Erotic Review Magazine

Not Just Tits and Tentacles

by Belén Bale / 15th September 2017

The future is female (but +penis)

I was never really one for comic books. Both of my brothers would read them avidly: everything from Marvel comics to Manga, but personally I found them boring and stereotypical. Even as a child, I could see that their representations of characters, especially female ones, were unrealistic. Wonderwomen with tits like artillery shells, virginal Lois Lanes – they all seemed entirely geared towards men and their desires, masquerading as action comic heroines.  Of course, there were powerful women within them – Captain Marvel and Black Widow to name but a couple.  But despite all their super strength and heroic aura they were still drawn with the sort of overtly sexual features that men find sexually titillating.

I was even more sceptical about erotic graphic novels. To ignorant me they seemed even worse: the rise of Hentai and the stigma surrounding it as something disgusting had been with me since secondary school, where everyone claimed to have seen ‘that video’ of Japanese tentacle penetration.

Evidently being just as queer and lonely as I was – Julie Maroh, Le bleu est une couleur chaude (2010)

The only novel I really enjoyed  that transcended both these genres was Le bleu est une couleur chaude by Julie Maroh, which I told everyone was for practice for my French GCSE (but was actually just because I was a lonely queer and wanted to see what other lonely queers got up to).

Society has a particular, slightly discriminatory, view of what comic books need to be – at least in a provocative, sexual sense – and this superior attitude has self-fulfilling effects on what comic book authors themselves choose to put out. In the last 50 years, Marvel hasn’t really changed its representation of women much at all – and probably doesn’t intend to. There are radicals pioneering the fight away from the mundane such as Milo Manara and Roberto Baldazzini. Even so, graphic novels, with some exceptions (Melinda Gebbie comes to mind), have a tendency to be very male-focused; this is replicated in erotic comics.

Melina Gebbie Lost Girls at the Opera

When I read Baldazzini’s compilation-style book, Mundo Erotica, he left me thinking that we shouldn’t make a black and white distinction between degrading pornographic images and those of Le bleu est une couleur chaude. In fact, the grey area is where a lot of attention is now being placed –with artists such as Baldazzini placed at the forefront of the new style of erotic art today.

His drawing style is instantly recognisable: a widespread use of traditional ‘pin-up’ 50’s features juxtaposed alongside a range of BDSM themes makes for a unique read.  These beautiful, classically ‘feminine’ faces with not a hair out of place are scattered throughout his work, often in scenarios of power and domination. Heroines such as the housewife-turned-dominatrix Chiara Rosenberg, sporting her pixie cut and black leather corsets are at once very erotic in terms of their character and their appearance, but also headstrong, complex and ultimately powerful characters.

‘Housewife-turned-dominatrix Chiara Rosenberg’ from Chiara Rosenberg 1996

Baldazzini’s representation of gender is also different: the traditional, über-masculine and über-feminine characters in Marvel aren’t apparent in his work. Instead, there’s more of a focus on the similarities between the two. Casa HowHard sees the introduction of women with penises. Although these could be interpreted as transgender women, Baldazzini prefers to use them as devices to show the feminine side to masculinity. Here the penis is something which is only common to men, rather than something that defines masculinity, and while at first glance they have traditionally feminine ‘comic-book’ features – glamorous faces, suggestive lips and large breasts – the appearance of male genitalia is a visual oxymoron. And it works well.

Roberto Baldazzini, Intimità (Intimacy), illustration for Blue magazine no. 123, 2001

What differentiates Baldazzini from the run of the mill bande dessinnées adultes or their Italian counterparts is not just the sophistication of their stories. They portray scenarios, which aren’t a mock of fetishism, but more a celebration of it, the opposite of kink shaming. They’re  an extreme middle finger to the world of missionary and, ultimately, boring, conventional sex.

‘An extreme middle finger to the world of missionary and, ultimately, boring, conventional sex’. Roberto Baldazzini Title page illustration for CasaHowHardLa grande Sfida (The Great Challenge), 2001

Comic books are easily categorised. Perhaps too easily. We need to work on the distinction: kids’ comic books are mostly about story and characters. Erotic graphic novels and comics are an expression of sexuality and sensuality that should be shared, appreciated for what they are: arousing material that hovers somewhere between sex and entertainment. Although you can have both…

Roberto Baldazzini (2017) Mundo Erotica: The Art of Roberto Baldazzini, Korero Press

The future is female (but +penis)

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