Visual Arts


Pornography. Say the word out loud -- do you spit it out with disgust or roll the syllables off your tongue gently, dreamily? Does the mere thought of pornography revolt you, make you muse about the decline of Western civilization in the 21st century? Does it weigh you down with guilt because your mate doesn't know that you secretly spend hours looking at midget sex on the Internet? Does it make you reminisce about the days when you'd steal your father's Playboys you'd found burrowed away in his den? Or do you grin conspiratorially when you say "pornography," and think about the Club International you bought last week with Jenna Jameson on the cover?

Porno is America's dirty little secret, a multibillion-dollar industry that's exploded exponentially since the Internet's capitalization on the medium -- it's not even much of a secret these days, more a shameful obsession shared by millions. You're spending the money on it, or your kids are, or your lover is, or your friends are. But it's not something that's discussed conversationally; it's more taboo than the subject of drug use. Many more people will happily chat about their pot-smoking habit than will converse about the aesthetics of Barely Legal's models vs. High Society's models. Opponents of pornography find it vile, degrading to women, say it's contributing to the moral degradation of our country and poisoning our youth; proponents will argue the opposite, that it's really quite silly to vilify the celebration of a naked (and excited, or copulating) person.

Jim Mahfood, nationally renowned (and often controversial) comic book artist and Tempe resident, has grasped the subject of pornography head-on and explored it in his just-released comic book We Love Porn. As the title implies, the collection of sex-related strips are a celebration of pornography and a chance for Mahfood to expose his talent for beautifully capturing the naked female form in ink.

Examining the 25-year-old artist's history and body of work, it's surprising that he's just now getting around to releasing a sex comic book. The man loves controversy and pissing people off. In his Stupid Comics collection (a compilation of the strips he draws for Java Magazine), he rails on Hilfiger-wearing suburban wiggers (personified by Stanley the Suburban Gangster, a recurring character). In a strip titled "True Tales of Amerikkkan History," he illustrates "how the West was actually won . . ." -- white Christian men using their "boomsticks" to take land from Native Americans, killing a young Indian girl's father and explaining, "We'll introduce you to our liquor, drugs, and firearms. . . . Basically we're pretty much gonna fuck your people over for the next 5 to 600 years."

And those examples just scrape the surface of Mahfood's venomously illustrated opinions. He dogs frat boys, ravers, Bible thumpers, computer nerds and politicians, while at the same time preaching his love of marijuana (as an alternative to girlfriends), his love of James Brown, hip-hop and all things funky.

Mahfood, a St. Louis native, has been a comic book geek since his grade school years. When he first discovered that his favorite cartoon superheroes could be found in comic books as well, he was hooked. "Most [fans] start out in typical superhero geek fashion, but if you stick with reading comics, appreciating the art form, you start getting into the other stuff," he explains. For Mahfood, the "other stuff" came in the form of underground comics such as Love and Rockets, the works of notorious screwball R. Crumb, and Zap Comics' releases (Furry Freak Brothers, etc.). "I had no idea that comics could be about normal people or the drug scene or the music scene. I though it was good guys versus bad guys. Then Crumb -- his drugs, sexual fantasies, violence -- I was like, 'You can do anything with comics, the sky's the limit.'"

Mahfood's obsession led him to the Kansas City Art Institute, where he hooked up with a like-minded soul, Mike Huddleston, and founded 40oz Comics. Almost immediately, the two stirred up a firestorm with two comic books called Girl Scouts, depicting the anti-heroines as drug-dealing, gun-happy hellions, replete with Girl Scout regalia -- sashes, uniforms, etc. That understandably pissed off the Girl Scouts of America, and the organization threatened litigation. That incarnation was put to bed, but reemerged a couple of years later in Mahfood's Grrl Scouts series -- same thematics, but sans references to the formidable cookie mafia.

In 1997, Mahfood's bus to the big time pulled up; he met Scott Lobdell, who was writing the X Men comics at the time, and got a gig doing X Men -- Generation X Underground Special for Marvel, the comic-publishing powerhouse. It was during the creation of this book that Mahfood relocated from Kansas City to Tempe, where he met local superheroes such as the Bombshelter DJs, who would eventually find themselves immortalized in his books.

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Brendan Joel Kelley