On Saturday, September 18th at 7pm, The BottleNeck Lounge will host a book release party for Jon Macy’s graphic novel, Teleny and Camille, which will be on bookstore shelves next month. The book is an adaptation of the anonymous gay erotic novel, Teleny, published in London in 1893 and attributed to Oscar Wilde and his circle of writers and poets. Macy will be in attendance to sign copies of the book, do sketches and mingle with readers. Attendees will also be able to enjoy featured drink specials and green carnations for their lapels.
Teleny and Camille is about a secret love affair between a wealthy young gentleman and an exotic pianist. Though it’s a period piece, Macy assures readers the novel is anything but dry; he has attempted to create a work that evokes the period without becoming a costume drama and keeping its audience at arm’s length. The characters in Teleny and Camille are treated as real people, overcome and undone by long-suppressed passions.
The graphic novel is framed with sequences set in the modern era, with Macy explaining the reasons why he was drawn to the project, and outlining some of the potential pitfalls.
“It’s very historically accurate,” says Macy, “but it’s not just another Victorian romp. These guys were aesthetes and they did everything they could to be modern so. To some, the imagery might seem too futuristic for 1890 but trust me, they were doing it at the time. You might say that I show the Victorian London that they would have liked to have lived in.”
“One alteration I made was to tone down the more stereotypically ‘gay’ dress. It’s been over one hundred years since the trials of Oscar Wilde, but we still carry the visual baggage. When they were flamboyant and waved their flowers it was an act of rebellion. I had to show their social protest in a way that hasn’t had decades of hate twisting it into something now ridiculed.”
“I’ve always had an interest in unusual erotic novels,” says Macy, “such as George Bataille’s The Story of the Eye and Huysman’s Against the Grain and I had friends who would find and give them to me. Teleny was one that an old friend thought I would especially like and he was right. I was inspired by the intense hallucinations and very dense descriptions of the love making. No where else would you find erotic scenes describing lovers exposing their naked bodies to the thunderbolts of heaven and luxuriating in a fiery rain of emeralds and rubies. The language is gorgeous and the love between the men so pure and intense.”
The apparent goal of the novel, which was composed in secret by a number of authors, was to create a work of erotica that aspired to be literature, with a solid narrative, believable characters and rich and varied cultural underpinnings. The result is a story steeped in both sensuality and history, as the characters revel in the pleasures of the flesh and draw parallels between their own illicit love and those from Greek myth and elsewhere.
The book balances its literary aspirations with frankness about the sexual escapades of its characters; their experiences run the gamut from all-out horrific to near-divine, showing both the destructive and redemptive powers of giving in to one’s lusts. The main character, Camille, constantly walks the line between seeing his love as a curse or a blessing, and is frequently driven to extremes by the overwhelming power of his love.
“I’ve always had a fascination with the elevation of erotic material to the level of art,” says publisher Charles “Zan” Christensen, who also writes the erotic series The Mark of Aeacus for Northwest Press and Class Comics. “For such a basic human instinct, it seems that we routinely steer clear of really exploring and being honest about our sexual lives, and I think we’re poorer for it. Teleny and Camille evokes the time period and gives us a window into what life might have been like for gay men in Victorian England, and reminds us of the vast distance we’ve come in a relatively short time, and the dangers of going backward.”
Jon Macy was part of the early nineties black and white comics boom with the series Tropo. It was followed by the erotic/horror comic series Nefarismo from Eros/Fantagraphics. Since then, he has created strips for gay skin magazines such as Steam, Wilde, Bunkhouse and International Leatherman as well as the anthologies Gay Comix, Negative Burn, Meatmen and Boy Trouble.
Teleny and Camille is a 248-page perfect-bound graphic novel, and is currently available from Northwest Press.
The BottleNeck Lounge is located at 2328 Madison Street in Seattle.