How did this all begin? I read that you started out by self-publishing...
I have always drawn pictures, starting from when I was old enough to pick up a pencil. It's second nature for me to communicate through images so comix seemed like the way to go. Erotica has been a favorite subject of mine since puberty. It eventually took over as a primary theme.
I began self-publishing in the mid-80's, initially on a very modest scale; making hand-made books as a way to trade artwork with my friends. I had access to photocopiers. Later on, a friend who was working at a print shop cut me some good deals. I wasn't really thinking in terms of becoming a professional comix artist, of earning a living from it. I was just doing it for the love of it - and since most of my work was so weird and sexually explicit, I thought that no one would ever want to publish it. So I published it myself.
Now, I'm glad that I approached it that way. I was able to work out my own ideas without having to be answerable to anyone else. I had to be financially creative because I was on a low budget and I got to learn the whole process from start to finish: writing, drawing, editting, printing, distibution, advertising. Often, I had to improvise because there was no one to guide me. I made mistakes, but I learned a lot.
Did you go to art school - and if so, were you already doing fetish inspired artwork?
After graduating from highschool, I studied film and animation at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts (1981-1985). I had already been drawing erotic images since before I was a teenager, but mostly they were for myself. I would only show them to close friends.
Meeting and developing relationships with other artists had a profound effect on me. I grew much more confident in my artistic and social skills and, consequentially, in pursuing the work that was important to me. By my third year review boards(a critique of the semester's work by students and instructors), I was showing a series of drawings entitled "Ivory and Jade" in which I was attempting to do an updated version of shunga, the Japanese erotic prints of the 17th - 19th centuries. They were mostly bisexual and group sex themes; nothing too kinky or fetish oriented, though I do remember taking great pleasure in rendering the character's hairstyles, ornaments, and the flowing material of their robes.
I also remember how terrifying and thrilling it was to show this work to an impartial ( and in one case, potentially hostile ) group of viewers. I got surprisingly good reactions. You should understand, however, at this time, I had an even larger body of work that dealt with hardcore fetish themes that I still wasn't ready to show to the world. I felt that I still hadn't developed it well enough yet. It would take a few more years.
Did you have other non-art-related jobs in the beginning?
In highschool and art school, I had various shit jobs: doing maintainence at a doctor's practice, sorting parts at a machine shop, mixing chemicals and handing out equipment at a darkroom. I have always pushed myself to find art-related work so, even while I was doing the above, I was bringing my portfolio around to try and get freelance jobs, working as a teaching assistant for film classes, etc. By my last year at the Museum School, I was working close to full-time as an illustrator at a computer company and as a designer/ storyboard artist at a local animation studio, Olive Jar Animation. The animation work took over and I was there full-time as a director and key animator for seven years.
Who are the artists that you admire and who have inspired you? Some of your artwork reminds me of Guido Crepax (Story of O) because of the way he frames his drawings...
Crepax was definitely a big inspiration for me, early on - particularly his album "The Magic Lantern". For a long time, he was the only artist that I knew of who had built his reputation on doing high-quality erotic work. When I would read a book of his, I would get the most sensual langorous feeling, like being half-awake on a hot sultry afternoon, just before slipping into an erotic dream. His method of laying out a page would contribute a lot to this atmosphere. He would adapt film techniques such as close-ups, jump cuts, and, especially,montage to the comix page, but in a way that sometimes bordered on the abstract. It
seemed very radical to me at the time. Most of the comix I had seen up to that point were very straight-forward narratively. I loved the way he would take his time and examine the details of a scene - an eye, a mouth, a hand, the change of expression on a character's face, the thongs of a whip, a hook protruding from a wall ... I also love the way he draws his women - so incredibly beautiful and with such perfect round asses! I still think Valentina is one of the sexiest characters ever drawn.
