Smash Pages Q&A: Sophia Foster-Dimino on ‘Sex Fantasy’

The creator of the minicomic-turned graphic novel discusses the new collection from Koyama Press, process and much more.

Sophia Foster-Dimino has been making comics for years. A designer who worked at Google for years, she crafted a number of the famous google doodles, in addition to other projects. She’s drawn the webcomic Swim Thru Fire, which was written by Annie Mok, and a number of short comics, but Foster-Dimino is best known for her minicomic series Sex Fantasy. The series manages to both live up to and not fulfill all the expectations that the name implies in different ways. Each issue of the comic was different but there were thematic links that tied the issues together in different ways.

Last year Koyama Press published a collection of Sex Fantasy. The collection is a small brick of a book, containing the eight issues that had been published in addition to two comics exclusive to the book. I reached out to Foster-Dimino to talk about the book, how the stories are connected and the ways she thought about the 10-issue structure.

I like to start by asking people, how did you come to comics?

I drew regularly from a young age. I think I made my first comics when I was in around fourth grade – they were about aliens. I had read some comics already, from rather drastic extremes of the intensity spectrum – I would get Archie comics from the supermarket, and I’d also read Maus when I found a (potentially misfiled) copy of it in the school library when I was in 2nd grade. I got into drawing comics more in earnest towards the end of high school, but right around graduation I got my first exposure to alt/indie comics in the form of a used copy of Adrian Tomine’s 32 Stories. In my first year of art school I found the first issue of Mome, and that secured my trajectory. I made many comics in college, and published a few strips and pages in Electric Ant, but started publishing longer stories in earnest after graduating – starting with ultra indie anthologies my friends edited and produced. The first issue of Sex Fantasy was self-published in 2013.

Why did you decide on the title Sex Fantasy?

It was a spur of the moment decision for the first issue that wound up shaping (and fitting) subsequent issues. I wanted something attention-grabbing. And also the statements that drive the vibe of the first issue relate to utility, desirability, intimacy, communicability, aspirations. I thought it was an obscure title for such tame contents and that people wouldn’t really get it, but readers have strongly identified with the very abstract overtones of “sex fantasy.” The title encompasses each issue in a different way. In every story there is a private “fantasy” that a character is trying to reconcile with the real world. The “sex” aspect sometimes refers to literal sex, sometimes more to a nonspecific visceral desperation, sometimes with ideas of the contrast between mental and bodily identity (which is intertwined with sex, to me).

Was the first mini comic just a one off project? Or did you have a plan for a series?

I had no real plan, but I knew I wanted to do more. Some cartoonists work steadily on projects for months, but I struggle with focus and attention problems, so it’s easier for me to make work in a flash, over one or two weeks. As I wrangled longer and more traditionally polished projects I wanted an outlet for these intense little stories, which came so much more naturally to me.

At what point did you start thinking in larger terms, because each one is a completely self-contained story, but they do respond to each other in different ways

By the third or fourth issue I knew I wanted to structure the 10-issue series as three trilogies plus a one-off at the end. The first three issues are sort of impetuous one-sided statements – if there’s a narrative, it’s woven very obliquely. The next three have characters and establish a narrative through dialogue. The next three are even more traditionally structured, and refer to real relationships in my life. All fictional work is nonfiction to a certain extent and all of an author’s work is autobiographical in a way, but this last trilogy is (usually) transparently about my real life – even to the extent that I had some of the people involved edit my scripts or provide reference photos. So I wanted to draw close to reality here, and the elements of fantasy are relegated more to the background, as they usually are in our lives. For the last issue, my chief goal was to make a story as literally about the concept of “sex fantasy” as I could. All told, each of the stories address ideas of identity and intimacy from different angles. This is less due to planning and more due to the fact that all my comics are about these things; it’s my chief concern as an artist.

What are the kinds of stories that you want to tell? Reading the book which I know was made over years I can’t help but think that your answer to that has changed since you started.

In a way my storytelling style has evolved, but in a way it’s remained the same. In reading the Sex Fantasy collection you can see a focusing, a development of rigor (and also the drawings are just better by the end!). I wanted to move towards more traditional narratives but also hold on to the experimental vibes from the first few issues. The format helped me evolve as a storyteller – sticking to one square panel per page helped me focus on the storytelling style and the rhythm independently of the layout. And maybe because of this, the shorter comics I’ve done in the 5 years putting out Sex Fantasy are very experimental with the panel and page layout.

How many of these comics are new for this book? Is it just the last one?

The last two issues are exclusive to the book! They’re also the longest issues in the book, partially by nature of my deciding not to self-publish them as zines (they’d be too thick to staple).

How did you end up being published by Koyama?

I had met Annie Koyama at a comics convention fairly early in my career and was very familiar with the wonderful books she publishes. She spoke to me about doing a book together when only a few issues of Sex Fantasy had come out. The idea to make our first book together a Sex Fantasy collection came a little later. I never had the slightest hesitation about working with her and her team – from the quality of the books she puts out to her wonderfully kind and supportive attitude, I knew that Koyama Press was a great fit for my work and I’m honored to be published there along with so many of my favorite cartoonists.

Did you always want the book to be this size? Why?

I like square zines and I like that the Sex Fantasy zines were little four inch squares – to me it supported the themes of intimacy and fantasy. Readers would tell me they felt the same way, too. So I didn’t want to reformat the book to have multiple panels per page or be in portrait format instead. Annie Koyama supported my vision for the book, and I love the way it turned out. Because it’s square and thick, it feels small on the surface but deep within, which is exactly the sense I wanted to evoke.

So what are you working on now or thinking about next? Do you want to keep making short work? Do you want to tell longer stories?

Both. I’ve had a steady output of short stories (less than ten pages) for the past few years, but I’ve really wanted to do something longer. I’m working on a 60-page story for a small publisher and a 30-page story for an even smaller one. I realize comics under 100 pages aren’t really that long, but it’d be a first for me, with my attention issues. As far as a 400-page graphic novel… maybe many years from now. I don’t yet have any ideas that could sustain a story that long. I prefer playing with vignettes and novella-like comics. This past CALA I released the first issue of a new series called Fuck Reality that attempts to answer the unanswered questions of Sex Fantasy – basically, they’re erotic comics. Unlike Sex Fantasy, I’m not publishing or selling them online and they won’t be collected. Like Sex Fantasy, they are an outlet for me to quickly release new work for conventions, and retain an avenue for experimentation as I work on longer more traditional work in the background. I don’t want Fuck Reality to steal the spotlight from my longer published comics, so that’s why they’ll only be at conventions.

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