Everyone Pervs Should Know And Love #2: Vittorio Giardino’s Little Ego
Europeans are, of course, the world leaders in erotic comics that are actually erotic (instead of being straight-up filthy or totally psychotic; Americans and Japanese take those respective cakes). Again this is a question of craft; European cartoonists at their best exhibit a level of attention to detail and staging that most of their American counterparts could only hope to achieve. (And if a certain quality of stiffness and emotional distance is the price paid, well, that’s pretty European too.) Vittorio Giardino is probably best known for his historical secret-agent thrillers starring the bearded Max Fridman and his Cold-War soap opera Jonas Fink (translated into English as A Jew In Communist Prague), both of which are meticulously researched, immaculately drawn, and (like the middlebrow fiction that inspired them) fitfully engaging.
But it’s worth noting that I have to pull all those in books from my shelf if I want to read them; Little Ego is the only Giardino comic readily available in the usual digital locations. Which probably says more about the traditional uses of the Internet than it does about the relative quality of the work; but even if it’s more slight, it’s also more fun, more charming, and more giddily imaginative than not only the rest of Giardino’s output but than most erotic comics too.
The title is an obvious reference to Little Nemo, Winsor McCay’s pioneering comic strip of the 1910s and 20s that took advantage of the full-color, full-sized Sunday newspaper page format and the premise of a magical, shifting dreamscape to explore to create some of the most indelible, bravura, and wildly imaginative images ever seen in comics. Little Ego isn’t quite as bravura as McCay, but Giardino similarly takes advantage of the lucid dreamscape to run his imagination wild: calla lilies become long-tongued invaders, everything from umbrella handles to carafes to airplane fuselages to alligators become sexual objects for Ego and the characters that run wild in her dreams; as with Nemo, every strip ends with her waking in bed, usually wondering what her shrink would have to say about the dream.
A classic case of narcissism, perhaps?
And this would be … fear of the feminine?
Obviously the psychology isn’t the point with this series; the nudity, the sexualization of the landscape within which the drawings are organized, and the winking references to sexual activity are. Unlike Sally Forth, Ego does actually have sex in these comics, but again genitals are never depicted and it all remains titillatingly softcore and “naughty” rather than outright pornographic. Which is fine; while the post-Internet pornification of the general culture may have diminished the sexual heat of these comics (which were drawn in the 1980s), they remain charmingly erotic, a visual delight, and just plain fun, regardless.