My earliest influences, comix-wise, were probably American artists Jack Kirby (New Gods, OMAC, The Demon), Barry Windsor Smith (Conan), and P. Craig Russel (Killraven, Parsifal, Night Music). I remember trying to draw like Kirby at age 6 or 7. I was very taken with his monsters and space mythologies. My mother would sometimes buy me comic books when I was ill and I distinctly remember one time when she gave me two issues of Smith's Conan, one of which had a guest appearance by SF writer Michael Moorcock's anti-hero Elric. I was in heaven! Smith and Russel (both of whom continue to do amazing work to this day) lead me to Alphonse Mucha and Aubrey Beardsley as well as the Symbolist and Pre-Raphaelite art movements. I am also very fond of fairy tale/children's book illustrators such as Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, Willy Pogany, and Arthur Rackham.
The work of manga artist / animator Leiji Matsumoto (Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999) also had a significant effect on the de-velopment of my style. His animated series Star Blazers (Space Cruiser Yamato) premiered on American television while I was starting highschool and I refused to miss an episode. In retrospect, I definitely see some of his delicate space godesses with their long flowing hair in my character Shaalis. Of the classic ukiyo-e artists, I would have to say that Tsukioka Yoshitoshi is my favorite. He was producing much of his greatest work at a time when European art was first influencing Japanese artists - just as Japanese art was influencing some of the European artists I most admire like Mucha and Beardsley (I find this type of cross-fertilization fascinating). Yoshitoshi's " Thirty-Six Ghosts " and " One Hundred Aspects of the Moon " are just brilliant. These days, I'm mainly interested in manga such as Yukito Kishiro's Battle Angel Alita, Hiroaki Samura's Blade of the Immortal, and Hiroyuki Utatane's Seraphic Feather as wellas the paintings of Masami Teraoka and the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki.
Another important influence on my work which is not so readily apparent is music. One of my first continuing strips "Red Time Overload" was based in part on the music of the band Chrome and my book Cathexis is dedicated to them. I like many of the German krautrock bands of the 60's/70's such as Faust, Can, Neu, Cluster, Amon Duul II, and Kraftwerk. Recent favorites are Main, Seefeel, Byzar, Scala, Tricky, DJ Spooky, Mouse On Mars, and Datacide - some of which I've used as soundtracks for live performances done in collaboration with dominatrix/performance artist Midori.
Where do you get your ideas from? Do you use photographs?
My ideas for stories and images are mainly an accumulation of details from my daily life. I try to keep my eyes and my ears and my mind open to as many new experiences as I can. Admittedly, my experiences are probably very different from most people's. I've tried most of the sexual situations I've portrayed in my work in real life. I would feel like something of a hypocrite if I didn't. Of course, since my work is mainly about sensual pleasure, it's hard to not want to do this type of research! I've been very lucky in being able to find friends and lovers who would help me to expand my knowledge.
I also try to read as much as possible and to see all kinds of films - not just erotic ones (much of the erotic comix/art I see seems to have been made by people who've watched too many bad porn films). I will sometimes smoke pot or drink a glass of wine and listen to some music, go to see bands, ride my bicycle, walk around the city - almost anything I do can be inspirational.
As far as photo-reference goes, I try to draw as much out of my head as possible. The human body can be very complicated to draw from certain angles though (and I use a lot of angles), so the camera or the anatomy book will come out. Sometimes, I'll look at other photographers' work to get perspective or proportion right, but I'm very sensitive about not just mindlessly copying someone else's work.As I said before, it's boring to read comix that are inspired by mainstream pornography and it's even duller to see art that's obviously taken from Penthouse or SkinTwo or some other magazine. It's laziness on the part of the artist.
Originally, my wife Lyn and myself were my best references for my work. We still trade off photographing each other. Lately, I've been working with several models which has been great. Apart from being uniformly very attractive, they are all very different physically and I've learned a lot about the subtleties of the human figure. I've produced some amazing pieces, the majority of which have yet to be published.
Latex/bondage, pony girls/saddles, and group sex are often featured in your work. What is the attraction?
Personally, I find them very erotic. As a whole, they are fairly common themes in S/M-oriented works, but I try to approach them in an unconventional way, not just use them as props.
What I like about latex (and here you must take my word for it that what my characters are wearing is latex - of some super-strong, super-pliable variety that's yet to be invented) is that it is a post-industrial, space-age type material. Unlike leather (which to me has a more primal, armor-like feel), latex conforms to the surface it covers, outlining and defining the body as a second skin. It's polished surface recalls liquid, glass, or metal and it makes a lovely contrast to human flesh.
