Just like a woman

Thousands of men are shelling out $6,500 for hyper-realistic dolls that answer all their needs -- and don't talk back.

Topics: Sex, Love and Sex,

Just  like a woman

Davecat keeps a picture of his girlfriend in his wallet. She’s pretty, with long black hair, an alluring mole under her left eye, and glossy red lipstick. Her sheer tank top shows off her full breasts and the hoop through her left nipple.

Ask Davecat about Sidore — pronounced She-doh-ray — and he’ll tell you she’s everything that turns him on: beautiful, loyal, a great listener. Si-chan, as he affectionately calls her, is half British, half Japanese, which is nice because he’s always had a thing for both British and Japanese culture. Even their clothing style and taste in music is simpatico — they’re both Goths.

Like many born in the sun sign Cancer, Sidore is a homebody, but then, she couldn’t leave the comfort of the bed she shares with Davecat even if she wanted to because Sidore is a 100-pound solid silicone Real Doll.

Go ahead. Flinch at the notion of a man having sex with an imitation woman and classify him: lonely loser. Pathological creep. Misogynist. Potential rapist. Sicko. True enough, some men who have sex with Real Dolls are creepy, the kind of guys you wouldn’t want to be alone with. But not all. Many are simply lonely — some tragically so. Others are disfigured or infirm. Some are oddly sweet, like Davecat, for whom a Real Doll is a “teddy bear with benefits.” And others proclaim their normalcy and defend their Real Dolls as no different than a 3-D version of a Playboy centerfold.

Many doll lovers — or “iDollators,” as some of them call themselves — participate in a confusing online subculture where the lines between art and pornography, the ludicrous and the tender, and fantasy and fetishism blur like watercolors. Spend time talking to Real Doll aficionados as I have over the past year, and you come to understand that behind every Real Doll is a man with a reason.

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Sidore and her plastic sisters are like Barbies dosed with growth hormones and plumbed with orifices (three). While there are other brands of deluxe love dolls, dolls like Sidore are considered head and breasts above their competitors because of their quality and realism. At the Real Doll Web site you can choose among nine body types, 14 faces, five skin tones, six eye colors, a palette of makeup colors, 10 wigs, and three different pubic hair styles. Save your pennies, and for $6,499 plus shipping, you can have your very own synthetic woman sent directly to your home.



Matt McMullen is the Dr. Frankenstein and Henry Ford of love dolls. The founder of Real Dolls is in his mid-30s and dresses like a skateboarder, with multiple piercings and a pretty face. A decade ago, McMullen was a struggling sculptor, making 12-inch nudes out of resin in his garage. For a challenge, he decided to build bigger nudes with poseable bodies that were softer, inviting to the touch. When he posted photographs of his work on the Internet, e-mails poured in asking whether his creations were sex dolls and if so, how much did they cost. After 10 different men offered to pay McMullen $3,000 for converted sculptures, he couldn’t refuse, and it was back to the drawing board to design soft breasts and penetrable genitalia. “I had to make it feel good,” he says. “As good as rubber can feel.” His early adopters were thrilled with the results and soon launched their own photo Web sites. With that free viral promotion, McMullen became the leading purveyor of solid-body silicone love. With $2 million in sales last year, McMullen now employs 14 people at his San Marcos, Calif., company and makes about six or seven dolls a week, each requiring 80 hours of labor.

According to Davecat and many other Real Doll owners, sex with a Real Doll is quite good. “For the most part, it’s just like sex with an organic woman … who doesn’t say anything and is brimful of Quaaludes,” Davecat writes on Sidore’s stylish Web site.

Thirty-two-year-old Davecat is no basement perv. Garrulous and imaginative, he affects a British manner that comes across in e-mails, on his Web site, and in the word choices — “arse,” “bloke,” “fecking” — he uses in our many telephone conversations. Davecat is African-American, lives in Detroit, and is studying to become a court reporter.

