14 Nights: A Different Kind of Therapy / by David Anderson

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I think my most favorite sexual euphemism of all time is "Playing Hide the Salami."  Who the hell would play that game? And if it weren't a phallic metaphor, why salami? Where's the salami? There's the salami! I don't know, I crack up every time.

Anyway, that's what this next comic is about. Or rather, a guy who hates that game.

Well, that guy, whose name is Lucian, has a diagnosis of sexaphobia. He's terrified of bumping uglies, but he's met this crass, cynical dude named Nikita who might be able to help him with that. What follows is a gay romance that explores the issues of fear, the male ideal, the different cultural hangups we all have about sex, and how we hurt the ones we love. Kristina Stipetic named it 14 Nights after the deal these two made to try to break Lucian's phobia in two weeks- and if Nikita can't do it, then Lucian stops doing sexytimes forever with Nikita.

Since there's only a few panels per page, the story can move kind of quick. I found myself halfway through this work in progress in a half hour. It's semi-standard fare for a romance: two people trying to find love and come to their own sense of satisfaction without breaking the other person in the process. I don't know if I personally find the premise interesting enough- the idea behind the two week bet as a plot device- but I think Stipetic has found a great contrast between the two main characters, with Lucian being the timid, idealistic introvert and Nikita being the jaded, outgoing cynic. They both have their faults and their fears, and watching those problems clash and interfere creates some good drama and drives their character development.

She's also really good with showing character through what's unsaid, as well. The body language, the pregnant pauses characters choose to have, the careless gestures and facial expressions are all well done and do more to convey character than the words do at times. Nikita's an especially entertaining character because of his bombastic personality, rusty Russian-American grammar and his insecurity about his weight and his disability. Lucian's just kind of a dork, but he still has a personality which contrasts with Nikita's like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fitting together.

The art style is interesting. I want to quantify it somehow, but I can't. There's a little bit of anime in here I think, with the wildly exaggerated facial expressions and the tendency to reduce characters to hyper-simplified shapes under certain contexts, along with the giant eyes. Stipetic also likes to do the kinds of drawn out establishing shots that manga is known for, where you take  several panels to emit a picture of the setting before you initiate action or dialogue. But there's some other stuff here too, maybe a little Disney . Characters have stumpy, cartoonish physical proportions and are often defined by exaggerated facial features, like lips and noses. Characters' mouths open in giant guffaws that remind me of old American cartoons, but shadows and pencil shading feel distinctively Eastern in technique which, considering she lives in China, isn't all THAT surprising. I think I find these characters are much more interesting as these frumpy, boring people rather than the Adonis/Venus types we see in literally every brand of romance.

Also it's hella NSFW. I'm straight and I had a vague notion that this was a gay romance before I read it, but there's like a ton of stuff in here that was more explicit than I thought I'd encounter. No offense to gay people intended, it's just, you know, neurochemistry and all that. My body was not ready, as some are said to utter after meeting Dolph Lundgren.

Probably the most interesting scenes are Lucian's stress dreams, because Stipetic goes crazy with artistic license and symbolism, so there's some cool artwork on display--statues, cyborgs and cityscapes all look incredible. She emphasizes emotion a lot in her scenes, and she's skilled at it. Whether it's poses, shadowing or even level of detail, it's easy to tell how a character is feeling about something through those cues. Nikita's sexual fantasies are all gross and raunchy, but Lucian's fears render those scenes in lower detail with an emphasis on personal intimacy.

So yeah, if you're into gay romance about flawed, neurotic everyday types, check it out. For me, this was basically an experiment. I don't really do romance, but I found this to be interesting even if I play for the other team.

TL;DR: 14 days is a character driven adult romance that is well executed and seems to be on its way to being a quality comic in the genre.

14 days is written and illustrated by Kristina Stipetic. While the comic updates Monday and Friday, a nicely printed Volume 1 is also available for $20 (including shipping) through her site.