My fascination with pony girls (and pony boys and saddles and all things equestrian) stems from my interest in how humans interact with animals - a complicated relationship to say the least. In one hundred thousand years, we've gone from fearing and worshipping them to subjugating and domesticating them. They are our companions, our slaves, our art objects, and our food.
Humans and horses, in particular, have a very extreme dominant/submissive relationship. Horses are bred and trained to serve as mounts with their sexuality sublimated to serve their owners' needs. Their standard equipage includes a gag, reins, blinders, saddle, and leather harness that leaves their genitals on display - all standard B+D trappings. Physically, I find them very beautiful : their large dark eyes, their manes and tails like lush human hair, those big sexy asses, wide-hipped and feminine, narrowing down to muscular legs and hooves that give the impression of precarious balance, like human legs in high-heeled boots ... It's not a huge leap for me, imagination-wise, to envision a strong sexy man or woman fulfilling this role.The thought of someone with a human intellect being forced to serve on this submissive animal level (as the twins Uma and Una must in Tranceptor) is a dichotomy that I find extremely arousing.
Group sex is appealling to me because it provides multiple possibilities - different pairings and interactions between the characters. It also lends an air of intent. A couple may decide to have sex on a whim or as an after-thought, but three or more participants indicates complicity and planning.
Some of your characters seem to be human/animal hybrids or cyborgs ...
I like to combine elements of both fantasy and science fiction in my work, particularly in the Spider Garden series. Sometimes, these themes get very intricately interwoven.
For example, take the Tengu - beast men who have their origins in Japanese folklore. The classic tengu were crow-like beings, tricksters who disguised themselves as itinerant monks and haunted mountainous areas. As with many supernatural beings in Japanese mythology, their misdeeds often had erotic overtones - something I choose to emphasize. My Tengu are dog-like or horse-like rather than avian (tengu was originally derived from the Chinese mountain demon t'ien kou which can be translated as "Celestial Dog"). They represent, on one hand, a raw passionate animalistic sexuality. They lust after the humans whom they once subjugated as pets and slaves. On the other hand, they also represent an ancient race with a highly-refined culture who have learned to co-exist with humanity. They are highly-skilled artisans who produce sophisticated, near-magical technology which they trade to humans for sexual favors.
The Spider Garden itself combines Tengu, human, and alien technology. It is a living cybernetic organism. Guests visiting the Garden can physically connect themselves to it's web, a system of wires and cables that can provide stimuli of various kinds. The Garden's concubines are tended by and make love to the mechanical spiders and insects that also serve it. Lichurna, the serpent woman, uses a similar type of technology in "Hydrophidian" to see through the eyes of her naiads and to control their movement.
I see cybernetics, the physical interface of human and machine, as a metaphor for the type of symbiosis that can occur during an elaborate D/S scene - the manipulation of sensation and control of aesthetic detail on a fantastic level. Under the surface, though, seethes the unpredictable, uncontrollable lust that inspires sexual creativity - the "Tengu" side, if you will.
Cathexis, Ukiyo X, Squamata - exotic words seem to have a special attraction for you. Where do you get your names from?
From dictionaries, encyclopedias, phone directories - whatever reference books I have on hand. Sometimes, I'll combine existing words to create new ones ( Hydrophidian, Lumenagerie ) or borrow them from other languages (Okami, Musume, Hanashita). What's most important to me is that a word or name has the proper meaningand that it sounds right.
Any inspiration from the Satanic side of this world?
Not especially. I went through a period of interest in witchcraft and the supernatural when I was in my teens, but it never went beyond the research stage. I was mainly looking for erotic material. I have a friend who is an ordained minister in Anton LaVey's Church of Satan. I find that I admire him more for his artwork and his sense of humor than his diabolist affiliations. For the most part, I find Satanism to be as dogmatic and conservative as Christianity.
