By Arpad Okay. When you read Oh Joy Sex Toy, a sex-positive comic series that focuses on sex toy reviews, sex education, and generally helping the reader get comfortable with all these genitals flying around, you’re met with images of regular people engaging in what comes natural to them. What you feel when you read it depends entirely on you, but since this is Oh Joy Sex Toy that we’re talking about here, the spectrum of reaction can be as nuanced and diverse as the bodies depicted in its pages.
“It’s funny, I never see them as titillating; I think they’re all practical,” Erika Moen, artist of Oh Joy Sex Toy, tells us. “Every drawing I do serves a purpose; demonstrating how a toy or position works, or it is propelling the narrative forward. It does tickle me when people find a particular drawing arousing! And it’s bound to happen because I’m drawing bodies in different configurations and every now and then I’m gonna draw a configuration that is somebody’s personal jam.”
OJST co-conspirator Matthew Nolan concurs. “Titillation isn’t really ever the aim with our ‘Oh Joy Sex Toy’ comics. If it happens it’s a happy coincidence!” He says. “With images I want to nurture and grow positive sex comics, in all shapes and sizes, and OJST gives me a great place to do it.”
Now, with the release of Oh Joy Sex Toy Coloring Book, an adult coloring book released by Oni Press and featuring images culled from the strips that have enthralled thousands of people, Erika and Matthew can extend their sex positivity into the annals of another medium: hobbies and crafts. Seems entirely appropriate.
Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan spoke with DoomRocket contributing writer Arpad Okay to discuss the importance of representation, Oh Joy Sex Toy Coloring Book, and how flippin’ awesome sex is.
1. Good coloring books like yours leave us with something worth revisiting, but their purpose is to have the reader immerse and express themselves. But usually that experience is separated from “making art”—often called a craft or a hobby, something different from creating from an initially blank page. What do you think about that?
Erika Moen: Wow, this is a good question! I’m actually not sure? Maybe it depends on what kind of creative work you already produce. So like, if you never, ever do anything artistic, then yeah, sure, coloring somebody else’s drawings could totally be counted as “making art”. But if you already regularly do something visually creative on your own, maybe the time you spend coloring in somebody else’s line work would be more of a “hobby” for you. But then again, there’s an entire workforce of skilled colorists who earn their entire livelihood from coloring in other people’s comic pages every month and I definitely count that as “making art”. Hmm… If I had a beard, I would be hella stroking it right now!
Matthew Nolan: I think coloring is an art form in itself. But I’m happy if anybody can get anything from our coloring book, whether it be for hobby purposes or because they want to make “art”. Personally, I see coloring books like this as a form of meditation. It’s not so much a hobby or an art; it’s something for you to do for yourself. Something fun and centering.
2. Something that really struck me about the images in the Coloring Book is that so many of them capture a moment more than they depict an act. Everywhere are snapshots that inspire the imagination to tell the story surrounding them. You two both work on writing the strip—what’s your method for taking a mutual idea and focusing it into a static image? What’s critical to giving them life?
EM: Thank you so much, that is one of the nicest things anyone’s said about my drawings for Oh Joy Sex Toy.[Laughs] Dang, I’m super touched. And, dang, I don’t actually have a good answer for you. We write a scenario together and then I just… draw it. Every now and then Matt’ll tell me something doesn’t look quite right and either he or I will tweak it — Matt can actually draw pretty well! He just doesn’t do it very often or ever show anyone — until it looks “right”. Sorry, I wish I had a more analytical answer!
MN: There’s not really a moment when we sit down and go “Time to give this one life!” I think it’s just something that naturally seeps into our comics. We try to write humans being human, natural interactions and dynamic panels that are also visually descriptive. All of these things help bring life to the comic. It also doesn’t hurt that 90% of our work is collaborative autobiographical, joining up and talking from our own real experiences helps it be all the more real.
