Written by C. Spike Trotman
Illustrated by Emilee Denich
2017 (Iron Circus Comics)
Bisexuality is rarely depicted in most popular erotic media, in my opinion. And on those rare instances when bi people do appear, the portrayal of bi men and women tend to veer towards the superficial and/or the tragic.
It´s more than a little annoying.
Within stories designed for a heteronormative male gaze, bisexuals seem to always be women; I suppose men liking men and women is somehow “unmanly”? These bi women are with other (straight?) women, but these stories seem to stress that they are "still straight"--because, in this phallocentric world, because (so the narrative subtext seems to state) how can two women achieve real pleasure without a cock? Thus, these “bisexual” women are only with other women temporarily, in a kind of limited overture, until The Man And His Cock enter the picture, and provides true sexual satisfaction. Or something. In this world-view, bisexuality´s function is foreplay for heterosexual men, with sexual fulfilment always heading towards heterosexual expression.
When bisexual men appear, even more rarely than the bisexual woman, they tend to be characterized by tragedy. These tropes tend to appear in homoerotic erotic narratives, where the protagonist is “straight passing” in a monogamous heterosexual relationship, which they always find emotionally empty or lacking, until they meet a male lover. Passion ensues, but the “bisexual” male ultimately chooses to remain within the heteronormative relationship, while the male lover meets some tragic fate (imprisonment, suicide; these characters never just….exit). The message here seems to be “bisexuals have the pleasure of being gay, but choose the privilege of being straight.”
I know I´m generalizing. But if you´ve read and/or seen a good amount of pornography and erotica, I´m sure you have seen these bisexual narratives, too. They are almost their own genre, containing their own vocabularies. What´s frustrating is that, in both of these examples, neither seems to believe that bisexuality really exists.
Refreshingly, C. Spike Trotman´s erotic graphic novel Yes, Roya avoids both of these tendencies, offering instead a (gasp) pretty positive model of a functioning polyamorous relationship between two men and one man. During the course of the story, we glimpse their dynamic relationship in different kinds of constellations, but throughout witness tenderness, pleasure, fun, and consent. Both pretty hot, just getting a glimpse into at least one positive fantasy of how bisexual individuals might do relationship in the world, on their own terms.
Set at least a couple of generations ago, Yes, Roya follows the transformation of Wylie, a “19, almost 20” year old cartoonist having a hard time getting his foot in the door. An opportunity leads him to have an audience with his idol Joseph, the handsome and successful creator of the comic “Lil´ Savage”. Through a series of events, Wylie discovers that Joe´s artistic and personal life is not all as it appears. We follow Wylie has he discovers his own bisexuality through the caring mentorship of Roya, a powerful dom who welcomes Wylie under her wing.
Sexual expression is often linked with power, and Yes, Roya counterpoints the shifting relationships within this triad--ie Wylie and Joe, Wylie and Roya, Roya and Joe, Wylie and Roya and Joe--with the power dynamics in the cartoon publishing industry. While set in another era, the nepotism facing younger artists, women, people of color, and/or queer people in this graphic novel unfortunately feels timeless. How far have we progressed, really, from the era depicted in Trotman´s book?
The possibilities within the form of the graphic novel are pretty exciting these days, and Trotman is certainly a leading storyteller, entrepreneur, and pioneer. In this specific form of erotic media, with Trotman´s story fusing with Emilee Denich´s beautifully drawn panels, many unique possibilities open up. In addition to following the storyline, readers can get inside characters´ minds and fantasies. There are also some sexy and explicit pages of panels with little or no dialogue between Roya, Wylie, and/or Joe, whose art and action invite the reader to linger and enjoy. Denich and Trotman also include a number of subtle details within the graphic novel, which rewards folks who re-read Yes, Roya (such as the books next to Wylie´s bed after he first meets Joe; or the scene where Roya “breaks the fourth wall” and looks directly at the reader).
Yes, Roya is a delightful read told with humor, sensitivity, and intelligence. This seems to be the mode C. Spike Trotman inhabits naturally with her work, and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.