Grand Slam Romance
Writer: Olivia Hicks
Artist: Emma Oosterhous
Editor: Abrams ComicArts Surely
There’s a difference between sex in comics and excitement in comics. Illustrating sex doesn’t necessarily mean indulging or promoting arousal. Sometimes it can just be a means to an end, to celebrate or to shock or challenge an idea. Creating space for excitement, telling a story that makes readers bite their lip reading a comic, well, that’s something else entirely. I can’t really think of a comic that succeeds convincingly, to be honest. That is until I read Olivia Hicks And Emma Oosterhous‘ Grand Slam Romance.
There is no way to prepare yourself for this book. Like the mysteries of the attraction itself, you must jump in, follow through, and enjoy every minute of it. Grand Slam Romance follows a softball league that has among its star players the Magical Girls who are basically super saiyan versions of themselves that represent the power of Queerness unleashed. There is a bit of Sailor Moon in them as their transformations see a change of gear and uniform with colorful special effects and lots of electricity to heighten the effect.
On one side we have Mickey Monsoon, a star pitcher of the genre who turns teams into championship contenders. On the other, Astra Maxima, a Magical Girl who bends her opposing teammates under her sexual energy. Monsoon and Maxima have a past, and from there things get hot, very hot, spicy, and then emotional (mixed with hot).
Hicks’ script is punchy and fast. The characters exchange lines back and forth with a playful force that keeps the reading pace at a high kinetic level. Each player, whether central or secondary, feels staged. These are not generic faces used for set dressing. They contribute to conversations, have feelings and carry specific traits that readers can relate to. It’s as if the mentality of the softball team carries over to how the story is told. Romance books can be quite intimate and, in places, isolated. Here, it’s teamwork.
That excitement I was talking about earlier, about the few books that manage to get this across, comes from Hick’s stellar character work and sharp humor. There’s a desire to explore different aspects of comedy and sex in the hottest situations that aren’t afraid to get silly, sometimes, to take things further. Monsoon and Maxima are wrapped around each other one moment only to later be embroiled in a conspiracy involving a horse the next. While all of this is happening, Hicks knows when to slow down to let the characters open up about their frustrations and how that can lead them down a self-destructive path.
Oosterhous is fully aware of the emotional and sexual arcs these characters possess, illustrating them with an unapologetically raw energy that makes each element feel unique and honest in the story. A lot is due to the amount of vivid detail present in each panel. Rooms have colorful posters or clothing scattered around that appear to belong specifically to the character who owns them. Softball uniforms, bats, and Magical Girl outfits all come with specific fits, wrinkles, and variations that make each player feel like a special and crucial part of the unit.
Oosterhous’ approach to sex scenes is particularly seductive. They are not explicit. Rather, they’re orchestrated around intimate highlights that bring you closer to the characters involved. Each of the moments that make it onto the page tease something steamier, and it allows the reader to fill in the blanks. It generates a lot of sexual power and it trusts the reader to go as far as they want without forcing the outcome. In this direction, Grand Slam is pretty cheap when it comes to those scenes, but it actually makes those sequences feel more intense. They eventually become more engaging for the reader given that the moments they get are more than enough to fire up the imagination.
In addition to all this, Hicks And Oosterhouse still manage to deliver a legit sports story with stakes building with every game. Monsoon considers show jumping teams, tournament rankings play a part, and concerns about outside influences making their way to the field all converge to tell a fully formed softball saga. Hicks provides color commentary in a fun yet compelling way regarding the sport while Oosterhous ensures the flow of the game carries weight. It even features a Jason Statham doppelgänger who plays like a classic sports enthusiast who fights his way into the league’s most important games by failing to the top. Not a beat is missed.
Grand Slam Romance is in a separate category. I’m not just saying that. Hicks and Oosterhous have successfully harnessed a particular type of excitement that invites imagination and invites exploration. The only other book I can think of that manifests this, to some degree, is Matte Fraction And Zdarsky chipIt is Sex criminalsbut they are not the same. Grand Slam RomanceQueer’s heart beats to a different beat, blending sports, romance, and sex for an experience that’ll have you keeping the book by your bedside for repeat visits.