SFSX (as in “Safe Sex) is a sex-positive kinky romp into a draconian America where all sex acts must be sanctioned and approved by the government. Sure, it legal – but only if you do it the way the bureacrats and police want. But a group of queer sex workers based out of an underground club called the Dirty Mind – from where they hope to start a rebellion.
Originally planned as a DC/Vertigo title, Tina Horn and Michael Dowling took SFSX out from under the Big Two just ahead of that storied mature readers’ line’s announced closure and found a creator-owned home for it at Image Comics.
Horn makes her comic debut with SFSX, coming in with a head of steam off her hit podcast Why Are People Into That? and her sex education writing for Rolling Stone, Glamour, and Jezebel.
With SFSX #1 due out September 25, Horn spoke with Newsarama about living in a world where you need a license to make love, and how her own career led her to comic book writing.
Newsarama: Tina, SFSX was originally slated for Vertigo. What was the process of re-pitching the series to Image Comics? Did you know Vertigo was closing their doors?
Tina Horn: When I was growing up, Vertigo books shaped my sick and twisted imagination, so I was very sad to see it shuttered. Some truly incredible visionaries at DC facilitated the development of SFSX. But that experience taught me that the end of Vertigo is not the end of opportunities to publish the kinds of books I want to create – cerebral, grotesque, mature genre adventures. When I brought on my dear friend Laurenn McCubbin as my new editor and designer, she helped to connect me to the publishers at Image, and they’ve been so supportive in getting it ready to be released into the world at last. Image is really the perfect fit for this series in 2019/2020 and I’m proud to be a part of their very forward-thinking catalogue!
Nrama: What made you want to make SFSX a comic book instead of, say, a prose novel?
Horn: I’m primarily a nonfiction writer, so making fiction hadn’t occurred to me until I was asked to create a comic book! But I’m also a lifelong fan of sci-fi, horror, crime, and thrillers, so comics have been a great medium for learning how to develop my own taste as a creator of worlds, characters, and journeys. The potential to learn different modes of storytelling by collaborating with visual artists is endlessly stimulating!
Nrama: How has your work as a journalist and podcaster help you create this title?
Horn: As a journalist, I’m always inquiring into what people think, and what people think about what other people think. You have to have a sense of drama to translate that to the page! I’ve done so much research into ideologies, from feminist discourse to the social politics of kink, and my job in both fiction and nonfiction is to translate those world-views into a story that readers can empathize with. My experience in audio production prepared me to explore different rhythms of dialogue and narration. And really, being devoted to any craft teaches you structure and discipline that translates to other mediums. It also teaches you to establish good boundaries and self care when you’re working your ass off under deadlines!
With SFSX, I was excited about the idea of putting a lot of what keeps me up at night about my nonfiction work into an entertaining story. The potential for empathy is really strong when you relate to and care about the humanity of a character who has a very different life that you.
Nrama: Tell us a bit about the characters of SFSX.
Horn: Avory is a queer pornographer who has been trying to lead an assimilated straight life in a conservative police state and is real bad at it. She discovers that the skills that made her a great sex worker – physical instinct, planning and executing narrative arcs, and even pole tricks – can help her fight the powers that increasingly threaten everyone she loves and everything that makes her feel alive.
George is Avory’s husband, a really solid and loving guy. Although he’s also kinky and queer, he works as a paper-pusher for the Pleasure Center, the bureaucratic headquarters of the Party. George believes that if you just keep your head down and take advantage of your privilege, the government will let you have some privacy to be yourself. From Issue 1 onwards, he learns the limits of that philosophy.
Sylvia is a sex worker who is loyal to the Dirty Mind, the underground community that is trying to survive in an increasingly hostile San Francisco. She’s a tech genius who has created all of the workarounds that the group uses to operate outside of the Party’s surveillance. Her girlfriend, Jones, was disappeared by the Party right before Avory bailed, so she’s struggling with her bitterness.
Jones was the beloved leader of the Dirty Mind, an impresario of queer leather sex work community action. She was arrested by the Party during an especially violent raid. None of her comrades know whether she’s dead, or worse…
Casey is an ingenious dominatrix and Avory’s best friend, although they’ve been distant since Avory decided to retire and marry George. Casey has become the leader of the Dirty Mind since Jones’ arrest, and is feeling really burned out.
Denis is a young new addition to the Dirty Mind. They are genderqueer and very eager to be a useful part of an underground movement that accepts them in a way their parents never have. They’re Sylvia’s tech protege and maybe something more…
Judy Boreman is our number one Big Bad, a leader in the Party who has gained her power by preaching second wave white feminist values of exclusion and conformity to a narrow idea of womanhood. Her Reformation program will be revealed in issue #2 and cause a great deal of torment for several of our heroes.
Dr. Gerald Powell is our other Big Bad, who likewise has gained Party prominence by being a model of upper-class white gay male normativity. He resents the success of Boreman’s Reformation program and has a few extreme ideas of his own on how “perverts” should be dealt with.
Nrama: As a sex educator, what do you want people to learn when reading this title?
Horn: When I’m teaching workshops on kink techniques and relationship communication styles, my job is to facilitate spaces of learning and conversation. When I’m writing fiction, my job is to entertain! I do hope that while readers are feeling engrossed in the story, they’ll expand their ideas of what great sex can be; SFSX does spotlight orgies, group BDSM parties, sex slings, fisting, explicit dirty talk, women using vibrators during intercourse, queer porn, fetish attire, trans4trans desire, and a whole lot of other things that are quite commonplace in my world but that I rarely see in fiction!
Nrama: How did you connect with Michael Dowling to do art for the book? Why do you think his style is a good fit for your story?
Horn: I hand-picked Dowling from a big group of available artists. I really wanted this story to have a gritty realism, and he does that incredibly well. I love his action sequence pacing, and the depth of his environments.
Nrama: What’s your collaboration process with each other like?
Horn: I put a lot of art direction into my scripts and send him a lot of NSFW references! SFSX is based on cultures that are very personal for me, and he was gracious to draw this world the way I know it. But he brought so much storytelling knowledge and technical craft that I could never have directed. He taught me a lot.
Nrama: Do you have a planned amount of issues for the series?
Horn: This first story arc, which is called “Protection,” has 7 issues. I’m going to start working soon on a second arc for release in Fall 2020. SFSX needs at least three arcs! I’d like to take it in other genre directions: body horror, erotic romance, more high concept deranged science fiction. I’ll truly keep writing in this world as long as people are interested!
Nrama: Do you want to dive into writing more comics? Any mainstream books?
Horn: I’ve already started writing more comics, including a short horror story with Jen Hickman for the Theater of Terror anthology. I would absolutely write some IP, especially if could do a detective story or something in space. I’m weirdly into the idea of a She-Venom series! I do have an idea for a scifi novel about robots. The challenge of writing prose is really exciting to me after learning to write fiction in the comics medium.
Nrama: Would you like to have any of your other works adapted into a comic?
Horn: I’ve associated comics writing so much with a switch to fiction that I hadn’t even thought of that! I love nonfiction and journalism comics, and would love to do something instructional like a dirty talk handbook.