Billed as ‘explicit! disrespectful! and 20% true!’ Aphrodite – The Naked Truth is not the type of comic you would get for your teenage son. He might, of course, buy it for himself. Or, as a comic book fan yourself, you might decide this is worth a spot on your shelf – though perhaps not your coffee table. The point I’m making here is that this is not Asterix or Tin Tin (unless Chief Vitalstatistix had a far more specific backstory than we ever suspected); instead it’s a modern-day graphic novel with a definite leaning towards the explicitly erotic – and historically fascinating. And it’s set in Cyprus…
Taking place in 217AD, Aphrodite – The Naked Truth comprises a set of interwoven storylines which leap back and forth between various temples and houses in the Paphos district. A tangled tale featuring gods, men and monstrous – hem, hem – equipment (which leaps out in eye-watering technicolour from almost every page), it’s the creation of Cyprus-based author, journalist and writer Christiane Sternberg with help from illustrator David Selwood, graphic designer Marcos Gittis and translator Eva Selwood.
“The idea for an erotic graphic novel first came to me when I met David, the illustrator,” explains Christiane. “He drew erotic illustrations; I occasionally write stories with erotic content, and it was natural to do something together. Of course the story was right there in front of me: here I was living in Cyprus, the island of Aphrodite.
“Nowadays,” Christiane continues, “Aphrodite appears on fridge magnets and kitsch souvenirs, but the goddess of love and beauty was certainly not a shy young lady hiding her body: she was a strong and powerful deity, a celebration of the most important thing people had at the time – love. After all, it was necessary to have sex; you had to have children to survive. In those days love was a basic need,” she laughs. “And so we’ve made Aphrodite sexy again…”
“It is the year 217 in ancient Kypros and time for the Aphrodisia. Paphos is drunk with excitement, it is where humans and gods will celebrate the orgiastic festival together in honour of the goddess of love. She has her hands full whilst trying to reunite two lovers and keep Adonis satisfied. Zeus comes to earth to enjoy himself but Hera thwarts his adulterous plans. Melania is initiated into the mysteries of love and Orestes rescues her from a life as an hetaerae. Meanwhile, very holy and unholy acts are taking place at the temple of Aphrodite…”
While the description on the back gives us a clue as to the content, and the pictures inside portray a fairly explicit view of the revelries of the time, the plot actually boasts a great many factually accurate historical elements. It all revolves around the Aphrodisia, a riotous three-day festival where – according to a recent BBC article, which cites the celebration as an ancient form of sex tourism – “having sex with strangers was not only possible but obligatory: hordes of pilgrims who came to Aphrodite’s shrine would evoke her name before having intercourse with her temple maids.”
“The Aphrodisia definitely took place,” says Christiane, explaining the extensive research that went into the storyline. “The mosaics are all based on reality; the aphrodisiacs used are ancient remedies; and the play we describe really existed, as did its writer. Perhaps most importantly, the black stone of Aphrodite – which is currently housed in the museum at Kouklia – really was used in the initiation ceremony for the temple maids. I’ve seen it.” Christiane adds, “it exists. And there’s something very special about it. It’s a feeling I tried to convey when Melania first touches the stone…”
With five major storylines running throughout (star-crossed lovers Aphrodite and Adonis; eternal combatants Hera and Zeus; racy Roman cougar Cornelia; bright young bucks Orestes and Xanthos; and the innocent young initiate Melania) the plot is “an interwoven net which all comes together in the end. Melania is the main character, she provides the impetus which draws us into the whole three-day festival; because it’s all new to her, she’s introducing the reader to the myths and legends of the time, allowing us to see what went on in the temple.”
Of course Melania’s story may be the main thread, but with a novel packed with “pilgrims from all over the world; gamblers and tradesmen; small harbour brothels; self-declared tourist guides claiming to know the shortest way to the temple” there’s plenty of scope for the other characters to have a good go at, well, pretty much everything under the sun! Which they do. With gusto. Often more than once.
Such excesses are proving to be a smash hit with readers all over the island. Though not, perhaps, with the demographic you might expect… “Firstly, the pictures are all hand-drawn – a rarity in an age of computer generated graphics, and a draw for those who appreciate the excellent artwork,” Christiane explains. “Then it features an all-powerful goddess, so women tend to be very interested. In fact, when we took the book to the Cyprus ComicCon our buyers tended to be women aged 30 and up – those who understand their bodies and sex, and are very open about it.”
While younger women are also interested, says Christiane, younger men tend to giggle and blush when confronted with the naked truth… “But this is not porn by any means. It’s erotic. And it is, I hope, educational. Not in terms of sex, but regarding the history of the island. And that was one of the most fun parts of creating this book: concealing real, historical information in the text; teaching people about their island’s past without them realising they’re learning.
“In essence, it’s a fun, educational novel about love – which is a theme that ran both through the process of the book’s creation and the actual plot,” Christiane concludes. “We’ve created a whole world. It may be only 20 per cent true, but it’s certainly fascinating… Those ancient Greeks and Romans had so much fun!” And so will readers. If they’re blessed with an open mind and a deliciously decadent sense of humour. After all, it’s not called The Naked Truth for nothing!
Aphrodite – The Naked Truth
An erotic graphic novel written by Christiane Sternberg and illustrated by David Selwood. Available from all good bookshops (priced at €12.50) and online (€16.50). For more information visit www.aphroditecomic.com