Finally, someone teaches Hitler how to fight a war on two, um, fronts in 'The Crimson Gash' #1
Sandez Rey has a simple formula for his comics: "My approach is, 'Okay, page one, big visual. Page two, blowjob. Page three, some sort of plot. Page four, blowjob.'"
Graphic oral sex is the first thing you notice, thumbing through the work of this 45-year-old Minneapolis artist. That and tits—voluminous, flowing, swaying tits. Only after you start reading do you begin to see the satire in Rey's adult comics. His principal recurring character, the Crimson Gash, wears a leather half-mask, thigh-high boots without pants, and an open top that entirely frees her bosoms. She's usually on her knees, aiding allies in need, or tactically distracting enemies of both sexes.
But she's no submissive. The sardonic "supervixen of south Minneapolis" puts her foot straight through one villain's torso, kicking his beating heart out the back. She repeatedly groins Hitler ("I never thought I'd say this, but I'm getting tired of kicking you in the nuts"). She bends a sexual predator back onto himself, forcing him to eat his own sex. She smashes her own conscience, a version of herself in white, with a boulder.
"I could sell a lot more comics if I drew straight bondage," says Rey, standing in the sunroom of his Powderhorn neighborhood house, where he draws The Crimson Gash and other titles for Eros Comix. "But I can't stand to create female characters and then just abuse them. To me, what's sexy about the female characters that I do is that they're tough, they're amazons. They go out there and they kick guys' asses."
The Crimson Gash has never been punched, kicked, or tied up. She annihilates her opponents before they can lift a finger. "If someone ever does punch the Crimson Gash, it's going to be a big deal," says Rey. "People are going to say, 'Oh my God, that person's really going to get it now.'"
As the artist blurts this, one of his two children calls down from upstairs. Rey steps out of the room and closes the door behind him. "Do you want a cartoon?" I hear him say. "You can have ice cream later if you're good."
On his wooden drawing board is a rough draft of a page from Blowjob #18, forthcoming from Eros in June. It's the first chapter of a saga in which the Gash and her pals explore the "Lost City" of St. Paul, which was nuked by Adolph Hitler in 2005's The Crimson Gash #1 ("Good thing this happened on a Saturday night," says one character, "when it's nearly deserted!").
The first story Rey ever drew for Eros, an "adults only" imprint of Seattle's Fantagraphics Books, follows his personal recipe to a tee, with a helpful note on page three of 2002's Blowjob #2: "To eliminate the plot, fold this page inwards on the center line." Yet any reader skipping this part would miss crucial information, such as the fact that the gorilla being serviced by a jungle girl is actually a man in a gorilla suit. (Wonder if this sop won the endorsement of PETA.)
All of Rey's Blowjob comics are love stories in disguise. Rey's second five-pager for the book, titled "Personnel Allocation Directive #4682559003A Work Sub-Unit 617C," opens with a dystopian office-scape of endless cubicles. One graying female employee, "926B," receives orders to report as "personal assistant" to balding "Chief Petra," a position that requires her to give him—what do you know!—oral sex. "I am just a bureaucrat," he says, looking down on his assigned charge. "This is a military directive. My wants are irrelevant."
"I work for the good of the collective," she says, mournful.
As she takes him up, both characters imagine younger sex partners, and she pictures her youthful self. Still, her skills are enough to bring him to a sweat. Afterward, she says, "Making coffee is one thing I do better than any twenty-year-old girl!"
"Not 'one thing,' worker," he says. "The other thing."
When Rey returns to his room, the towering, bespectacled father becomes a boy again, describing his newest Blowjob story with mischievous glee. Set in a nuked St. Paul, this one contains the origin of the Radioactive Kid, who discovered his superpower only after accidentally melting his girlfriend's brain during fellatio. He meets Robot Jungle Girl, who, as fate would have it, runs off radioactive waste.
"She's a robot, but even a robot can figure this one out," says Rey, barely able to get the words out fast enough. "She's like, 'Be my boyfriend forever, I love you. Give me all of your ejaculations.' So there'll be two pages of blowjobs in a five-page story, and still a lot of other crap crammed in."
Rey, who prefers not to be identified by his real name, crams more than the usual amount of information into his comics. Only this artist would interrupt the destruction of California by giant turtles—in one of his early, pre-porn superhero stories—with a speech about jury nullification. A conversation with Rey is similarly fervent and full of tangents. After splashing some Bushmills in his morning coffee, he's eager to tell his story.
In the 1970s, Rey was a dropout from Neil Armstrong High School in Plymouth, with a goal of staying as stoned as humanly possible. At 15, he began hitting clubs and dealing pot, "not to make money," he says, "but just to keep myself in pot." He went to shows by the Hypstrz, the Suicide Commandos, the Suburbs, and other legendary local bands at the Longhorn, and he remains friends with Hypstrz singer Bill Batson to this day. Listen closely to Commandos Commit Suicide Dance Concert, the first release from Twin/Tone Records, and you'll hear Rey screaming, "Commandos are God!" between tracks on side two. "I was a blasphemist even then," he says.
At age 27, Rey's pot cloud lifted, and he wondered where his life had gone. Without skills or education, he began examining his lifelong obsession with comic books to see if it might yield a meaningful job. Having given up drawing as a kid, he started from scratch. "I basically had to relearn to draw," he says.
While working a warehouse job and keeping a paper route, Rey labored on art for 30 hours a week—a habit he kept up for years. He eventually grew confident enough to produce his own DIY comics, publishing family-friendly superhero and fantasy titles on his Kidgang Comics line. After Big Monster Fight (priced at $2.50) sold poorly in the mid-'90s, he introduced Minneapolis Free Comic in 1999, which pitted Santa against a space pirate. "Mr. Gnirk!" cried St. Nick, objecting to an outburst of @*%#. "It's that kind of language that sullies the reputation of all sailors!!" (Years later, Santa would be ejaculating snowflakes on the Crimson Gash's face.)
