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Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Menage A 3

Co-Written by Dave Zero
Co-Written and Drawn by Gisele Lagace

What’s It About?
Menage A 3 is a webcomic about sex. When Gary’s housemates Matt and Dillon turn out to be a) gay, b) a couple and c) to have discovered that Gary’s art table can’t support two men in the reverse cowgirl position they decide to get their own place together. This leaves Gary in a bit of a bind. To the rescue come his new housemates: bisexual rock chick Zii and busty, bubbly Di Di.

From this starting point begins a comedy that touches on just about every sort of human sexuality and explores the many forms that relationships take. From the casual to the committed, from lifelong sexual definitions set in stone to newly discovered sexualities that require exploration and just about every point in between, Menage A 3 is a thoroughly modern sex comedy.

What’s Good About It?
Menage A 3 takes a mature, considered and inclusive attitude towards sex and sexuality. This doesn’t just mean that it includes gay, straight and bisexual characters but it explores the different ways in which those sexualities find expression. For example, of two bisexual women in the strip one (Zii) has known and accepted her sexuality from a young age and possesses a great deal of confidence in exercising it. The other woman, who I will not name for spoiler reasons, has until recently viewed herself as entirely heterosexual but following a fleeting kiss from Zii she has come to question her sexuality and, after some initial trepidation, to tentatively explore the possibilities.

In a surprisingly rare move Menage A 3 even deals with male bisexuality, one of the few works of fiction I’ve encountered that does. I’ll readily admit I’m not all that well-read on LGBT fiction but in the mainstream, both comics and prose, I’ve found that when bisexuality is portrayed it is the more “photogenic” female bisexuality that is more attractive to a heterosexual male audience. Gay, straight and bisexual characters of either gender are given equal time in this strip.

There are also the different definitions of sexuality. There are characters here whose sexuality is written in stone, stamped indelibly on their identities but there are also characters whose preference is more fluid, more readily redefined by their experiences. In many ways the writers seem determined to have their cake and eat it too, using every interpretation of sexuality they can think of and I think that’s fantastic. Despite being a quite light comedy in form Menage A 3 does more than many serious works I’ve read, in that it portrays all sexualities as equally valid, normal expressions of human affection. All through the strip, Menage A 3 is incredibly sex-positive. There’s a lot of sex in the series but at no point is it portrayed as the least bit illicit, shameful or dirty. It is at all times consensual, mutually pleasurable (saving a single exception) and fun.

It also updates on a slightly unconventional Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule, which will give you something to casually check on the off-days when all those Monday-Wednesday-Friday comics are having a day off.

What’s Bad About It?
If you have any problem with sexual content then, quite simply, you will not enjoy this strip. Nudity is commonplace as is the portrayal of sexual intercourse to variously explicit degrees (though not to the extent of pornography, though obviously definitions of that word differ from person to person). On the subject of pornography, do be careful of the adverts that appear on the site which lead to webcomics that range from the mildly smutty to the explicitly pornographic. All this boils down to a massive Not Safe For Work stamp.

Sexual content aside, the strip contains a few “geek culture” jokes and comicbook references which might be impenetrable to those unfamiliar with the context. Since this very website was set up for people who aren’t familiar with that context this bears mentioning.

Finally, the story is a bit slow. This is a format problem that Menage A 3 has in common with the newspaper strips it imitates in form if not in content. At three four-panel strips a week the story progression is held up by the demands of the format: each strip has to contain its own joke first and only then can the writers think about moving on the larger plot. This means that ongoing plots do take some time to come to the boil but you do have the immediate joke to take the bite off the wait.

What’s The Art Like?
As ever with webcomics, etiquette dictates that we cannot copy and paste art examples to this site. Instead please find links in the following paragraphs to art examples on the Menage A 3 website. Now, I did try to find inoffensive, safe for work examples to link to but I ran into the slight problem that there aren’t that many. Also, the inoffensive strips wouldn’t really give you a representative sample of the strip.

Each strip is drawn in four panels, newspaper style. The art is black and white line work with a definite manga influence about the faces but with a more precise, realistic attitude towards anatomy. Being a character-based comedy the art focuses mainly on the faces of the characters, honing in on expression and reaction.

This next few examples I include to demonstrate the artist’s understanding of anatomy and nudity. It is pretty typical of how nudity and sexual scenes are portrayed by Lagacetwo naked men.

Usually at this point I would make a point of describing how the art changes, evolves and improves over time so that if you read the strip from the beginning you won’t be put off by the artist’s first stumbling steps in finding their style. Here I don’t have to do that. Whilst the art style does alter a little over time (mainly the lines become finer) it remains largely the same because Lagace developed much of her style in the five years she spent drawing Penny & Aggie (website here, New Readers… Start Here review here).

Other Information
Menage a 3 updates three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at http://www.menagea3.net/, all content is free. Two print collections of the strip are available from the site’s online store and include exclusive, print-only stories.

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