Challenging Taboos

Challenging Taboos

Eros Graphic Albums no. 2, 31, 47, 55 - Young Witches - Solano Lopez & Barreiro

England, late 19th century. Brittania rules the waves,  the stiff upperlip and its repressing  social conventions and superstitions rule the people. Age of the industrial  revolution  where people like Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hide, Freud and  Einstein roam the streets of london.

What a delicious cauldron for this lavishly illustrated comic that gives a tour along the inhabitants of this world and how they deal with all that (sexual) repression?
Our protagonist Lilian is shipped off to her aunts near coventry. Her mother dying giving birth to her, and shame and suicide to her father due to her illigitimacy. As it turns out, Lilian’s aunts are members of a coven of witches, whose rituals frequently involve their nubile charges into exhibitions. And whom indulge all in not so sisterly love.
Soon, Lilian, tapping into both her unsuspected powerful psychic abilities and her omnisexual potential, begins to uncover the darker secrets of the coven, and the resultant battle of wills ends in a climactic conflagration.A healthy escape, together  with her friend Agatha, from the perverse, from family and peers no less. But to fall in the hands of another one.
The cover of the first collection of stories features a close-up of the open mouth of one of the lead characters, framed by assorted savage, leering faces. This cover suggests that all manner of lurid insalubriousness is going on within this book’s pages. In fact, book one of “Young Witches” is fairly unremarkable–as unremarkable as an extremely explicit story about sexually ambiguous just-post-adolescent sorceresses can be, anyway. But book two, “London Babylon,” takes a sound concept (young witches! in trouble! graphically!) and cranks up the insanity to spectacularly heady levels.
Wandering along a roadway after the fire, wearing little, they are picked up by a rather nice doctor passing by in a privately owned stagecoach. Dr. Jekyll takes them home with him to London.
While Dr. Jekyll is detained, the girls are offered some lovely tea. Unfortunately for them, it has been drugged.
He takes them to London where he promptly vagina-drugs them with a sedative-slash-aphrodisiac and enslaves them in the basement of his brothel/nightclub/cult temple. This might seem absurd, but according to the “Young Witches” mythology, one-hundred-percent of men are one-hundred-percent boner-motivated, so it makes more than a bit of sense that the need would arise for a lot of vagina-drugging white slavery organizations.
A cast of characters files through Dr. Jekyll’s club, including Sherlock Holmes (who watches an erotic equestrian act in full-on deerstalker and pipe mode), Sigmund Freud (who gets a blowjob while traveling in a zeppelin–STEAMPUNK!) and a coked-out, misogynistic Robert Louis Stevenson (steampunk?). The main source of tension comes from wondering whether or not Lillian and Agatha will remain (EXTREMELY loosely-defined) virgins and what horrible plans Jekyll’s cult has in mind for the girls.

Illustrator Francisco Solano Lopez was an influential figure in mainstream Argentinian comics, gaining fame drawing science fiction tales before embarking on making erotic fare in the 1990s. It’s hard to imagine any classic American comics artist having similar latitude to explore these kind of deliberately provocative themes, considering there’s there’s an entire book dedicated to one of the creators of Superman and his work on American pulps that was promoted in such a way as to incite pearl clutching among the masses. Thankfully, there’s a (sometimes literal) ocean of difference between the way readers in other countries approach serialized comics (and visual storytelling in general).
Lopez’ highly-textural, sensual style of drawing complements Barreiro’s unflinchingly gratuitous story.
I’m sometimes reminded of George Pichard’s voluptuous women, and the torturous scenarios to which he subjects them.
There’s a real sense of flesh (and other various organic materials) throughout the book, creating a sort of“can’t look away” immersiveness to the perversity. In later books. Lopez takes a softer, grayscale approach and even includes color work, but it’s in these stark black-and-white scenes where his technique shines.
Tonally, the book feels like a somewhat more literate version of the various “Blu” fumetti titles, crammed as it is with aggressively shocking sexual provocation. I’m not sure if, like its “Blu” spiritual siblings, it makes the overall effect of reading “London Babylon” more or less unsettling that there’s plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor to be found. Keep in mind that this is a universe where Jack the Ripper’s crimes are shown in gruesome detail but he is later entirely forgiven for his crimes and just… sorta… walks away because his therapist trusts that he got better. That’s got some fucking disturbing implications, cats and kittens. Apparently Eros found the book’s material potentially objectionable enough to issue a warning on one of the first pages, reinforcing that the book is satirical in nature and that Lillian and Agatha are totally empowered by  the process of overcoming what  happens to them (which is why the explosive finale is wrapped up in two pages).
In book 3 the witches return to battle with an ancient Egyptian necromancer. Bondage, lesbian harems and tantric magic - it's the strangest adventure yet.
Book 4 tells that What started out as an erotic Victorian-era pot-boiler is actually not at all what it seems.
Aside from the fact that this comic might be a real case for copyright infringement, the story and action (sexual and otherwise) are compelling, especially as Lillian realizes the Victorian world in which she lives may be nothing but a futuristic virtual reality fantasy—the “eternal dream”—concocted by a computer gone mad( a la the matrix).

The drawings are good and develop over time in the series. The plot is strong, and the characterization and personalities of the main characters are quite developed.
The book should be celebrated for what they are–a completely over-the-top, unapologetic celebration of the grotesque. Always dark, sometimes funny and utterly engrossing in its grossness, “Young Witches” is boundary-pushing, subversive erotica that delivers on its promises to shock and–yeah, I’mm’a say it–arouse.

By Tenebrous Kate on May 28, 2013 on among others

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