In the thirtieth issue of The Sandman, Augustus Caesar disguises himself as a beggar in order to work out the problems of his life with Lycius, a sympathetic dwarf. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Sandman.
[Trigger warning: this post has to address sexual assault and rape since it’s in the story, so heads up if you are triggered by this!]
So I really want to get one thing out of the way before I can talk about why I did like “August” a great deal. Over on Mark Watches, I often complain about how much I dislike the “forced impregnation” trope that so often pops up in science fiction stories. On the Mark Does Stuff tour, I also refused to read a number of fics that devolved into rape or sexual assault scenarios. It’s generally known around here that it’s probably my least favorite topic to talk or write about, but I didn’t want this to seem like I was trying to earn ~crucial ally points~ or to make me come off as some ~totally brogressive man~ or anything.
I have no plans to write about this anytime in the future, but I’ve been sexually assaulted by someone. It happened numerous times, and it was an awful experience. That’s all I’m going to say. So for me, reading about it in any context, or hearing rape jokes and the lot, they make me feel pretty shitty? It’s like an instant reminder of what I went through. Now, I’m okay these days, and I’ve managed to deal with it on my own terms, talking it through with a therapist and a few close friends who I trust. While I have a few trust issues that linger, I actually feel like I was able to move on. That being said, any story about rape or sexual assault just makes me feel weird.
What I don’t want to do is say that “August” is automatically bad because it’s a story about the rape of a teenage boy. It does make me feel uncomfortable, but you know, that’s my experience. I don’t like making universal, all-encompassing statements. There’s always an exception to those sort of dichotomies. Does Augustus’s rape ruin “August” for me? Not this time, though I’m curious as to why this is the act that Gaiman chose to unravel August over time. I don’t know. But what I feel here is not what you feel. It could be a mere plot point for you. It could shut you down for half a day. I don’t know. But I like the idea that we should have the freedom to determine how a story will affect us. I like the idea that once a story is out in the world, you can’t control what it does or where it goes. In this sense, it allows a flexibility that I enjoy. I want to be able to choose when to feel hurt or degraded, but I also want to be able to say that I find something empowering. I suppose that I hope that I’m doing that with Mark Does Stuff. I like to give my opinion and take on fiction because I know y’all will give me the space and freedom to do so. I want to return that for all of you.
I just wanted to give some personal context for why “August” made me feel a bit strange. Truthfully, though, I did find a lot to like about this issue:
- The coloring by Daniel Vozzo is, unsurprisingly, fantastic. But this particular issue stands out because it’s so pale and light. I love it, especially when it switches to Dream’s appearance and everything is dark and drab. COLOR IS IMPORTANT. I LOVE COLOR MOTIFS.
- This is one of those stories that is so fascinating because there’s no clear motivation until the last few pages. The entire time, I couldn’t figure out why Augustus was doing this.
- That being said, the conversation he has with Lycius is just so gorgeously written. It’s a history-rich dialogue about power, politics, and how those two intersect in an emotional way.
- I know that I often speak of my love for morally ambiguous characters, but I enjoy Lycius specifically because he is so good. He just seems like a dependable, morally sound friend.
- I will say that it’s quite apt that Augustus dismantled an empire and a culture of hero/god worship because the god he worshipped dismantled him. I don’t think revenge narratives always work, but there’s a haunting symmetry between those two points in Augustus’s history.
- I think what Gaiman and the artists are able to convey quite powerfully is the overwhelming sense of loneliness that Augustus feels. These pages feel so alone, even if they take place largely in the crowded streets of Rome.
- HOLY SHIT, THE CROW USED TO BE ARISTEAS OF MARMORA. !!!!!!!
- This issue is bleak as fuck, y’all.
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