A little translation


Meanwhile, over in France….. comics zip by with a ferocity that would sap the most dedicated cross-over fetishist. Whole careers come and go while anglophones wrestle with remembering more than the holy trinity of Moebius, Tardi and Manara. Take, for convenient example, ‘Jim’ a purveyor of intelligent erotica, or sensual dramas, or nudie comics. Your pick of a genre title but while you’ve been fretting whether Corto Maltese will ever see a proper translation ole Thierry Terrasonn has bashed out a highly successful career telling stories where clothes seem to drop off a lot. His latest work Une Petite Tentation (A little Temptation) makes clear from its title and cover image exactly where we’re headed… Lolitaville.


Being set in modern France our central protagonist, Calista, isn’t waiting in the garden for Humbert Humbert to appear; rather she and aide de camp Anna, hunt down their hapless prey, a Disney-jawed gym hipster who is turning 40 alongside his pretty-but-ya’know-forty wife. Soon Calista and Anna bet which can land the suspiciously So-Cal looking Jean and up the stakes by aiming to replace his wife in his life not just his bed. As the tale progresses Calista, clearly smitten by Jean, fails in her efforts through her own insecurities and nerves while Anna seems to strike home runs with a more direct possessed cyber-sex-kitten approach. When Jean’s wife returns from a family trip to find Jean and Anna in one bed, Calista half naked in front of porn in the lounge and her daughter untended to, Jean manages to lose all three women and some imported Japanese anal porn. Well actually it’s not made clear who got the DVDs. Divorce negotiations in comic books are rarely covered.


Keeping the whole story from sliding into immediate hoary old man-written teenager porn cliche is Calista’s ineptitude and nerves. Despite parading around naked a lot she never actually gets her honour besmirched while getting quoted in divorce proceedings. As a character surrounded by the cynical (Anna) the testosterone-fuelled (Jean’s friends) and the sexually promiscuous (her ‘soft’ hooking college mates) Calista’s doe-eyed manga-fied eyes, drawn by Grelin, keep the tale a drama with propulsion no matter how unlikely her actual nativity is. Her motivations, a mix of crush and wish to best Anna, ring hollow for her decision making; and often, despite living alone and independent in the centre of Paris, she acts with the impulses of a child rather than a possessed young woman. The art style, a digital age melange of American, European and Japanese populism, reinforces her simplistic reactive nature. It’s damm hard to make mature adult reasoning when you look like an excited character in Scott Pilgrim. When Gerlin’s characters talk and interact with each other they look far too goofy. When they are silent and naked they express much more.

The book ends with it’s strongest moment, a reflection on friendships passing although it’s an incongruous ending given years after the central story. It rings truer than the rest of the book because it’s likely an actual emotion Jim has experienced himself rather than the preceding 120 pages of teenage female licentious and doubt which it is never clear what insight he is bringing aside from ‘women are sluts, men are innocents’ which is Nabokov without the essential twist.


Looking at the three central female characters Anna is clearly a harlot. She is introduced as a possession obsessed trouble maker and is quickly depicted post coitus with some otherwise expendable African male. She, rather than Calista, prompts the wager on Jean’s future, wedges herself into his car, home and office and regularly offers such insights as ‘find what you hate in sex and do that, because that’s what men like’ or ‘see what porn he jacked off to and recreate the scene where he came’. Feelings for Calista or Jean are completely irrelevant to Anna, she’s in it for the sport and the income.


Jean’s wife, Ines, whose only worry is how she can divorce her perfect husband but keep the apartment, is likewise treated as a shallow possessive slut. Her ‘family emergency’ for which she temporarily leaves Paris, is actually a sex-vacation with one of Jean’s old friends. Her reactions on finding her daughter neglected amongst naked teenage flesh is ‘good, now I get the apartment’. Telling for a character given such an important twist to deliver, that she wanted away from Jean all along amd is happy with the outcome, it’s never presented why she’s so unhappy with her existing domestic life. She clearly has wealth, a caring doofus of a husband, a happy well behaved child and an active social life. Her character motivation comes down to ‘I fancy someone else’ which is fine for high school, not so persuasive for a forty something mother.


