Art & Story by Various, Cover Art by Fred Beltran, Translation by Anna Provitola & Samantha Demers
Despite its oversized beauty, Eros Gone Wild is likely not a book to be left laying about your home. Or perhaps it is, depending on your own unique views on sensual liberation because this is a collection that is a celebration of artistic and sexual freedom. From the minds and pens of a plethora of European auteurs, Eros Gone Wild is an explosion of libido and strength and even humor. It is Erotica with a capital ‘E’ performing its function to perfection, titillating and prodding your psyche with every pencil line and every brush stroke. Is it pornographic? Occasionally. Is it exploitative? Rarely. Is it erotic? Thoroughly. It is creators allowed to run wild and explore without restrictions, like letting loose a herd of caged elephants. There’s a specific audience for this book, sure, but if there’s an underlying theme found within its 304 pages, it’s that everyone belongs in this audience whether they care to admit it or not. An anthology of arousal that tempts you to break down walls and recognize our own perceived debased thoughts, it never stops looking absolutely breathtaking even when it makes you feel uncomfortable. And if you ever wanted to see Santa Claus get drugged into an orgy with voodoo priestesses, well, you’re covered too.
Divided into four separate books, each volume collects its various vignettes (typically four or five pages long) into common themes. The art on display throughout is extremely diverse in style, if not similar in content. There are the cubic molded stories of Bertrand, the noir-inspired and even Eisner-reminiscent line of Altuna, and the heavily shadowed pin-up pencils of Igort. It’s a pleasure to marvel at the spectacular volume of illustrative craft run amok through these pages. The stories themselves are impressive in their compact form (they’re definitely not for everyone) but the art serves as a master class in the multifaceted approach to the comic medium.
The first volume unites its tales with, of all things, Christmas. More so than with any of the proceeding chapters, these stories read almost like subverted morality plays, teaching the reader a lesson about expectations and control. Many shine a light on the buffoonery of lecherous men, who appear initially to forcefully dominate a situation only to be revealed as the weak-willed butt of the joke, a prisoner to his own fantasy that never materializes in reality. Alex Varenne’s Spartacus is a particularly good example of this as is Annie Goetzinger’s Christmastime at Finette’s. The Christmas setting is used in a multitude of clever ways from highlighting the lonely nature of the season to the obvious gift-giving (and gift-unwrapping) aspects of the holiday. There are, of course, several tales that feature Santa in sexual explorations, sometimes as an ordinary man in a costume and others as the actual mythic figure. Most of those are wonderful, if not occasionally bizarre, but Faure’s A Creole Christmas is undoubtedly the standout tale that will stay with you longer than any other, both for its majesty and its ethereal oddness.
The second volume transports the scene to summer, where the opportunity to explore the cool breezes and fiery hot passions are on full display. It’s a looser thematic tie than a specific holiday, but it certainly allows for a focus on the unbridled desires that the heat offers. There’s lots of women-centric tales to be found here, about women taking their sexuality into their own hands in a wave of passionate self-discovery. Complementary, there are several stories that hone into the male psyche of discovering sex through societal expectations and the damaging effects inflicted by it, perhaps best demonstrated through Florenci Clavé and Louis Rétif’s Hercules, Paulo and the Queen of Babylon. While there are several instances that a reader might feel…confused, nothing quite compares to the extraordinarily bizarre presentation of a sexually frustrated aunt checking her nephew’s testicles to see if they’ve dropped as depicted in the prose piece Still Upstairs. It is troubling, to say the least. However, that is a rare instance of a work transcending mere cultural differences into obvious inappropriateness, with the majority of the work found within this chapter being enchantingly liberating even in the most awkward of situations.
The third volume is titled simply “Lingerie Stories” so clearly, all subtlety has euphorically been thrown to the wayside like a pair of…well, you know. Filled with temptresses and paralyzed victims of voyeurism, such as the case with Baru’s Socrates, many of these pieces again look to strip would-be testosterone monsters of their power and paint them in the insecurities that truly drive them. It’s often powerful and empowering storytelling.
Finally, the fourth and final volume collected unites its stories under the banner of “travel” and allows for some of the most introspective moments in the book. Of particular note is the gorgeous work of Raive’s and Warn’s Anguish Station that’s cinematic in scope with how it displays the inner fears of a woman riding the rush hour subway, only to have them be placed in the entirely wrong place. Additionally there’s the majestic, fantasy (in both senses of the word) tale The Last Palanguin from Parras and Galliano that reads like an opium dream-infused commentary on rejuvenation and rebirth.
In all, Eros Gone Wild is a trumpet blare of sexual awakening, an artistic orgasm of freedom. Anyone who’s a fan of Manara and his ilk, already understand what this genre is about and anyone who’s uninitiated may at first simply see dirty drawing of people boning awash in a sea of strangeness. But Eros Gone Wild asks the reader to push past that, to dig deeper and break any bonds of so-called “decency” and give in to the carnality. It’s also stunning to look at throughout, heightened even more so by the new oversized format. If the thematic content isn’t quite what you’re looking for, the art alone is worth giving this a shot to expose yourself to a distinctly European and universally accepted form of artistic beauty. Go ahead, embrace those thoughts lingering at the edges of your cerebrum and dive head first into an erotic menagerie of what it means to be truly free.