When Davecat was a child in a department store, his mother emerged from a dressing room to find him talking to a mannequin who was wearing a short tennis skirt. “I was trying to chat her up,” he says. “I remember the beauty of her stillness.” With Sidore, he’s gotten past just chatting: “I like having her in bed beside me, holding her, cuddling her,” he tells me. “I like to sleep with my doll. I’ll be blunt: She’s a girlfriend.”

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Because Real Dolls’ silicone flesh holds heat well and becomes more pliable when body-temperature warm, Davecat toasts Sidore with an electric mattress pad all day. Aside from getting up for occasional photo shoots, she mostly stays in bed, lying on her side to keep her butt from getting flat and so she’s spoonable. She also frequently wears an athletic bra to keep her 34D breasts from sagging.

When referring to their coital habits, Davecat uses terms like “make love” or “have sex” — and safe sex at that. “I’m one of the rare [doll] users who uses a condom,” he confides, adding that while he feels a bit cheated having to use a prophylactic, it would be too much for him to haul Sidore into the shower every time they have sex. Until Davecat can bench-press 200 pounds, he says, Sidore will have to live with sponge baths.

Davecat admits that Si-chan’s personality is not without flaws. He thinks she might be manic-depressive because she’s “relentlessly perky at times” but also, given the amount of time she spends in bed, prone to narcolepsy and laziness. But generally, she doesn’t disappoint. Davecat imagines that she’s open-minded, a bit sarcastic, an artistic intellectual who, were she real, would walk around with Sylvia Plath books under her arm and go out drinking and dancing with her girlfriends. In short, Si-chan is a girl who Davecat thinks he could never meet. “If I were to go to a bar and try some pick-up lines, the chances of coming home with someone like her are highly unlikely,” he says. “No real woman seems to think I’m good enough for them.”

Aside from Sidore, Davecat has never officially dated anyone. He compares his interaction with women to a bodily reaction, something over which he has no control, much as he wishes that he could meet a woman who breathes. “People who are allergic to roses can enjoy artificial roses,” he says. “In the same way, artificial women serve the same purpose for men who are, in whatever way, allergic to real women.”

Unlike some other doll owners who have no interest in “organic” women, Davecat says he hasn’t completely given up hope. In the meantime, though, he’s considering getting another doll — or two or three — to keep Si-chan company. But if the right real woman were to enter his life, he says giving up Si-chan would be excruciatingly painful, like removing a limb.

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Mike Kelly, a doll lover of a very different stripe, says that when he first heard about Real Dolls on a Web site, “They said they were one step above fucking corpses, and I figured it had to be better than that.” He tried one out, and now he’s the owner of three dolls — Mysti, Jazzi and Britti — that he stores under his bed. He tells me that Jazzi resembles porn star Jenna Jameson. When asked how many times each week he has sex with his dolls, Kelly is quick to correct: He doesn’t have sex with them, he masturbates with them. Twice a week. When I then ask Kelly how he prepares to masturbate with a doll, he says he pulls one from under his bed and applies makeup to her bare face. While he claims not to have a favorite among the triad, he notes that “Head 4 is very tight orally. It has a small mouth,” adding that “if you’ve got a Head 4/Body 5, like Jazzi, you’ve pretty much got it covered. Tight as a drum.” (Unlike Davecat and many other doll owners, Kelly refers to his dolls as “it” not “she.”)

Kelly changes his dolls’ makeup, hair and outfits to suit his mercurial fantasies. Mysti, for example, has six brown wigs, four red wigs and 30 blond wigs, and Jazzi has more than 100 bikinis. When he’s done masturbating, he says he uses the turkey-baster-like implement that comes with each doll to douche it. “You put soap and water in that, and then you squirt it into the orifice you came into, and wash it out with that.”

