Sinfest is most probably a comic everyone has heard of – Tatsuya “Tats” Ishida’s daily strip has been going strong for some thirteen years now but things have recently taken a surprising feminist turn.
Sinfest has long focused strongly on interactions between recurring characters and exploring (often metaphysical) themes including religion, sexuality, gender roles, provocative humour, political issues and parodying pop culture, and the strip has seen a strong twist towards promoting feminism in the last two years. It’s a move that has seen a huge influx of new fans, and a world of butthurt from a vocal minority of older fans outraged that the comic is now focusing on women and the ways in which our society can silence their voices.
Main characters Slick and Monique have evolved a lot over the years as the former has had his panel time reduced and his social consciousness slightly raised, while Nique has gone from being the irritated sex-object of Slick’s affections, to an opinionated cropped-hair feminist who questions gender norms.
The two friends live in a world populated by normal people, as well as a reefer-dude who happens to be a pig (Squigley), religious (Seymour) and satanic (Li’l Evil) zealots, God, the Devil, Jesus, Buddha and The Dragon (who represents Eastern religions), terror-porn fan Uncle Sam and a depressed Lady Liberty. And Obama. Other characters include the adorable Criminy, a reclusive bookworm, and his girlfriend Fuschia, an escaped devil girl. Oh and Tats himself along with his cat Percival and dog Pooch.
Originally the comic was indeed a Sin-fest, stuffed with black comedy and poking outrage for humour, but it has changed slowly but surely over a period of time. The most recent change, that of addressing the patriarchy and portraying its hold on society as akin to the Matrix, is by far the most subversive. Not only is the comic addressing themes that many other webcomics are failing on, but it is doing so with an already large fanbase attached to the comic for very different reasons. Forums and message boards are overflowing with former “fans” berating Tats for being a misandry-lover or brainwashed by feminism.
While the comic had formerly poked fun at all ideologies and religions (similar perhaps to South Park albeit slightly softer as years went by), fans who expected feminism and talk of “mansplaining”, “hetereonormative assumptions”, gender performativity” and so forth to be a lead into an epic put down of a so-called feminist agenda, were very mistaken. Tats, aware of how his comic had previously played into patriarchal norms and reinforced institutional sexism was now clearly changing his mind and turning the lens squarely on himself and his own paper universe.
Nique, the glamorous and fun girl who loved to shake her booty at guys for a reaction was shown the Matrix of Patriarchy and allowed to voice her thought patterns and come to her own conclusions. In an act of defiance she close-crops her hair and rejects what society says she should look like. In this one strong act, one character known for her very feminine look defies the male gaze upon her. Not to say that femininity is bad – of course it is not. But in the world of comics where a huge majority of women look very much alike, and in our world of celebrity culture where the same is encouraged and the different seen as troubled, it was a hugely important move. And a brave one (albeit for a male creator) due to the dedicated audience base of the comic, with its vocal male membership.
The same audience reacted just as Tats predicted in Nique’s own journey – horror, rejection, accusations of brain-washing, and complete entitlement. How could he ruin their beautiful female character who wiggled her butt and teased the men? Ruin equaling, of course, the cutting of her hair that for Nique signaled the ownership of her own agency.
There are a great number of women created webcomics that are exploring similar themes – The Adventures of Gyno-Star and I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space are two of my favourites – and they are sadly overlooked. Sinfest already had a huge internet presence and the creator could have easily continued on his same path for many years with great success. Instead Sinfest became one of the few big webcomics to not only address feminism and sexism in our society, but to do so honestly and intelligently.
Tats, known for being so unknown in real life, ignored the haters and has continued on this new path. Sinfest still features daftness and heart-warming strips, political satire and amazing adventures starring the whole cast of wonderful characters, but it now does so in a way that is about both entertainment and education, as well as being a very welcome sight for those of us beaten down by sexism elsewhere online.
Other characters have evolved too – especially Seymour starting to realise how much he has conflated his fanboyish worship of Jesus with his fundamentalist religious beliefs, and Li’l E losing his memory and making new friends, with his backstory being fleshed out a little in heartbreaking fashion.
Sinfest has always been a fun and entertaining strip, but now I heartily recommend it to each and every reader I meet. Sinfest Volume 1 is available from Dark Horse (and contains the pre-2000 non-web strips), as is Sinfest: Viva La Resistance, and there were three self-published volumes at one point too. And as with all webcomics, the entire series can be read for free at the website – so indulge yourself today!
(NB – Sinfest also appears in the Nemi magazine in Norway, which is named after the most popular strip – Lise Myhre’s Nemi. Which is also the best comic strip in the world and frustratingly only 4 volumes have been translated into English – argh!!)
Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.