Writer: Sam Humphries
Artist: Steven Sanders
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Production: Phil Smith
Special Thanks: Brendan McFeely and Chip Mosher
“How nicely does doggish lust beg a piece of spirit when a piece of flesh is denied it.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
There’s a lot about Our Love Is Real that is ambitious and admirable– it’s a self-published and self-distributed comic, for starters, only available at a tiny handful of brick-and-mortar retailers, via mail order direct from writer Sam Humphries, and via ComiXology in digital form. Despite that hurdle, it’s sold out its first physical printing in a mere nine hours (a second is on the way). It received buzz as a possible speculator’s goldmine from Bleeding Cool, and the reviews have been generally good.
It’s also a dark SF noir that prominently features bestiality as a linchpin of its worldbuilding. As one might imagine, this has caused rather a lot of “ZOMG DOG SEX” in the conversation around the book. This is the only time I’m going to mention it in my review, as a consequence: Yes, this book has one panel of PG-13 dog-on-top sex between antihero riot cop Jok and his girlfriend, the eventually jilted poodle Chyna. Chyna seems to be auditioning for a role in an eventual reboot of The Rock; the panel itself could be set to, say, “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin quite easily. If you are the sort who is easily titillated by the idea of dog sex as a societal staple, that should do you fine; if you are easily offended, you will be offended.
Since there is dog sex, though, and since it is put out there as one of several competing sexual ideologies, it’s not surprising that readers are focusing on it and ignoring the rather less savory elements of Humphries and Sanders’ dystopia. Our Love Is Real posits a world that has been so bitterly divided by the introduction of an HIV vaccine that the ensuing state focuses entirely on policing sexual morality. All other forms of expression appear to have been rendered secondary to the obsessive pursuit of self-involved sexual gratification. In short, it’s Rick Santorum’s favorite nightmare come true; every canard about gay marriage leading to sexual depravity and the decline of society has been played out in this world long before we arrive on the narrative scene.
Like any good fascist regime, this degraded society has strict rules about purity. Zoophiles sit at the top of the pecking order, and everyone else has to be brought to conformity or exterminated. Jok, being one of the privileged few, has no problems enforcing this state of affairs with joyful alacrity. Anyone who enjoys a good face-stomping and isn’t too concerned with the ethics of same will enjoy this early stage of the story. The part where we learn that society only reflects the smaller-scale desires of its members comes later.
In the line of duty, smashing faces and killing rioters with abandon, Jok encounters an enigmatic mineral-sexual named Brin. Their ensuing affair– “affair” is perhaps too romantic a word– cuts to the actual heart of the story. Jok is feral, animalistic, speaking in doggish grunts and howls, imposing his desires on Brin without regard for courtship. Brin presents as a more evolved being, careful of speech, abstinent from any form of physical sex. They’re obviously poorly matched, but what do they care for emotional concerns when there’s individual lusts to be slaked?
This is where the dark and ugly heart of Our Love Is Real comes into sharp focus. Jok and Brin’s eventual trysts– not all of which are sexual– embody what British artist Robert Lenkiewicz called “aesthetic fascism:”
[Lenkiewicz] noticed that the obsessive fascination with the beloved person could often lead to acts of ruthlessness and violence. “I often feel,” he said, “that in the most intense romantic scenarios… there is an undertone of ruthless psychopathic expectation, a curious heartlessness. If one had genuine concern for one’s partner then the first thing one would do is leave them.” He was sceptical about claims that in love one ‘cared’ about the other person in a selfless sense, quoting the German philosopher Nietzsche’s pithy expression: “How nicely does doggish lust beg a piece of spirit when a piece of flesh is denied it.”
The real transgressions of Our Love Is Real‘s fairly stock noir narrative aren’t held in its perverse, Pokemon-like classifications of sexual behavior. You’re meant to gawk at the outer coating of revolting pornography. It might even distract you from the real controversy: a society that is so focused on individual hedonism that it crushes and devalues the human spirit. Saying more would spoil an integral plot twist; suffice to say that I’m speaking both literally and metaphorically here.
Is it worth a read? Overall, I’d say yes; Sanders’ art is absolutely stunning, subject matter aside. Humphries’ script needs either tighter editing or more space to expand its narrative, but you can’t fault him his enthusiasm for the provocateur’s role. Our Love Is Real is in it for the shock value, yes, but if that’s your sole takeaway from this noir thriller, you might be missing the point.