Erotica, one might hope, is intended to make people feel good. Erotica, as has been discussed at length on this site, can cause people to feel bad. All art containing bodies has the potential to push the viewer into a state of comparison.
Desiring to encourage reflection upon the differences and the the reasons which span this horny spectrum, I put out an open call to women and non-binary people to describe the women and non-binary people working in cartooning and illustration who, upon drawing what might easily be called babes, engender feelings of positivity, self-love, and satisfaction.
This is what they wrote. Think on it.
Cartoonist/illustrator: Megan Rose Gedris
Why does their work make you feel good in your body, or as your sexual self? Compare it to those that have the opposite effect, if you’re willing: I fell in love with Gedris’ work when I read her story “The Witch” in the Smut Peddler 2014 edition. Her witch felt sexy through her empowerment, conveyed through her erect, but beckoning posture and a facial expression filled with certainty. While the patriarchal idea of sexy is pushed on us via women’s submission, Gedris’ comics show sex through strength.
Gedris’ characters are both beautiful and full of life, both funny and sexy, and feel like whole people with emotions and needs instead of cardboard cutouts with plastic smirks and impossible curves. Much of the sexual appeal in her work comes from her ability to convey texture. She draws skin and curves with softness and malleability and shades the mouth so that you can feel the wetness of their lips and tongues. When characters reach orgasm, the arch of their backs and their moaning works on top of their previously established vulnerability, bringing readers into a very open and very human depiction of sex.
— Ray Sonne
Cartoonist/illustrator: Julie Maroh
Why does their work make you feel good in your body, or as your sexual self? Compare it to those that have the opposite effect, if you’re willing: One of the key things I’ve found in comics is that a lot of artists, I want to say most, approach their figurative work in sexual situations with a clear intention of developing an erotic focus on a given body part. In terms of the good you hear a lot about Kris Anka eroticizing the torso across genders or Brandon Graham and his love of butts, so Maroh stands out to me as someone worth remarking on because there’s a very clear lack of focus even in her explicit work.
I find that generally, pinup and erotic work in comics is a lot of the time focused on the experience of the audience. Erotic work that contrives situations that highlight the particular focus of the piece is certainly valid and can be excellent, but there is and ought to be more. Blue is the Warmest Color for example, is deeply rooted in the political realities of a specific time in France, and so the sex strives to live within that context. It’s more about empathy than surrogacy.
— Emma Houxbois
Cartoonist/illustrator: Becky Cloonan
Why does their work make you feel good in your body, or as your sexual self? Compare it to those that have the opposite effect, if you’re willing: I would describe Becky Cloonan’s art style as “heavy metal art nouveau.” Her women are remarkably sensual, with soft lips and pleasing curves, but it’s an otherworldly beauty. Cloonan draws mysterious women, mythological women: sirens and witches and mutants. I first discovered her work through the people-with-superpowers comic Demo, before diving into her self-published fantasy book By Chance or Providence, and then adding her illustrated version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula to my collection. Her Dark Phoenix print hangs in my room because really, how could I resist?
Cloonan’s women can be playful or deadly, but they stare back at the viewer with eyes more striking than a silent movie heroine’s. There’s a thoughtfulness in her nude figures that often eludes male artists, and can be seen in the heaviness of a braid falling over a woman’s shoulder, or the delicate way a piece of cloth drapes over a nude hip. There’s something daring about her artwork, like a desire for the forbidden (and what bi girl doesn’t know something about that?) It’s a touch wicked, but wickedly fun.
— Kayleigh Hearn
Cartoonist/illustrator: Kelly Bastow
Why does their work make you feel good in your body, or as your sexual self? Compare it to those that have the opposite effect, if you’re willing: Kelly’s work features people, usually but not exclusively lady-types, of a wide array, each in serene joy and comfort with themselves. From nudes to abstracts to stylish clothing, each person Kelly draws is unique, special and happy. It is amazing looking at her drawings and seeing such gorgeousness and then identifying with it — thus transitively having to come to terms with seeing the beauty in yourself. Kelly is not constrained by the boundaries of societally mandated attractiveness in any form, be it race, ability, size, ability or gender expression. She expertly draws attention to the fact that all of us are natural beautiful sensual beings.