Each of Kelly’s dolls has graced Coverdoll, a monthly webzine. They are also the subject of a sci-fi series he wrote for the magazine, in which two Androids — Jazzi and Mysti — are on a quest to find a master. In Part 2, Jazzi has sex with the ghost: “With him being so close Jazzi heard the rustle of clothes as he freed his trapped member, at the same time her orgasm hit and sent wave upon wave of pleasure through her Android body. Her orgasm circuits were definitely working tonight!” Meanwhile, Mysti has a tumble in the hay with Princess Take Narusegawa: “Their tongues — one human, one silicone, writhed wetly in the kiss…”

Not all iDollators circulate nude pictures of their own dolls. “I don’t like the idea of someone checking out my girlfriends naked,” writes Gordon Griggs, a 38-year-old factory worker who lives in Virginia. “How many men do you know who like other men to see there [sic] girlfriends?” On his Web site he shares a photo of Ginger Brooke and Kelly Sue sitting on each side of him on his couch, and another of Ginger Brooke in a dress that looks suspiciously like First Communion garb. He also chronicles the wrongs done to him by real women, like the girl who dumped him at the door of the prom, the woman who asked him to baby-sit her son while she went on a date, and the one who “used” him to move furniture.

Griggs tells me by e-mail that he likes dolls with dark hair and light-colored skin. “I always liked the way Morticia from the Adams [sic] Family looked.” He also prefers the “sweet innocent look.” In addition to her white dress, Ginger has a cotton nightie for bed and a Japanese schoolgirl outfit.

While Ginger has shared Griggs’ bed every night since she arrived in 2000, her pal Kelly sleeps on a beanbag chair. “I ordered Kelly so Ginger would have someone to keep her company while I was at work. Kelly has a neck bolt so I can stand her up in the shower so she is easier to clean. But Ginger is still my favorite. It’s ok, Kelly understands,” he writes.

When I ask Griggs how having Ginger and Kelly has affected his life — if perhaps he feels more confident — he writes, “I don’t like being around people at all now … the less human contact I have the happier I am. Yes, I do feel more confident. I realized not long after I got Ginger that I don’t really need anybody … I feel safer and more secure knowing that I will never waste my time and money on another human female that just wants to use me.” He adds, “I don’t have a lot of human friends and only 2 of them have seen Ginger and Kelly, and none of them or anyone else have or will ever lay a hand on them while I am living.”

Griggs is somewhat of a loner in the online doll world, an infrequent visitor to “Hello Dolly,” a labyrinthine cyber haven for sex-doll enthusiasts with nearly 12,000 members and thousands of photographs and message strands. (Out of respect for members’ privacy I have changed the name of the site.) Hello Dolly is a place where all my worst fears about men churned in an awful froth. Here were thousands of men who love the idea of peeling a woman’s face off and replacing it with another, who revel in taking pornographic photographs of their “girlfriends” and sharing them with their friends, men who glory in sex unfettered by the daily push-pull of a relationship, men who might have little respect for the word “no.” On a good day, as a female reporter lurking on the sidelines, I felt like the lone skirt at a Ducati convention, stunned in a testoster-zone. Visiting Hello Dolly on a regular basis over the course of about four months was like dropping in on an eternal gangbang.

By the end of my reporting, though, I just saw the men as pathetic and the conversations so packed with false bravado as to be ludicrous. During one visit to the chat room, the men were bragging about their success getting “pussy” using strategies from the likes of Seduce and Conquer and Speed Seduction. In my generous moments, I thought of Hello Dolly as a safe house where the range of iDollators — from the merely eccentric to the perhaps deeply disturbed — could meet and talk doll. As one iDollator wrote to the group, “You are truly a family of open-minded people and it’s so great to know I’m not alone.” Hello Dolly also functions as an interactive handbook for doll owners. Newbies query old doll hands: Should I wait until my doll arrives to buy her clothes? Is the sex really that good? And old doll hands swap tips: where to buy fake chest hair that can be trimmed and glued on as pubic hair or how to recycle one’s own strays, gathered from the bathroom floor. Or how to rig an aquarium heater and a dimmer switch to heat your doll’s vagina if you don’t have time to warm her whole body with an electric blanket.

