by Alex Dueben
At a time when many comics are criticized for their approach to female characters, it’s interesting to read a comic which is about fetish models. Moreover, it’s wonderful to discover that the comic is far less exploitive and sensational than many mainstream comics. In NBM’s new graphic novel,Magenta: Noir Fatale, Italian writer and artist Nik Guerra gives the oft-maligned profession a sense of beauty and dignity, using the pornographic culture as a backdrop for a 1960s murder mystery. Perhaps because it’s not trying to be cheap, but every angle, every outfit, every artistic choice is one consciously made. It’s a thoughtful, well-constructed story which may not be for everyone, but for fans of Sin City and other dark crime stories who don’t mind that there’s more sex than violence, Magenta might be the book you’ve been waiting for.
Alex Dueben: How did you start in comics?
Nik Guerra: I began in the early 70s, at around 4 years old, making my first doodles on little school notebooks; chaotic reproductions of film and TV western sequences that I saw as a kid. The first comics that appeared in the house and gradually inspired me, graphically speaking, were Zorro, Tarzan, and the classic American comics of the 60s. From these it was the figures of John Romita Sr. that made me think drawing comics must be a fantastic thing, but it wasn’t until 80s, though, with the explosion of new Italian horror comics and the discovery of authors like Guido Crepax and Leone Frollo, that I realized what I seriously wanted to do when I grew up.
Dueben: Where did the character of Magenta come from?
Guerra: Like all of my heroines and the subjects of the pin-ups themselves when I draw them, the graphic concept for Magenta was born out of collaboration with the scriptwriter and alternative fashion designer Cristina “You-Bad-Girl.” (She is also the only authorized creator of clothing with the label Magenta & Co.).
Magenta, who is purely an illustration of fantasy, was born with a number of other heroines that were a part of a series of pin-ups that I created and submitted to different magazines during the 90s.
One of these early works was published in England by the historic magazine “Skin Two,” while several others appeared in the Italian cult magazine for goth music “Ver Sacrum.” Thanks to this magazine, I met the scriptwriter Celestino Pes (already collaborating with Robert Baldazzini) who asked me to bring one of the characters from this series to the world of erotic comics. This character was Magenta.
Since 2002, I’ve worked with him to produce a graphic novel for the international market and a series of short stories, published in Italy and beyond– especially in France where we’ve already gotten to our fourth reprinting with four of the most important editors in the French market (including La Musardine and Delcourt).
Since 2008, to my satisfaction, Magenta has even been published in the US in different publications (inside books by SQP and Eurotica, by NBM Publishing, and in magazines like “Sizzle”).
Magenta is a character from the glamor retro-dark aesthetic, but she has her own versatility as a character. In pinups she’s a sexy diva, dangerous and tormented. In comics, she can move from the most extreme debauchery to positive roles (photographer, private detective) or negative ones (murderer or thief).
Dueben: Where did you get the idea to turn Magenta and Lucretia into detectives?
Guerra: The initial idea to create a detective story for them was inspired by a genre of Italian comics about bungling detectives (“Alan Ford and the TNT Group” and “Johnny Logan” especially), which was in vogue in the 70s. But, then, writing the story, the humor that inspired the Italian stories oddity dissolved into a script that was a bit more serious, integrating other aspects into the personalities of Magenta and Lucrezia.
In other words, they became thieves, photographers, and models all at the same time. In the old short stories they had worn detective outfits, but only to get into hardcore sexual scenarios.
Dueben: As you said, this new book is a little different from your previous books. Why did you want to do something different with Magenta?
Guerra: Without taking anything away from the brilliantly hardcore scripts of Celestino Pes, creator of the texts for the long-running and now classic Magenta series, this time my intent was to produce a graphic novel with a seductively noir-sexy-retro tone, focusing mainly on female protagonists from my comics, pin-ups, and paintings.
The objective was to get a general audience to know my heroines, whom had until then performed in a strictly “adults only” context. The positive results I saw when I introduced these heroines to people at exhibitions and trade shows is one of the real pushes that motivated the project. The sexy aspect concerns, above all, the clothing, the lingerie, and the poses of the protagonists, often represented as out-and-out pin-ups in the context of the narrative.
Magenta: Noir Fatale should be considered Magenta as I intend her to be– and it’s not porno. Some people can’t stomach that genre, but maybe they’ll appreciate the beauty of the characters and my paintings and pin-ups in this new context.
