Interview: Ana and Callie Talk Writing, Illustrating, Refining Blood Pact
Hi all! Jamie Durbin (aka The Mad Welshman) sat down with Callie and I in August and chatted with us about creating Blood Pact. It was a really great conversation that gave us the opportunity to open up about the game's design process. He gave us permission to share some bits from our interview, so listed below are a few select questions and answers.
TMW: Twine also has visual functionality, and the art, by Callie G, is a distinctive set of grayscale images [...] would you mind going over what you feel is important to the images of Blood Pact?
CG: – I can talk about my artistic approach to Blood Pact a little bit. Ana directed me to use the style I default to when I make my own personal NSFW art, and I think that was a really good idea. I’ve heard that style is easy to look at, particularly for people who have a hard time looking at other NSFW art. Perhaps there’s something soft or safe conveyed by the visual style even when it’s depicting something explicit?
AV: One thing I love is what Callie’s art represents: A cis and trans woman working together. From the start, she was very willing to learn about trans lesbian bodies and how trans women have sex, and I think her illustrations demonstrate how ready and willing she was to do just that. She really nailed how trans women’s bodies look and how we have sex. In particular, Alexa looks like a lot of trans women I know in real life, especially in terms of her breasts, stomach, and cock.
Not to mention, Callie is just fun to work with. She also helped me a lot with refining the story; Blood Pact’s story is so much better thanks to her feedback and suggestions.
TMW: Ah yes, I remember you mentioning that while we were arranging the interview, and I’m quite pleased to hear that! Now, Callie, you’re cis, would you be able to go into a little more detail on representing trans women in the game’s art?
CG: I relied heavily on Ana’s direction as far as how she wanted these characters to look. Working with a cis person required a lot of trust on Ana’s part, and I wanted to honour that trust. I made the illustrations in Blood Pact specifically to cater to trans women and other trans people who might be represented by Blood Pact. Everyone is welcome to enjoy my art, of course, but I wanted those folks to enjoy my art without feeling like they had to compromise to do so.
Blood Pact’s art is rooted in the actual fantasies and experiences of a real woman – Ana herself. The character depictions needed to reflect that realness. I know that the designs could never wholly represent the entire group of people I mentioned, but I strove to include characteristics that the intended audience could say “Oh, I’ve been through that,” “I, or someone I love, looks like that,” “This makes sense to me,” or “This is sexy to me.” Surely not everyone who reads Blood Pact responds this way, but that’s what I was striving for.
TMW: I can definitely confirm I felt the characters felt familiar to me on some level, and definitely grounded in reality, even in a fantastical situation.
TMW: Okay, so, as noted in the review, there are themes of BDSM (Mostly domination and submission) within the work, and, while that’s common in NSFW games, there’s also that somewhat rare element, explicit mention of aftercare, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to educate our readers a little about BDSM. Specifically, about safewords, aftercare, and their importance. So, although we know this, for the audience… What is the importance of both of these terms, and what do they mean?
CG: Safewords are predetermined phrases or words, or physical actions if someone cannot or prefers not to use a safeword. For example, tapping or blinking. One would use them in the middle of a scene or play to dial things down, pause them for a brief check in about boundaries, or stop completely. Both doms and subs can use the safeword.
AV: Real life dominance/submission play requires a lot of communication, care, and empathy. To engage in safe, sane, and mutually consenting play, all parties need to understand, communicate, and respect each other’s feelings and boundaries. Safewords are one way we (as in “we kinksters”, generally speaking) do that: They’re a non-negotiable way to stop a scene that crosses a line. We also use techniques like “Green”, “Yellow”, “Red” in a pinch to say whether we like where a scene is going, need to slow down for a sec, or stop altogether, respectively. But if you only learned about BDSM through mainstream porn, you wouldn’t know that. I didn’t even know aftercare was a thing until I read Sunstone in around 2015… I started doing BDSM play IRL one year later.
TMW: Sunstone is a pretty good comic about BDSM, overall, and I do love Stjepan Sejic’s art! So that’s safewords, folks, what about the aftercare we just mentioned?
CG: Aftercare refers to the things that, typically, a sub might need after a play session to feel secure. For example, if a sub (though, again, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a sub) has been doing things that were physically or emotionally demanding, their dom could do things like cuddle them, say affirming things to them, attend to any injuries, make sure they’re hydrated, or simply be present while they physically or mentally come down from the play they were doing.
Much like the safeword, the levels and execution might be different, but the underlying concept is the same.
AV: Scenes are very beautiful things, but they’re also very intense. They can bring complicated emotions to the surface, or we may just need some tenderness from our partner after submitting or dominating. Aftercare is done after or between scenes as a way to ground ourselves back into reality, care for each other, safely feel our emotions, contain play within its space as play, and most importantly of all, know that our partner(s) care about our well being. It’s a really beautiful thing. And in a fiction story, it also gives us a lot of room for character development.
I took some liberties with Alexa and Felanya’s D/s scene to create an enticing fictional story, but I don’t think BDSM is BDSM without boundaries. That’s why Alexa and Felanya have real boundaries, real limits, real problems to navigate, and real discussions on consent.
CG: Some erotica doesn’t deal with the safety protocol involved with safe BDSM. It can be more exciting for an audience to see an interaction of two characters who are physically and emotionally invincible, totally in synergy with each other in such a way that they don’t need safewords or aftercare. It’s okay to fantasize about it, but that fantasy can’t be applied to real play. Any practitioner of BDSM worth a spit will insist on protocols like these being present even if the chance is low that they would need to be utilized. Doing away with those protocols (or ignoring them) is dangerous at best and a form of abuse or assault at worst. A good analogy for a vanilla cishet would be sex with no condom: generally considered exciting to fantasize about, disastrous as a real-life approach to all sex without any prior communication on the matter, certainly represents an abuse of power if one of the parties has a boundary about it that isn’t respected by their partner(s).
TMW: Mmm, yeah… Consent isn’t always present in BDSM fics, it’s true, and there are certain situations where they get in the way of the contextof the fiction, but agreed, it doesn’t matter what the scene or play is, they are indeed vital to good play. How do you feel about the larger context of BDSM fics?
CG: Works of fiction with and without the explicit description of fair & safe BDSM are both important; neither is better or worse, both are typically fine to explore in the realm of artistic expression. It would be great if fair play and active consent was normalized as a concept, and entertainment where it’s present is important for normalizing it. Fifty Shades sure wasn’t a good comprehensive guide regardless of how people felt about the sexiness of the fantasy being presented. I kinda don’t think Blood Pact should be used as an example of correct play practices, either. That’s okay – it wasn’t really the point of Blood Pact to do things exactly by the book (unless we’re talking about Felanya’s Codex babey!!! [sic]) because it's a personal exploration of sexuality.
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