Posted by Don MacPherson on December 13th, 2009
The Story of O hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Pauline Reage
Artist/Adaptation: Guido Crepax
Publisher: NBM Publishing/Eurotica imprint
Price: $24.95 US
NBM Publishing sent along this attractive hardcover reprint of artist Guido Crepax’s adaptation of a classic piece of erotic literature for review, and since I’d heard of The Story of O but had never read it, I was more than happy to take a look. And after all, I’m a guy, and men in general aren’t exactly known for their aversion to pornography. And make no mistake… this comics adaptation of the well-known 1950s French erotica is porn. Almost every individual scene is titillating and will no doubt give way to arousal in many readers. On that level, the Italian comics artist succeeds with this tribute. However, when it comes to actual storytelling, his take on The Story of O is disappointing. There’s no sense of flow from one scene to another, and at times, from one panel to another. The eroticism of the book is hindered by confusion. Of course, I have to admit that another reason the book didn’t win me over is because I found the characters’ behavior off-putting. Don’t get me wrong… I love sex, but after reading this book, it’s clear to me that sadism and masochism aren’t for me. I found O’s complete submission and supposed love for a man who puts her through difficult ordeals to be too extreme. (Warning: NSFW)
O is a woman who’s proven that she’s willing to give herself over to another completely. She allows her lover Rene to pass her among his friends, and among those friends is Sir Stephen, for whom I falls as well as he trains her to be a sexual slave for others. O’s friend and lover, Jacqueline, doesn’t understand her willingness to be used and even abused, but O embraces the lifestyle. After her training, O is offered up at an unusual banquet masquerade as the ultimate sexual entree for all of the guests to enjoy.
I think one of the elements that made this a less-than-enjoyable reading experience for me was the fact that while there’s no shortage of sex, I found almost nothing of love in the book. I just couldn’t understand O’s devotion to her various lovers. The fact that she gives herself over so completely robs her of any kind of individuality, as far as I could tell. Instead of passion and hedonistic indulgence, I often found what I perceived to be abuse and selfish excess. Some may dismiss that judgment as a sign of prudishness or a sheltered life, but that’s not the case.
I think part of the problem may stem from Crepax’s depiction of the characters, especially the title character. Save for a fleeting moment later in the book, she never looks happy. Sure, she’s often immersed in orgasm, but she and just about every female character in the book, more often than not, look miserable. The men never seem attractive and some look downright monstrous. Furthermore, Crepax’s elongated figures are occasionally so exaggerated that they don’t quite look right. And a player in this sexual drama that’s stretched out to the point that it looks almost inhuman isn’t the sexiest of sights. Another failing of the art is how there’s never a strong sense of place. Crepax employs a loose style. Figure lines trail off (which is fine, as the fluidity works with the sensuality of the material), and backgrounds are usually lacking or missing altogether. When he does offer background detail, it’s meticulous, but it’s rare. That’s too bad, as the backdrops would reinforce the opulence of some characters’ lifestyles.
I suppose writing a review of an erotic work such as this one offers me the opportunity to make a play on words with the term “graphic novel,” but it’s a bit too easy. Truth be told, while there’s plenty of erotic imagery and even explicit sexual content, I wouldn’t go so far as to term Crepax’s depiction of the pornographic material as too graphic. Some of the sexual play is hidden, especially when it comes to oral and anal interactions. Given that this graphic-novel adaptation was originally crafted just nine years ago, I’m a bit surprised. (Note: Despite some information indicating this is a 2000 work, the original form of this graphic novel was actually published in 1975. See the comments thread below.) It’s not as though the late artist was subject to community standards from decades gone by. Still, those omissions aren’t jarring, though I’m curious to why the artist made them. 4/10
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.