'Cheat(er) Code' Creators Examine How the Story Isn’t Just About Sex
'Cheat(er) Code' is a fun, hot and surprisingly poignant romp. I spoke with the author S.A. Foxe and artist Daryl Toh Liem Zhan about the work.
'Cheat(er) Code' Creators Examine How the Story Isn’t Just About Sex
Cheat(er) Code is a fun, hot and surprisingly poignant romp. After
discovering his long-time partner Seth is cheating on him, Ken seeks
solace in his video games. And while this is a fun, beautifully
illustrated adult story about banging hot video game characters, it also
adeptly covers moving on from those that hurt you. I spoke with the
author S.A. Foxe and artist Daryl Toh Liem Zhan about the work.
Warning: This interview (especially the last question) includes spoilers.
If you could only describe Cheat(er) Code in five words, what would
S.A. Foxe: Hmm… not the most informative five-word pitch, but I’d go
with: Crasturbate, Cheetah tease, horny orc? That first one is a
portmanteau of “crying” and a word you can figure out. These are the
most common words readers seem to be reflecting back at me.
Daryl Toh Liem Zhan: Sexy, naughty, funny, emotional and colourful?
What are your favorite video games (and/or the characters you found
SF: My favorite games ever are more innocent than you’d think from
reading Cheat(er) Code: I clear my schedule for each new Pokémon
release, waste too much time on Overwatch, and dive deep any time an
Elder Scrolls game drops. My first system was a SNES, so I still have
a lot of love for that era, even though I was pretty awful at everything
outside of the Donkey Kong franchise. I get way behind on new releases
these days, but I did finally play God of War and the Spider-Man
games this past year, and the latter were especially poignant since I
can’t really explore NYC IRL right now.
As for attractive characters, I’m dating myself here, but my original
video game crush was Zell Dincht from Final Fantasy VIII—I attribute
my affection for face tattoos to that JRPG bad boy.
DTLZ: I’m a fan of the first four games in the Silent Hill series,
especially Silent Hill 2 and the amazing soundtracks by Akira Yamaoka.
Other notable favorites are Fatal Frame and Resident Evil 2, but
also games like Uncharted, Little Nightmares, Journey, ABZU and
Attractive characters…. Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2. Yes.
How did you develop the designs for Cheat(er) Code’s pastiche
SF: From the start, Cheat(er) Code has been an international affair.
I’m in New York, Daryl is in Malaysia, and Ari Yarwood, our editor, is in
Portland, so it takes one full day for us all to actually wake up,
respond to emails, and keep the process rolling. Ari suggested Daryl as
our first choice, and I don’t think she could have guessed what
a truly perfect fit he would be, since his style fits the material, he
already had experience with erotica, and he’s a gamer himself.
I’ve worked on projects where the artist isn’t familiar with any of the
references I’m pulling from—which can work, but takes a lot of extra
effort—so it was a huge relief that Daryl grew up with all the same
gaming touchstones that inspired me. Having that shorthand from the
start saved us both so much time, and let us focus on Kennedy’s
emotional arc and the sexy fun-times, instead of having to explain
Easter eggs to each other.
Daryl’s gaming experience fundamentally shaped the book, too. Even
though I’m a huge horror buff, I had never thought to fold in
survival-horror inspirations like Silent Hill and Resident
Evil until Daryl suggested it. You’d think horror would kill the mood,
but it ended up being the perfect transition into the game-world part of
the book, and Daryl’s take on some psychosexual horrors are the perfect
midpoint between terror and visual gag.
In fact, I don’t think Ari or I had much visual feedback for Daryl at
all, beyond a group conversation about representing different body types
in the book. I write full-script most of the time, but I think the magic
happens in comics when writers back off and let artists create and
follow their own inspirations. The finished book has a bunch of video
game nods that I scripted, but just as many that Daryl suggested or hid
in the margins.
There’s a spread near the end, in particular, that still makes me laugh
out loud, even after seeing it 50 bajillion times in the bookmaking
process. I’ll never look at a certain famous plumber or wildly
successful block-building game the same way again.
DTLZ: When Ari approached me with this project, I was honestly wasn’t
sure if my style could really do justice to Steve’s vision for the
story. But I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity pass. I mean, it’s not
every day you get to draw or come up with character designs of your
favorite video game characters in an erotica and go wild with it!
Like Steve mentioned—and he’s too kind—not only did I understand all the
references he’s pulling from these video games, but his draft was
detailed enough for me to immediately flesh out the characters visually.
For example, some of the main video game characters were an amalgamation
of traits or design elements. Frank from ‘Fogtown’ is a parody and
homage of the three main protagonists from Resident Evil, Silent
Hill and The Last of Us. Dash the Cheetah was probably the toughest
for me, mainly because I don’t really draw animals or anthropomorphic
characters quite often. He’s a combination of Sonic and Crash Bandicoot,
but he has to be hot, confusingly attractive—like how we see adult Simba
in The Lion King kind of hot!
In addition to that, the creative freedom I got from Steve and Ari was a
big help in finalizing the design process and advanced production.
