Babe ‘bots with brains: Cyborg Sex Surrogate and the new feminist sleaze

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By Richelle Charkot

The female sex robot is a long-standing character device in genre narratives, for better or worse (and quite often, for worse.) From the perfect house-bots of the Stepford Wives to the oft-debated fantasy robot Ava from the 2014 film Ex Machina, the fembot trope is a hotly debated and ever-controversial aspect of science fiction, especially as the genre itself has grown to feature increasingly diverse, autonomous and intersectional characters.

Vancouver-based comics artists Robin Bougie and Maxine Frank aim to bring a different spin on the fembot narrative with their new porn comic Cyborg Sex Surrogate. After collaborating together for the past decade or so, most notably on their annual comic love letter to depravity, Sleazy Slice, the duo decided it was time to create the protagonist of their dreams. In Cyborg, Erica is an advanced female cyborg created to resemble a black woman, invented by a white scientist who fetishizes them. Unbeknowst to him, though, Erica is smarter and quickly learns about the history of patriarchy and white supremacy through the web. She ultimately grows to resent her creator, and separates from him to seek a more gratifying sexual relationship with another woman.

DIY comics legend Bougie says he and Frank were eager to explore the idea of a cyborg character for the first time in their own work. Bougie has a litany of low-brow comic offerings under his belt, including his hit series Cinema Sewer which first appeared in 1997. Issues of Cinema Sewer are comprised of a multitude of essays that delve into porn, exploitation and horror fare with hand-drawn text and illustrations, making it a staple for genre fans. “We liked the idea of a porn comic about a cyborg, because then you get to do all these things with transforming the body,” says Bougie. “The body of a cyborg can be fluid and changeable, because that’s what you do with technology—you upgrade it and change it all the time. Our main character can make love to you, or become a weapon and wage war upon you.”

Frank was equally excited by the chance to create and explore Erica’s story, “We enjoyed the idea of a man creating what’s supposed to be his perfect woman, but then she eventually gets her own identity rather than just being an object for him,” she says. “Also, on a shallow(er) note, robots are cool.”

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Frank and Bougie agree that their creation of a conscious cyborg, like many science fiction ideas, enabled them to incorporate and comment upon current affairs. “We’ve been thinking a lot about this stuff,” Bougie says. “The issues [that] black people have had this year, trans people, women, etc. It’s what a lot of people have been thinking about. What I personally want to do with a comic like this is make adult comics that have an equal amount of unapologetic and prurient sex and thoughtful and yet exploitational wrangling of modern social issues. And after mixing that awkward brew together, [you] just end up with something that is just genuinely fun and entertaining to read.”

Bougie says Cyborg Sex Surrogate emulates what he calls the “grand tradition of exploitation films of the 1960s and ‘70s, where you explore the incendiary issues of the day, and then beat [your audience] over the head with it by adding copious amounts of drama, sex and violence.” He also cites the influences of Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), the eight-issue porn comic series by Guy Colwell called Doll (1989), and a Hong Kong action and exploitation movie called I Love Maria (1988).

After about a decade of work together, Bougie and Frank have mastered their creative process, sharing the drawing, inking and writing duties by handing the pages back and forth to each other. “(Frank) is also totally devoid of ego during the creative process, which is really the kind of person you want to work with,” he explains. “She has zero issue with me telling her that something isn’t quite right and needs to be redrawn, or letting me redraw it, and I reciprocate in that way, as well, because we both know we’re working in service of the comic itself.” Frank shares similar feelings towards the benefits of working with her long-time collaborator. “I first started drawing comics with Robin when I was around 19, so I was eager to take pointers and tips from someone who had been working on comics as long as he has. Now we each have our own things we’re stronger at, so will often help each other out if we get frustrated at a panel.”

With a likely release in mid-to-late 2017, Cyborg Sex Surrogate promises to be a timely, depraved and captivating inclusion to decades of important and fun sex-positive porn comics, including some of Bougie and Frank’s personal favourites: Dave Cooper’s Ripple, The Covenant of Hell by Ricardo Barreiro and Ignacio Noé, Omaha the Cat Dancer by Reed Waller and Kate Worley and Perverts of the Unknown by Brandon Graham.

“What we like is feeling exhilarated in a way that reminds us of being scared, but you’re able to walk away from it [horror movies] whenever you want. Pornography and exploitation also offers a very similar feeling, a sort of illicit thrill of ‘I shouldn’t be seeing this, but I am,’” Frank explains.

“It’s a funhouse mirror,” Bougie says. “Those genres of entertainment are a safe way to see the worst aspects of ourselves, of primal humanity, reflected back at us in a distorted and crazy manner. And if you can face those taboos, and laugh at them, and have fun with them and subvert them, you can actually demystify them. And once you do that, you can have all kinds of fun with it, if you’re brave enough.”

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