3. Let’s talk masturbateers, the gender fluid people of every description and sexual preference who populate your work. Every taste is catered to in your Coloring Book, all cohabiting the same page. Meanwhile, society clings to an anachronistic, frequently dangerous division between straight and everyone else. Do you see your work as bucking the norm or do you feel like you represent what the norm is now?
EM: I feel like I’m representing what the norm is now. It’s what the norm has always been, honestly! There have always been people who aren’t skinny and white and cisgender and straight. They’ve always been there. They’ve always been visible in real life. It’s just they were viewed as the weirdos and freaks and weren’t represented in the mainstream media as regular people. Now that the Internet has leveled the playing field for representation, all us weirdos and freaks can finally put our pictures out there and visibly show up as a large population, not just a couple of isolated loner kids.
MN: We try our best to represent the normal human, in all its shapes and sizes. I don’t think our culture (comics or other), has taken on the same approach yet, but things are changing, slowly but surely toward the better.
4. The diverse character representation also includes a notable number of people with prostheses. You two are stepping up your intersectionality game, who would you like to see do the same?
EM: Well, everyone, I guess! If you’re telling stories or showing people in any capacity, make an effort to depict people who don’t look like you. That’s not to say everyone has to include every single type of person in their stories. Just be conscious about the kinds of folks you pick to feature, you know? Ask yourself why you make the creative choices that you choose.
MN: All the mediums out there need to make more effort to be inclusive. There are so many different types of overlooked people out there, who are eager for some positive representation.
5. There’s a lot of unbridled affection for voyeurism in this book. And it’s a book! Something you sell at cons and online and at cooler booksellers and all that. What are some good practices you two can think of to go from being a watcher to connecting with a community?
EM: [Laughs] Oh lord, Matt and I are the worst people to ask! We’re very much homebodies and are way out of our comfort zone when we’ve attended sexy events. We’re those awkward kids at the high school dance who stand at the side and stare at our feet. If you get a good answer from somebody else, pass it along to me!
MN: I have no idea. We’re not great at connecting with a community—for safety reasons we’ve had to distance ourselves a fair bit these years. Also, we work all week and most weekends—making a full OJST comic each week takes a ton of work—so we don’t have much time for connecting! But there are a lot of sexual and kinky communities out there. If your keen to learn and grow into one, the best place to look is the Internet. Fetlife is a good safe first bet. Try and find a munch or no-sex local meet-and-greet to go check out.
6. Speaking of community, sex culture, pop culture, the ‘Oh Joy Sex Toy Coloring Book’ is free thinking on the inside but still has censorship bars on its cover. Where do you think there ought to be the distance between sex and the mainstream, and where should the two get closer?
EM: Hoo boy, I don’t really know. I’m not so good at drawing the lines, but I do feel strongly that our American culture is overly sex negative and censorious. Especially when you compare what kind of exposure extreme violence gets to have, but showing a boob is taboo, you know? Ok, here’s a firm answer: nipples should be allowed on Instagram. Beyond that, dang, it gets too complicated for me.
MN: I kinda think the bars on the front are more for comical reasons than for censoring! But sure—I would love to see more sex portrayed in our media in a fun and positive way. It shouldn’t be treated as a dirty stigmatised thing, or else we’ll all grow up to think of it in that light. Sex is awesome. Our bodies are amazing.
7. Adult coloring books are calming. Adult books are exciting. ‘Oh Joy Sex Toy’ is educational and erotic, perfectly suited to walk both paths. When you’re creating a strip, how do you decide the balance of imparting wisdom versus titillating the senses? How was that different making the Coloring Book?
EM: That’s an interesting way of looking at my drawings! It’s funny, I never see them as titillating, I think they’re all practical. Every drawing I do serves a purpose; demonstrating how a toy or position works, or it is propelling the narrative forward. It does tickle me when people find a particular drawing arousing! And it’s bound to happen because I’m drawing bodies in different configurations and every now and then I’m gonna draw a configuration that is somebody’s personal jam. Oh, but in answer to your question, the drawings for the coloring book are 100% taken from the comic, so I didn’t actually draw anything brand-spanking new for it. Well, except the cover. But that was it!
