WARNING: This article contains language surrounding sex, genitals, and several graphic sexual taboos with example images from comics. Abandon all hope ye who continue to read. Sorry, not sorry!
One of my favorite things about porn has always been that, despite what certain groups might say, porn isn’t relegated to gender. Hell, it isn’t really relegated to anything; when it comes down to it, as long as you’re into the idea of sex, or kink, or pleasure of some kind, then porn just does not give a fuck about who you are as a person — just what you might be into. Whether you’re gay, straight, or anything in between, there is something to be said for things just being objectively attractive – or even artistic!
All of this is to say that, while I understand the general idea of “porn comics with a perspective drawn by straight men” being the last thing that most people desire, sometimes it might be important to take ourselves a little less seriously. And all of that is to say that, well, maybe we should have given Larry Welz’s Cherry (neé Cherry Poptart thanks to issue #3 seeing Welz claiming that Kellogg’s was ready to sue) an actual fighting chance as one of the most fun, most broad-reaching, and most important, porn comics ever made.
The concept behind Cherry is pretty simple: perpetually-19-year-old Cherry is an ordinary girl who, along with her mother and most of her girlfriends, take up the roles of female stereotypes of mid-20th century comics – the nerd, the rich bitch, the milf, etc. – all while breaking that same mold by gleefully fucking everything in sight.
It should be said that, much like other comic strips that were featured in actual porn magazines of the era, nobody really read about Cherry and her pals for the story if they didn’t want to; there was nothing incredibly complicated about them, as all roads generally lead to Rome (which is, basically, a surprisingly detailed cartoon penis in a perfectly pouty mouth), and they often, much like the Archie comics they so lovingly drew from, end in a punchline in which the character in the spotlight gets to make a witty remark to punctuate things. It’s not as if the strip really had a narrative through line – no overarching story can really be found within the pages of Cherry, aside from “sex is great ” – but that didn’t mean it stuck to just porn.
In fact, the series offered some seriously hilarious and progressive social commentary (even more than the already painfully parodic handling of the All-American slice of life) on women’s rights, censorship, underage sexualization, and male expectation…as well as things like time travel, aliens, cavemen, fantasy universes, and still – in the tradition of the underground – shocking with the occasional burst of laughable incest or beastiality. (You know. Just for kicks.)
There are a lot of ways in which the general concept behind the upset comics like Cherry Poptart instill in people. After all, when it comes to erotic comics and porn, the heteronormative lens is hardly anything new. What I feel is often failed to be understood when discussing Cherry, however, is the level of autonomy given to the female characters and their delightfully slutty tendencies, and, really: what’s more pro-female than letting women fuck? But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The very first Cherry strip, drawn by Larry Welz, is “Hot Rod Boogie”: When Ronnie rolls by in his “tuff” new muscle car, how’s Cherry supposed to resist asking for a ride? When she asks for a turn at the wheel, though, there’s no way in hell Ronnie is letting her have a go. That’s not going to stop Cherry from asking at least, and after some parking and necking and “funsies” – the word Cherry uses to say “we’re not going to fuck, we’re just going to fool around” – Cherry finds her golden ticket: Ronnie is absolutely desperate for a blowjob. “Tell you what Ronnie,” says Cherry with a bubbly grin, baring her breasts. “I’ll give you a real nice blowjob if you let me drive your car! I promise it’ll be a real good one!”
And, yeah, of course Cherry ends up driving the car, and, yeah, of course something ends up going incredibly wrong when she does. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out the comedic formula here or in any other Cherry strip, but what does come through is the control Cherry wields in what could otherwise be – in other actually sexist comics – a very male-centered story about a woman having to pay a particular price at the expense of male pleasure instead of by her own choice for what she wants.
Even in some of the more grotesque strips – there are quite a few where Cherry has sex with her mother or aliens or…you know, whatever – Cherry, and women in general, have the upper hand. (There’s a tongue-in-cheek joke to be made about that, I’m sure.)
For example, Cherry and her mom are double-teaming a man who has no problem taking a mother-daughter duo, but he also orgasms too quickly, falls asleep, leaving Cherry and her mother are to finish each other off on the joke of “Well, that was quick – jeez, who needs men anyway?” The subversion is often more subtle, with Welz opting for some (intentional or not) wording such as Cherry being railed by a Bodē-esque TMNT rip-off, who comment that at least they are all “young, dumb, and full of cum” — placing the emphasis on all participants instead of just on the eager Cherry. The examples of these (silly but distinguishing) nuances go on and on.
