Tina Horn has built a career writing about the politics and culture of sexuality. Her articles have appeared in Rolling Stone, Allure, Vice, and many other publications. In addition to advocating for sex workers, feminist adult entertainment, and other causes, she has also written a comic book series. Titled SfSx (Safe Sex), this series explores a dystopian future in which sexuality is controlled by the government and a conservative political party while a group of LGBTQ+ sex workers combat this oppression. Wanting to learn more about SfSx (Safe Sex) as well as Horn’s career, I was able to interview her for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved reading? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Tina Horn: I was such a voracious book lover growing up that we actually had rules in my home about when I was not allowed to read! I loved A Wrinkle in Time and all its sequels. Everything Douglas Adams. Later on when I got into comics, I loved Sandman, The Invisibles, Preacher, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer… in fact as I write this I’m realizing I have a tattoo of the Key to Hell from Sandman, the tesseract from A Wrinkle in Time, and a Don’t Panic reminder from Hitchhikers Guide, if you needed proof that I’m constantly revisiting all of those books! So, I guess I like twisted supernatural stories with a lot of irony and dark humor.
Yanes: Much of your work centers on exploring human sexuality as well as educating people on this subject. While you have been on this journey, what bits of information have taken you by surprise?
Horn: I’ll never stop being surprised by how threatened people are by other people’s tastes in pleasure.
Yanes: The comic book medium is often associated with fantasy and science fiction genres. In your in opinion, what are some fantasy and science fiction stories you think do a great job exploring and deconstructing concepts about sexuality?
Horn: Anything Sam Delany or Ursula K Leguin! This one’s a bit of a cheat because it’s more horror, but Octavia Butler’s Fledgling uses a vampire tale to talk about the way love and lust and pheromones help us to choose our family; it also tackles the taboos of non-monogamy and trans-generational love with the most compelling monster allegory of this century so far.
Ex Machina is one of the savviest movies about gender I’ve ever seen. It uses AI to explore the ways men project their fantasies about sex and heroism onto women. They do it to the point that the woman might as well be artificial. Crucially, the movie is ultimately about the triumph of female agency and consciousness as more powerful than anything men can imagine.
Yanes: One of your recent projects is the comic book series SfSx (Safe Sex). What was the inspiration behind this story?
Horn: SfSx is not a memoir about my life, but it’s definitely a true story about my subcultural families. Queers, sex workers, kinky perverts, erotic art makers, sluts: those are my people. My life’s work before starting to write genre fiction was reporting about and documenting the joys and struggles of my communities in the sexual underground. For this comic, I got the chance to put all the ideologies and imagination from my nonfiction discourse into an action thriller full of cliffhangers, chase scenes, torture, mutilations, imprisonment, tragic romance, teams, plans, and cool outfits. I hope to keep making entertaining stories inspired by the things I care about for the rest of my life!
Yanes: SfSx (Safe Sex) is your first comic book. Given your experience in other publishing sectors, I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on how the comic book industry is distinct from other forms of publishing? Specifically, were there aspects of comic book publishing that surprised you?
Horn: One thing that I like so far about having a series at Image is that I can treat the work like a small business, which I’m used to as a freelancer in the gig economy (and also informal economies). I get to make choices about my collaborators, about content and aesthetics, about hidden meanings. I get to speak unmediated to the press like I’m doing right now, and make my own merch collaborations with a fellow queer sex working entrepreneur, Jacq the Stripper, on a Dirty Mind merch line on her site Strippers Forever. I have to manage the money, but my spreadsheet game is strong! And so far, everyone I’ve met has helped and encouraged me to make the best book I can. I’m kinda in love with this industry, to be honest! And it broke my heart once already, which just made me more resilient. Which you have to be as a professional creative, especially when you’re disenfranchised and trying to tell stories that are, apparently, very threatening to people.
Yanes: SfSx feels influenced by The Handmaid’s Tale. What classic works do you feel influenced you as you wrote this series?
Horn: Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is my main dystopian influence. Orphan Black shares the most, um, DNA with SfSx in terms of dark scifi very much of this moment that centers scrappy women and queers fighting against powerful institutions. I actually took a lot of relationship dialogue writing cues from Jane the Virgin. The Invisibles is my forever influence for ultraviolent underground punk freedom fighters. I’m defintiely emboldened by contemporary adventure comics with really weird sex, like Saga, The Wicked and the Divine, and Sex Criminals. There are some warped influences from Milo Manara’s Click in upcoming issues. I think His Dark Materials is so brilliant and epic. And honestly I’m really inspired by the power dynamics in leather erotica! You can learn a lot about human nature and tension building from kinky porn!
Yanes: SfSx is set in a society in which sexual desires are repressed by a conservative political organization called The Part. While doing research for this story, did you worry you couldn’t outdo policies real world conservatives have proposed? On this note, were there ideas you wrote into the story you later found out were once advocated for in reality?
Horn: It wasn’t so much that I discovered my ideas were real, it’s that as I was trying to use this story to call attention to real life social issues, those issues got worse. The dystopia accelerated beyond the absurd levels I’d written. FOSTA SESTA is an example of a law that claims to be about protecting sex workers but causes them greater harm. That and the recent laws about LGBTQ job discrimination just prove that we’re already living in the dystopia, and we already have to band together to rise up!
Yanes: One of the many great things about SfSx is Michael Dowling’s artwork. How did you know Dowling was the right artist for your project? Also, what was it like so closely working with an illustrator for this project?
Horn: Dowling established a world that is very serious and vividly real, and I’ll always be grateful to him for that. We did an overhaul when we switched to Image, and we’re bringing in new artists to round out the Protection arc. Starting with the hilarious Alejandra Gutiérrez for an exceptionally raunchy pop-in issue 3 (which is out now)! Starting with Issue 5, Jen Hickman will be the new series artist; they have a stylishness and a sort of creepy sensual grace that I think is truly perfect for this series. I know everyone is going to love how they’ve build on Dowling’s foundation. I also need to shout out Tula Lotay and Katie Skelly, my cover artists, who have brought a sinister sexiness to the book’s entire look, and Laurenn McCubbin, who designed the zine/mix tape backmatter of my dreams.
Yanes: When people finish reading SfSx (Safe Sex), what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Horn: I want people to care about the characters, feel wowed by the visuals, and get a rush of excitement from all the adventure (and all the sex)! I truly believe in the power of social satire and science fiction to change hearts and minds. I hope people realize that the heroes of SfSx are the kinds of people whose freedom is violently snatched away right before everyone else’s freedoms are compromised, too.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Horn: We’re definitely going to make a second arc to SfSx: I can’t really say too much yet, because the Protection arc still has some serious twists comin’! I’m working on a big audio documentary about phone sex in the 90’s. Jen Hickman and I have a very weird intergalactic short story in the queer horror anthology Theater of Terror which is cover to cover excellent. And maybe some day a tv version of SfSx! In the meantime, the best way to get insight into my raw unfiltered dirty mind, and to meet the kinds of real life people who inspired SfSx, is to listen to six years and counting of my conversation podcast Why Are People into That?! wherever you pod.