I talked about David Heatley’s “My Sexual History” in my Comixology column posted last week. The strip was reprinted in David’s new book, My Brain is Hanging Upside Down. However, David has placed little pink boxes over all the naughty bits. He explains that:
“I was getting fan mail from a couple twentysomething boys, saying, ‘Oh, your strip gave me a boner,’ and I thought, This isn’t what I had in mind. It’s really about longing and bad sex and lack of connection.” The bleep-outs “almost draw attention to it, but it’s like another layer of the narrative—me kind of covering up a little bit before publication.”
I was reading a thread on the TCJ message board where folks were discussing the pros and cons of this; the consensus seemed to be by censoring himself David was betraying his art, or at least undermining it (the word “douchebag” occurs with some frequency.)
To me, though, it seems like the self-censorship is of a piece with the tenor of the strip in general. As I said in my column, to me “My Sexual History” is distinguished by its solipsism; it’s resolute refusal to acknowledge the existence of other people as something other than bodies which exist for the pleasure of the narrator. Though it purports to be about confession and revelation, the comic seems much more about concealment — swallowing others in the shadow of one’s own ego, and thereby, in fact, hiding oneself, since most of what is important about our inner lives, after all, involves relationships to other people.
Given that, it makes sense that David would be made uncomfortable by the discovery that his readers had an emotional investment in the work, of any kind. The strip’s prurient interest seems fairly obvious — unless, of course, the whole point of the exercise was to avoid having to think about other people at all. David’s not defacing his own work so much as he’s trying to erase his readers, much as the comic itself erases, for all practical purposes, his sexual partners. Slapping pink blotches all over your drawing isn’t pretty, but if you’re goal is to create art without faith or love, a little ugliness here and there isn’t going to stop you.