However, there are a few occasions where some of the character designs
were only fully developed during the inking and coloring phase of the
Did you always intend to make Cheat(er) Code an explicit, adult
work, or did that come into play as you developed the book?
SF: Cheat(er) Code came about specifically because I got the
opportunity to pitch for an explicit, adult imprint, and I’m not sure I
ever would have told a version of this story otherwise. But I knew from
the jump that I couldn’t write just for arousal, because we all have
access to an overwhelming amount of content like that online as it is.
If someone is going to pay for and read an 18+ OGN, the story really has
to hold your attention between those explicit scenes. I think you
could do a version of Cheat(er) Code that obscured the actual sexy
bits, but you’d lose a lot of the fun and unexpected charm of the whole
As someone who’s worked on both erotic and not-erotic works, how is
the process for publishing/writing/drawing erotica different (if at
SF: Not only was Cheat(er) Code my first (and to date, only) erotic
work, but most of my published writing up until I pitched it was
exclusively for kids! And on some level, writing a story is writing a
story—you still have to have the structure and care you would for a book
without steamy scenes.
But it was extremely intimidating, and not a little bit embarrassing, to
write out the stage directions for sex scenes to email to two people I
had never met in person, one of whom would then follow my script to
visually depict encounters I made up, motion by motion, in my head. It
could have gone gloriously wrong, but Daryl was luckily on the right
wavelength to envision what I wrote out and make it that much better.
DTLZ: Steve got off easy on the little bit embarrassing part [laughs].
It’s also my first venture into a full erotic book, which really is an
interesting set of visual challenges. I get to draw various genres from
drama, horror, fantasy and sci-fi in each chapter, or level, as the
story progresses with steamy scenes. On a side note, since I work from
home and live with my family and share the office space, it’s also
stressfully funny to make sure none of them walk in and look at my
screen and catch me drawing a raunchy gay threesome with an orc!
How did you develop the story and ground it, while still committing to
the somewhat over-the-top premise?
SF: One of the great things about over-the-top premises is that the
reader is either in or out—there isn’t a lot of middle ground. If
Cheat(er) Codedidn’t immediately go to that heightened, kind of
ridiculous place of, say, a lightning strike traveling through a certain
fluid to send you into the digital realm, then I could see readers
waffling a bit on whether or not the book was working for them once we
did get to the game stuff. But since the first 20 pages give you a
pretty accurate overview of the tones we’re balancing, I think we weed
out unsure readers pretty quickly.
As for keeping the heart of the story itself, that’s something I’ve
tried to imitate after seeing it in all sorts of my favorite genre
stories, from old Vertigo comics to surreal horror to progressive
sci-fi. If you give the reader human emotions and feelings to anchor
them, you can get real weird—or real goofy and sexy and nerdy. And
while Ken’s story is definitely not one-to-one with my own experiences,
I pitched Cheat(er) Code not long after the unexpected (but thankfully
not adulterous) end of a long-term relationship, so I was filtering some
of my own raw feelings into Ken’s situation with Seth.
DTLZ: It’s all in Steve’s script, and the emotional anchor that is Ken,
our main protagonist. We have to make sure what I drew is also
emotionally faithful to what Steve has written; that the moment readers
meet Ken in the first chapter, they are ready to follow him to find his
bittersweet, happy ending.
Why was it important for Ken and Dash NOT to hook up, even though the
story seems headed that way when Dash is first introduced?
SF: Yeah, mild spoiler alert, and apologies to the furry community, but
there was never a version of Cheat(er) Code where Kennedy and Dash
hooked up, even though there’s a lot of teasing throughout. Dash sort of
guides Kennedy through his saga, and even though he’s a sexy
anthropomorphic cheetah, he helps ground Ken and keep him focused while
all the crazy sexy stuff is happening. It’s natural that Kennedy, when
thrown into such an unstable situation—both in the video game world and
with his breakup—would cling to that rock in the storm that Dash
represents, which is exactly why I couldn’t let them hook up.
I think there’s a very common, relatable phenomenon wherein you end up
considering platonic friends as romantic or sexual partners after a bad
breakup, because that’s a human being who’s there for you and supporting
you through something challenging. And while there are plenty of
scenarios where you might end up in a healthy romantic or sexual
relationship with that formerly platonic friend, I think there are just
as many more where you end up realizing, oh no, you were misplacing
affection because you were in a vulnerable position.
So as much as Kennedy’s journey is about overcoming his ex and becoming
his own person, the arc Kennedy has with Dash—who plays the role of an
old, consistent friend because Kennedy has played so many of Dash’s
games over the years—is sort of the check and balance to Kennedy having
this no-holds-barred sexual adventure. We need supportive platonic
friends in our lives, too, even (especially?) if they’re humanoid
DTLZ: I love the cheeky sexual tension Steve brings into Dash, both for
Ken and to mess with readers. But I do love that platonic bromance they
have in the end. I’m sorry too, furry fans, I DID draw the two of them
kissing in the double spread montage, in the final chapter (ahem) but I
had to remove it.
Cheat(er) Code is available
from Oni Press, or from your local