How to Make Money Like a Porn Star original graphic novel
Writer: Neil Strauss
Artist: Bernard Chang
Publisher: HarperCollins/Regan Books
Price: $19.95 US/$25.95 CAN
I hadn’t heard of Neil Strauss and Bernard Chang’s previous collaboration, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star (a book listed as being written by porn icon Jenna Jameson), but it seems this is the spiritual sequel to that book. In his introduction, Strauss makes it clear that this cynical, dark, violent satire arose from his contact with porn stars in preparation for the previous book. In his observations in the introduction, it’s clear that there’s a strong, character-driven drama to be told about the damaged people who populate the adult film industry. But that’s not what this book is about. Strauss exaggerates the victimization and circumstances to the point of disbelief, and any degree of effective satire is lost in the lack of focus and flow in the storytelling. The good news is that artist Bernard Chang demonstrates some real growth and development in his art, and I’d love to see his work on higher-profile and more thoughtful comics in the future.
Claudia Corvette was once the toast of the Los Angeles porn-movie industry, but it was a long, hard road to get to that point (and I’m not using a euphemism). Once the darling of her violently protective mother, Claudia found herself forgotten in her adolescence but tried nevertheless to make a life for herself as a tradeswoman. Down on her luck, she caught the attention of a rich but cruel sultan, which led to a life of slavery and sexual training in the Middle East. Escaping that life, she found herself in L.A., becoming the pawn of a would-be porno star and his greed. Well, Claudia’s not going to take it anymore, but just as she’s about to get her revenge, she falls victim once again to an unfortunate encounter with her biggest fan.
Chang’s art is much different than what I remember when I first glimpsed his work on The Second Life of Dr. Mirage from Valiant Comics in the early 1990s. I loved Chang’s work back then, but I’m blown away by what I see now. It strikes me as a cross between the styles of Steve (Preacher) Dillon and Phil (Beautiful Killer) Noto. Chang shows a great degree of adaptability in his craft in this book as well. In addition to the style he employs for the main story, we seen him take on cartoony comic strip art, advertising art and other styles (not unlike the versatility we see from Stuart (Nextwave) Immonen these days). I know Chang’s been off working for Disney, but I honestly don’t understand why he’s not a much higher-profile talent in the comics industry.
Regan Books is marketing this book as being in the vein of Sin City, but I really don’t see the comparison. It feels a bit more like Pulp Fiction, albeit the storytelling isn’t nearly as engrossing. There’s a definite lack of focus to the script. Jokes sometimes get in the way of the plot, and big chunks of Claudia’s story seem to be omitted (notably, how she escaped the sultan and ended up in L.A.).
Throwaway gags and satirical social commentary are interspersed between the chapters, and the humor in those fleeting moments is much more powerful than what we get in the story itself. Strauss takes aim at the mainstreaming of porn today by merging the blunt sexuality with more innocent concepts, such as pages from a kids’ activity/coloring book.
The satire we’re meant to see in the main story must be effective on some level because the nudity and sex throughout the book isn’t at all titillating. And it’s clear from Strauss’s introduction, that’s exactly what he intended. So the book is a success on that level. But the plot itself is incoherent at times and often inconsistent. At times, the characters are completely laughable, but other scenes are dramatic, taking the ugliness of the human spirit that’s at the core of the story seriously. How to Make Money keeps shifting gears, and it’s in danger of wrecking the transmission. 4/10