Have you ever heard of the "three subjects never to be discussed at the dinner table"?
They were: Religion, Politics, and Sex
(Which some say are actually good things to discuss with the family.)
Anyway, these three things are generally the subjects people feel very personal about and very passionately. It is sure to get a reaction when posted for public viewing. And usually that's what the artist/writer intends.
Mature Themes used in media
Including these topics in your story is guarantee to bring eyes to your work. Sex Sells is a phrase often thrown around, but it's true. Controversy also sells, particularly political or religious controversy. To me at least, it seems like Mature Themes are used as an advertising ploy to get the most attention. Because attention means money.
Similarly, the idea applies to Indie media too! Web-comics are the medium I'll focus on in this blog. Sex is certainly a seller if you want people to read your comic. Looking at the top comics on TWC, most of the top comics are rated PG-13 or R. (While self-rated comics should be taken with a grain of salt, some of the PG-13 I would actually rate as PG. Although the top comic is properly rated.) Point is that they're rated "R" because of sexual content.
Using them in Comics
As I've repeated the major on the surface reason for including mature content is to get more attention on your comic. Which is not bad. However, keeping those eyes requires you to fulfill expectations. And usually for "mature" comics, the only mature content is sex and usually not politics or religion. So since the biology states that sexual cues for men are visual, pleasing this target audience is as easy as drawing a naked woman...an attractive one at that. Hey scantily clad is all right too, but boobies guarantee more viewers.
I'd like to say I'm joking. But, I won't repeat myself. (sex sells...I lied.)
However, again looking at the top web comics list, the actual content of the mature comics are different.
In the top 10 (for today) there are 4 comics that are "fan-service" with their sexual content, Cru the Dwarf, TwoKinds, Once and Future (formerly Twisted Kaiju Theatre), and Flipside.
For Cru, the advertising is blatant in their animated banner and description. Once and Future when it was TKT had visual fanservice on the banner as well (now it only has reputation). Flipside adds it in the description and shows appealing art. Two Kinds has a fanservice image.
These all deliver what they promise for the most part, some better than others.
TKT and The Meek (which advertised a naked girl in the description) both used this mature content as a mere hook. While TKT does have galleries of explicit images, the comic itself is a photo manipulated comic that uses satire to poke fun at religion and politics as well as using the sex sells method.
The Meek on the other hand fools you. It used "sex sells" in a more base sense that even suggesting there will be nudity and having some nice quality art on the banner would attract attention. In reality, the nudity in the comic is probably not what is expected. The art is styled in such a way that makes the nudity not sexy. While proportions and such are exaggerated (very well), the character's assets are not given special attention such as enlarged size, small waist and wide hips. Nor are her facial features giving any sexual cues. (Big lips, heavy eye lids, blushing, etc.)
Be that as it may, I would hardly consider "The Meek" a work-safe comic. It goes over very mature topics in the course of the story.
-Religion and Politics
Well, I've pretty much covered how sex is used in "mature" comics, for the most part. Religion and Politics probably won't grab as much attention out of a crowd. But there are such things as Political Cartoons right?
There are a couple of ways these subjects are portrayed in comics (that I've commonly seen): Humor , Satire , and Pamphlet.
Humor usually just pokes fun at religion or politics in general. Sometimes it can be considered offensive. Usually if you agree with the view, it's funny but if you disagree it's not. If you are really good at humor, whether you agree or disagree doesn't matter. It's like when a famous political figure makes an appearance on Futurama. (Lame example).
On the flipside, humor comics can be at extreme ends and try to offend to get attention. Usually by singling out a specific denomination's beliefs. For example, the South Park's history of Mormon is probably offensive to Mormons.
Satire I'd like to think as a more sophisticate humor about a subject. Political Cartoons often do this type. Usually Satire is considered a non-offensive way to critique an aspect of culture or human life.
Pamphlet is when the subject of your comic tries to advocate or defend a belief or political view. It can be done subtly or overtly depending on the talent of the story teller. Online, there's lots of Christian themed comics defending an aspect of the faith.
Suggestions for Comic Artists/Authors
Handling a mature theme in your own work is something you have to figure out for yourself based on your moral upbringing and intention for the comic. In my day, I've come across some seriously weird stuff and ridiculous content that's been considered "mature".
- Be Mature Yourself - What this means is be of proper age to view the content you intend to make. 18 up seems fair enough. I've seen "porn" comics that must have been drawn by a very disturbed 7 year old. (At least the art style suggested so. The characters looked like fetuses and they used "censor bars" for the male characters. Meaning clearly they didn't know their anatomy).
- Shock-value vs. Meaningful Story-telling - I've seen some terrible comics that degrade women to pass it off as humor. (Which was really poor taste). Clearly it was done for shock value which is usually just a cry for attention. Meaningful story-telling means you validate having this content within the context of a story or setting.
- Satire and Humor - I've gone over some of the differences. Try to make yourself seem educated though. Don't just copy South Park.
- Prepare the Audience - Obviously, the comic, if displayed on the web should have the proper "warning labels". Depending on how explicit your content is should be balanced with how much of a warning you put on it. Again, mostly due to laws (I think) and as a general courtesy for those who connect to the internet in public places, school or work. (Although, It's bad to read comics at work. >=( LOL. I kid.)
- Learn to draw and write well - if your writing is bad you lose credibility. If your art is bad, you lose viewers. Like I mentioned before I came to a "mature" comic that had a warning pop-up and everything only to find this crudely drawn abomination. It was not sexy or mature at ALL. Actually, this is probably true for ANY style of comic. If you draw and write well, your comic will do well. The top 10 webcomics all have good art OR use a photo/machinima style and have mostly good writing.
There are other themes that would be considered mature such as rape, death, violence and gore. But these follow most of the same generalizations. It could offend certain groups or be insensitive. (Then again, this is the internet...I say no excuse!) I have seen rape taken so lightly in comics and stories that I find it both disgusting and disturbing. Hate crimes, racism and other hot topics are themes that are expected to be handled with sensitivity (if to be shown to general public).