As far as artwork goes, I can think of one specific instance; in "Audio Frequency Book of the Dead" (Cathexis), most of the imagery is based on ancient Egyptian mythology with it's animalistic deities and the journey and trials of the ka (soul) after death. However, one of the trials which the central character, Heljefa, must submit to is based on the osculum infame (the kiss of shame), a Black Mass ritual invented by the Inquisition, in which medieval witches would worship a goat-like devil by kissing his ass.
This image has a very powerful sexual resonance for me - not for it's implication of blasphemy (my feelings toward Christianity are for the most part ambivelant), but for some of the archetypes present : the supernatural/divine being who is both human and animal (complete, in a sense) and the object of veneration by the sexually-enslaved human being. There is also the sense of cotradiction here inherent in some S/M practices where a potentially degrading act such as ass-lickng or bestiality becomes an act of worship and a privilege. Ultimately, it's this interplay of potentially contradictory concepts and not specifically the Satanic element that I find inspiring.
Have you had to cope with censorship? You draw on very sensitive subject matter and with the puritanical American mind-set, you must have had some objections to your work ...
It's fairly easy to get my work here in the US and the response to it has been overwhelmingly positive. If there are people out there who actively dislike my work, they haven't made it a public issue.
There have been a few situations where publishers have gotten cold feet at the last minute and backed out on me. I believe that this had more to do with poor financial planning on their part rather than outright censorship. If a company has mismanaged it's finances, the first things to get cut are usually the "risky" projects ie. : the stuff they don't understand how to promote and that might pose distibution problems for them. One editor who broke a book contract with me went on at great length about how my work was unpublishable and unpromotable and how the publisher ( his boss ) couldn't afford to be associated with my work because it would damage his reputation. In fact, I think that they were embarassed to admit that they had sunk most of their money into projects that didn't pan out and were desperate to cut their losses.
Other than that, the biggest problems I've run into have been in the UK and those have mainly been on an annoyance level. My books will periodically be seized by customs. The majority of my work is too explicit to be published there and the images that do appear often have the genitals pasted over. Despite the difficulty they have in obtaining my work, I have a lot of fans and supporters there. Oddly enough, there was an article on banned books in the Nov. 98 issue of the UK tabloid magazine "Bizzare" with an accompanying photo of a nude model whose breasts were covered by a copy of "The Spider Garden" - a case where my work was being used to censor someone else's! I was quite pleased.
When doing commissions for private collectors, what is your favorite subject and what do you dislike or refuse to draw?
I have a drawing series that I have been working on for several years entitled " Maid Training ", examples of which appear in "Lumenagerie". I'm very fond of the classic black and white maid ensemble, particularly in latex, with it's implication of domestic sexual service and submission. I've adapted client's requests for images dealing with a variety of basic sexual themes such cross-dressing, lesbianism, and fist-fucking to fit this series about the erotic education of maids, both male and female. It's a very loosely structured series with a constantly changing cast of characters. Other favorites include my character Okami/Sasaya from "The Spider Garden" in various scenarios and, of course, equine themes.
So far, I haven't recieved very many requests for commissions that I've felt uncomfortable with. Occasionally, I'll get one that will be a challenge because it's something I'm not necessarily into. I remember the fourth or fifth commission I ever recieved was for an incest scenario which I had no qualms about, but the client wanted the characters to resemble a popular director and actress, neither of whom I found particularly attractive. Nowadays, I would probably have asked him to choose different source material, but I struggled through it which, unfortunately, showed in the final piece ( to me, at least - the client seemed to like it ).
I also remember recieving a letter from a fan who wanted to know if I would be willing to handle "forbidden" subjects. They cited the stamp on the letter they sent as an example - a Bellini portrait of the Madonna and Child. I sent back a very polite letter stating that if it had something to do with Jesus or Christianity, that I probably wouldn't be interested - not because I'm a prude, but because blasphemy is boring to me. I think that for the perversion of a religious image to have power, you have to believe in that faith to a certain extent and I am through with Catholicism and Christianity. I had more than enough of it as a child. I never did get a reply to that letter.
Every so often, I'll get a potential client who's mapped out a particular fantasy in such a ridiculous amount of detail that I can't lend anything to it. They'll send me pages and pages of material - I'll usually turn them down. Fortunately, most of my clients will give me a basic idea and let me run with it, doing what I do best.