Calista herself is redeemed from harlotry by her own childlike fears and inability to acquiesce at the vital moment. Whether that’s by choice or alcoholic incapacity is left rather ambiguous. What’s clear is that, years down the line, she has embraced motherhood and a hipster husband rather than chase wealth and immorality. That she appears to have done so with the guy she hooks up with on the rebound from Jean simply reinforces her lack of emotional capacity as a character. ‘I didn’t have a boyfriend, I got a guy divorced in college and then I lived happily ever after with the next guy’ isn’t a convincing life path. More damningly, for the character who is meant to be the emotional core of the tale, she completely fails to reflect on the morality of her actions or the consequences for characters, such as Jean’s child, who she clearly cares for. Real emotions concerning the external world are reduced to ‘I must beat Anna to the prize’ and indeed what the prize is (a family? A step-daughter? Marriage?) is totally un-addressed. A melange of competition and cock-lust will suffice.


Jean, by contrast, is the innocent sap. While Calista may have the bigger doe-eyes it’s gym-toned, high-incomed Jean who is the real Bambi in the story, his legs buckling like a new born fawn under the machinations of French womanhood. Jean’s indiscretions seems either non-existent, Anna may well have been lying about their trysts, or slight, some sex-texting where he seems merely to have open jawedly mouthed ‘wow’ to the provocations laid before him. Of course on the fateful eve of Ines’ return he does attempt to lay Calista, at her invitation, and then end up with Anna but really at this juncture he’s not so much an adult as a beaten blouse being tried over the breasts of the varying voracious women. Of all the characters Jean is, of course, the least believable. Despite being a dashing success he’s unable to cope with the slightest hint of an affair, despite being a child of the Minitel-sex era and internet age he’s left defenceless by typical bawdy sex-text suggestions and instead of having his own affair or being off down the local red light district he’s a plum incapacitated by a teenager who bites her lip and wears a short sweater dress. When Calista spends a whole week with him strumpetting around but never sealing the deal any actual male would have got to day three and said ‘look, can you stop this, it’s both inane and causing me to masturbate excessively’. By being every girls dream he’s nobody’s actual man. Absent from the epilogue, Jean was last seen applying for work in EuroDisney.


Une Petite Tentation is an enjoyable read for it’s narrative drive, abundant flesh and nice codicil but it’s greater standing is undermined by a lack of reflection by the author on whether fleshed out characters would react in the ways he portrays. It’s popularity and success likely comes from a teen audience identifying with and revelling in the escapist audacity of Anna and Calista while their own Jean-fathers probably enjoyed the copious nubile flesh on display even if it’s largely devoid of erotic moments. The biggest surprise is that Jim’s work such as this and the more adult ‘ A night in Rome’ series, remain unpublished in the USA. you can’t but think something so shallow, moral and suffused with nudity would sell.

The Discreet Porn of The Bourgeoise

Erma Jaguar – Alex Varenne (Catalan Communications)


Ah, readers of Dark Horse’s deluxe Manara Libraries, come visit the past, a time when your cents would stretch to a 10 dollar softcover of 56 pages B&W line work by the likes of Varenne, Giardino or Manara himself. Soon Eros would come and give more bang for the buck with Levis and Lopez but before then click and Erma Jaguar were where onanistic pleasures resided.

Both volumes of Erma follow the same path with our libertine lead driving around nighttime Paris and beyond led by the vicissitudes of her sex. Book One sees her pick up a young couple of hitchikers, only to dump the male and seduce the female via a series of venues plucked from 70s arthouse cinema. Book two sees Erma enroll a classic platinum blonde playmate to ruin the wedding night of the same hitchhiker. In the final page of each book the relationship between Erma and the strawberry blonde innocent hiker, Charlotte, becomes clarified in a manner not dissimilar to Little Ego and it’s precursor.

