Chester 5000 is a quirky and delicious hybrid of two beloved genres, steampunk and erotica. The story involves a young couple - the man being an industrious young inventor, the woman largely a bored housewife - and their sexual adventures, or inadventure
in the case of the former, with a virile robotic servant. It would be unwise to dismiss this as just paltry porn set-up, because there is indeed a story, and it has an important point to make by the time the book concludes. Creator Jess Fink draws very attractive women, both in and out of the throes of passion. The tone of the work reminds me of Colleen Coover’s work in her self-described “girlie porn comic” Small Favors, because it revels in the fun of sex from a female perspective. The sex isn’t tainted by male fantasy projection, it’s not present to degrade, dehumanize, or objectify women, but is present for the sake of just being. It’s sex for fun, sex as a necessary expression of personality, sex as a basic human right. It challenges mores about women being ashamed for wanting sex, that these hidden desires must always find a way to express themselves. Like Small Favors, Chester 5000 is in that elusive category of porn comics that don’t feel off-putting when read. They’re not overcompensating for guilt. They’re brave, bold, artistic, and thoroughly entertaining.
This era is an interesting period to set the story in. While there are so many advancements occurring in industry and science, it’s still a relatively repressed sexual culture, so there’s nice tension created between the two genres, one progressive, and one inhibited. Sex itself in this time period is probably a taboo topic, let alone any type of liberated experimentation with a functioning sex robot. Fink’s work embraces one paradigm while turning another on its head with delightful results. Regardless of the fact that one of the participants engaging in sexual fun is a robot, we see the full range of human emotions present, with all the humanity of jealousy, anger, longing, and curiosity. Artistically, I love how the rigidity of the panel walls begins to break down and become more fluid during the more sexually passionate sequences. This is a storyteller who understands how to convey emotion and mood without words, of which there are actually none. Instead, we get emotive eyes, blushing cheeks, sweating and gasping, and very symbolic thought balloons, such as a beautiful butterfly representing an impending orgasm. Even the panel gutters themselves take part in the action. Numerous times, they’re seen taking form and flying around the page, swirling around with motion, direction, drawing attention to objects by encircling them, and occasionally taking part in the action themselves. Those of us who study the industry know how important those actions in the gutters are, that’s where audience “closure” happens, so it’s obvious that amid all the hot sex, Fink even has time to experiment with how the medium functions. Like the best sex, Chester 5000 is somehow more than the sum of its rudimentary parts. It’s a complex work in terms of both craft and story. The ultimate reconciliation is through non-conventional familial units; true honesty, the removal of inhibition, and the pursuit of desire leading directly to happiness. Grade A+.