With your trademark being your striking black and white drawings, why have you recently begun to work in color?
As I noted previously, when I first began doing comix, I was working primarily with photocopiers in the printing stage which meant that keeping the artwork easily reproducable was a priority. This meant working mostly in black and white. This was in no way limiting. It helped me find my direction. I love black and white and will continue to work in it as long as I'm doing comix and illustration. It's my preferred medium - but now that I have more options open to me, I want to explore new territory.
I've been painting in color for the last two years, both large-scale pieces and comix format - like the cover to my most recent book "Tranceptor". Collaborating with artist Patrick Conlon definitely gave me the confidence to attempt that one. He has a more painterly style than I do and his color illustrations and tattoo work are beautiful. He had me looking at both my color and my black and white work in a new way. I'm currently working on a color strip "Arcana" that was originally being serialized in Hustler's "Leg World".
The pieces I'm most proud of right now were completed last Fall - three large panels for a client's private dungeon. Two are 72 " x 24 " ( 1830 mm x 610 mm ) and a center panel which is 48 " x 48 " (1220 mm x 1220 mm). They show a dominatrix with a backless gown seated on a combination throne/candelabra formed out of bound men in latex. This is flanked on either side by images of the dominatrix catheterizing her slaves, forcing them to drink their own fluids and pleasure each other. The figures are painted in black and white, but in a gloss finish against a matte ox blood background. All the tubes and chains of the apparatus surrounding them are done in iridescent metallic copper. Depending on how the light strikes them, different details emerge.
Can you explain your hunger for this not always lucrative quest? What is it that motivates you to continue?
Love and death are what motivate me.
Love - of which I believe sex is one of the greatest expressions in all it's many forms and premutations. Love in the sense that I love my characters and creations. They're an extension of me - of my soul. I love what I'm doing even when it's stressful and when there is little or no financial reward. When I did the interview that appeared in "Lumenagerie", I was broke a lot of the time. Four years later, I'm doing better, but I still live pretty close to the bone. Unfortunately, unless you're involved in the mainstream entertainment industry here, artists often get shitty pay and very little respect. You have to love what you're doing.
Death is a motivating factor because of it's prevalence in my life at certain points. This is difficult for me to get into, but I feel it needs to be addressed.
The first death that truly effected me was that of my cousin, Michael, who was a year younger than me at the time (I was 17). He died in an auto accident one week after his father, my uncle Frank, died of a heart attack. Later that year, I was taking a train back to my parent's house one evening when it was discovered that we had run someone over (this happened at a station where, one week before, a woman had been murdered). When I finally got back to my parent's place, I discovered that they were very upset. They had learned that a friend of mine from highschool had died in an auto accident along with her boyfriend. I was devestated. The last time we had seen each other, she had been planning on joining me at art school.
In the next couple of years, I lost my great grandmother, my great aunt and uncle, most of my grandparents, and my younger brother, Peter, who was only 16. His death was the worst - a multi-car accident on my father's birthday two days before Christmas. Another motorist, a pregnant woman, died also. Shortly after this, a man committed suicide by laying in front a subway car that I was riding on. I began to feel as though I were cursed and my life became very fragmented for a while.
For better or worse, it was my brother's death that truly made me reflect on what I was doing with my life. His had only just begun before it was cut short. It made me realize how tenuous my own existence was. If I didn't do what I needed to do, my life would be over before I knew it. Every day now, I see things that remind me of the fact that my time here is limited. I could die tomorrow. Any of us could. That is motivation enough for me to want to accomplish something while I'm here.
What would you like to achieve in your lifetime?
When you asked me which artists I admired and who's work had influenced mine, I listed many names. There are actually many more I would have liked to have included, but the list would have grown ridiculously long. Everyone that I could mention though has created work that moved me on a very deep
level and made me feel, if only for a very short time, as if I had a special connection with them - as if they were speaking directly to me. That's something I would like to achieve. To form that connection, to move people emotionally with my work the way that other artists have moved me with theirs'.