Desperate for paying work in comic books, Rey eventually sent a sample to Eros with a note offering to do sex comics, something he'd never tried before. Two years later, he got a call from an editor. He's been drawing smut ever since, appearing at comics conventions in the wrestling mask he dons in his stories when erasing the fourth wall. (Though hardly bashful, he prefers anonymity—or at least "deniability.") By coincidence, he took "Sandez Rey" as a pseudonym before getting into porn, after discovering that another artist who shares his real name was drawing comics with fuzzy creatures having sex. "What kind of introverted 300-pound guy sitting in his mother's basement reads porn with furry animals?" says Rey.
Rey's wife doesn't read his comics, and never has. "She and I are not exactly a matched set of twins," says Rey. "She's black, I'm white. She's from St. Paul, I'm from Minneapolis. She has a responsible job for the city that you can't mention. I have always eschewed responsible jobs."
His kids haven't seen his work, either. "My room has a lock on it, and I work on it after they go to bed," says Rey. "My rule of thumb is that they will have to wait until they're 18 to see it. I know full well that they'll find some way of sneaking a look before then. But the great thing about this rule is I won't have to talk to them about it when they do."
According to Rey, his sister is an acclaimed maker of Catholic art, and he also has a close family member who is gay. Which makes you wonder what either would think of comics such as 2003's Rear Entry #2, in which Jesus and the Holy Ghost ("H.G.") urge wholesome, clean-talking Santa to sodomize the Crimson Gash, as God spaketh, "Just don't wear a condom. I hate that." (For balance, Rey has also rendered the Gash giving Satan head, an occasion that prompts the heroine to ask: "Did I put a tape in for Smackdown? I think so. I need beer...and gas.")
Rey says he is a Lutheran-raised atheist, but extols the focusing virtues of prayer, and joins in when his wife and kids say grace at the table. His religious irreverence might express the same spirit that possesses him to defrock, say, a stand-in for Mary Poppins: He's messing with Jesus because it's another icon that begs to be messed with. "Your dick in my mouth?" demands Summer, Gash's sidekick, when she meets the Son of God in person. "Yes or no, hippie?" (As she goes down, Jesus hilariously thinks to himself, "Don't read her mind don't read her mind don't read her mind.")
Usually, when Rey's comics express an opinion, it's with deflating self-mockery, as when the Gash confronts anti-porn picketers: "'Pornography is violence against women'—my ass!" she cries, before committing violence against women. Rather than signaling some political view, Rey's "Mayor" of Minneapolis (a recurring Gash character) is a perma-drunk tribute to The Dean Martin Show. His ethnic slur of an opposing candidate during a debate lacks any real sting:
"You are a 'Mick.' Or do you prefer to be called a 'Patrick'?"
"Are ye making fun of me, then?"
"Now, ye drunken bastard!!"
"I can't now. I've got this debate."
Rey calls his art "a mess," and has the evident impulse to overwrite. His dense texts are like roadblocks in the middle of ostensibly utilitarian, fetish-themed Eros stroke-books such as Head, Rear Entry, Dildo, and Pee Soup. (These group compilations are uniformly black and white except Pee Soup, which contains splashes of yellow.) The clean lines of Rey's drawings, and his loving eye for detail, recall the busy sleaze of '60s underground hero Spain Rodriguez. But Rey's flair for the surreal and iconic reminds me of punk-associated artists such as Robert Williams and Raymond Pettibon. And Rey's drawing room is filled with clues to other influences: original art on the wall by Flash Gordon master Bob Fuji and local cartoonist Chaz Truog, stacks of Mexican sex comics, a Polaroid of Rey with wrestler Rob Van Dam.
If this new pornographer in comics has a unique charm, it lies in the quaintness of his transgressions. The most notorious Rey cover, for last year's The Crimson Gash #1 ("The Crimson Gash Vrs. Hitler"), feels almost nostalgic, what with all the monsters and missiles and Hitler. Its most contemporary touches are the syringes hanging from the left breast of Sheriff Judy, another Gash regular. (She gets her stabber back with a needle to his eye.) Yet the artist's motives for even that bit of unsightliness are supremely fan-boyish: Comic-book price guides routinely identify covers featuring Hitler as collectible. Ditto eye injuries, drug use, protruding breasts, bondage, torture, or atomic blasts. Says the illustrator: "What I did with this cover was try to hit every category."
So maybe Sandez Rey's comics are meaningless. Or maybe Rey isn't as sensitive as he lets on. Rear Entry #5—which he admits is his worst story—has a rape scene that "the Black Dwarf" rationalizes unconvincingly. "Vampires are dead, Bluebell. You can't rape a corpse—at worst it's necrophilia!" (The Gash agrees.)
That this debate even enters a fantasy, however, suggests how Rey's work is as much about thinking (albeit demented thinking) as it is about stroking—as much a noisy assertion of id as a cheesy entertainment. The Gash is ultimately high on her ability to do anything the artist can imagine, which is why she keeps explicitly demanding better stories: "I'm warning you Rey," she announces in Blowjob #5, "this faggoty surrealistic bullshit only goes so far!"
Sitting in his sunroom, Rey speaks enthusiastically about all the ideas he can't get into print fast enough. "That's probably why I'll never leave porn," he says, "because of this tremendous freedom to go where I want to go. Putting sex in it is not much of a limitation."
Self-portrait of the sensitive artist at work
The Crimson Gash #1 "The Crimson Gash Vrs. Hitler"
The Crimson Gash #2 "The Crimson Gash Vrs. Crime"