Hello Dolly is also a parade where men can show off their girlfriends. Nineteen thousand photographs have been posted, usually with doll after doll in various stages of lingerie dishabille. Some dolls are quite attractive, say with the lovely aquiline nose of an H5. Others — even with exactly the same head-body combination, peeled from the same molds — are ugly enough to scare the Teflon off a frying pan, victims of coral lipstick and green eye shadow. Many photos are relatively innocent — Mari in a pink and red Valentine’s Day corset — and some aren’t innocent at all — Anita Dickens-Hyde fellating a real man in a Jacuzzi style bathtub, the image viewed nearly 30,000 times.

As with Davecat, I spoke and e-mailed many times with Everhard, who is 49 years old and lives in Britain. I learned that his doll Rebecca is old in doll years — her nipple paint has long since worn off and her freckles need touch-ups — but to Everhard, Rebecca is young, the 18-year-old daughter of his second doll, Caroline, who he imagines as about 34. In one photograph, the two sit together, both in hats, dressed as if for an English wedding and enjoying flutes of sparking water garnished with lemon. Some of Everhard’s other photographic vignettes are downright peculiar: When was the last time you saw a naked 18-year-old girl straddling her naked mother in a pillow fight? Last winter, Louise, Caroline’s sister, joined Caroline and Rebecca to round out what Everhard calls his harem. He thought of just ordering an extra face for Caroline’s body — it would have been much less expensive, just $500 — but ultimately rejected the idea because without a third body, sisters Caroline and Louise would never meet except when disembodied.

As with Davecat, relationships have eluded Everhard. “You see boys and girls walking around together, but how they get together is a huge mystery to me,” he says. “I just want to know, how does it happen?” he asks me, not, I think, entirely rhetorically.

So for Everhard, his harem offered a solution: He says he’s driven to impress women, but he’s a failure at it, and since he’s had his dolls, he worries less about not having a real girlfriend. “Real dolls are imitation women. They are only an approximation to the real thing. To the best of the real thing,” he emphasizes. Hello Dolly gives him his only chance to squire a beautiful woman. “With Real Dolls, you can’t walk down the street and make everyone envious,” he says. “[Hello Dolly] is an equivalent.”

Hello Dolly also functions as a clubhouse, and a clearinghouse of Real Doll information, where owners share their travails, as Everhard does of his repeated surgeries on Caroline’s floppy left ankle. Last winter, Everhard shared with the group the latest setback. “Caroline’s back is broken,” he wrote. “The first symptom was when I lifted her out of bed this morning. Her body seemed ‘stretchy’ … In retrospect I am certain it was broken when we were having sex in bed this morning.”

Everhard set to work repairing Caroline, documenting the process in photographs and mechanical drawings he posted for the group — the propping up of her hips, the cut into the small of her back, a belt hoisting her backbone close to the surface. Then a photograph shows the belt striking her bare buttocks. “And this for all the trouble you’ve caused me …(whack),” the caption reads.

While Everhard is a fix-her-yourself kinda guy, he also lives too far from the master doll healer and dealer, Slade Fiero, to ship his girls for repair even if he wanted to. Fiero, aka “the Real Doll Doctor,” lives in Davis, Calif., and is a part-time tattoo artist and the sculptor of Charlie, the only male Real Doll. He scoops up used dolls off eBay or from owners who know of him and want to dump their dolls, repairs them if they are worse for the wear (most are), and resells them.

Fiero’s Web site documents breast, head, knee, wrist, butt, hip and neck surgery; wrist repair; and crotch fill. Some doll damage is normal wear and tear — even dolls that are stored properly and bathed regularly can develop a torn breast or “compression fractures” around the vagina. Recently Fiero “realigned” a doll’s vagina and anus and sold her for $5,000 to a fellow who arrived at his house, paid cash, and hauled the doll away in the bed of his pickup truck. “That doll was worth more than the truck he drove away in,” Fiero remarks.

