There’s a great episode of Orange Is The New Black (“A Whole Other Hole”) where a bunch of the girls realize they disagree about which hole pee comes out of and Sophia goes over the female anatomy. I’m not going to say I didn’t know that answer, but I am going to admit (and then run away from the sentence immediately after) that, in other ways, I don’t know my anatomy as well as I should, and one of the reasons this episode stood out (along with containing one of the series’ best backstories for Morello) was the chance to listen in on a conversation I would never initiate, on a TV show I would be watching anyway, as a fan.
With the internet as a resource, there’s this understanding that any question you have can be answered online, and accessibility has improved, but sometimes a second is too long to have a question linger on your search history, before it’s deleted, and raising the nerve to look up answers can be difficult, regardless of whether you have the tools.
Back in May, Fantagraphics included a sample of Liv Strömquist’s Fruit of Knowledge in their Free Comic Book Day issue and, being someone who isn’t the most outspoken about sexuality, this wasn’t a book I was immediately drawn to reading. That’s why I hope this book finds its way into peoples’ hands, because while the cover is far from crazy, self-conscious me wouldn’t have picked it up but, having gotten that taste in the FCBD issue, I couldn’t fail to notice that Strömquist has created something great.
Like an episode of Masters of Sex (which Strömquist references at one point), Fruit of Knowledge speaks openly about everything from why it matters that the vulva gets mistaken for the vagina (hint: one of the reasons involves aliens), to a chapter about orgasms and why the female orgasm’s been touted as more difficult to achieve. It’s extremely entertaining while also being extremely informative, and though with Masters of Sex you had to be wary of creative license, Strömquist has all of her points backed by research, with citations conveniently and inconspicuously noted on the side of panels.
One mention of the word “citation” and you think “textbook” but that’s where Strömquist’s voice and decision to do a graphic novel prove that this doesn’t have to be a dry or uncomfortable conversation. Maybe the narrator isn’t Strömquist. The first chapter is hosted by a woman in a comedy club-like setting, while future chapters continue to use narration, without the woman making an appearance, but the important thing is that while Strömquist is using quotes and photos, in conjunction with a block ink style of art, the tone is casual and informal – that of a knowledgeable friend who is willing to frame these stories so you can understand their relevance, while giving an overview of how thinking has changed in some cases towards women and their sex organs.
Mostly done in black and white (with red appearing sporadically), a section titled “Feeling Eve” is full-color and has Eve, of Adam and Eve, giving voice to the concerns and anxieties of women. There’s a solidarity to Eve doing all the talking, but also a critique in trying to paint all women as the same – only the sky changes colors but you can tell Eve isn’t speaking as the same person every time.
Always a step ahead, knowing what readers will be thinking (even as simple as including a footnote for Stig Larsson’s, “Not the dragon tattoo guy”) Strömquist has certain characters, like John Harvey Kellog (yes, that Kellog’s), echo narration back to us as dialog. It’s worse when you hear them describe their actions aloud because it means they don’t feel they need to bury them. Lettering is also hugely important, since sometimes the panels are words-only, but by changing the background from black to white, you can infuse them with emotion.
Originally published in Sweden (Melissa Bowers does the translation), it’s nice to have a book look to Swedish history for examples, instead of American. There’s also this great shaking up of the status quo. Strömquist reminds us that sex could’ve easily been geared toward satisfying women. Anything that we accept as the norm didn’t have to be (and sometimes wasn’t always) so. This is a book that understands that women aren’t encouraged to talk and tries to find the root causes. A wonderful resource, and a book you can enjoy while learning something new, Fruit of Knowledge is available to order now from Fantagraphics.