MN: Titillation isn’t really ever the aim with our Oh Joy Sex Toy comics. If it happens it’s a happy coincidence! I’m always happy to get a good porn comic from a guest artist, though in those instances I’m just excited to have something sexy on the site, and/or giving that artists a safe space to showcase some dirty fun comics. I want to nurture and grow positive sex comics, in all shapes and sizes, and OJST gives me a great place to do it.
The coloring book’s artwork is entirely created from existing artwork from our comics! There really wasn’t any different method in approach, other than finding the artwork we liked the most and then sending it all to our amazing publisher, Limerence Press, and editor Ari Yarwood to throw into a book.
8. There are restraints, scenarios with partners giving up control, experimentation with toys that take finesse to do right, all of it portrayed with mutual satisfaction on masturbateer faces, a sweetness. Could you talk a bit about consent and healthy ways of putting this kind of stuff in practice?
EM: When it comes to depicting consent in art, I try to show that everyone is happy to be there and enjoying themselves. In real life, consent comes from communication with your partners. Ideally, you can talk about what you want to do and what you don’t want to do before anything sexy happens, but even if you don’t have time to talk about it beforehand there should still be lots of talking during the action. Ask before you do something, ask your partner(s) what they want you to do, ask if they’re enjoying themselves, speak up about what you want to be done to you and whether you’re enjoying it or not. Talk, talk, talk!
MN: Consent is a huge subject, we made a great comic about it a while ago that might be worth a read. Putting consent into action comes with the purposeful intention to be a good considerate person, and wanting to treat others the same way you want/ought to be treated yourself.
9. So. A ton of artwork to express oneself in the Coloring Book, several volumes of ‘Oh Joy Sex Toy’ in print now and your webcomic comes out every week. It all stays fresh and bright and eager to educate. What’s next? What haven’t you done yet that you’d like to do?
EM: I’d really love to do a collection of autobiography comics again! Just a book’s worth, not an ongoing series. I got lots of thoughts and ridiculous experiences, and I wanna share ’em.
MN: There are so many more sex education comics we want to do, but a sex ed comic takes twice the work so we have to spread them out amidst the sex toy reviews and guest comics. We’re hoping to eventually have covered enough sex ed comics to print a “Just the Sex Ed” Book. That would be amazing. Other than that we’re looking to change the flavor of the comic as we progress, to just keep it interesting and fresh for ourselves. We’ve been experimenting with doing more auto-bio slice-of-life comics recently and that’s been fun. We’re also dreaming about getting a more long-term guest comicker to help us once a month, to give us more time to try new things. But it’s all pipe-dream stuff.
10. How do you get through it? Coffee, cat, horoscope, love notes, something in a routine, something that you read or watch or listen to, a food, a friend—what’s your special thing that keeps you meeting deadlines and zooming ever skyward?
EM: Routine. I have to stick to my routine; if I deviate from it, my day is lost. Wake up at 7 a.m., take my medication, catch the bus at 8:30 a.m, work from 9 a.m.–5 p.m., and then catch the bus home. I exercise on my scheduled exercise days. Matt cheering me on keeps me making. I absolutely would not have the drive to do this without his support and encouragement. Also, I super love my cat a lot. His name is Flapjack and he is literally perfect. My sweet angel. My perfect prince! [Erika totally sent us pictures of her cat! — Ed.]
MN: The terrifying need to pay rent and save for retirement. The terrifying state of sex education today. Terrifying need not to disappoint one another. Our love of comics. Our love for each other.
It’s really hard to stay driven and pushing forward, and we struggle fiercely with burnout, depression, and anxiety. But what we do feels important, and we both can’t see ourselves doing anything different. We feel incredibly lucky and humbled by how people feel about Oh Joy Sex Toy. We don’t want to let anyone down.