“Censorship and the Female Artist” was the subject of one of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con panels. The women on the dais discussed the presentation of strong female characters, public reaction to their work, and the male gaze.
Comparing her approach to women’s bodies with that of male artists, the erotic pinup illustrator Olivia de Berardinis declared, “I own the subject matter; they just rent it.” The writer Anina Bennett expressed her annoyance with men’s “bias that women can’t draw superheroes.” And Canada’s Camilla d’Errico talked about how she draws her faerie-like female characters, rendered in manga style, with genuine emotions rather than vacant, blank stares. But it wasn’t just the faces that have sparked controversy about her work.
D’Errico has been drawing comic books for over a decade, and has been painting since 2006. Her graphic novels include Tanpopo and Burn, and she’s included in the recent Womanthology. She also merchandises her creations on a variety of products. She’s often grouped with Pop Surrealists, the upscale term for “lowbrow,” populist artists. In his foreword to Camilla’s Femina & Fauna art book, the noted Australian comic book artist and illustrator Ashley Wood writes that she “manipulates what you would believe to be serene scenes of beauty into twisted places. Sexual tension is elegantly brushed across her worlds; innocent characters have a ‘Don’t you turn your back on me’ flavor.”
In the following conversation, d’Errico discusses her audience, her inspirations, and how she’s responded to accusations of obscenity.
How would you describe your fan base?
My fans are amazing! I’m always surprised by the kind of people I meet who follow my art. Many are artists and are inspired by my journey. They are very excited to learn about my process and how I developed my career.
I would also say that my fans are mostly female. However, there are many men that really appreciate my art. And what I’ve noticed in the majority of my male fans is they really love my digital work. I definitely put a different part of myself into my digital art, a different edge, and I think that resonates with guys.
How do you feel about the “Pop Surrealist” label?
I really don’t mind the term. I came to terms with it a while ago. I am not a fan of labels in general; I feel that labels put people in boxes. And as you can see from my artwork, it ranges far too much to be contained in one box.
However, the term Pop Surrealism is not a bad thing. And I’m really quite fond of the movement. I love the energy and quirkiness of the art and I’m constantly inspired by the work being produced.
What artists inspire you?
There are so many artists that inspire me, and each of them are so different and unique that I feel connected to them in varying ways.
James Jean is one of the most talented artists hands down. I hate how good he is. [Laughs] Kidding. But of all the artists, I feel like he is a true genius and prodigy. His artwork keeps me guessing, I never know what he’ll do next. And it inspires me to be the kind of artist that pushes limits.
I adore Greg Simkins‘s work. His paintings are so luscious and smooth. He depicts his animals in such distorted ways, adding objects and creating hybrids. It’s so fascinating how he puts them together, absolutely flawless. He is a master that I want to learn from.
Without a doubt Audrey Kawasaki paints the most beautiful and sensual women. Each girl is mesmerizing and haunting. I can’t get over how well she paints them, and she’s a master of anatomy.
Much of my inspiration comes from Asia. Range Murata is a master of rendering these innocent but not so innocent girls. And each one feels like she could really exist. His range is phenomenal.
Redjuice is a new favorite whom I discovered on Deviantart. Others are Konohana Sakuya, Travis Louie, Yoshitomo Nara, Terada Katsuya, CLAMP, Ben Templesmith, Jeff Simpson, Masashi Kishimoto, Ashley Wood, and so many many more.
What else gives you inspiration?
Nature, for one. There are so many incredible creatures on this planet that no special effects company could ever come close to creating.
Photography is also a big inspiration, I love fashion and seeing how people are captured in one still shot. I also find inspiration in things like piping. I know, its weird, but I adore machinery and constantly photograph it when I can.
I find that inspiration will come when I’m least expecting it. During a dinner someone may say something, and suddenly this image pops into my head and I have to run and grab my sketchbook. And I just can’t sit through a movie without doodling something.
I hope one day someone invents inspiration in a bottle because then I could buy it and give people a simple answer to this question. For now, I can only say that the world and its many secrets inspire me.
What have been your experiences with people who disapprove of your art?
There have been a couple of instances that stand out. I was in Artists’ Alley at a convention as a guest, and one of the volunteer staff came by my booth and he had a problem with one of my postcard sets. The first card in the set was
a girl who was naked from the waist up. He found it inappropriate and told me I couldn’t sell these at the show. I refused to take them down and had my guest-relations staff talk to him. It was all sorted out and he was told that I could sell whatever I brought and not to cause any more problems.
The other instance—and this is the worst I’ve ever experienced—was when an older lady and her son, who was in his late 30s, came by my table and called it pornography. I was shocked, to say the least. My fans at my table turned on them and a very heated exchange occurred and the older couple left. They were upset with an image I had of a topless girl with a shirtless guy. Neither of these images had anything graphic or lewd in them. If I wanted to be pornographic, there would be no doubt. But my artwork is not meant to be sexual, it’s meant to be sensual.
I think in a way, it’s changed how I view things now. It made me realize that people can be overly sensitive to nudity. After that series, I pulled back from painting nudity and clothed my girls a lot more. I hate how that affected me; I’ve become very wary of painting nudity.
But on the opposite side of the coin, at this year’s San Diego Comic Con 2012, my best seller was “The Weeping Camel,” which was the only print I had on the table with nudity. So, goes to show that you just never know what to expect.
I think now you can expect me to unshackle that fear and take back the power that those people seemed to have stolen from me.
What do you think causes such reactions?
I think it has to do with two things. One is that manga—Japanese-style characters—look young. They have big eyes and round faces, and these are often associated with children. My style is based on manga and anime, and I love that my characters’ ages are hard to guess. Some see them as I do, which is just as girls, and they don’t put ages on them, and other people see them as children.
The second is that North America has issues with nudity. Censorship in art is so wrong, I just can’t believe that our culture has such a problem with nudity and yet reveres violence. In Europe they have no problem with nudity, it’s just a part of fashion and seen simply as the human body. To them, nudity does not equal sex, but North America can’t make that distinction.
The history of art in Europe is so rich, and its roots are in paintings depicting naked women, naked men, naked babies, because it’s just art. It’s a expression of the human psyche. We need to learn from our past and embrace the art of today the way they did so long ago. If anyone told Michelangelo that he had to cover up his statue of David the way that Facebook tells artists today to cover up their artworks, I’m sure he would be outraged. As should we all.
What’s your involvement with d’Errico fashions, toys, and other products?
I’m directly involved with all products that use my artwork. I work with many different companies that produce merchandise and, depending on the type of product, my involvement ranges from selecting the artwork used to being there step-by-step from sketching to final.
I worked very closely with Dark Horse to produce the No Ordinary Love bust that is coming out in October and couldn’t be prouder of how it turned out.
What else lies ahead?
I have a few projects I am working on. I will have a two-person show with Brandi Milne at Tara McPherson’s Cotton Candy Machine in New York City, in October. My Helmetgirls Artbook with Dark Horse, my Helmetgirls Origins graphic novel that I will be working on soon. I’m almost done with my second graphic novel of Tanpopo with Boom. More Sky Pirates of Neo Terra Web comics. Next year I will have a few more books coming out, including a how-to book.
I wish I could tell you more, but most of the projects I am working on are very hush-hush.
About Michael Dooley
Michael Dooley is the creative director of Michael Dooley Design and teaches History of Design, Comics, and Animation at Art Center College of Design and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is also a Print contributing editor and author.