Artist: Yishan Li
Published: August 29, 2018
Diamond ID: MAY180085
Age Rating: M
I'm trying to diversify my comic book reading. It truly is very easy for me to stick to my natural comfort zone in comics: horror, sci fi, post apocalyptic devastation and mayhem. Anything to satisfy my bloodlust. So I this week I started picking up books that look like something I would never read or enjoy. That's when I saw SUGAR. I didn't really like the cover, it screamed of romance novel and I typically despise everything romance related because I have such a hate on for cliches. SUGAR is 100% everything I would not buy or bother reading so... I read it. I actually liked it despite all it's problems. Let me tell you why but first, here's the skinny on SUGAR:
SUGAR is an original graphic novel that was published on August 9th 2018 by Image Comics. It's co-written by Matt Hawkins and Jenni Cheung and fully illustrated by Yishan Li. The book is appropriately named for two reasons 1) Sugar for sugar baby, a name given to generally young women who provide a gf experience to a man in exchange for a monetary allowance and gifts. 2) Sugar for the pet name used as a term of endearment to strangers, for instance something a waitress might say to a customer.
When I said I don't like to read romance books for the most part because of cliches let me not mislead you into thinking that SUGAR is free of cliche. It's totally a cliche. The book follows a beautiful young girl, struggling to make enough money to pay her tuition and help her family who are down on their luck because of a horrible car accident. She ends up being a sugar baby in a very round about way and falling for the man who's paying for her companionship. It's Pretty Women for struggling, 23 year old white college girls everywhere... I guess.
The whole book is problematic from the start because it gives the impression that we can only accept a woman being a sugar baby if she is 100% innocent, a hard worker, and through no fault of her own, in financial distress. The book tells us this in a number of ways while constantly playing up the righteousness of our main character Julia. For instance she repeatedly explains she is taking the money from sugar daddy John as a loan... that she will pay back.... right. This allows her to what? Keep her dignity and righteousness in the readers eyes? Does anyone else think that maybe the authors don't consider sex workers or sugar babies (if they can also be considered sex workers?) to be good people? Like maybe they look down on sex work? That's so forward thinking of them right? ugh.. let's continue.
Right in the beginning we meet the main characters roommate who apparently regularly brings different men home for sex. Although the main character isn't slut shaming her and almost admires her apparent sexual freedom, you still get the impression that we are suppose to see the roommate as a dirty, dirty whore (in comparison to Julia, the beacon of righteousness covering her face with a pillow on the couch). So the slut vs virgin type cliche?
Let's continue to pile up the cliches then, Julia also tends bar at a club where the owner is known to grab and touch the female staff inappropriately and GUESS WHO jumps in to defend Julia when the owner smacks her butt behind the bar? YUP our love interest millionaire John. Okay so we got the White Knight cliche...
It's not long before we find out that John is in emotional recovery from a rocky divorce. His mean, mean ex wife had an affair. She's awful isn't she? Just no one in this book who has a vagina is anywhere near as amazing and honest as Julia is. Don't you just relate to her? Anyway, Johns ex wife finds out about Julia who's FAR younger than she is and suddenly decides to come back into Johns life. Okay so we have the pitting women against each other cliche. To make it REALLY awesome the evil older woman against the sweet and demure, submissive 23 year old.
So these are just a few cliches and despite these I don't actually think that the authors really look down on sex work but they aren't doing much to mitigate that view in the book. Despite this, I did enjoy reading the book. It was well written despite the cliches and bad political views... and despite even though I hated all the characters except the very practical roommate character. In the end they make her look "better" by showing her actually committing to someone because I guess that makes you a better person? There's so much to unpack in this graphic novel that I dunno if I even did it justice. I get that possibly super sexually oppressed people might like this story as a fantasy but the reality is lots of people do sex work and it doesn't make them bad people and WHY does Julia repeatedly yell at John that she's not a prostitute? That's just UGH. There's nothing wrong with being a sex worker. It's TWO THOUSAND AND BLOODY EIGHTEEN.
Anyway I think that about wraps it up for this review. The only other item I can really say is that despite most of the art being quite polished (although it's really not my cup of tea), many of the characters suffer from some serious dead-eyedness. Lacking emotion at many points.. and it's mostly Julia just looking like she's had a lobotomy.