Erotic graphic novels often feel like thin premises stretched thinner to cram in as many explicit sequences as possible. How ironic, then, that Eurotica’s omnibus volume First Time should deliver arousingly fresh and engagingly readable fiction by collecting self-contained stories based on the simplest, broadest premises. Its ten episodes, each nine pages long, follow a mixed batch of female protagonists as they make their first forays into swing, sex toys, gender-bending and other intimidating kinks with varying degrees of self-confidence and fulfilment.
A showcase of French talents plucked from the roster of Parisian publisher Editions Delcourt, the book honours all the cliché remarks about Gallic sensibility that have dotted its reviews. What makes the sex so compelling and believable is the emotional investiture of the people involved, a common thread to all the stories. Written with unaffected grace by newcomer Sibylline, they treat the reader to intimacies both bitter and sweet: one girl derives as much pleasure from her anticipation to a bit of role-play with her boyfriend as from the later act itself; another crumbles with rejection after unexpected attachment arises out of a lesbian one-night stand; a wife regrets her timid performance in an orgy club as she contemplates her husband’s exploits – “This evening I was watching, but the next time she will be me.” First Time deals in flesh-and-blood sex, uglier bits included.
The book profits immensely from the wide visual range provided by its ten illustrators. Some are more naturalistic, like Dominique Bertail’s lavishly shaded organic line drawings in ‘Sodomy’. Most are highly stylized. Jerome d’Aviau’s concise cartoons in ‘Fantasy’ render blowjobs clean and congenial, while Olivier Vatine’s manga-esque boldness fills ‘Club’ with elegant poise. In ‘X-Rated’, his first experiment in hardcore erotica, Sandman cover artist Dave McKean relies on rough Cubist sketches to accentuate an impromptu copulation, remarkably downplaying his trademark mixture of photography and drawing. ‘Submission,’ arguably the most sophisticated narrative in the collection, finds the perfect equivalent of its brutish power games in Cyril Pedrosa’s bold brushstrokes, which cleverly combine the hyperrealism of Will Eisner and the desolate inhumanity of Expressionistic woodcuts.
As with most multi-author compilations, writing and images can be somewhat uneven. ‘Sex Shop’ and ‘Nobody’, the least imposing episodes, have little to recommend them. But the book’s overall delivery is unusually mature and engrossing for the genre, making First Time a worthy addition to any serious graphic novel collection.
First Time by Sibylline, Dave McKean, Olivier Vatine and others; NBM/Eurotica; ISBN 978-1-56163-549-8; £9.74 from www.foyles.co.uk. Originally published in ER issue 113.