Chester 5000 (Jess Fink) – Graphic Novel Review

IDW Publishing‘s imprint Top Shelf Productions has produced a variety of titles designed to deal with more adult material; it advertises itself as producing work of ‘literary sophistication, visionary artistry, and personal resonance’. Some of these titles are things such as memoirs from politicians, crime dramas, and books that deal with relationships and loss. Top Shelf’s latest release, Chester 5000, is something you don’t often see being produced by big comic publishers: a Victorian era erotic romance.

Set in the year 1885, readers are taken to a world of industrial innovation, where leaps in technology are being made the likes of which our own history did not see. Robert is an inventor and engineer, and spends a lot of his time supporting himself and his wife, Priscilla. This means that Robert often comes home tired and run down, and as such struggles to satisfy his wife sexually. Robert turns to the one area which he knows best in order to try and solve the problem: engineering.

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The 1880s was the era in which the first vibrator was invented, known at the time as the ‘percuteur’, though much like the modern day magic wands, was first invented to stimulate and massage painful muscles and nerves rather than certain parts of the anatomy. But the device was soon used by doctors to relieve ‘hysterical’ women, and would go on to be not only one of the most widespread and used medical devices, but would be sold to regular people too (with little to no stigma about owning them and even having them out on display). With this being the era of the vibrator’s birth, and Robert trying to find an engineering solution to his wife’s needs, you might think that he builds her a sex toy of some kind – and you’re mostly right.

Robert presents Priscilla with Chester 5000, a robot. Designed to be able to satisfy Priscilla’s sexual urges whenever Robert is unable to, or not there, Chester is fully equipped with anything that could be needed to bring sexual satisfaction. And whilst Priscilla does start off just using Chester to get off, she and the robot man soon begin to develop deeper feelings for each other, feelings that could forever alter her marriage with Robert.

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Chester 5000 is kind of a romantic comedy story, wrapped up in a steampunk package, and presented with a huge side order of hardcore pornography. The erotic in the erotic romance in the book’s description is doing a lot of heavy lifting, as a single page into the book the reader is presented with images of Robert and Priscilla having sex. Nothing in this title is censored, and the book will go on to show a variety of sexual acts between men and women, and women and robots. For those perhaps unaware that this book is pornographic it’s worth being made aware of this going in (there was a bit of a surprise at the Set The Tape offices when we discovered how graphic the book was). But, the book isn’t porn for the sake of porn.

Writer and artist of Chester 5000, Jess Fink, seems to want to tell a story that’s more than just sex, and if you look beyond the obvious pornographic images there’s actually a really lovely story in this book. I won’t go into much detail as to what the book is about, as it’s best to discover the story yourself as it goes, but it’s fair to say that the narrative has its ups and downs, and that the central characters go through a lot, and come out the other side as different people. And all of this presented without a word of dialogue!

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Perhaps one of the boldest moves in the entire book is presenting it as silent. That, coupled with the lack of colour, gives the book a feel of old silent films, and the story has to present itself in some arch ways at times in order to convey everything that’s happening. Characters can’t have reasonable conversations about their feelings because that’s hard to make work in this medium, so Fink makes everything big, the emotions more extreme, and the scenes subtly simple in their execution, and it works incredibly well.

If you’re looking for a graphic novel that is something very different to what you’d expect to find on the shelf at your local comic book shop, Chester 5000 is certainly that. If you’re after something a bit funny and silly this will have you covered. And, if you’re a fan of erotic comics than this book certainly delivers on that front too.

Chester 5000 is out now from IDW Publishing.

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