The Perineum Technique
by Florent Ruppert and Jérôme Mulot
Print version published by Fantagraphics
Ebook version published by Europe Comics

JH is an artist who includes a lot of video in his work, but he’s pretty bad at people, as evidenced by his relationship with his staff. The only person he really has a connection with is Sarah, a woman he has cyber-sex with on Skype sessions. He’s a lot more invested in these encounters with Sarah than he is with anything else, notably the artwork for his upcoming show, but when Sarah agrees to meet him in person for a dinner party, the experience expands and constricts within his psyche, opening up his world to possibilities while also closing everything down through obsession.

Before we move on, I should explain what a Perineum is. A Perineum is that area between your legs and between your genitalia and your anus, considered an erogenous one, and the technique as described in the book involves self-control to maximize your orgasm in different ways. By the end of the book, the symbolism will be obvious.

The world presented by Ruppert and Mulot is one of a mundane reality where the pursuit and realization of your most intimate desires are tucked in between doing the crap you have to do while you’re on the job. This hyper-connected world has integrated so much into a constant flow that the characters here are engineering hook-ups during business meetings and slipping out for quickies on lunch breaks, living so-called full lives on the constant go. No time to stop and think, to hesitate and enjoy, just go, go, go, get what you need, get it now instead of waiting, and move onto the next thing rather than appreciating the last thing for too long and slowing yourself down.

Ruppert and Mulot and express this world in a series of frank, uninspiring conversations about the mechanics of sex, alternating with surrealist encounters that present sex not as sex at all, but interactions with frantic symbolism that seem emotionally and physically taxing to those characters in the middle of it. But somewhere in all of this, there has to be a point, right? Right. But you can’t find a point if you don’t stop and put the work into finding it.

This is certainly a sex comic, but at the same time, definitely not an erotic comic. How could it be? The desire for sex is presented as an obsessive chore one has to go through, to constantly cruise your apps, waiting for someone to agree to a transaction that results in a pay-off. Desire is not for another person, but for yourself as serviced by another person. Fantasy is not pleasure but the clinical means to produce the pay-off. The excitement is not in the other person, but in achieving the pay-off. Sex, in The Perineum Technique, is a bit of a slog one has to go through.

But this isn’t much different than JH’s experience with art. He’s a professional contemporary gallery artist with all the opportunities and materials that anyone could hope for, but even he sees his work as uninspired. As he conceives of it and works with his staff to realize it, he’s pouring energy into something that obviously doesn’t matter, doesn’t say anything worth saying, doesn’t inspire anything. And the more time he spends pursuing sex as he would a drug, the emptier his creative soul feels.

In the end, the graphic novel turns in on itself. The experience, it turns out, was not about what it appeared on the surface, and JH’s art serves the same purpose as this book itself. It’s an examination of the layers of his experience. It goes beyond the surface, looks past what is in front of him. That’s a lesson learned not only about sex, but love, art, meeting people, having an experience — that these things happen or can be achieved are only part of the point of them. If you are open and curious and patient and willing to give yourself to slow contemplation that dismisses the immediate gratification that defines so much of our digitally-connected modern world, you might find real satisfaction.

And so this is only a sex comic if you look at it one way, purely the surface way. In actuality, it’s a comic about interacting with the world and knowing yourself and exacting control over aspects of your life.