Graphic Poke

Joe Zigfield
Adult industry, take heed! Be afraid of Neil Strauss. Very afraid! His best-seller, "The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists," has empowered legions of sex-starved men to seduce the women of their dreams. Say what you want about couples watching adult videos, but more guys having sex means fewer guys masturbating to porn.

As the co-author of Jenna Jameson's "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star," Strauss had appeared as our eloquent champion, a scribe from the New York Times and Rolling Stone spreading the gospel of Jenna across the land, giving her memoir a literary credibility once reserved for more "acceptable" celebrities. It was the latest proof that porn had arrived.

But then he went and did "The Game," chronicling his metamorphosis from shy dud to super-stud and inspiring men to trade onscreen fantasies for the real thing. Now, Chris and Paul Weitz, producers of the "American Pie" films are making a movie version of "The Game." If it catches on, more men will be galvanized to give up adult vids for real women.

Even now, Strauss has upped the ante, skewering the adult industry in his latest work, "How to Make Money Like a Porn Star." It's a graphic novel (i.e., comic book in book form) about fictional adult superstar Claudia Corvette, who barely survives a minefield of drugs, suitcase pimps and deranged fans. The book includes fake ads for plastic surgeons offering "all-natural breast transplants from deceased MILFs," "bonus activities" inviting readers to form words from the letters in "rectal gonorrhea," and an interview with Corvette in "Playhouse Magazine" (her ideal vacation: Burbank).

The book may touch on serious issues, but Strauss, who's also co-authored bios with Marilyn Manson, Motley Crue and Dave Navarro, says he's not "trying to make some grand statement" about porn "with this out-of-left-field graphic novel. True, it is anti-pornography in the sense that it explores the negative effect porn has on those who actively produce and consume it. But that should be no surprise. To quote the wisdom I gleaned from that great American philosopher Marilyn Manson when writing his book, 'It's the abusers who make the users look bad.'"

The graphic novel was inspired by Strauss' experiences working on Jameson's bio. He recalls being "catapulted into a world that normally exists behind closed doors: the adult industry."

The latter are a special target for Strauss' ire. "It was often the guy that these girls chose because they thought he'd help them build their career, help them make more money and protect them," he says. "It's sad that they found themselves in a worse place than when they began... dating these kind of abusive guys who lived off their money and then didn't do shit for it."

In the introduction to "How to Make Money Like a Porn Star," Strauss writes about being in Jameson's backyard with a group of adult performers: "One began talking to me about writing a book on her life, and then, like seals at feeding time, they all began barking in unison, competing to tell the most heartbreaking tale of tragedy and self-destruction." He stresses, however, that not everyone "who gets into porn has been abused" and, besides, everyone has scars of one sort or another. "We've all been abused and we all continue to be," he writes. "We just respond in different ways and it affects us to different degrees."

Strauss says all the characters in the book are based on real people. "I met them and picked their brains till they ran out of drugs and went to bed," he says. "They've just been made into composites, exaggerated to serve the gods of parody, or perverted into stereotyped villains to send-up super-hero comic conventions." He adds, however, that Claudia Corvette is not based on Jameson. The only thing she shares with Jameson is "the layout of her house. Though she does have something in common with someone who Jenna and I met together."

Still, like Corvette, Jameson — as well as the music icons Strauss has covered — knows a thing or two about overcoming personal demons and has passed that knowledge onto Strauss. "I think when you start to get some fame and shit starts to happen, it's a real test that separates the strong from the weak," he says. "Are you going to get knocked down by it or survive it and get stronger?"

Aspiring adult actresses, he says, "have to have some inner strength. Something Jenna said — that I think is good life advice as well — is know your borders. Draw your borders and stick to them, as much for yourself as for anyone else. Like Jenna saying her border was no anal sex. And she stuck to that."

After Jameson's memoir came out, other adult performers wanted him to tell their stories. "You'd think that would be a flattering thing, getting calls from all the porn stars," Strauss says. "But they just wanted to use me for my mind."

Strauss thinks there's a market for more books by adult entertainers, and they don't have to be as famous as Jameson to crack it. "It doesn't matter how famous, infamous or not famous you are," he says. "What matters is how well you tell"— and sell to the press — "your story." He cites the success of "Confessions of a Video Vixen" by hip-hop dancer Karrine Steffans as an example of a sexy tell-all from a relative unknown.

Strauss, who's in his mid- 30s, was born in Chicago. He spent six years in the Big Apple as a New York Times reporter and now lives in Los Angeles. As a graphic novel, "How to Make Money Like a Porn Star" is the culmination of his lifelong love of comics.

"Before puberty, my passion was comic books," Strauss says. "I bought every No. 1 issue [and every 100th and 200th issue] of every comic I could find, hoping they would be worth a lot of money one day."

As a teen, he turned from "the fantasies of print" to "the fantasies of flesh." But he didn't have much luck pursuing the latter, and during college Strauss rediscovered his earlier passion, this time in the guise of edgier alternative comics.

Starting with Jameson's book, Strauss set out to incorporate comic art with the story. He teamed with illustrator Bernard Chang, who's worked for comic book giants DC and Marvel.

Says Strauss: "When [Strauss' editor] Judith Regan shot down my idea of traveling to India in search of a hidden orders of monks who can levitate, and instead suggested writing a full graphic novel with Bernard, I leapt at the opportunity."

Music journalist. Porn biographer/satirist. Seduction guru. Whatever's next in Strauss' plan for world conquest, the adult industry must stop him. Before it's too late.