15 of the Most Important Modern Sex Scenes in Comics

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15 of the Most Important Modern Sex Scenes in Comics

This is Explicitly NSFW and Contains Imagery That Your Parents Probably Won’t Want You to Look at Ever, So If It Gets You Fired/Grounded, We Warned You. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Also, you don’t have déjà vu—this article first appeared in 2017, and we’re bringing it back for the holiday. Hope your refractory period has passed.

The comic medium has a special advantage in depicting the myriad layers of human intimacy. Unlike prose, artists can shape and exaggerate the contours of the human body for visceral interpretations. Unlike film, illustration can assume a fantasy and objectivity that the human gaze wouldn’t afford two human actors. European erotica pioneers like Milo Manara, Guido Crepax and Jean-Claude Forest fully embraced that fact throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, but American mainstream publishers have been slightly more reticent to dive down the rabbit hole. Credit to the underground comix scene bolstered by Robert Crumb and anthologies like Tits & Clits, not to mention slightly more…direct works like Reed Waller and Kate Worley’s Omaha The Cat Dancer for breaking down the boundaries of sexual expression in sequential art.

But damn if the last 15 years of comics haven’t ushered a new comics sex revolution, elevated past the cis male perception to address gay, lesbian and trans perspectives. A dozen features alone could dissect the work of C. Spike Trotman’s Smut Puddler anthologies, Erika Moen’s Oh Joy Sex Toy or Collen Coover and Paul Tobin’s Small Favors. A strong argument could be made that no medium has made bigger strides to democratize eroticism in all of its sticky forms. It’s love, it’s connection, it’s lust and the eternal dance of biology seeped through ink and passion.

The list above analyzes comics’ high-water marks, the biggest, boldest moments (with a few indie gems) that proved how versatile and progressive comics can be when they dive under the covers.

Alana & Marko

Comic: Saga
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics

Marko wants to talk, Alana wants to go down on him. And yet it's real, funny, touching and not the sort of porny fantasy one would expect from that description. The leads in Saga are married, they have a kid, they fight, they have sex. They subvert the marriage + baby = happily-ever-after trope in every way possible. Alana wields an avoidant streak, one that often leads to her seeking pleasure rather than solving problems. Marko tries to talk her through it, but he's only so strong. And they're a sexy couple. (Bonus: Marko's mom's curiosity when she, from a distance, spies Alana getting her way: "Is Alana praying?" "No, she most certainly is not.") Tini Howard
Fiona Staples

Alison & Partner

Comic: Fun Home
Writer/Artist: Alison Bechdel
Publisher: Mariner Books

Fun Home isn't a particular sexy book—the only other explicit nudity on display belongs to a corpse—but the impact of its cunnilingus scene has been immense, prompting undo outrage every time Alison Bechdel's award-winning graphic memoir is assigned to a college reading list. If it weren't for the unjustified backlash and the dearth of lesbian sex scenes that aren't solely intended for straight male titillation, perhaps we could more fairly laugh at Bechdel comparing her first lesbian sex partner's vagina to a monster of Greek myth. Until then, Fun Home's same-sex oral scene remains an important moment in the comics canon. Steve Foxe
Alison Bechdel

Midnighter & Apollo

Comic: Midnighter & Apollo #1
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Fernando Blanco
Publisher: DC Comics

Compared to most of this list, Midnighter and Apollo's impromptu rendezvous is positively tame, but even this demure of an undressing counts as transgressive when the participants are gay men and the publisher is one half of the Big Two. While Steve Orlando's first outing with Midnighter, primarily drawn by ACO, didn't skimp on the dude appeal, it was the first issue of the follow-up mini-series, drawn by Fernando Blanco, that finally offered a solid answer to the age-old question: Midnighter is a bottom (or vers bottom). With a partner as hunky as Apollo, who wouldn't be? This brief countertop coitus is an important signal that gay heroes deserve the same shadowed sexual romps as their straight counterparts. Steve Foxe
Fernando Blanco

Craig & Raina

Comic: Blankets Writer/Artist: Craig Thompson
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

What can we say about the bildungsroman epiphany that is Craig Thompson's Blankets? The cartoonist recounts his youth as a struggling Christian falling for Raina, a sensitive soul caring for her father and handicapped sister. Appropriate for a work laced with religious iconography, Blankets renders Craig and Render's physical meeting as sacred. The scene transcends arousal—Thompson strips his body and soul bare, revealing the vulnerability and skyscraper highs of what it means to connect for the first time. The cartoonist has maintained a fascination with religion and romance (check out Habibi for another glorious example), but few pieces of art—in any format—scale this poignancy. Blankets offers a crystalized moment of beautifully naive adoration, a million times purer than the Wisconsin snow that fills its pages. Sean Edgar
Craig Thompson

Eve & Will

Comic: Octopus Pie
Writer/Artist: Meredith Gran
Publisher: Image Comics

The best thing about Octopus Pie has always been it's unwavering honesty. Being in your 20s sucks; having a minimum-wage job working for a crappy manager in retail sucks; trying to go back and date your high school sweetheart sucks; and breaking up sucks. But not everything sucks, and what's particularly rewarding about the long-running strip is the way cartoonist Meredith Gran portrays romance and sex. Romantic relationships are rarely captured as more important than platonic friendships in mainstream media, though they can certainly become consuming and distracting. Some of the sex in Octopus Pie has been painful and uncomfortable—not that partners are outright abusive, but the characters aren't above using one another or slinking into apathy. In the domestic epic, protagonist Eve has started making different, perhaps better, decisions, and her sex life changes. Her relationship with significant other Will is physical without being awkward or something she's ashamed of, and neither of them lose the silly, wry humor or personalities that drew them together in the first place.

