February 16, 2022

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Hard Truths Made Sexy in Sweet Paprika Vol.1


Sweet Paprika Vol.1
by Mirka Andolfo, Simon Tessuto, and Fabio Amelia published by Image Comics

One of my least favorite tropes in romance novels and movies is that of the uptight, high-powered woman whose focus is on her career. In comes the handsome, laid-back man, perhaps played by mid-career Matthew McConaughey, to show her how to stop and smell the roses. The woman usually ends up leaving her job, getting married to the good-looking man, having kids, and leaving everything that she spent years working for behind.

When we initially met Paprika, the main character in Mirka Andolfo’s Sweet Paprika, I was worried that this uptight, high-powered COO of a publishing company was going to be taught by himbo Dill that she needed to relax, let down her hair, and trust in a man if she wanted to have a good life. Luckily, even though Dill is much better than Paprika in having sexy fun, he isn’t really any happier than Paprika. Yes, he’s having a lot of no-string hookups with attractive women, but they want nothing to do with him socially. Both of these people are unfulfilled and both have something to teach the other.

The art is bright and colorful, and the horned and haloed inanimate objects add a lot of fun to the world of Sweet Paprika. Unlike some comic artists whose female characters are Xerox copies of each other, Andolfo depicts female and male angels and demons of all sizes and shapes. The sex scenes are steamy, but plenty of attention and care is paid to the rest of the world as well, especially the fashion, architecture, and interior design of the offices and apartments of the characters. The outfits are wonderful, and show a European sensibility. At times it feels more like reading an issue of Vogue than a comic book. Refreshingly, most of the characters (with one notable exception noted below) aren’t very judgmental about sex. I appreciate Andolfo's commitment to ensuring that all of the characters are named after herbs, spices, or other food-related names (for example, Dill’s adoptive father, Pickle). There are many meals, muffins, coffees, and alcoholic beverages that are lovingly drawn and colored, which makes sense in a title that spends a lot of time on pleasurable activities.  

While a lot of her underlings don’t like Paprika because she often acts like a horned Miranda Priestly, the one who seems the most disgusted by her is her own father.  As a conservative judge, her father views Paprika as a slut. He yells at a kindergarten-aged Paprika that she will surely get knocked up in middle school if she doesn’t stop making her dolls kiss. Years later, he’s scolding her for not having kids yet. He looks down on everything from what she wears to how much she works. There is no pleasing him because he has no respect for her autonomy. I think that a lot of readers may have had similar experiences with their own fathers. Much of Paprika’s sexual hang ups are due to her father’s judgmental, and sexist behavior. Yes, Paprika can be awful to her employees, but when you see the dynamic with her father it’s easy to see that his emotional abuse has colored how she sees her coworkers and employees. What her father says is exactly what parents (especially fathers) still say to their daughters—but almost never to their sons.

It's elements like Paprika’s relationship with her father that comment on how much of society refuses to let women be open about their sexuality. I can see Sweet Paprika being an empowering read for college-aged readers, note that the frequent nudity and cursing likely make this a title that may not be suitable for younger readers.  As I noted in my review of the first volume, if you like The Bolder Type, The Devil Wears Prada, and Younger, you will probably like Sweet Paprika. This comic is more than just a gorgeously illustrated, sexy read. It also has an important message to convey about being open with yourself and others.

Sweet Paprika Vol.1 is available now