Interview: Tim Pilcher Talks Erotica, Part 2
Yesterday, Tim Pilcher, author of Erotic Comics, talked about the research into the second volume, coming out here in March. Now we focus on the evolution. Speaking of sex, given the subject matter, we advise you that the art does the subject justice.
ComicMix: How different is erotica in America, Asia and Europe?
Tim Pilcher: Well, obviously Europe and Asia have had a more mature approach to comics for adult readers far longer than America or Britain, and consequently their erotica tends to be more prolific and explicit, and there is a greater acceptance of it, it’s no big deal there. I was in Spain and went in a shop to see the erotic monthly anthology, Kiss, racked alongside Asterix! Everybody there knows that the kids aren’t interested in Kiss and will pick up the Asterix instead. There’s a common sense which seems to have disappeared from US and UK cultures, where everybody is overly cautious and litigious. So there’s a more relaxed attitude to sex in general on the continent, particularly in France, Spain and Italy.
A small minority of Japanese Manga, I have to say, left me feeling uncomfortable as it was quite pernicious. But having said that, if it feeds a market that gets a release through reading the comics—rather than enacting their dubious fantasies — then all well and good. After all — unlike photography or video — there’s no models or actors being coerced or exploited. It’s simply an artist, a pen and their thoughts. And if you don’t agree with their thoughts, don’t buy or look at the Manga, it’s as simple as that.
CMix: Did any of that change through the years?
TP: I think, if anything, sadly the old maxim of “less is more” is well and truly dead when it comes to erotic comics. I would much rather artists were more sophisticated and subtle in their storytelling and less graphic with today’s trend of extreme genealogical close-ups. Having said that, there are some women who are doing great things with erotic sequential art, like Melinda Gebbie, Jess Fink, Lynn Paula Russell and Giovanna Casotto, who are creating very mature works. In fact the more I think about it, it’s more of the women’s work that I’m attracted to, and theirs tends to be a more cerebral approach.
CMix: What would you say the current state of erotica is today?
TP: Like Alan Moore, I think we’re on the cusp of an erotic comics renaissance. Over the years there have been endless, tedious “sucking and f*cking” books which — like much DVD porn output — lacks heart, humor, emotion and intelligence. It’s true that the largest sex organ is the brain and it’s really nice to see a lot of creators pushing their storytelling abilities, both artistically and literary. A good example is the Best Erotic Comics 2008 anthology edited by Greta Christina. I’m hoping that we’ll see a revolution in pornography that follows the women’s perspective rather than the man’s. If you see the majority of “mainstream” porn it is all geared towards what men want to see, and consequently women aren’t interested. I have a feeling that this is changing as more women get into positions of power within the industry and start to make less cold, dead-eyed, exploitational films and magazines. The sooner the better.
CMix: Marvel has taken some flack for censoring its once risqué T&A from the black and white magazines when reprinting the stories these days. What does that tell us about current tastes?
TP: I think we have an interesting dichotomy with society at the moment. Sex seems to permeate every aspect of media from pop videos to advertising. And yet when something is created to specifically arouse (rather than sell something) it’s damned by newspapers and politicians, who insist that we remain prim, controlled and restrained. I think that the majority of intelligent people are getting sick and tired of these insidious double standards. Over in the UK we have a newspaper, The Sun, that constantly “exposes” the sex lives of celebrities as schadenfreude fodder for the masses. It’s tone is always “shocking” “disgusting” “outrageous” etc. Yet every issue — five days a week — has a topless woman on page 3 baring her nipples. Yet the paper would defend this as “just a bit of fun”! hypocrisies like this drive me mad!
I’m worried that this is going to create a lot of sexually frustrated (i.e. dangerous) individuals out there who may express their feelings through violence, or treat women as purely objectified figures of desire, rather than through healthy sexual and emotional relationships. There’s always been this weird thing in the media where extreme violence seems to be more acceptable than mildly titillating sex. That the whole Janet Jackson nipple incident for example. Anyone would have thought she’d fellated Justin Timberlake on stage! Now, I’m not saying that it was appropriate at that specific time, but there seems to be a sense of proportion distinctly lacking when compared to the amount of swearing and violence on TV. The general population seems to be anesthetized to this destructive behavior. Whereas healthy sex — essentially a creative act — is dammed by the fundamental Christians and the political right. Where’s the logic?
CMix: From the second volume, who would be your favorite erotic artists? And what titles would you recommend to the curious reader?
TP: Well, my personal favorites, when I started the book, were the Italians Giovanna Casotto and Milo Manara, just because their women are so stunningly gorgeous. But while doing the research discovering up coming talents like the fantastic Jess Fink and John Maybury and the disturbingly wonderful Junko Mizuno. So I would recommend all of them for their storytelling ability as much as their art. Black Kiss is always worth a visit for newbies, although Chaykin’s typically convoluted plotting can be a little hard to follow sometimes. And, of course, Lost Girls — the most respectable “drawn porn” currently being published.
CMix: With the book coming out in January in the UK and America in March, you’re knee deep in another graphic project. War Comics: A Graphic History. Tell us about that.
TP: Well, actually I’ve just been helping out my old friend and editor of Comics International, Mike Conroy. He’s putting together a great history of war comics. Rather than showing it chronologically through the history of publications, it looks at the conflicts through time — from the Indian wars and the American Civil war, through both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and right up to Iraq and Afghanistan — seen through the filter of comics. It’s a really novel approach. So I’ve just contributed a few pieces for that.
CMix: What else do you have up your sleeve?
TP: Well, after writing three books in the space of a year (I’ve also just published e: The Incredibly Strange History of Ecstasy) I’ve been taking some time off, but I really would like to do a serious in-depth biography of William Moulton-Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman. I’ve been doing some research on him lately and the more I find out, the more fascinating a character he becomes. Not only because of the Wonder Woman connection, but his involvement in the creation of the polygraph machine, his consensual polygamous relationship with two women (siring two families who lived together – and no, he wasn’t a Mormon), and the fact that he was the media’s first “pop culture psychologist” who regularly appeared in fashionable magazines and on the radio. There’s so much to the man that hasn’t been discussed yet. I’m also looking at writing some fiction and non-fiction graphic novels, partly based on family history and World War One, as soon as I can find the right artists to work with.
In my day job capacity as commissioning editor at Ilex Press we’ve been developing some really exciting pop culture and comic-related titles, and over the next year we have some fantastic projects coming out including Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History by Steve Holland and others, Comic Book Design by Gary Spencer Millidge, Shojo Art Kit by Yishan Li, and Manga Cross-Stitch by Helen McCarthy. We’ve been really lucky to work with some great names and have some even bigger and more exciting projects on the horizon, including the definitive art book of a certain key manga creator, also written by Helen.
CMix: Thanks for the time, Tim. We look forward to seeing you at the New York Comic-Con.
TP: Thanks I’m looking forward to it and catching up with lots of friends. I’ll be at the Abrams stand throughout the weekend signing and just around for a chat.