A strip from late last year perfectly encapsulates the care and attention Gran pays to sexuality in her comic, showing Will and Eve starting off with a mocking roleplay that ends in wall sex and an extremely satisfying orgasm for Eve. The use of gifs and color in showing what Eve sees in the moment of climax is genius. Gran writes Eve and Will's sex as fun and weird, just like the rest of Octopus Pie. Caitlin Rosberg
Meredith Gran

Isabelle & George (and Robert)

Comic: Chester 5000: Isabelle and George
Writer/Artist: Jess Fink
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

Jess Fink has become a staple in queer- and female-friendly comics erotica, contributing to Smut Peddler as well as creating her own webcomic Chester 5000. The first book from that webcomic, Chester 5000: XYV, was published by Top Shelf Productions in 2011, with the second following last year in 2016. Isabelle and George is explicitly a companion book to XYV, and it definitely helps to have read XYV first. Isabelle and George's lives unfold alongside Robert and Pricilla and the sex robot that the former makes for the latter in XYV, but deviate to their own story. While XYV was all about a woman reclaiming her sexuality and rejecting a relationship that didn't give her what she needs, Isabelle and George is about grief and loss and the ways they intersect with love. It's hard to discuss exactly what makes the sex scene at the end of Isabelle and George so remarkable without spoilers, so be warned.

After Isabelle believes her beloved George to be dead, she and his friend Robert (Pricilla's ex-husband who has a gigantic crush on George) fall together in their grief. When it's revealed that Robert is not dead, the renegotiation of the relationships between all three of them is rendered with affection, respect and appreciation for each individual's needs, which may conflict. Fink doesn't shy away from anatomy or hair or injuries as the trio converge, nor does she hide female pleasure or queer love from the reader. There are silly moments and sweet ones, as well as graphic sex, as is to be expected from an erotica comic. The book shows polyamorous, queer love as just as important and loving as monogamous, heterosexual sex, and it's beautifully refreshing to see books where people have exactly the kind of relationships and sex that they want and deserve. Caitlin Rosberg
Jess Fink

Jack & Margot (and Sean)

Comic: "Phone Tag," Smut Peddler 2014
Writer: Leia Weathington
Artist: Kendra Wells
Publisher: Iron Circus Comics

51 separate erotica comics fill the two Smut Peddler books. With that breadth and depth of options to chose from, there's something for almost everyone within the collected 600+ pages. The reason that "Phone Tag" stands out isn't because it's a great sex scene—they all are. But Leia Weathington has written a couple that actually snark and sass at each other, which is a relative rarity even in female- and queer-friendly erotic comics. There's plenty of drama and great humor in many of the Smut Peddler comics, but Jack and Sean, primary partners who had previously invited friend Margot to join them, sling little barbs at each other like many long-term couples do, and that's rare. Some of the sex in Phone Tag feels under-negotiated, but knowing that all three had previously discussed boundaries and jumped into bed together before dispels that concern. It's the combination of sex that's barely on the right side of dirty, given the public restroom setting, snark and humor that makes Phone Tag one of the best examples of what Smut Peddler has to offer. It's raunchy and funny and walks the line between sexual fantasy and conversation firmly grounded in the reality of long term commitment. Kendra Wells's impeccable facial expressions and comedic timing are the cherry on top. Caitlin Rosberg
Kendra Wells

Jessica Jones & Luke Cage

Comic: Alias
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Gaydos
Publisher: Marvel MAX

Ooh boy, this one's notorious. Ask any excitable young man if he's read the comic from which Netflix fave Jessica Jones sprung, and he'll bring up this opening salvo from the debut issue. For what it's worth, I've always loved this scene. Luke and Jessica start out as a steamy, dirty hookup, fucking hard enough to forget their rough lives, but they become so much more: they proceed to marry and have a family together. The domestically cute Luke and Jessica that we see in Bendis' later books like New Avengers aren't a different continuity, or different characters—they've just evolved. Maybe we don't want to admit that sometimes true love starts with a hot and heavy one-night stand, but sometimes it does. And that's just real life. Tini Howard
Michael Gaydos

Koume & Isobe

Comic: A Girl on the Shore
Writer/Artist: Inio Asano
Publisher: Vertical Comics

Inio Asano's A Girl on the Shore contains what are likely the most explicit sex scenes on this list, but like John Cameron Mitchell's film Shortbus, the effect of so many overt coital shots is that the sex in the book is less about titillation and more about the ways in which it bonds those participating. Koume is a junior-high student who initiates a sexual relationship with Isobe to strike back at an upperclassman who spurns her (and couldn't care less about her supposed retaliation). Isobe, who is still coping with his brother's suicide, agrees to be Koume's "sex toy." Asano's emotive, detailed art beautifully captures the awkward frenzy of adolescent sexual exploration, with intimate scenes that propel the complex coming-of-age tale at the heart of this seaside story. Steve Foxe
Inio Asano

Rictor & Rahne/Rictor and Shatterstar

Comic: X-Factor
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Various
Publisher: Marvel

X-Factor was amazing—a dark, moody, grown-up X-book that gave us all the sexual tension and shenanigans X-Men fans crave. When Wolfsbane comes to teammate Rictor in the dark of night, slipping into his arms, it's sexy. Long shadows and two teammates in their tank tops and sweatpants, just finding companionship where it's much needed. And when, months later, Wolfsbane storms into Rictor's room to find him in a similar embrace with recently returned teammate Shatterstar, it was real. A moment that could have been played for drama and soap-operatics is instead one of the hallmarks of the X-Factor Investigations run. The course of love never runs smooth, with teammates' romantic liaisons seeming more like the genuine bad decision-making and broken hearts of The Real World than As The World Turns.Tini Howard
Marvel Comics