. Plus, we have a five-page preview of “An Offer for the Maiden”, by Vesta Z!

Smut Peddler: My Monster Girlfriend brings the spooky and the sexy together (Image courtesy Iron Circus Comics)
Gayming Mag: For those who might not have heard of you or Smut Peddler before, let’s talk origin stories. What first drew you to comics as an art form?

C. Spike Trotman: I’ve been reading and making comics since childhood! I grew up during the time period I like to think of as the final golden age of newspaper comics, and looking forward to reading The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes in the Sunday Washington Post was a high point of my week. Bloom County, too. Looking back, it felt like I got in just under the wire; I feel lucky to have experienced that level of awe and appreciation for Sunday comics.

GM: What’s the anthology’s own origin story? The earliest incarnation was published in 2003 by Johanna D. Carlson and Trisha L. Sebastian, yes?

CST: Oh, I’m always very happy to let everyone who’ll listen know that Smut Peddler started with Johanna Draper Carlson, Trisha L. Sebastian, and Sebastian’s micropress, Saucy Goose Press! It started life as a digest-sized minicomic, and its theme was smut by the best and brightest of the small press; basically a fun, esoteric, secret zine for the superfans who knew where to find it. I loved those minis! They were only sold at cons, and the Saucy Goose table was always among my first stops so I could get a copy. I still have them, too!

But eventually, a period of time passed without a new issue of Smut Peddler, and I began hassling Trisha L. Sebastian via email. “When was there gonna be a new Smut Peddler?”, I asked. Like, repeatedly. And eventually, she just said [that] if I wanted to make a Smut Peddler, she’d give me permission to do so, and even co-edit with me. The rest is history! Quite literally, too; this was over ten years ago.

GM: How did you then go about reviving the anthology?

CST: Ha ha, I sat down and straight-up made a wish list of the cartoonists I wanted to see draw dirty comics! Some already had dirty comics in their portfolio, some were already Smut Peddler contributors, but some? Yeah, this was brand-new stuff, to them. So, I was nervous to ask! With Trisha and Johanna’s help, I sent an email asking, and just about everyone I asked JUMPED at the opportunity! I decided to focus on female contributors, because at the time, the zeitgeist was still, legitimately, SOMEHOW, [that] there was no demand for dirty comics by and for women creators. I saw people online straight-up declaring Smut Peddler was a bad idea doomed to fail, because if women REALLY liked dirty pictures, why hadn’t someone else already done something like it? It didn’t already exist, therefore, it didn’t need to.

Imagine being that dim. Wild.

GM: Smut Peddler has been described as “ladycentric” – do you think the state of affairs for female-focused erotic comics has improved since you took over publishing the book back in 2012?

CST: Oh, MASSIVELY. There’s a lot more adult-oriented content online and in comics now that prioritize a non-male audience! I think I can safely say Smut Peddler really planted a flag, was a real proof of concept. Nowadays, Smut Peddler isn’t even special!

GM: And how has Smut Peddler itself evolved over those years?

CST: Well, as you said, I used to describe Smut Peddler as “ladycentric.” I also used to require a woman be involved in every story. I no longer require that, because it really was originally just a stop-valve for guys who would submit male-gaze-ish smut with zero regard for or attention paid to our submission guidelines. That was a legitimate problem for awhile – dudes getting upset they weren’t allowed to be part of Smut Peddler! As if there weren’t dozens of platforms already at the time for male-audience-focused smut! 

However, that’s significantly died down, and also, the landscape has significantly changed! Nowadays, our submission guidelines are much more about a vibe and a mood than a gender marker. And there’s enough Smut Peddler out there that people know what we’re looking for.

GM: The series has long been queer friendly and LGBTQ+ inclusive, but isn’t specifically pitched as an LGBTQ+ anthology. Why and how did featuring queer content and creators become such a large part of the books?

CST: It really took me by surprise, honestly, but thinking about it, I think it’s because some queer smut consumers may also have an issue with finding fun, sexy stories that don’t make them feel simultaneously ignored and exploited for the benefit of audiences that aren’t them. Just a theory, though!

GM: Each volume of Smut Peddler seems to have a theme – what goes into selecting a motif for each book?

CST: Oh, we REGULARLY give in to audience demand, ha ha. My Monster Girlfriend was very frequently requested, and talking to friends, we all had different tastes, stuff we wanted to see. Historical smut, robots, older folks! We’re really experimental, and we favor the unusual. In a landscape where there’s lots of smutty comics available, now, we try to keep giving folks a reason to keep buying Smut Peddler!

