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My guile heroine's character arc is almost entirely sex and manipulation.

I tell (not show) she was a sex worker in the past, it's left ambiguous (likely) that she still is. She has powerplay scenes with multiple characters where she is able to change the stakes during a sexually-charged situation. Other scenes where she has no sexual power, her opinions and agency are dismissed. She is coded as sympathetic – doing what she has to do, and willing to play the game to get ahead.

Her sexuality becomes polemic, manipulative (when she can), and unsubtle. I try to show in each of her powerplay scenes that she is adapting to whatever her target responds to – demure with one, pervy with another, relationship-y with a third. When she can't pin down the hero (it's complicated) she retaliates by turning up the heat towards his co-workers.

Her decision processes are all subtext – maybe she is not even aware of it. The hero lampshades the manipulations by ignoring her sexplay, forcing her to switch tactics and become smarter. He's the foil that reveals her true goals. She doesn't change though. She continues playing the other characters, and once you see the strings she is coded as a femme fatale.

She's intended to be an anti-heroine, whatever that is I am trying to figure out. She's the opposite of a "strong female character" she is a thot heroine who plays every card and has no moral compass. Someone in my reader group called her "the villain".

There are a lot of near-sex scenes, scenes in sex clubs, scenes with explicit sex talk, many many scenes with sexual subtext, and 1 post-sex scene. There are no actual sex scenes.

This is a graphic novel. I don't want to limit my distribution options. OTOH, I have a main character who, on the surface, is a schizo-nympho bad girl going after nearly all the other characters (as many as 8, 3 confirmed). It would be easy to go more explicit so some of this is actually fulfilled. I feel like I have a gunslinger who never has an actual duel onscreen, but everyone constantly argues about what an dangerous gunslinger he is.

How do I decide where to draw the line? I am like this heroine, I don't understand where the boundaries are. Right now I'm strictly telling the arc, showing the character development and story beats. I think it's probably showing her as a worse person than she is intended. We just see the manipulation not the sex, and maybe more important we don't see her fall for her own guile. It doesn't look like a character flaw or a handicap, she's just a trampy b****. Ironically, I'm starting to think I need the sex scenes so people will like her more.

Is there a publishing or distribution guide to how far I can or should go with sexual content in a graphic novel? How do I decide what to show, and would it even work to soften this character? Her arc is actually about "leveling up" so she doesn't need to use sex to get ahead, but it's part of her habitual nature and it's not something she self-examines.

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    resources is a completely legit and helpful tag. So I added it. It also happens to be this week's tag of the week. writing.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2001/… – Cyn says make Monica whole May 9 '19 at 16:37
  • Is it the actual sex that she uses to manipulate, or the promise of sex without the delivery? Also keep in mind that in today's society a woman who uses sex to charm others is a mine field of unfortunate implications. I'd recomend that you explore her as manipulative without involving sex. There are straight guys who can avoid the temptation... think about how most of Batman's female rogues try to manipulate him... key word being try... – hszmv May 9 '19 at 17:31
  • @hszmv, it's not so direct like she's a super-seductress, it's more like she figures out what makes them respond – for the Hero it's that she needs saving (which she doesn't figure out), for NiceGuy it's domestic girlfriend. An ex-boss likes kink and wants to hear details. Everyone has a different opinion of who she is, they see she is a chameleon, but they convince themselves they know the real her. A few minor characters just want to knock boots or party, so she uses them for jealousy-points…. So, some actual "sex", but also compulsive con-artist and not a mastermind... – wetcircuit May 9 '19 at 18:11
  • She's suppose to make you feel a lot of things. Like an anti-hero, she does all the wrong things and lacks a moral compass, but I need people to like her and root for her, and worry when her lies collide or her plans fail. – wetcircuit May 9 '19 at 18:14
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Comics have an age rating system similar to videogames, but it's not completely standardized.

