This is part of a series on tropes in webcomics with ace characters. To link or follow this series, please use the “ace webcomic tropes” tag on this blog.
This is the last part of the series that I have planned, but I might write more later. I invite you to suggest other tropes, or to write your own articles to continue the conversation!
You might say that asexuality is the subtlest orientation. Often, if a character lacks interest in sex, or lacks sexual attraction, there’s just no way you could know. After all, maybe they experience sexual attraction off-screen. To achieve more satisfying ace representation, sometimes you need something to highlight the aceness.
One way to highlight a certain aspect of a character is to present them alongside a contrasting character. This is called a character foil. For ace characters, I’m dubbing it the Ace Foil.
As you might expect, the Ace Foil usually likes sex. A lot.
Often the Ace Foil is a best friend, or a partner of the ace character. This not only highlights the differences of the ace character, but also shows how they interact with people who are different. It immediately heads off the misconception that aces are opposed to sex, while simultaneously showing that aces are sometimes made uncomfortable by it–or not, as the case may be! Also, in the context of webcomics, the ace foil sometimes allows artists to depict the sex that they want to depict, without requiring that the ace characters be participants.
The Ace Foil can sometimes have unfortunate implications. For example, if the ace character is introverted and reserved while the foil is confident and outgoing, doesn’t that just seem stereotypical, on both sides? And it’s not at all clear to me that the opposite of being ace is being hypersexual. Aces can also make lots of dirty jokes, be very flirty, read slash fiction, or exhibit other “sexual” behaviors. In fact, one of my favorite examples of a foil is in David Doesn’t Get it, where David and Miriam have contrasting attitudes towards sex–but they’re both asexual.
Because of the potential for stereotyping, I think the Ace Foil works best when it’s clear that both characters are unique individuals. In other words, the foil should not merely be a set of character traits that are “opposite” of asexuality, whatever that means. They should have many incidental differences, one of which is orientation.
1. What kind of character would you design to contrast with an ace character? What things would you avoid?
2. How about an aro character, or demisexual character?
3. How realistic do you think it is for an ace to be best friends or partners with their foil?