GM: What goes into putting a book like this together? Do you now have “go to” creators you’ll ask to pitch for certain themes, or is it more open to submission?

CST: Smut Peddler‘s process has evolved a lot, and these days, we kind of consider it a prestige title. It’s almost always invite only, now; that didn’t used to be the case, we used to do open submissions. But for the sake of streamlining, we just ask folks to participate, and we try to get new faces in every volume. Don’t always want it to be the same old, same old! And yes, [each] volume’s theme is extremely important to who gets an invite. We HAD to get Rowan Woodcock, Kanesha C. Bryant, and Viscera for My Monster Girlfriend! Non-negotiable!

GM: And following on, what’s the selection process for comics to make the cut?

CST: It’s very organized, by now! We get contracts out and back, tax forms out and back. Then, our editors for that volume work with creators, who have to submit proposals for approval. This is important, because we have to make sure no two stories in a volume are too alike one another! Then, it’s pencils, inks, colors, and proofreading/book assembly. By the time any crowdfund rolls around, the book has probably been ready for print for weeks, if not months.

GM: The current volume of Smut Peddler, My Monster Girlfriend, is centred on – surprisingly enough – monsters, mirroring the earlier My Monster Boyfriend. What do you think makes monsters so, well, sexy for readers?

CST: A lot, A LOT, of people identify with monsters, LOVE monsters, especially marginalized people. I think monsters represent an amalgamation of ostracization and freakishness marginalized people can feel when they interact with kyriarchy. When they’re being made to feel unacceptably different in a way other people hate and fear. When they see monsters in fiction, they can relate to their persecution, and compare it to their own, and sometimes decide, no, it’s the humans in the wrong. That’s a popular trope! And, in my opinion, a lot of the sexiness associated with monsters lies in their power, and in their love interest (you, maybe?) being the exception. This creature could easily grind you into sausage meat, but chooses not to. You’re special! You see that in a lot of vampire and werewolf “supernatural romance,” especially. The danger is sexy! But so is the feeling of being the one who gets let into that world.

“An Offer for the Maiden” by Vesta Z (Courtesy of Iron Circle Comics)
GM: What’s surprised me in reading My Monster Girlfriend – and this might sound like a backhanded compliment, but it’s not! – is how literary a lot of the stories are. Is that something you look for as an editor and publisher – erotic comics that are as much about story and character and genre as they are the visual kick?

CST: Here’s my thing: Scott McCloud, who is a scholar and unparalleled with regards to his analysis of comics, describes the art form as reaching its peak when the art and writing both support one another, work together like a couples figure-skating a program at the Olympics. And I happen to agree! Writing is just as important as art. BOTH need to be up to par. That’s part of what KEEPS Smut Peddler special, and something to look forward to; that quality level.  

GM: From a queer perspective, do you think themes like monsters, or robots as with the Sex Machine volume, make it easier to blur gender or orientation boundaries?

CST: I don’t feel qualified to answer this, as I’m not queer, but I can contribute that I’ve been told that’s a part of the appeal for a lot of readers! I remember seeing a comic on Twitter once that had the line “You can’t be straight in space. You just can’t,” and it was regarding having sex with aliens. It was funny, but also a great point! What would straight even MEAN outside a human context? Basically nothing.

Where it all began… but better! Iron Circus is also launching a remastered version of 2012’s original Smut Peddler! (Image courtesy Iron Circus Comics)
GM: Volumes of Smut Peddler have been crowdfunded – is there still industry caution over directly publishing erotic comics, despite there being a proven audience? Or is it simply an economic factor, with Iron Circus being a smaller publisher?

CST: Smut Peddler‘s audience is 80% online, 15% at conventions, and 5% in stores. Even now, 10 years down the line, most bookstores will NOT carry a book called “Smut Peddler.” It’s just not happening. More than anything, crowdfunding is now an audience access factor; it’s what our readers have come to expect. If we decided to limit ourselves JUST to bookstores? We wouldn’t publish smut at all. It would bankrupt us!

GM: Now Smut Peddler is more established, where would you like to see the anthology go in future?

CST: I want more titles for the Smut Peddler Presents imprint of smutty graphic novels!  Anthologies are great, but I’ll always have a soft spot for graphic novels.

GM: And for those who’ve missed the chance to back My Monster Girlfriend, are there any opportunities for ‘slacker backers’ to pick it up?

Sure thing! They’ll have to wait until after the crowdfund backers get it, but it’ll be in all the usual places near the end of 2023; Bookshop.org, Amazon, your local cool bookstore.

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