Some of Fiero’s stories are the stuff of horror films. He once got an e-mail from two garbage collectors who found a Real Doll hacked to pieces in a dumpster. One owner sent Fiero a mutilated corpse of a doll. “The jaw in the doll was still in her skull, but behind her neck. Her hands were ripped off and fingers were missing. Her left breast was hanging on by a thread of skin, like your bra strap,” he tells me, gesturing at my shoulder.

Another time, an Asian undergraduate student at a university in California dropped his 1-year-old doll off for repairs. Fiero says the young man told him that his parents bought him the doll so that he would stay at home and study rather than go out chasing women. Fiero’s photographs of the damaged doll make me cringe: Her leg was torn off, revealing the steel hardware of her hip joints; an arm hung by an inch of silicone flesh; two fingers were severed; and the cleavage between her buttocks was torn into a ragged crevasse.

“Her vagina was so blown out,” Fiero told me. “I was appalled. I couldn’t believe someone could fuck something like that up so quickly. It blew me away. How could somebody be so callous?

“I was offended in so many ways,” he continues. “He put her feet behind her head and reamed that doll with whatever cock he’s got. He fucked her violently. She was achieving positions she shouldn’t achieve or be forced to try. Her vagina and anus were a giant gaping hole.”

Fiero says he’ll never again make repairs for the student, who he now refers to as JTR — Jack the Ripper.

It breaks Matt McMullen’s heart to hear that his art has been defiled, yet he says that whatever motivates the love-doll market — libido, fetishism, loneliness — ultimately it’s about people indulging their secret side. “Most people go through their whole lives and keep it subdued, but everybody has a thing that gets them off,” he says. “And some people use this doll as a means to explore something that otherwise they may never explore.”

While he does do custom work on occasion for customers who are willing to pay the price or have legitimate needs, say a paraplegic who needs a lightweight doll he can easily move around in his lap — McMullen does sometimes put his foot down. No lactating dolls, urinating dolls, amputees, 7-foot-tall dolls, Britney Spears replicas, or dolls with armpit hair or heartbeats. And no dogs either, as was the request of one prospective customer.

“He asked me if I could make him a silicone dog, because he was a breeder, and he didn’t want to hurt his dogs anymore, he said. He talked like right out of the movie ‘Deliverance.’” McMullen’s surfer-dude lilt plummets into a pungent drawl, “‘Aw, I don’t want to hurt ma dawgs, I like ma dawgs … kin you make me one so ah kin still use it fer the sex?’ And when I realized that he was legitimate, I was shocked. And I just politely said no, I’m sorry, gotta go, click.” Another prospective customer sent nude pictures of his 60-year-old mother, wanting a custom-built replica. Then there was the surgical pathologist who wanted a vagina duplicated from a specimen he had in a jar.

As for the frequent requests for child dolls, those are also flatly rejected. “I don’t get into debates, scolding them, I just say I can’t go there, sorry,” McMullen says.

McMullen believes that, for the most part, his dolls are therapeutic transitional objects for men (female customers are few and far between). “By and large, most customers buy a doll because they just broke up or got a divorce and they don’t want to go out into the dating scene, but they still have physical needs.” A doll, he says, gets them through difficult times, and often they move on. Other customers have used a doll to overcome premature ejaculation.

While in reporting this article I zeroed in on the men I thought of as “the husbands” — the Davecats and Everhards who have seemingly adopted doll love for life, rather than the fetishist/hobbyist set — anecdotal evidence indicates that for many owners, dolls do offer stopgap love, and then they move on. “Lonely men who don’t have anything in their life, they have some fun with it, then they meet the right girl, they sell the doll, and off they go,” observed Mike Kelly. Jagxfan wrote to the Hello Dolly crew that he had a new, real girlfriend staying at his house, leaving him the problem of what to do with his doll Natalie, who was locked up in a closet. His Hello Dolly friends advised him to hang on to Natalie until the relationship was solid, then he could either sell her or introduce her to his girlfriend.

