Don’t let the bright lights in PEEPLAND’s pages fool you into thinking this story is sweet. This graphic novel is rife with pain, suffering and death. There are some moments of rightful justice, tender warmth, and laugh-out-loud humor. PEEPLAND is a story that I would not hesitate to call beautiful. However, it’s not for the faint of heart. This story is surprisingly honest, realistic and harsh in how it handles the fate of its characters. Writers Christa Faust and Gary Phillips, along with artist Andrea Camerini, craft a beautiful work of art together.

So, cash in your token and sit down. You’re about to read something you won’t forget.

Not Some Sweet 80s Nostalgia

Image courtesy of Titan Comics.

PEEPLAND takes place in the winter of 1986. It follows many characters, several of whom are tied to the Peep-O-Rama peep show near Times Square. On Christmas Eve, a notorious videographer named Dick drops off a tape at the Peep-O-Rama in a hurry. He then vanishes from sight. Later on, when Roxy watches the tape, she finds herself at the center of a cover-up. She and her peers get caught in a whirlwind of police misconduct and brutality, gang influence, and murder. From the first issue, PEEPLAND doesn’t stop racing towards a dreary, brutal climax.

Though some of the plot is typical of crime fiction, much of the nuance is new and interesting. It uses these worn out tropes in order to shed a new light on certain identities and lifestyles. I’m always on the look out for positive representation of marginalized groups. One I rarely ever find is positive portrayals of sex workers. Because PEEPLAND puts sex workers with healthy relationships and strong virtues at the center of its story, it has won my heart. For once, a sex worker wasn’t a dead victim on an episode of LAW & ORDER. They’re real, expertly written characters who are the only people not touched by the moral corruption of 1980s New York.

READ: Interested in more noir comics? Check out our article on 5 Noir Comics you have to read!

Fiction but Completely Real

Image courtesy of Titan Comics.

Sex work is everywhere, from prostitution to pornography to working at a strip club. Yet, because it is taboo, we rarely talk about sex work in a productive, educational way. Due to writer Christa Faust’s experience in an actual peep booth, depictions of the environments and people show an amazing insight into a world we rarely get to see. Faust expands on her personal experiences in the bonus material section of this graphic novel.

She also explores the different experiences belonging to sex workers of color and different sexualities. For example, much of the story revolves around Aiesha, a queer black sex worker and her girlfriend, A.J. An especially poignant character is Roxy’s grandfather, Leo, a gay man who suffers from AIDS. By acknowledging these specific struggles, Faust adds to the realism of the story she’s telling.

WATCH: Interested in learning about queerbaiting in media? Check out this episode of Intellectual Property!

What also added to PEEPLAND’s realness was the exploration of New York City. As a New Yorker, I wish I could show people exactly how different various areas are from one another. In PEEPLAND, the story takes us from Times Square to Spanish Harlem to Hell’s Kitchen and further. We get to see different people, occupations, and histories. But the focus is truly on the underground of New York that art and stories often look over: the sex workers, the homeless and the poor kids.

It’s this realism that makes this comic so harrowing. Because violence against sex workers is astronomical, because young brown boys have been killed by the police, because there are harsh realities bubbling under New York every day, this comic hits hard. There are some scenes in PEEPLAND that I would dub some of the most powerful in comics — or media in general — this year. In particular, one instance brought real tears to my eyes. After cops pull the character Lorenzo into a police car for little to no reason, the young black boy yells at the cops, “I want to call my mother! I have rights!” “You ain’t got shit,” the cops reply. They push him into the backseat and harass him, using physical violence and racial epithets.

Respectful, Dynamic Art in PEEPLAND

Image courtesy of Titan Comics.

Artist Andrea Camerini takes a controversial setting and cast of characters and renders them beautifully. At no point in time did I think the peep show setting was just a ploy to draw naked women. The nudity is purposeful whenever it appears. The colors in the art are excellent, from the rosy pinks of the Peep-O-Rama to the dreary grays of the New York streets. Each scene is dynamic and fluid — the characters never seem like they’re standing still. The detail and effort directed towards the art is obvious.

READ: Interested in more comics that explore sexual taboos? Check out our analysis of SUNSTONE!

Though the story is fantastic and gripping, were it not for the art, PEEPLAND might slip between the cracks as just another crime story. The graphic novel medium allows for a new way to tell a story. In addition, if anyone tells you that the comic medium is for kids, just show them this. Not only is the content mature, but the quality of its execution is nearly perfect regarding every aspect. The story, writing and art go far beyond the quality of much of children’s literature.

I Can’t Recommend PEEPLAND Enough

Image courtesy of Titan Comics.

I recommend PEEPLAND not only for its political relevance and representation, but also because it’s just a good comic. The dialogue is realistic, the story is a page-turner, and the art is flawless. It has all the elements of a great creation, including its uniqueness. Days later, I’m still pondering some of the more poignant scenes. That, ultimately, is the best marker for a fantastic story. PEEPLAND will stay with you for weeks to come.

PEEPLAND by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips, and Andrea Camerini
PEEPLAND is a flawless comic that brings new, interesting, and brutal elements regarding the lives of sex workers to the graphic novel scene.
100 %
Heartbreaking and Perfect

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