Today’s post is about Colleen Coover’s Small Favors! Warnings for sex. Lots and lots and lots of sex. There’s also a bit of blunt language when it comes to fucking, but that should be assumed because sex. You’ll like this series if you’re up for a light hearted but steamy romance, a fan of consent, or just enjoy reading and watching women fuck.
Plot: Annie has used up all her lifetime’s allotment of masturbation acts, so the Queen of Annie’s Conscious assigns her a vagina-sized conscious named Nibbil to oversee Annie’s future sexual encounters (aka keep her from masturbating).
Initial reaction: I picked up this short series (only eight issues!) because it is a self proclaimed “girly porno comic book” and because I read highly praised reviews. I normally side eye anything that sounds like a “girly porno comic book,” but I have to admit I enjoyed this series a lot! It’s not every day that I see porn that respectfully depicts girl-on-girl sexuality, so this was a lovely and refreshing read! It definitely made me revise what I would consider lesbian pornography, given that Coover is bisexual and this erasure within L and G communities is quite prevalent.
This series features size kink, strap-ons, anal fingering, masturbation (and spanking) with uncooked pasta, and other delicious sexual acts, but all of it is quite enjoyable. Perhaps the best part about this “girly porno comic book” is that Annie and Nibbil always enjoy and consent to the sex they have. And besides some hot sex, this comic is really light hearted and funny!
Research Thoughts: Coover’s introduction to #2 mentions that the February/March 2001 issue of On Our Backs did a feature on Small Favors, so I decided to start there. I’m not unfamiliar with On Our Backs thanks to a class I took on porn this past semester. If anything, I was delighted to see I had a reason to crack open an issue of this magazine! It’s a magazine dedicated to the sexual pleasures of women who love women, created for, as the magazine boasts, “the adventurous lesbian.” Unfortunately Duke University’s digital collection of On Our Backs is no longer available through the Reveal Digital Independent Voices open access collection. Susie Bright will have to wait another day for me, but it’s still fascinating how well endorsed this comic is! Queer interest media outlets like Out Magazine, GayLeague.com, the Orange County and Long Beach Blade, and Lespress.
One concerning issue in Small Favors is the matter of safety. While drinking a partner’s fluids and not using barriers is perhaps even nostalgic for avid porn viewers, it’s certainly not the trend of 2015 queer alt porn. Reading this comic puts sexuality in a historical context. Even the two main characters, Annie and Nibbil, represent a cultural moment in lesbian feminism when it was fighting for the right to produce pornography depicting butch/femme sexuality. Annie and Nibbil are in love even though they barely know each other, which also has an interesting place in this conversation because their sexuality is encouraged in a number of ways that define healthy sexuality. Although the second volume (#5-8) brings a third partner into the relationship without disrupting the monogamous union of Annie and Nibbil, it serves as a primordial model for current representations of gender and sexuality you can find in indie alt queer porn of today.
Having taken that porn class, I instantly thought about Annie’s agency in her construction of her masturbation fantasies and later her scenes with Nibbil and Sage. The first issue feature a masturbation fantasy where she uses a laundry line and clips as nipple clamps, which also has an interesting emphasis on female sexuality and the domestic. Consent and representations of visual pleasure are more important to the sexual imagery than close ups on the vagina, anus, or what-not. Honestly, in some ways it reads similar to an early – but queer – Candida Royalle film. Although there is a LOT of sex, there’s a striking amount of narrative and emotional development for a comic that’s supposed to be about women getting off, which is a significant characteristic of woman-created pornography emerging in the mid-1980s.
A final topic of interest is screen tones. The first volume (#1-4) focus on Annie and Nibbil’s relationship, and both of those characters are white. The second volume introduces Sage, who is a woman of color. Sage’s place in the piece is somewhat problematic to me, given that she has a name typically bestowed upon women of color pornographic performers (Sinnamon Love describes this phenomenon in the Feminist Porn Book) and her visibility within the comic lacks a screen tone to designate her skin color. Personally, I feel that the lack of the screen tone promotes a visual reading of the comic through a colorblind lens because there is no visual designation for this woman of color. I am curious what the labor and materials of producing this comic were, given that the character is clearly depicted as a woman of color on the cover of #5 and #6. Perhaps it is a labor issue that prevented the use of screen tones. However, that does not make the visual reading of the comic any less problematic.
Works Cited: Coover, Collen. Small Favors v1. Seattle, WA: Eros Comix, 2001. Print.