Marvel and DC, the biggest comics producers, have slightly different systems from each other. And here's yet another system for English language Manga. They're all based mostly on ages but they divide them up differently. 13+, 15+, 16+, etc.

Comixology (the Amazon-owned digital comic/graphic novel service) has their own rating system.

For example, my spouse's comic series on Comixology is rated 17+ because it has boobs and butts and frankly shows sex happening, but without showing genitals. His publisher's only restriction was "no erect penises" (which the artist had in fact included in one scene).

This change seems to be the line between "for adults" and "porn." Frankly, I'm glad for the change because it's fairly easy to promote mature works (the level of sex is similar to the TV series Game of Thrones) because they're still mainstream, but very hard to promote something people might consider pornography.

My spouse's comic also has a similar sexual content to the popular Sex Criminals comic series. Both are rated 17+ in Comixology but only the latter has the addition:

This series is rated Adults Only
DISCLAIMER: graphic sexuality contenu sexuel explicite

So, no, there isn't a guide to tell you what rating your work would get. Because they're all a bit different. Even in the same place, there may be differences. American movie age ratings are more long-standing and are better standardized, though there are still weirdnesses (come on, an R rating for The King's Speech?).

What I can tell you is no comic store or bookstore I've spoken to about carrying my spouse's comic cares at all that it is for adults only. Even our local public library carries Sex Criminals (they now divide the graphic novel section into adult and teens/kids for this very reason) and has told us they'd be glad to carry his books as well.

The only place we're shut out is our local comic con. It's very kids and teen oriented (they support and encourage teen producers, not just consumers). Though there is talk of creating an "after dark" version.

Now, the content of the comic did influence which publisher would take it on (and it very much limited the choice of publisher) and there are some platforms that won't take it. Also, revenue boosters like Patreon don't allow adult material.

Your work would definitely not be for children. Where the cutoff is among the teens (13+? 15? 17?) will depend on the specifics of your content. Visuals are a lot more important than words (young adult novels can have sex scenes) but it's hard to tell where you'd land.

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    Despite the weirdnesses, American film ratings are standardised because films are submitted to a ratings board which determines the rating. The ratings are actually owned by the board and studios can't declare them (except for X; anyone can call their film X-rated). There is no ratings board for comics (thankfully!) although for obvious reasons they informally follow the film ones. – El Cadejo May 9 '19 at 17:40
  • This doesn't sound as scary as I thought. I can go a lot further without having squish-squish and genitals – like Amadeus suggests. 17+ means they can buy stuff online. I will look at Comixology 17+, and the titles you suggest…. I think my idea of "adult comics" might be out-dated from the '90s – I remember little latex anime fairy women having pornographic sex with bugs. – wetcircuit May 9 '19 at 18:26
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    @wetcircuit LOL! Well that genre probably still exists. Along with last decade's tentacle sex. I haven't kept up on what's the latest and greatest. – Cyn says make Monica whole May 9 '19 at 20:09
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Although I personally have no problem either writing or reading explicit sex scenes (sex is a form of entertainment, after all), if you feel constrained by your distribution options, I would make the fact that sex occurred more explicit, and leave no doubt in the mind of the audience that yes, sex occurred, she screwed this guy to get a promotion or whatever it is she wanted.

In movies, to maintain their PG13 rating, they go all the way to the kissing and removing each other's clothing stage, we'll often see the naked back of a women or a naked woman in embrace before the fade out. Then we fade in with people that are clearly naked in bed after sex; or are waking up after literally sleeping together.

There is no doubt in the adult minds of the audience that they had sex.

I think that is all you really need for your character; less teasing about how she will use sex and more actually using sex as a tool of persuasion, payment, or blackmail. Make her go all the way, unashamedly and without regrets. Make sure your fade out and fade in points leave no doubt about what happened in-between. Prove she is not just a tease. Two or three times should be sufficient to establish the pattern, that this is how she operates.

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