Alfred, Capucine, Jerome d’Aviau, Virginie Augustin, Vince, Rica, Olivier Vatine, Cyril Pedrosa, Dominique Bertail, Dave McKean, artists
108 pages, hardcover
Gloria Leonard said that the difference between pornography and erotica is lighting; it stands to reason that in comics, the difference between pornography and erotica is linework. First Time, then, is definitely erotica. This collection of sexually graphic vignettes features high-class, high-quality European artists whose styles will be instantly familiar to readers of alt/art/lit comics here in the States, even if the artists themselves (most of them pseudonymous, I think) are not. But best of all, a couple of them are familiar. Yep, “Cyril Pedrosa” is indeed Three Shadows Cyril Pedrosa! And Dave McKean is indeed “Neil Gaiman” Dave McKean! Maybe it’s just me, but I think seeing cartoonists whose mainstream work you know and admire get smutty is one of life’s simple pleasures, like discovering the lovely but respectable actor you’re crushing on did an extensive nude scene back when everything was at its youngest and most pert.
Indeed, the reclamation of the erotic as something respectable comics creators can depict and respectable comics readers can discuss is something of a hobbyhorse of mine. Shouldn’t sex be something we tackle at least as often and as directly and with at least as much sophistication as we deal with violence and misery? Heck, shouldn’t it be something we tackle independently from violence in misery? This is a pretty terrific step in all those directions. In addition to bonafide critics’ darlings Pedrosa and McKean, every artist looks like they could have stepped out of a Petit Livre from Drawn & Quarterly or one of Fantagraphics’ Blab! storybooks or MOME guest spots.
Writer Sibylline seems to have either tailored the material to her collaborators or picked them to suit the material. “First Time,” a sweet story of a girl’s deflowering that comes with a funny twist ending, has an appropriately Top Shelf-ish vibe courtesy of the angular cartooning of artist Alfred, while the more self-indulgent topic matter of “Sex Shop” and “Fantasy” earn the more voluptuous, outwardly sexy curved lines of Capucine and Jerome d’Aviau respectively. “1+1″‘s story of a first-time girl-on-girl hook-up and the subsequent disappointment it engenders in one of its participants gets an animated look from artist Virginie Augustin, which nicely supports its initial whimsy and free-spiritedness and eventual heartbreak. “2+1″, with its tangle of bodies in a cramped apartment, slowly evolves from Tim Sale to Aeon Flux courtesy of artist Vince. Rica’s “Nobody,” the most Robin Bougie-ish of the stories what with its sex-doll subject matter, also boasts the most Robin Bougie-ish art, while Olivier Vatine’s “Club,” appropriately enough, reminds me of that New X-Men issue where Chris Bachalo helped reimagine the Hellfire Club as a strip joint in a tip of the hat to its NYC namesake. For those who’ve read the sweet, sensitive Three Paradoxes, Pedrosa’s aptly titled “Submission” may come as a shock, what with all the deep-throating and spanking and following orders to go look in the mirror with a mouth full of semen, but then again I think it was clear from that graphic novel’s bold visuals that Pedrosa could pull off pretty much anything. Dominique Bertail’s “Sodomy” has the most traditional sex comix look, I think, but its gender-reversal subject matter is strong enough that matter-of-factness is an apt stylilstic choice. Finally, McKean’s “X-Rated” combines manipulated film stills with cubist kama-sutra positioning for something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a deleted Arkham Asylum scene where the Joker watched Batman get it on with Poison Ivy over the closed-circuit cameras. The whole project is a bit undercut by slightly wooden translation work from Joe Johnson, but only a bit. Overall it made me wish that more work like this was being produced. If you like your smut smart and your art sexy, seek this out.