Hot Under The Colour: an illustrated Valetina Rosselli was my bisexual awakening
by Dominée LePen
Breasts, bare and supple. Her full lips, French and sensuous, seemed to feature a permanent pout. A tiny curve, or two mere dots, hinted at her thin and slightly upturned nose. Her black hair hugged her narrow cheekbones in a page cut, reaching to just about her chin. When her face rested in her hand, I longed to reach out and cup those cheeks—or breasts—in my own palms. The dark shadows around her eyes defined them in lasciviousness. More often than not she was staring with longing or languor at something or someone out of the frame, so that she became even more mesmerizing when she looked directly off the page and at me.
Valentina Rosselli, a fictional photojournalist from Milan and the creation of Italian illustrator and comic book artist Guido Crepax, made her graphic novel debut in 1965 as a sex-bomb sidekick in the superhero comic Neutron. By the time she reached me to bring much needed relief to my teenage lust, she had already become a heroine in her own right in the Valentina series. The tales of fantasy and science fiction had turned to themes of nudity, fetishism, bisexuality, and bondage, mixing reality with dreams, memories, and hallucinations.
As the ‘80s turned into the ‘90s, a classmate at my all-girls boarding school brought back several Valentina volumes from summer break - collector’s items discovered in her dad’s drawer. Collectively, we pointed out scenes of sensuality, sadomasochism, and erotic ecstasy to each other, much like boys would with a couple of Playboy magazines. In this group setting, the prickling sexual tension came from openly watching the arousal of others while guarding—or, in my case, flaunting your own.
In more private surroundings, the fever dreams banned onto the white page in black lines soon inspired acts of self-pleasure. I distilled the narrative unfolding on several levels at once into a fantasy of my own.
Crepax drew Valentina in a style reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art, yet he employed his own artistic technique that blended montage, zoom, and change of perspective between frames.
With often minimal dialog, the comic’s graphic depictions turned me on just as much with what they didn’t show. When Valentina undressed panel by panel, the focus was on the articles of clothing coming off one by one, and I realized her full body nudity only came together in my head.
Valentina taught me that masturbation is primarily a mental activity.
Much like you pick up masturbatory material in everyday life—an exposed thigh here, a wink of an eye there, I felt as creative as Crepax when I performed the mental choreography necessary to climax as I poured over his art. Like in a harvest, I gathered, dispersed and arranged Valentina’s drawings in my mind to experience a lustful fantasy as narratively complex as a short story.
The controversy surrounding Valentina ranges from her perception as both an emancipated, sexually liberated, and strong heroine, to a submissive pin-up girl reflecting the patriarchal image of a bound and well-behaved woman. Already in my puberty, I knew what attracted me was a man’s imagination of how an ideal woman should look and behave. Yet that was part of Valentina’s appeal.
Her world where lust conquered all and succumbing to pleasure was the highest principle became a role model for my sexuality. The allure of Valentina being a fantasy further affirmed my already budding bisexuality: to my mind, if I could be like her, I could attract both men and women.
The year I met Valentina, I went down on a girl for the first time. Much later, when I picked up writing romance and erotica, I drew from the creative energy she unleashed in me. In one of my first (autobiographical) short stories, a student working night shifts at a radio station creates cut-up art out of found porn magazines, splicing together body parts like I combined comic panels.
I thus owe Valentina a double awakening, one sexual, one creative, though to me they’re forever entwined.
All images copyright Guido Crepax