I’m told that there was a seven-year delay between the original release of Strips #9 and the recent #10, meaning that this review of #1 would seem like rather old news. But creator Chuck Austen has just started a re-release of the original series in “special editions”. Curious about what the series was like, I ordered #1. After reading it, I’m going to have to run to catch up with the bandwagon, as #2 and #3 (and the new issues #10-13) have all been solicited. More than just a stroke book, Strips looks like a genuine story with a strong sexual component. It’s kind of a less melodramatic Omaha without the fur, or a more thoughtful and serious Archie for adults.

 Austen almost sums up his art style with his term “neo-Archie”. The characters and settings are more or less realistic, but without much more detail than you’d expect Archie Andrews or Veronica Lodge to have, and slightly simplified cartoony features. (For example, a woman’s nose might be just a line for the bridge, and curve for the tip.) But I think it’s safe to say that we’ve never seen Archie with his pants off, so Austen has to improvise pieces and parts no Archie illustrator has ever hinted at. As a result, the art tends to be more representational and realistic than Archie gets.

 I think his story-telling is somewhat “neo-Archie” as well. It’s fairly light-hearted and breezy, with a feeling of fun to it. The college setting is close enough to the Riverdale milieu for some similarities (e.g. a young man trying to decide which girl to see). But there’s also serious characterisation to it, beyond the standard archietypes. Zach isn’t just a grinning source for gags, or a beefy source for shag scenes; he’s a person many of us can relate to, and I get the feeling that this first issue is setting us up for some character development as well.

 And this attitude carries over into the sex as well. Unlike so much erotica, which tries to impress the reader with how “naughty” it is, Strips presents sex for what it is (at least to the characters), an exciting and fun form of exploration, entertainment, and interrelationship. Also, it’s not necessarily an ongoing series of rapturously dramatic orgasms. Sex ain’t always what the videos make it out to be; Strips reflects that. It also acknowledges that not all bodies look alike. The folks we see undressed are certainly attractive, but not in a fetishistic way. (There’s one heavy character, but he seems likely to remain “the friend”. If not, give Austen a prize for realism above and beyond the call of duty.)

 As anybody familiar with my reviews should realise, I’m gay; het-sex doesn’t generally do much for me (at least not by itself). So the fact that I really liked Strips #1 ought to say something. The character interaction was entertaining, and the sex scenes had enough depth to them for me to find them engaging. Part of this is from the fact that Austen knows how to draw a sexy man, but I have enough magazines with actual photographs (not to mention the whole internet) to give me plenty of that. What I find interesing is how the characters behave and react to the experience, which is what sex is really about.

I missed Strips the first time around, and am already behind this time. If you have an interest in a comics story that combines characters with cunnilingus, and explores emotions along with ejaculation, I’d advise you to give it a look before you miss it as well.

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