Jaguar’s decadent travelogue seems terribly unlikely but in many ways the scenarios and perversities of 70s France are neatly encapsulated in the decedent mansions and corpulent ensemble cast that Erma and Charlotte encounter. Fellini and Bunuel’s meets Millets’ Secret Diary in Varenne’s erotic night flights and the delight comes from his depictions of the obese and ugly cavorting in bacchanalian excess as much as it does from Erma’s own fleshy depiction. Varenne’s characters, most notably the two central females, are at their least interesting visually when depicted head-on, his style minimising detail and Charlotte in particular looks less real than a overdressed teenage poupee gonflable as she stares at the reader. However when the books enter the over-fed orgies or the dangers of the truck-stop the supporting cast leer joyously at the ladies and Varenne’s ability as a character artist shines with as much ability as that recorder of a similar cast, Tardi. It may be a slight flaw in an erotic book for the artist to be at his best when drawing repugnant bodies rather than idealised ones.

Varenne is also fond of that increasingly rare device in a modern comic, the fixed position frame, with a sequential action carried out in a triptych of panels keeping the readers gaze focused on the precise differences in the characters positioning and actions. It’s a device at home in the erotic comic where the voyeurs gaze revels in holding the moment and Varenne deploys it numerous times as instances of precision in an otherwise wandering tale.


The females in the two volumes display a range of character types, the ingenue Charlotte, the wasted starlet Niki and the possessed composed Erma herself, although all operate firmly within a landscape determined by male power and act thoroughly as the male readers wish. Charlotte’s request for ‘perfume, fashion magazines and graphic novels‘ makes the latter point hilariously clear. In this respect the narrative reveal at the end of each book, that Erma is a bourgeoise housewife awoken by her monied husband leaving for work, strips Erma herself of her feminist credentials. A bisexual provocateur she may be but only in her, and your, dreams.


Erma is the rare foray of the many erotic works of Varene into English. That the third volume of Erma never made it to print with Catalan suggests his style never found the favour of other European artists. However with a rich back catalogue, including work with the icon of Alpha France’s erotic movies Brigitte laHaie, Varenne is overdue a reassessment and once the precision of Manara has run dry the thicker strokes of this Parisian recorder should be ripe for a deluxe edition. 2010 saw a French ‘complete’ reprint of Erma but for those English patrons to whom the words matter the original Catalan two thirds of the series can be picked up for around the original cost. At 56 pages that’s still a steep price for fleshy genetilia.

Prison Ship Antares – Grindhouse #3 & 4


Simon Fraser. There’s a man never likely to see his due in comics. After posting a decades worth of increasingly sublime work on the beloved in-house, ignored elsewhere magnificence of Nikolai Dante (2000ad) he’s a master in search of a subject. Dark Horses’ soon-to-be-copied-by-Image series Grindhouse gives him two issues of what he honed best on Dante, violence and angry women.


Prison Ship concerns a lone vessel sent to colonise a far planet filled only with the worst females from (presumably American) penitentiaries. This Golgafrinchian Ark D-Wing leaves regular earth contact to reveal a sadist female warden (identical to Dante’s sadistic sister Lulu) and a army of drones. Presumably the planet was going to be colonised with an industrial sized vat of man goo to pass between our lesbian criminal fraternity. Or those drones have a hidden pop up feature. De Campi’s story is, of course, a deliberate mix of cliche and non-logic designed to drag up those caged-female exploitation tropes as quickly as possible. However at two-issues and done the tale never moves beyond popcorn-story arcs of un-engaging characters. With only one of the prisoners stories being fleshed out and one couples love being used to move the story forward there is no investment in anyone or interest in their fate. It’s no surprise the way the story plays out, right down to the aliens-in-escape-pod revenge; but then it’s probably never meant to be. It’s pulp for people that download movie packs called ‘incredible strange movies 1958-1972’. If that’s a market for Dark Horse, cool.

Fraser’s art is the high point, he excels in drawing those moments of violence when limbs extend to their limits, curve just slightly beyond what seems probable but reflects the mailability of real bodies. The setting robs him of his talent for displaying vast architecture and wide vistas, as well as removing the emotional impact of the violence he excels at conveying but for those who enjoy dynamic fight art devoid of invented-steroid-shaped muscles Fraser is a master. Prison Ship acts as good PR for his work on Dante and the free webcomic Lilly Mackenzie, beyond that someone needs to get him some regular work, he’s too good to be irregularly published.