Review: Frontier #11 – BDSM
by Eleanor Davis

I’ve reviewed a few other Frontier monographs from Youth in
Decline, either in my Comics That
Challenged Me
series or in long-form, and I’ve liked or loved many of them.
But none of those comics have caused me to have such a quick and visceral
reaction as BDSM, Eleanor Davis’
latest entry into the series.

BDSM focuses on
two adult film actresses, Lex and Victoria, and their relationship on and off
the set of “Slut Servant 6.” Victoria plays the dom and Lex plays the sub on stage,
but those roles get blurred significantly when the camera isn’t rolling.

Davis uses much of the comic to explore the male gaze and
misogyny. With two female leads, the male gaze is everywhere; the film being
made is likely intended for the straight male viewer, and the entire crew of
the film (minus perhaps a producer hiding in the back) is a man. The introductory scene, which I’ve highlighted above, shows men staring into screens, pinpoint eyes, hyperfocused on the women’s bodies. That traditional power imbalance is explored through Victoria, who is
struggling with the fact that despite being the star of the film, she is treated as an inferior. We see Victoria constantly trying to maintain a professional coolness and equality with the men
on set, which is disrupted by Lex being subservient to guys on the cast during a cigarette break. There’s some ugly hardwired stuff going on in this scene, which calls into question the emotion and the relationship that Victoria and Lex have in later pages. As you might expect, BDSM is a sexy comic. But the erotisim is juxtaposed against some very dark themes.

The relationship between Victoria and Lex is fascinating
writing. Victoria, the dominant character in the film, seems much less sure of
herself in the presence of Lex, and Lex uses that to her advantage. Lex clearly
knows what she wants, and manages to get Victoria to come back to her place and
into bed. Lex is still submissive, and she wants to be hurt, but she’s thoroughly
in control of the entire encounter after shooting, from start to finish. I wonder how this manipulation plays into the larger narrative here, but I’m also willing to cede that Lex’s ulterior motives aren’t necessarily nefarious. She might just be thirsty.

Davis’ exemplary illustration takes the complexities of this
comic and elevates them. Davis uses small hints, tiny changes in repeated
illustrations, to show changes in mood or intent. These changes are displayed
early on, when the crew is shooting the first scene. Davis lines up the shots and says, pay attention to the differences. A good example is how Victoria’s inverted nipples on set become protracted and erect at Lex’s apartment Seeing those differences throughout the comic pay dividends.

Davis also injects the story with small bits of humor,
making the story more human. Victoria’s pseudo spit-take when Lex talks about
her boyfriend in front of the crew (turns out the boyfriend is Frito, her dog)
is a good example. Davis is working with big ideas, but the small details give
the comic life: Wisps of hair framing Lex’s face at her apartment; the tiny
hairs from Victoria’s undercut a few weeks in. All these things give us more of
a hint of who these people are and where they are coming from.

BDSM is a
fascinating comic because of all the subversions and inversions that are
contained within it. The themes and charged emotions give this book longevity
far greater than its 32 pages. For my money, this is some of Eleanor Davis’
best work, and worth your attention. Recommended.


Eleanor Davis (tumblr: @beouija) is a cartoonist and illustrator from Georgia. Her Ignatz award-winning anthology, How To Be Happy, was published by Fantagraphics @fantagraphics in 2014. You can see my review of that collection here.

Youth in Decline (tumblr: @youthindecline) is a publisher of comics, zines, and books based in San Francisco. The Frontier monograph series is the publisher’s flagship title, which aims to showcase art from up-and-coming artists from around the world.

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