Small Favors: The Definitive Collection by Colleen Coover. Oni Press, 2017. 9781620103982.
Colleen Coover’s Small Favors comics were a revelation for me: I had read a few things from the adults-only section of the comics store (back in 2002, practically the stone age!) and this was the first comic that was truly joyful, playful, and affectionate as well as sexual. It was the first comic that made me feel welcome as a woman (and as a queer woman, too). And the art was gorgeous!
The premise, in brief: Annie’s conscience has decided that she masturbates too much, and assigns the magical Nibbil to her to correct her ways. Fortunately for us all, Nibbil decides to do this by being an enthusiastic sexual partner. Add toys, neighbors, friends, and other characters from Annie’s mind and the series covers a lot of the ways a women enjoy each other.
Now the full collection of Small Favors comics is being republished, complete with some brand new color artwork. Lucky you! I got a chance to ask Colleen Coover a few questions about Small Favors, lucky me!
Sarah: How did Small Favors come to be?
CC: I was working in a comic shop in Iowa in the late 1990s. I noticed that many of the women who came into the shop off the street—women who were not weekly customers, that is—were specifically looking for adult comics. But most of the adult comics at the time were coming from the same sort of creative place as the Underground comics of the 1960s and ‘70s: counter-culture themes, drug culture themes, ultra-violence and shock value were a common focus in these books. While that’s all fine, I didn’t think it was very sexy or friendly to women. I decided to make the kind of adult comic I would want to read, with women having sex for fun, because they liked each other and enjoyed having sex!
Sarah: Nibbil can change from tiny to person-sized, among other things that can only happen in comics. How was the format freeing or limiting to what you wanted to express?
CC: I think it was probably a very manga-influenced idea, the fantastical notion that there’s this person who’s completely her own individual but whose origin is she’s a magic part of this other person’s psyche? And they make a pretty regular life together in a little house with a yard? But then also they have sex adventures all the time and nobody seems to have a job? That’s very 90s manga-like to me, like Ranma ½ or Tenchi Muyo. It gives the story a bit of grounding, but allows for literally anything to happen and not feel at all strange or out of place.
Sarah: I love that you broke the fourth wall in several of your comics! I sometimes have a worry in the back of my head about my gaze being exploitative of porn performers, some mish mash of messages from anti-porn writers on both the liberal and conservative side of the issue. The characters in Small Favors knew we were reading and were enthused about being watched and enjoyed, which felt like a relief. Was it important to you to acknowledge your readers this way?
CC: The number one rule in Small Favors is everyone is having a good time, including the reader, so I always wanted to be sure nothing went on in the stories that would distract from the happy stuff. I remember in Madonna’s forward to her big coffee table book SEX, she wrote about the importance of safer sex and using condoms in real life (this was in 1992, at the peak of the AIDS epidemic), but that the photos in the book were a fantasy where tragic realities were not a part of the equation. Small Favors is like that: the sex is fun, a pleasure to be shared and enjoyed. Love is there, and exploration and inclusion of pretty much everyone Annie and Nibbil ever meet (including the readers!), but there’s no jealousy, no real conflict, no guilt. It is purely feel-good sexual entertainment.
Sarah: The new color art is gorgeous. What was it like to revisit this art after having published so much other work in a variety of other genres?
CC: The color art is actually from 2003—it was the last comic book issue of the original series, but it has never been reprinted before in trades, so that will be exciting for a lot of people, I hope! There is a new black and white story in the collection that I drew just this past autumn. My style has never changed much through the years from genre to genre, so much as it has evolved. So with this new story, while I was definitely getting into the groove of Annie and Nibbil’s characters and their world, I did a lot of cartooning the way I do in Bandette, with a lot of expressive faces and slightly exaggerated features. It’s a way of drawing I just hadn’t grown into yet when I was drawing Small Favors on the regular, though it was the direction I was headed.
Sarah: Are there any artists or works in comics erotica that inspired you? Any that came after you that you like? (a note to the reader: many of the following links are NSFW)
CC: There were many comics that had a role in shaping Small Favors! Omaha The Cat Dancer by Reed Waller and Kate Worley was pretty and romantic. Gilbert Hernandez’ Birdland was surreal and funny. Milo Manara’s erotic work was lush and mature and took itself seriously. Bondage Fairies was spritely and fantastical and very much a manga. Now, I’ll check in on the web comic Oglaf once every few months or so and binge read like there’s no tomorrow.