|From Shadow and Light, Volume 4|
Part 1 of an occasional series on NBM’s Amerotica and Eurotica creators and their work.
"Sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires." WILLIAM BLAKE
In Volume 4 of Quinn’s original Shadow and Light series, his heroines do things that shock them. What they do happens to be sexual. Their stories, declares the author, are true; only the names have been changed “to protect the not-so-innocent-at-all.” These women claim, in a get-this/surprised-myself moment of clarity, that their behaviour is out of character for them. Their behaviour isn’t, not truly.
Sometimes, the women and men in Quinn’s stories are forced to perform the acts they do, but always they want to—they are eager to. All that has happened is that their genuinely erotic behaviour reveals a part of their nature they may only have suspected could assert itself.
This revelation of the sexy beasts we all can be, and of the secret desires we all have—followed by their inevitable unravelling and nursing—makes the five volumes of Quinn’s Shadow and Light (NBM, 1998-2004) highly charged and deservedly disturbing studies of human eroticism.
These are fully formed graphic novels, which, with their French flaps and oil-painted covers, read like fine art albums. The neo-realist interiors are graphite on watercolour, very sensual, very mood-inducing. Visually, Quinn falters only once throughout the series, in Volume 5, “The Neighbour, Part 2.” The artwork is less technically effective and emotionally affecting—there’s too much light, not enough shadow. The sex is glaringly overexposed, draining it of the shuddering intrigue and sly nuance that are felt in the other stories.
Quinn the confessor
But Quinn is the confessor. He is at his best when he writes and draws his stories like a man who has heard some of the most forbidden and improbable sexual thoughts and feelings from his constituency. Released from his shady box, he is determined to place us in the basement room with the glory hole, on the kitchen table in an upscale apartment, or in a grimy garage—wherever, naked yet never alone, we might find ourselves stirred to unexpected life.
Although by Volume 3 it’s clear short forms are his strength (the vignette, anecdote or tall tale), a number of Quinn’s stories could be chapters in a longer, more connected work featuring ordinary people with perhaps too much free time in their schedules. This is significant. Quinn gives us vital stats—“Woman—Secretary, single, 23yrs,/Man—Occupation unknown, wealthy, single, 45yrs old”—followed by the average bodies of people usually in their twenties, thirties and forties. His worlds are also meant to be familiar, common.
If breasts are big, they are naturally so. If a 19-year-old has a magnificent hard-on, well, he’s a healthy young man, and the success of his seduction by two mature women accounts for the rest. If we glimpse ourselves, fleetingly, in these pages, Quinn’s art invites us to look again, deeply, at the whole picture until we’re turned on by our own reflection: by what we see ourselves doing in it, and with whom, or to whom.
Rod or lash?
Domination is a fundamental aspect of Shadow and Light. Quinn implies we all desire, sexually, the whip or the chain in some measure, and that this is true regardless of class, whether student or professional, white or black. He explores with commitment this conceit throughout the series, his most accomplished interpretations occurring in Volume 4. Here, the reader is never sure who’s really in control, as those involved seem seized by gleeful passions.
There is immense if uneasy poise between Quinn’s words and pictures. “From the beginning of this series,” he wrote in his introduction to the French La Musardine edition of Volumes 3 and 4, “I was after a balance between the art aesthetic and the direct, pure element of raunch that we all love so much and is essential for the genre of adult graphic novels. I think I got better at this balance with each new story.”
He did. Words in Shadow and Light are crucial, noticeably when Quinn’s panelling becomes jumbled, as if all the sex were happening at once, simultaneously and not sequentially. Even some of his later narratives could be pared for redundancies (see Volume 4, “The Pupil”; the second paragraph of the opening commentary needs striking out); but, in fact, Quinn’s books read/look like word-driven picture books. This is a wise artistic choice, because we often turn each other on most with words, with telling a lover what we’re going to do to him or her before showing them.
More good news
Another turn on in Shadow and Light is the reminder that, younger or older, there’s always something pleasurable and exciting to discover about our sexuality, maybe something we haven’t tried before or with the right person. Many of Quinn’s women impress with their voluptuousness and dreaminess and creaminess, but more so with their maturity and ability to seek their satisfaction from either sex without apology. They revel in cocks that produce more come than they thought possible, in intense anal stimulation, in multiple partners doing multiple things to them, and often in being the catalysts or instigators of the far-flung affair.
The narrator in Volume 2 is quite right: “There will always be some thresholds that are impossible to step back over. The power of certain experiences shifts our vantage point slightly or dramatically, but with certainty….” Yet how “real” these experiences are may actually be of less concern to Quinn than how we live with the shifts their possibility elicit within us. The repetition in Volume 4 of phrases like “juice pours out of me” or “come undone” by various characters suggests these as-told-to stories may owe more to fiction than fact after all. No matter. It is Quinn’s imagination that makes us believers in the sexy secrets of the heart he knows shockingly well.
The first two and a half volumes of the original Shadow and Light series are currently available from NBM in a hardcover edition. Quinn is still working on the long promised Volume 6 in the series. Its projected release date is 2015, at which time NBM intends to reissue, in hardcover and paperback, the remaining two and half volumes in the original series.
· Robert is the critically acclaimed author of the NBM Amerotica titles Attractive Forces, Stray Moonbeams and Great Moves. His other books include the novel And Sometimes They Fly; the story collections Intimacy 101: Rooms & Suites, The Tree of Youth and Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall; and the memoir Sand for Snow: A Caribbean-Canadian Chronicle.