— Laura Bishop
Cartoonist/illustrator: Amanda Lafrenais
Work Credits: Smut Peddler 1 and 2, work for Slipshine, the webcomic Love me Nice
Why does their work make you feel good in your body, or as your sexual self? Compare it to those that have the opposite effect, if you’re willing:
Amanda draws excellent, fantastic fat women, and show also draws amazing erotic comics. Putting those two skills together makes for a plethora of great comics where fat women are the stars of their own sexy show. I love seeing fat women, rolling bodies, stretch marks, giant breasts, all depicted as sexy and desirable and not fetishized or objectified. Even the less-fat bodies she draws are women with mass, bodies that have volume and weight and feel real despite the cartoony style. All of her bodies, fat or thin, take up space. They’re bodies that do things instead of objects that things are done to, as is the case with a lot of porn. It’s always a joy to read her comics because nothing feels plastic, and so many bodies are big and full like mine. It doesn’t hurt that she is so prolific that she’s depicted nearly every kind of fat femme body one can think of, including women of color, trans women, and pregnant women. There’s no better representation of the idea that literally every body is beautiful than Amanda’s portfolio.
Cartoonist/illustrator: Sakimi Chan
Why does their work make you feel good in your body, or as your sexual self? Compare it to those that have the opposite effect, if you’re willing: No matter what body type she’s drawing, Sakimi Chan remembers to place sexual desire and consent in the subject’s eyes. The brain is the sexiest organ we have. Knowing your significant other is connecting with you mentally, provides the sizzle that many artists never manage to capture in their work. Sakimi Chan draws everyone from young petite women, to grown n’ sexy ladies. She captures maturity and grace in her subjects that can make anyone feel good about themselves.
— K. Guillory
Cartoonist/illustrator: Genue Revuelta
Why does their work make you feel good in your body, or as your sexual self? Compare it to those that have the opposite effect, if you’re willing: First, I want that bra. Second, I love the natural hair. As a person who openly supports her natural hair reaching to the heavens, it’s a positive image. As a girl actively embracing her shape in a society that tells me I’m wrong, it means even more. I love to see curves in all forms, not just the ones hidden under many layers of clothes. A truly devilish delight from a unique woman who embodies and portrays the colorful curves of life that conform to no one’s tastes but her own (and the range is insanely beautiful)! With her upcoming work for Rosy Press, Love & Sprockets, you’ll soon have a way to read about it even more.
— Taneka Stotts
Cartoonist/illustrator: Christianne Goudreau
Why does their work make you feel good in your body, or as your sexual self? Compare it to those that have the opposite effect, if you’re willing: What wouldn’t make me feel more body positive about being a larger woman than participating in an activity that most people associate only with slimmer folks? In Portland, Oregon, there is this stereotype that you must be thin, prim, and covered in lycra from head to toe to ride around in summer. But you know what? No one actually cares. And in 90 degree heat, pedaling in shorts, a comfy top, and sharing the road is our right as well. Enjoy looking at our beautiful large behinds as we zoom past you on the way home to cuddle up with our partners. This image empowers me and so does a lot of her art. She’s a babe, I’m a babe, we are babe magnets?
As the artist for the webcomic Full Circle, her understanding of body shapes and sizes is fully portrayed in the characters of her all-ages fantasy story. Christianne, doesn’t just try to strive for this message, she succeeds by incorporating it into all of her work. And definitely into all those great ladies!
