March 5, 2012

Review of Pornhounds #2

This review originally ran on Comics Bulletin
Pornhounds 2 is about identity, connecting, overcoming, and transformation. Sharon Lintz's 54 page, black and white, self-published comic is about her work as a writer and editor at a porn magazine. It is also about her personal journey through breast cancer. Throughout the comic, Lintz treats each subject with both dignity and humor, infusing each page with her strength of character. What starts off as an exploration of loneliness, personality, sexuality, and creativity is transformed by the end of the book as a statement of survival and hope.

Pornhounds 2 takes up where 2006's equally engaging Pornhounds 1 left off, following Lintz as she gives a “behind the scenes” look into the porn publishing industry. The first three stories in the book are pretty straight forward, but within these shorter vignettes Lintz takes her rather desensitized view of the barrage of pornography and, through her own transformative creative process, is able to turn flesh into spirit, desperation into a need to connect, and exploitation into rumination. Of particular note in this regard is the section titled “Letters” which features the art of Emanuele Simonelli. Here, Lintz presents actual letters written to the magazine from various men (many of them desperate, alone, disfigured, or in prison). This section could easily be exploited or presented in a manner that would fuel a particular agenda, but Lintz ends it tenderly, once again focusing on her themes of identity and connecting.

It is in the fourth section of the book, “Photo Meetings” that Lintz's narrative really gets its legs. This section, illustrated by the talented Nicholas Breutzman (whose graphic novel, Yearbooks, was notably listed in The Best American Comics 2010), starts off presenting a look into the bi-weekly meetings in which the staff of the magazine looked at what photographers had submitted to decide which to buy.
What begins as a series of panels of pornographic pictures becomes a launching point for Lintz's ruminations about her high school discovery of the poems of Wallace Stevens, her childhood sense of alienation, and her mother's eventual descent into madness, all of it expertly woven together in an almost casual manner that only heightens its impact as character and thematic development . Throughout the first half of this story, Breutzman's art is dark and heavy, filling each panel with shades of gray and black. Halfway through this section, though, Lintz writes, “You work. You wake up the next day and do the same.... Little did I know then – that in a few years time, while I was looking back on porn – while I was writing this comic – something would happen.”

Suddenly the story becomes about Lintz's breast cancer. Breutzman's art reflects the change in narrative by opening up, relying more on the white space inherent in each panel. This changes the emotional tone of the piece completely.

The next half of Pornhounds 2 focuses almost entirely on Lintz's double mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery. Here, Lintz's themes of identity, connecting, overcoming, and transformation take on new resonance, especially in light of the previous section's focus on the exploitative aspect of the female form. Once again, Lintz does not overdramatize her situation, nor does she pander towards garnering sympathy for her plight. Rather, she focuses on the day to day struggles and experiences she goes through as she is poked and prodded and dehumanized, much like the porn stars of the earlier section. Lintz deals with all of this by maintaining her sense of humor and fostering her creativity. She connects to the stories of the other cancer patients she meets during her chemotherapy, using their stories to make sense of her own experience. Also during this time, she survives on a steady diet of Battlestar Galactica and the novels of Philip K. Dick, Michael Moorcock, and Samuel Delaney, all of which deal with transformation and overcoming limitations. Lintz also explores her own gigs teaching a Freshman Comp class in Florida and a Intro to Literature class at a Community College in Queens, NY.

Through the teaching experiences, Lintz is able to address her new sense of mortality. Through the literature, in particular Shakespeare's Hamlet, she is able to dissect her thoughts about death in terms of her larger themes. It is, in its way, profound.

The final section of Pornhounds 2 is called “By The Way.... What Is Cancer?” and features art by Chandler Wood (who has previously done work on Harvey Pekar's American Splendor and whose Another L.A. Story runs in the L.A. Weekly). Here, all of Lintz's thoughts about her themes of identity, connecting, overcoming, and transformation all come together as she thinks about a future where cancer may “be a plus. The vanguard of human evolution.” She imagines a future where cancer evolves into a new sex organ and Lintz herself becomes the most famous pornstar in the universe.

“Long live the new flesh!”

Pornhounds 2 is another incredible example of the possibilities of comics. It is a confessional, thoughtful, funny, and empowering story told by someone clearly in command of her craft. All the artists on the book contribute to the book's overall effect, adding emotional tones and focus that would not exist were this story presented in any other medium. It is a great comic book.

On a side note, I also connected to this comic on a personal level. One of my best friends lost her battle to breast cancer a little over two years ago. Sabrina was also a teacher in New York.

In this regard, I want to thank Sharon Lintz for creating Pornhounds 2, because not only did it allow me to spend some time with the memories of my friend, but also it is the kind of book that Sabrina would have really loved – especially the part when the plastic surgeon says, “I make beautiful nipples Sharon... BEAUTIFUL.”

Pornhounds 2 is available for purchase here.

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