Mike Kelly buys into the doll-as-healthy-transitional-object theory, but also posits that dolls play a needed role in natural selection. “There’s definitely people out there who shouldn’t be in the gene pool,” he says. “This is a way to keep people happy that shouldn’t be having kids anyway.” He added that some men — himself excluded because he says he has a real 25-year-old flight attendant girlfriend — can’t attract high-quality women because they lack top-notch genetic material. Men like that, he says, should just build mates and not spread their seed.

Maureen, one of the craftspeople who works at the Real Doll studio, proposed a more benign version of Kelly’s theory. She speculated that the domestic pairing of guys and dolls is more or less a safety valve. “These lonely guys, instead of going out and causing trouble, they have something like this to keep them home and keep them company,” she says. “A lot of them, it’s like they marry them, which is kind of creepy, but whatever keeps them out of trouble.”

In one particularly animated thread on Hello Dolly, doll lovers challenged misconceptions that “doll bashers” might have about who has sex with dolls and why. Here’s a distillation of their arguments, culled from more than 50 posts:

Doll lovers are not to be confused with necrophiles. Remember that many doll lovers heat their dolls before using them, and necrophiles like their lovers cold. One owner, Bunster, points out that women aren’t accused of necrophilia for using dildos (“dead penises!”), so men who sleep with dolls shouldn’t be, either.

Doll love is not an indicator of violence against women. “A rapist would get no satisfaction from a RD — it does not resist, run or scream, or submit…” writes ric. Technoguy concedes that it is “quite possible that some doll owners may be having fantasies of a kinky or even sadistic nature while ‘using’ their dolls … From a psychological perspective, it is probably healthier to exercise those fantasies with a doll than a real human female who might be emotionally scared or even injured by them.” Zaneta declares, “If I go to hell/pergitory [sic)]/reincarnated as a scum sucking life form for my ownership of a doll so be it. I’m still better than a rapist, child molester, [or] murderer.”

Doll lovers are not lonely geeks who can’t get real girls. Wolverine, owner of Tia, writes, “I’ve had something like 84 [girlfriends] in my lifetime, I bought a Real Doll because I thought they were awesome, not because I was hardup.” Bunster chimes in: “I’ve had some pretty f*cking gorgeous girlfriends in my time, but I’d rather have a RD than be married to any of them. The politics of relationships aren’t exactly fun most of the time — most of us tolerate it only because the physical part is the pay off.” Darkland adds to the thread that casual sex has never been his thing, but he’s “still got the pesky issue of having the sex drive of a football team hopped up on methamphetamines … thanks to Real Doll, voila, problem solved.”

Doll owners are capable of love. As ric writes, “I’ve come to the conclusion that doll owners are some of the most romantic, sensitive, sensuous people around … Many doll owners get a doll because of longing for real love. They don’t want to jump into a realtionship [sic] just for sex, and end up with a broken heart or hurting someone else when the sex fizzles. So, they get sex from a doll instead and wait for love to happen.” (Kelly suggested in a telephone conversation with me that doll owners should be considered a new breed of sensitive male: “If you think about it, they’re the right guy to meet because they’re not going to get you into bed immediately. They’re going to be interested in you as a person.”)

In their heart of hearts, all men would like a Real Doll. Soragesum suggests that doll taboos are a function of their price point: “I would bet money that any single one of the guys [who say they have no interest in dolls] if they secretly had access to a realdoll, if they thought no one would know or find out, would fuck her silly, at least for awhile.”

Doll love should be considered healthy and normal. Technoguy speculates that if Real Dolls were cheap and accessible to Everyman, they would be championed: “then practically every guy in the USA would want and get one for his 18th birthday. It would then suddenly be considered a ‘healthy’ part of one’s ‘normal’ sexual development. Adolescent psychologists would be recommending them, anti-abortion groups would be saying that they were a wonderful way to prevent unwanted pregnancies that had to be aborted, and the law enforcement experts would claim that they would drastically cut down on sex crimes.”