In all circumstances, the stories — regardless of how taboo, perverse, “gross”, or hyper-sexual they may seem to some readers — make it very clear that Cherry is far from a victim or a passive object of other people’s desires. Instead, she’s clearly the active and eager participant, with the strip opting to show her following her own desires, enjoying sex and being a happy, joyful participant in her own objectification. (An idea still hard to find in many stories even now.) Surely, for all that some of the subject matter may teeter beyond what’s considered a suitable amount of lecherousness for some, this particular handling of female sexuality is an example of female empowerment beyond any puritanical impulse of bygone feminist theory.
So yes, Larry Welz is a straight cis man, and, yes, this is a porn strip where women being fucked like crazy is the focus, and, yes, the characters are all objectively attractive. But when it comes down to it, what more can we want from a female-forward story than a girl who takes agency of her body in ways that make her happy?
There’s something to be said about the fact that, in Cherry, female characters are unerringly attractive, but they also vary in terms of design. The strip includes one of Cherry’s “chubby” friends, who is drawn softly and beautifully; her weight is never pointed out as being anything other than just as desirable as her more slender peers. Again, this is something that feels daring and unusual even by today’s more so-called “progressive” standards.
Even beyond a pro-female standpoint, Cherry stands as something of an artistic statement in and of itself, in a way. It’s not just that Cherry is well-rendered cartoon porn, but that the comic is, itself, just a good comic. In the same way that we expect the Riverdale kids of Archie Comics — one of the most still-beloved mainstream strips to-date — to get into romantic tangles with wholesome spats and slapstick hijinx, one can expect the same from the underground sensation of Cherry.
After all, with part of Welz’ appeal being a big fat middle finger to the apple pie and baseball lens of the actual Archie comics, that didn’t stop him from largely riffing on the traditional Dan DeCarlo/Dan Parent style and offering up the idea that everyone has thought: What if we just let them fuck like normal teenagers? And really…what’s the problem in that?
(About that similarity to the Archie style, though: one can argue that as soon as a character’s eyes are closed, the difference between Archie and Cherry is strikingly up front! Art is funny that way.)
Given its age, the era in which it was originally published, and the current status quo, Cherry Poptart is a strip that at once feels very old-fashioned in its views — parody, hyper-sexuality as a form of shock, etc being a prevalent theme particularly in the bygone underground comix movement, as well as porn comics largely being a thing of the past in general — but also feels strangely more progressive outside of the current day and fewer limitations. (R.I.P. Comics Code Authority, you rat bastards.)
For all that the strip’s cartooning embodies a beloved style – and is surprisingly fun in its rendering of genitals and body shapes – the question has to be raised: are we so collectively distracted by the “porn” part of porn comics that we forget that even porn has its merits as art, and more specifically as comics art? As we move into becoming more progressive in the way we increasingly include Smut For All in conversation, it only seeks to serve the cause that we continue to recognize Cherry Poptart and its similar titles as being ill-served when only considered for its pictures of dicks and clits, instead of for its mark of the era, humor, fun, and willingness to push boundaries.
I suppose, then, we’re left holding our dicks and having to ask whether Cherry Poptart is even worth holding up as a piece of good porn. Much like the nature of porn itself, as I mentioned earlier, the answer is subjective, and is also not here to judge whether you think it’s hot or not. More than just being “weird porn about a horny teen in your area that would probably suck the crown off Jughead’s noggin,” Cherry stands up as a pivot point in where sex and censorship meet; somewhere in the chasm between a commentary on sexism and female sexuality, and our desperate need as modern audiences (no matter when that definition of “modern” is) to fault something harmless for being simply what it is.
At the end of the day, the real loss here is that the conversation around Cherry continues to be about society’s concern over porn vs feminism, as opposed to the wonderful and surprising marriage of porn and feminism, or sex and comics, that things like Cherry moved forward with their brief, happy, and inevitably topless time in the sun.
Is Cherry Poptart an anti-women comic? Is it fuck.