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The Story Of O
posted February 18, 2010


Creator: Guido Crepax, Pauline Reage
Publishing Information: NBM, hardcover, 176 pages, September 2009, $24.95
Ordering Numbers: 1561635731 (ISBN10); 9781561635733 (ISBN13)

Writing a review of Story Of O is problematic in a lot of ways. The source material is kind of a ground zero, textbook example of a naughty work over which libertines and feminists might be expected to do battle. You know exactly what you're in for from the first page. The heroine's name is "O," for pity's sake, and if you can't imagine ten late-night dormitory hallway arguments springing from that fact alone, you're not trying. The comics by Guido Crepax offer a similar experience, but tied into 1970s European comics rather than 1950s literature -- it's what you imagined this kind of comic looked years before you ever thought about this kind of comic existing. All the women appear to be 6'3'', 130 pounds; all the men look like they would be played in a film by British sitcom actors. This thing should weigh 45 pounds for all the portentous argumentation and walking stereotypes and expensive-looking furniture it smashes into one place, like some sort of pop-art super-collider programmed to build entire worlds from the shapes of genitalia.

imageThat said, I've been having a blast looking at this book, elegantly put back into print by NBM's Eurotica imprint. It seems so convinced of its own universal appeal and dead-on sexiness at every single moment that you're tempted to make fun of it before you realize that perfectly describes the confidence many of us have about what we find alluring or alarming. One couple's Owl Mask is another couple's catholic schoolgirl outfit is another couple's long underwear bottoms and jar of Icy Hot. Crepax commits. Not only does the late cartoonist draw these aristocrats at a sexy, sullen remove so icy it burns -- in some ways, the cartoonist is like a non-funny father figure to Edward Gorey, just sex in the foreground rather than sublimated through horror and death and childhood -- but he breaks out these intensely over-paneled pages, chopping every sequence of events into component moments drawn with that decadent and unevenly weighted line. Everything is made sexy so very little remains sexy or everything is made sexy so that everything stays sexy. Up to you, I suppose.

I wonder if my reaction to Story Of O isn't just that the original story worked in the context of the relationship for whom Pauline Reage originally expected it to be read, the initial publication worked in the context of pushing back against a world of repression and censorship, the comic worked by shoving against the early 1970s expectations for what comics could and should be, and with this publication it's just a comic book again. Like if you saw someone pick it up off your coffee table in the early '70s you might take it from them and apologize for its extreme nature despite it being comics whereas now you might take it from them and apologize because it's not extreme enough and not mention comics at all. Tumbling through time in dozens of different sexual positions that alarm less and less by their simple existence, The Story Of O now depends on shifting contexts based on whatever the individual reader brings to it. If that's the case, just about anything other than a critic's eye may yield more concupiscent results. Any way it works out, I can imagine very few packages more attractive to unwrap.