From a clinical standpoint, doll love is a mystery, with no blanket diagnosis that fits this particular brand of lust. Dr. Douglas Tucker, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of California San Francisco’s Department of Psychiatry who specializes in treating sexual offenders, says the pro-doll arguments are not off-base. Broadly speaking, intercourse with a love doll doesn’t signal anything particularly wrong or unhealthy, and arousal by such a lifelike depiction of a beautiful nude woman is natural. “I think most guys would approach this as a novelty and could muster some arousal,” he says, adding that he would hesitate to label men who enjoy sex with Real Dolls pathological. But Tucker dismissed the notion that Real Dolls are no different than women’s dildos or vibrators because lifelike dolls, unlike vibrators, are simulated humans — they have what he called “pull.” “All of the stimuli are telling you it’s human,” he says.

Tucker says that even if a study were done of real men and their Real Dolls, it’s unlikely that a single common denominator would emerge. In the meantime, it’s guesswork. Doll love could signal any number of things. For example, an iDollator with a harem might have been surrounded by dominant women as a child. Or, in the cases where men prefer dolls to live human sexual partners, doll paraphilia could signal severe problems with trust, intimacy or social anxiety. Tucker ventured that for certain men, doll love could stunt normal emotional development because intimacy with another person is a milestone in maturity. Immediate gratification and complete control of the emotional content of a relationship with a doll might make a man accustomed to absolute control with women — a dynamic that would likely not play out well in a real relationship.

Tucker says pedophiles or doll owners with violent tendencies toward women — a group that he speculates is a small subset of doll owners — possibly could use a doll to “rehearse” offending behavior. And while it’s not known whether fantasizing about pedophilia or violence leads to action, in the psychiatric community those fantasies are considered very troubling. It would be dangerous for a pedophile to use a young-looking doll, for example, because it would reinforce his fantasies with orgasm.

Back at McMullen’s Real Doll studio, where a jumble of headless bodies hang from racks like Rockettes at a slaughterhouse, there isn’t much concern about why men want to have sex with dolls, only with respecting and meeting their demand. Seven dolls were lined up in office chairs, clad in black stockings and negligees, waiting to meet that human need. “She’s going to Orlando,” said Maureen as she painted red nail polish on a B4 with long black hair and green eyes. The whole row of sister dolls were shipping that day, packed in closet-size boxes marked with “Fragile” and “Do Not Drop,” off on maiden voyages to Ohio, Washington state, Las Vegas, Utah, Michigan and another one to Florida.

Years of trading in silicone fantasy hasn’t worn McMullen down and there are still new frontiers he wants to explore. Soon, a big-butted voluptuous Body 10 will debut, modeled after an erotic cartoon character called Druuna that has many Hello Dolly fans. Other innovations on the horizon include bodies with detectable rib cages, collar bones, backbones and clavicles; a removable, interchangeable vagina system, for ease of cleaning and sensory variety; and wireless animatronics to enable facial expressions.

For now, McMullen has no plans for a Real Doll robot. While he concedes that the concept of an android love doll is in theory attractive, the technology isn’t advanced enough, yet, to shoehorn a robot into a Real Doll. McMullen doesn’t think that is what his customers want anyway. “I think a lot of people like the fact that it’s just a doll,” he says. “I don’t see the dolls walking and talking. I don’t see them doing domestic stuff around the house. Keep your love doll in the bedroom.”

And those without dolls in their bedroom — specifically those with spouses and families and maybe people reading this story — should keep their judgments to themselves. “It is not weird,” he insists after recounting the many expressions of gratitude he’s received from men, including a burn victim who thanked him for giving him back a piece of his life and a paraplegic who just wanted a body beside him at night. “What if you lived all by yourself, and what if you didn’t want or couldn’t have a relationship, and you were just lonely, and you just wanted to feel that contact? he says. “You can’t possibly identify with that person because you’ve never been in that situation. To feel contact, to feel a body next to you, is a human need.”

Meghan Laslocky is a freelance writer living in Oakland, Calif.

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    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

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