— Taneka Stotts
Cartoonist/illustrator: Colleen Coover
Why does their work make you feel good in your body, or as your sexual self? Compare it to those that have the opposite effect, if you’re willing: Most “progressive” erotic work still relies upon the boring bedrock of “static lady sexy pose”–and, of course, all that is implicit in what makes those particular ladies “sexy.” As I rifled through a copy of Juxtapoz’s Erotica in a used bookstore last weekend, I felt an overwhelming fatigue set in: page after page after page of naked white women, either buxom and wasp-waisted or sulkily childlike, rendered “progressive” and “edgy” and “indie” because they’ve been posed wearing a Mickey Mouse cap or covered in pink syrup or latch-hooked into a rug. God almighty, I thought, I’m so goddamn bored. I’m going to go dig up Small Favors.
Coover’s characters romp and frolic and have a whole lot of sex and generally embody the highest ideals of sex-positivity that very little self-consciously “sex-positive” work ever achieves. There is a joyfulness in her pages, and a cheekiness, and a very pure delight in the carnal. It feels good to read. I’m not sure how to parse the feeling beyond that–it’s not something I feel very often. I just know that when I read it, I don’t feel gross. I don’t feel like I have to throw a drape over any part of my mind. I don’t feel like, despite my enjoyment, I’d never want to meet the creator at a convention. It’s a way I’d like to feel more often.
— Juliet Kahn
Cartoonist/illustrator: Katie “Elliwiny” DeGelder
Why does their work make you feel good in your body, or as your sexual self? Compare it to those that have the opposite effect, if you’re willing: Elliwiny is ace, but she has such a strong eye and romantic appreciation for bodies and expression that is improving with every page she turns out. The characters that she draws in our webcomic Opportunities, have rich inner lives that can be read in their faces, poses, and actions and the women in particular have a great deal going on that can’t be expressed with just words.
The character presented above, Sara Emmett, in particular is a very different take on the femme fatale, a type of character who we often see as a two-dimensional prize for the male lead to woo or let slip from his grasp, or maybe she’s strong and independent and don’t need no man, but Elliwiny has presented us with a very different kind of killer woman–a thinking, reasoning, conflicted person who has wants and needs beyond the broader objective of her job, and it’s visible in every aspect of her person. Also, legs are wonderful, aren’t they? She is SO good at legs.
— ML Snook
Why does their work make you feel good in your body, or as your sexual self? Compare it to those that have the opposite effect, if you’re willing: I know nothing about theveryworstthing–not even, as is obvious, her name. But she is one of my favorite living artists. I am desperate to give her my money. I want to see her given an Image title, an animated series, at least three artbooks, and a gallery show. I dream of the day she starts up a Patreon or Kickstarter or Indiegogo or anything so that I am provided with a way to ensure that she never, ever stops drawing.
There are, of course, a lot of things I love about her work. But god almighty, am I obsessed with how she depicts sexiness. It’s not simply how fanciful and innovative and charming her character designs are–though they are often that, given how many of them are monster girls, anthropomorphized something-or-others, mythical creatures, etc. I mean: nervous, spider-girl ballet students. Dwarven fashion designers wearing crystal-encrusted cowl necks. Cyborg mech pilots with transparent turquoise limbs and not enough space to meet with clients. Holy shit, you guys. But no–mostly it’s how these characters seem to truly inhabit their bodies. They strut, they preen, they scowl, they bask, they shrink. They are fat, thin, muscular, willowy, big-eyed, big-nosed, big-toothed, and usually fantastically accessorized. Theveryworstthing wears her influences on her sleeve, as many artists do–but the things she does with them! I look at her designs, and I see 90s video games, I see Alexander McQueen, I see Rumiko Takahashi, I see Tolkien, but above all, I see her: her, her, her, like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I see raw sexual confidence and outright pride that never apologizes for itself, that refuses to be dumbed down. I see, in her grinning, monstrous beauties, myself at my happiest, in clothes I feel great in, in a place where I feel free. I see the future. She makes me want to eat a bunch of marshmallows in expensive lingerie while watching Creamy Mami. She doesn’t ever make me feel like my body is a lump of clay, to be shaped and pruned and sculpted until it is winnowed down to a highly suspect vision of “perfection.” No–she makes me want to be myself. She makes that sound like a great idea.
— Juliet Kahn