I didn't grow up in a town with a comic book store, so my first encounter with an "Over 18" section was when I actually was over 18. I stumbled into the back section of Providence, Rhode Island's Two Million Year Picnic, and walked right back out again. It's not as if I'd never seen a sex comic before (thank you, Internet), but somehow I instantly felt that all those impossibly proportioned babes were not flashing their boobs for my benefit.

Not so with Gisèle Lagacé's Ménage à 3, a NSFW webcomic that is definitely for mature audiences only. There are naked breasts aplenty, frank discussions of all manner of sex acts and a lot of people watching a whole lot of porn. But this tale of a virginal geek and his gorgeous female roommates (and his gay ex-roommates) takes a far more ecumenical approach to sex than many nipple-baring comics. And while this sex comedy features classic misunderstandings and some painful-looking slapstick, it remembers to be nice to even its most sexually frustrated characters.

Set in Montreal, Ménage à 3 opens on Gary, a bedraggled phone jockey with little social life, walking in on his roommates, Dillon and Matt, going at it on the living room sofa. Beyond the shock of finding out his roommates are an item, Gary's in for some bad news: his canoodling roomies are moving out. Soon, Gary is saddled with a new pair of housemates: Zii, an ominsexual punk rocker with no sense of boundaries, and Didi, a naive francophone who fills the comic's "improbably stacked" quota.

While Gary appreciates having a little (well, in Didi's case, a lot) of eye candy around the house, he fills a bit left out of all the sexy energy. As he confesses to Zii, he's never gone all the way with a girl. In fact, he's never gone a little bit of the way with a girl, and all of his ideas about romance and sex come from pornography. Zii, who can't stand to see such a nice guy go unlaid, agrees to be his wingwoman until he's relieved of his virginity.

I'll admit, for the first year or so, Ménage à 3 wasn't really my cup of tea. I'd followed Lagacé from her work with T Campbell, first on Cool Cat Studio, then on Penny and Aggie. Over the years, her artwork has gone from cute and expressive to simply gorgeous; her grasp of anatomy makes a comic where people are constantly taking off their clothes a natural fit. It's not that her characters aren't likable -- although we're tracking Gary's quest for sex, he's by no means a single-minded horndog -- but they could be a bit one-note.

Gary is the archetypal awkward comic book geek; Zii is endlessly adventurous and prefers physical intimacy to emotional; Didi is a sweet and ditzy blonde; Matt is a flighty bisexual; and Dillon has trouble taking "no" for an answer, even when it's dropped from the lips of a straight man. And the story lines were a bit banal: There was moving day, a day at the park, an episode where Gary and the girls watch a scary movie, and it seemed like the sexy shenanigans in between were doing the heavy lifting.

My good friend Jeff Lester at The Savage Critics noted that I was missing some context. Gary the good-natured loser landing between a pair of sexy, but extremely different babes was drawn straight out of harem manga like Love Hina. The archetypical nature of the characters and ordinariness of their adventures was likely an homage and I was just missing the joke. I suspect he's right; the manga influence is writ large across Ménage à 3. Zii gets kitty-cat mouth every time she witnesses man-on-man sexy times or gets a faceful of Didi's chest. Gary draws manga-style artwork, and Yuki, an old flame of Zii's, is the daughter of a hentai artist. And there's something else I'm forgetting... Oh. Right. The panty shots.

But Ménage à 3 has grown out of its manga-celebrating childhood into a soap operatic adolescence. Lagacé has dimmed the spotlight on Gary and spread it over her growing cast. After all, Gary can't be the only one with problems in the bedroom. Didi begins to question her sexuality while Dillon realizes he and Matt aren't on the road to domestic bliss. And an ever-expanding cast of characters has brought their own dysfunctions into the mix: Sandra, Didi's coworker who is terrible at reading signals, Sonya, who insists she's not a lesbian even as she's tongue-deep in Zii, and best of all, Yuki, who is so phallophobic she sees hentai tentacles every time a guy lowers his boxers.

Lagacé also develops the rhythm of a truly cruel webcartoonist. With so many parallel story lines running, she can heat up one plot line, only to switch to another, less amped up, set of characters. Just as in sex, waiting in webcomics is an exquisite kind of torture, and it's all the more satisfying when Lagacé lets a story arc finally climax. She knows she can't give her readers blue balls forever and that losing one's virginity was never the end of any character's story.

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