Let’s talk about sex in comics. Is that okay? Of course it is. Why shouldn’t comics deal with one of the key human experiences? (The key one if we’re talking about how we get here in the first place.)

One of the pleasures of Jade Sarson’s debut graphic novel For the Love of God, Marie! is that it takes sexuality seriously. That’s not to say it misses the pleasure, the humour and, yes, the silliness of sex. But Sarson is keen to celebrate it as part of life’s rich tapestry. Even if sometimes it can go wrong.

That’s not all that Sarson’s book deals with. You can also find her take on religion, bisexuality, body image, motherhood and a Catholic education. The visual style, meanwhile. is pure eye candy but its lighter-than-air easiness-on-the-eye is deceptive. It’s a reminder that laughter can cut deep.

Here Jade discusses the book’s origins, sex scenes in comics and breaking the fourth wall.

What is the origin story of For the Love of God, Marie?

Originally I only had an outline of a 30-page version of the story and some character designs, which I created for a pitch to the anthology Smut Peddler, an incredible collection of lady-friendly, sex-positive comics. I really wanted to contribute a story of that ilk to the collection, but didn't make it into that year’s book. So I shelved the story for a while.

Later at a comics convention I was handed an entry form to the First Graphic Novel Competition being run by Myriad Editions and realised it was the perfect opportunity to use the old idea. I created a 15-page sample (it was a little too close to the entry deadline to make the full 30 pages) and sent it off - then surprisingly it won! From there Myriad and I worked together on developing a much longer version of the story, one that dealt with lots of subjects I'd been wanting to cover in comics including sexism, racism, and religion.

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Who is the book’s ideal reader?

I think (I hope) the people who would most enjoy the book are those in the LGBTQ community, especially bisexual people, as the story primarily features bisexual protagonists, as well as a general age range of 16-30. Even though the book has explicit sexual content, I would hope that ages 16+ rather than 18+ are allowed to read it, considering the age of consent is 16 in the UK.

I think it's important that there are healthy examples of sexual relationships on offer in the media for those just starting to get to know their sexuality - if they're cut off from the majority of it for two years, they might only be able to dig up unhealthy/abusive examples and end up off to a bad start. 

I would also hope that people from Catholic backgrounds and older generations might enjoy it for the visual references to their lifestyles in the 1960s to 1990s in Britain; and perhaps that the issues presented might make this type of reader think and re-evaluate their opinions regarding sex and gender.

Sex scenes in comic strips?  Discuss.

Uh, I think they're brilliant? Hahaha. Let me rephrase. I think well-drawn, fun-to-read sex scenes are brilliant. I've spent too many years cringing at awkwardly-trying-to-be-hot sex scenes in films and TV before finding comics that illustrate them in much better ways that get me giggling and my heart racing. As I mentioned earlier, I think it's important there are healthy sexual examples on offer in the media for those of consenting age, but when I got to that age I honestly didn't know where to look.

I didn't like porn because it was mostly over-the-top abuse of women. I didn't like erotic novels because, again, it mostly belittled women or coddled them. (Lots of muscly dumb dudes saving the weak protagonist).

So I relied on a friend at school who let me borrow her yaoi (gay manga) comics, which still wasn't the best example but was at least a bit more appealing. Again, the majority of that featured very abusive relationships (lots of "Nooo Doooon't" kind of dialogue, ugh). The same goes for hentai (hetero erotic manga comics).

But the interesting thing about yaoi was that it was marketed to women and succeeded. It took me a long time to find the rarer comics with sex scenes that were both consensual and lovely (stuff like Embracing Love, which is about a gay couple that actually TALK ABOUT THEIR PROBLEMS instead of dancing around it for the sake of drama! WOW!), as well as stuff where the sex was great but not the driving force of the story. (Most manga by Fumi Yoshinaga are brilliant at this.)

So that’s sex and God and cross-dressing ticked off. What does that leave for next time?

That’d be telling. I've got a few ideas I'd like to explore - including but not limited to older female protagonists, sports and (surprisingly for me) superheroes. I've also got to finish my webcomic - Cafe Suada, which is all about tea and romance - so that's next on the list.

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Why do you love the comic strip form?

Because it's limitless in many ways. You can show and tell at the same time, telling your stories using a huge variety of techniques. You can break the fourth wall and connect with the reader so easily by having your characters leave their panels, or immerse your reader completely using dense imagery. They aren't limited by needing to cast real people, you can draw all sorts of characters designed specifically to tell the story and appeal to readers. You can have those characters float in boxes or walk amongst the most complicated scenery. You can animate parts if you want, or have the story split off in different directions that the reader can follow as they choose. The only limit is my lethargy and overcoming it to draw all those things, I suppose.

I think what I truly love about the comics form is that it's all about communicating a clear message visually. What I studied academically was illustration, which is by definition visual communication, but sometimes I feel illustration can be interpreted in so many ways and feels less personal. Comics always feel personal to me, like by reading them I can connect with the author and learn something about their perspective on the world, perhaps better informing my own.

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For the Love of God, Marie by Jade Sarson is published by Myriad Editions, priced £16.99.