In general, if I had to give my opinion of erotic comics, especially the hardcore ones, I think that they’re in serious trouble. Although they have always been a niche product, today they’ve even lost the interest of the generic comic readers who used to enjoy them like any other entertainment medium. I think that the niche has evolved in some sense, as more and more it’s made up of fans with more refined taste. The admirers of eroticism in print are at the same time not only fans of eroticism but also of a certain type of artistic beauty.
Dueben: What about the setting, early sixties London, appealed to you?
Guerra: The choice of London in those early years of the 60s suits the story very well. It takes place in the small, murky world of sexy magazines that were barely tolerated and sold almost in secret under a conservative, very sanctimonious government, still far from the “sexual revolution” and the “swingin’ London” of 1966.
That context highlights the contrast with the today’s times, where sexual images are everywhere and even the most explicit of them can be had at the click of a smartphone. I aimed to create a narrative context where my pin-up illustrations could live, perform and entertain the reader in a noir adventure,thereby captivating readers who might not be accustomed to hardcore.
For those that appreciate my work overall, the beauty and the charisma of the characters and the drawings also matter.
Dueben: Talk a little about the style and the clothing (or lack thereof) in the book. Do you have a favorite look or design in the book?
Guerra: The inspiration for the look of the characters varies from the 40s to the 60s. The evening dresses could only be inspired by the classic noir films of the 40s and being that my heroines are “dark divas,” the lingerie is a nod to the erotic fetish underground of the 50s. The street clothes certainly match up more typically with the sixties, although at times Magenta and Lucry seem a bit ahead of their time with respect to the fashion that Mary Quant would create only a few years later.
Dueben: What interests you about pin-up art?
Guerra: I believe a great deal in the characterization and charisma of my heroines (which besides Magenta include Lucrezia, Charlotte Champagne, and Cocò Van Sade), which often make more than a few people curious.
Pin-up art featuring Magenta and the other characters in fresh and unique clothing provides a contrast to their comic series. Many of these pin-ups go on to become big canvases (generally 43×32 in), which have already exhibited in contemporary art galleries (in Florence, Milan, Rome, and Paris).
Dueben: You recently published a new collection of pin-up art, Dark Divas. How do you think your style and approach have changed over the years?
Guerra: This is my latest art book, edited by my Italian editor Il Grifo – Edizioni Di, who previously edited “La Femme En Noir.” In that book, there are more than 100 pages of my retrospective of pin-ups and paintings. Dark Divas is possibly even more intriguing that “La Femme en Noir” because the chapters are divided by theme, like “Danger Magenta” (centered on a sexy Magenta, armed and dangerous), “Standing in the Dark” (with the heroines involved in hot situations in a dark, gothic setting), “Whisky Bar” (set in bars depicting decadent burlesque shows and old blues). There are dozens of original images of alternative scenes with Magenta & Co. and all of it is sold in a deluxe package with a dust jacket printed in gold.
Dueben: Can you talk a little about the book Apuckalipse, which came out earlier this year? What is this book about?
Guerra: I participated in Apuckalipse with an exclusive page featuring Magenta, and it was a gas. The volume is illustrated by several dozen illustrators and underground cartoonists from all over the world. Everyone had to produce a page with his own characters describing the end of the world in the place where the author lives and works. On my page, you see a dirty Magenta, completely freaked out, and in the background flying saucers are invading my little seaside town, Marina di Massa, in Tuscany.
Dueben: Are you planning to make more comics, with or without Magenta?
Guerra: I’m working on my new graphic novel with the protagonist Coco Von Sade, based on the story and script by Cristina “You-Bad-Girl”. I consider the story an evolution of my style, and I believe it’s very interesting, so well formed in its fantasy elements, spicy and mysterious. I hope it comes out as soon as possible, hopefully also in the US. I also have some ideas for a project, a Magenta story that’s really very unique and alternative. We’ll see.
Dueben: What else are you working on and what else are you interested in doing?
Guerra: Often, I collaborate on different projects that don’t even directly involve my characters. That’s what happened recently for the production of the 2013 remake of Ramba, the Italian cult character from the 1980s. If you mean another type of work, well, for me creating pictures, pinups and comics totally absorbs my time. I can only listen to good music in between (especially Progressive Italian Rock).
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