We caught up with the artist Nicola to talk about his dramatic illustrations.
You’ve recently released a book of your work – why was now the right time to publish a collection of your art?
True, I confess my sin. 2023 was the proper time, because the count-down which started in 2022 with regular publishers had expired.
Publishers are unspeakable in their Grindr-like manners – unless they’re interested in your project, they simply won’t answer. At the same time, they are so bold to ask you to inform them if you decide to go for self-publishing. They take from three months to one year to answer. Well, same as it ever was: no answer came, so I did it my own way.
All in all, my drawings were intended to be printed from the very beginning of my activity. For over twenty years, people have been asking me what magazine publishes my works, but there isn’t any. Only in 2021, Boner Magazine did, but this was the only exception.
Also, a very young friend of mine started pushing me into submitting my works to regular publishers once again. After so much time, I wasn’t as optimistic as him, but I started developing a project. I had so much to write about my works – my ideas, funny stories.
Meanwhile, I was “like a candle in the wind” – Twitter/X banned my account for a misunderstanding, and suddenly I existed no more, which is quite normal in my story as creative.
Moreover some relations sadly got sour, some “friends” and other people took the pandemic as a good chance to dismiss me. I have ended up very lonely – when wandering in my home city, at this point I feel like a stranger in a strange land.
I acknowledged that what counts is my images only – no matter who I am, what I think, what I write.
This is why I changed my project into a more cryptic one – almost nothing to read, illustrations only. A silent book, just as silent as we are when visiting a museum – it’s only us and the artwork.
I have done everything alone – from the concept to the final layout. I am very happy with the final result, because it’s more than I expected in terms of quality. And I am overjoyed to see that people can get it also from abroad, despite some online shops rejecting it, despite there is no advertising or promotion.
The final page being blank was intended as a space for the typographer’s legal lines – since it’s no longer mandatory, they decided to remain anonymous. This speaks a lot by itself.
A positive note – when some far right extremist speaks about the “gay lobby”, the story of my self-produced book is a further printed proof that they’re speaking nonsense.
The name of the book is Little Thumb Up The Ass – why was that the choice for the name of the book?
Of course, the reason is being rejected by those online shops who are selling Mein Kampf. See? I’m considered more dangerous than Hitler.
Jokes apart, lots of my illustrations suggest a narrative level, they look as excerpts from a story, but they are not; so everybody can imagine their own story, starting from the very image – what happened first, where it will end. And such imagination is very personal, just as when we’re listening to a tale – we imagine faces, places, flavours. That’s almost a daydream.
So, mine’s an adult oriented fairytale – when we discover sexuality, we also start to know ourselves more (you know, the old Greek advice γνῶθι σεαυτόν). And we imagine.
Hence this Little Thumb of mine has grown up, and now he’s after another path which doesn’t lead back home, but to his very own back, discovering unknown pleasures—or recovering well known ones, depending on his level of experience.
But there is more: this Little Thumb is a caustic rebel, and he suffers quite an allergy to authority, impositions and restrictions (including swimwear); he wouldn’t trust a revolution when seeing it’s nothing but new powermen replacing old powermen, then imposing new rules, because he is after real freedom.
Maybe there is no prince charming at the end of this tale, but some sexy grooms may entertain us anyway—which is not so bad.
So the title is also an advice – shut up and enjoy some anal.
Quite an answer to restrictive policies, prudes, today’s masters of war, cheaply priced good sense and so on: know yourselves, and maybe you enjoy it all.
I might be banned once more on socials, but now it’s different: once that such book is printed and delivered, it can’t be banned from your private bookshelves so easily.
You’ve been drawing from a young age – when did you start to explore erotic scenes through your drawings?
Maybe this could be beyond belief, but I did my very first dirty drawings when I was in my early teenage years. And they were mainly straight ones.
Those illustrations were quite grotesque, because they were meant to prank teachers and laugh among a restricted number of friends. The setting of such stories was an underground brothel called The Panther Kiss, and everything was very humorous—if not even trendy: very few people shaved their genitals during the 80s, in those lost drawings of mine there were some of those few!
Such humour drifted away when I became aware of what I was, in a small city. And with no Internet at all, which is not a detail. I remember an Italian erotic magazine showing gay art stuff, and the headline said “Gay art is always so tragic”… well, welcome to reality: being gay was actually tragic in such conditions.
The more you conceal, the more you suffer; the more you suffer, the more you have nightmares. I was jealous of those schoolmates who had such wet dreams – instead, I had only bad dreams – that’s how a blank paper sheet became the space where to explore love, attraction, sexuality, my own personal taste about guys, features, stats… at first they were mainly portraits, just like one of the most ancient legends about the origin of art: a young girl tracing the shadow of her loved one on a wall.
Art would give me what my mean subconscious wouldn’t provide: I could produce my own dreams. I regret to have not found the formula for getting those people out of the paper and making them real.
But reflecting a little better, I should seek the hidden door to leave this world and step into the illustration, because my paper world is so much happier: no sexual disease, no abuse, when some repression hint happens my characters do react; and above all, I’d be young again and enjoy very different teenage years! See? The lost humour has come back.
I think humour and sex help each others a lot, and keep you away from getting dull, or too serious.
The monochromatic and linear style of work seems to add a darkness or an intensity to the scenes you create – is that intentional?
Absolutely yes, it’s entirely on purpose. I was fascinated by the expressive synthesis of Italian crime comics of the 60s, especially the ones by Magnus; then I discovered also Lang, Bergman, Antonioni and other brilliant masters of black and white cinema—e.g. I consider the Lake Sunset drawing one of the closest ones to Bergman’s photography—side note: somebody must have loved it a lot, since its signed print was stolen during my Parisian exhibition!
The easiest answer is that I work on a two-dimensional support, so that’s a nice way to cheat and create the illusion of space and volumes. But since I am complicated, I’d like to add that the contrast between light and darkness provides a strong and suggestive atmosphere, that’s what I try to achieve: you can understand and recognise what I draw, ok, but I try to go deeper, in order to reach to some emotional sympathy, beyond the first detection of characters and situations.
This is not reality, there’s more freedom here: our mind is free to rework the data inputs from perception, and re-present them differently.
The linear work is a guiding hand for our observation activity, that’s why I try to control my brush or nib the best way I can: it has to be smooth, almost calligraphy, at least if I intend to provide harmony.
Some artists prefer a more glimpsing, dynamic or impressionistic stroke, which I respect and admire, but they’re aiming at a different effect. There are million ways to get things done, it all depends on what your aesthetic purpose is.
What are some of your goals and aspirations for the months ahead?
Except for the public excommunication by His Holiness the Pope, there isn’t any at the moment. But it seems some other people do have some for me: I have received some messages going like ‘I like your book a lot! I’m waiting for the next one’. Another one? I feel like The Clash when they were asked for a second album, and they went like ‘Whaaat?!’. But they did it. And I’ll never be grateful enough for a song like Tommy Gun.
Ok, I have released a book—and it’s as square as an old vinyl album—but I haven’t stopped drawing. New works came along right after the book, other works will come… Who knows… The future is unwritten.
The After Dark edition
To check out some of the explicit and NSFW illustrations from Nicola, head to the After Dark edition.