The reserved French artist known simply as Bruno B. shares his thoughts on the enduring popularity of his comics and illustrations of ruggedly masculine dads and builders.
As we move along into the future, depictions of sex between men – sex that is joyful and positive and exciting and good, not just bleak and shameful and confusing – become more and more normalized. The everpresence of pornography and the ubiquity of unlimited access via the internet is just creating that circumstance the way the moon creates the tide. We are able to instantly acquire erotica that suits our particular tastes and moods and find reassurance and validation in our desires on forums and blogs (like this one!) largely with ease.
But it wasn’t very long ago that artists like Tom of Finland were creating depictions of sexualized male bodies and sexualized scenarios between men that could be described no way other than groundbreaking. One of the reasons Tom’s work is still so significant and so often imitated is that it gave life and permission to the image of homosexual bodies and sex, to be masculine and alluring and enticing. It glorified a freedom from the bondage of monogamy, and from the confines and crushing walls of normalized hetero-fixed engagement. Tom’s men stood in sharp contrast to the crass stereotypes and mincing, effeminate caricatures of men who had sex with men which lined the eras preceding it (most particularly in western culture and media).
Bruno B.’s work is a part of that same canon, and his contribution is significant in its sexualizing of masculine bodies that don’t necessarily fit the mold of the ToF men. Bodies which might not even be understood to be sexual by viewers conditioned into seeing only the trope of white/blonde/muscled Chelsea-boy as peak desirability.
Bruno’s men are thick and hairy. They don’t knowingly wield allure as a Falcon model might, but are often instead caught off guard by the attraction of their younger charges, or even of men constructed similarly to them.
And it is in these interactions that his most exciting and fascinating work comes to vibrant and arousing life. Bruno (sometimes mistakenly credited as “Bruno Bara,” with Bara being a style of erotic masculine art that sometimes overlaps with Bruno’s own) conveys the complicated melding of confusion and want, and the gripping pull of knowing better but doing it anyway that anybody who’s ever done anything bad is intimately familiar with. There is a depth to his stories that surpasses the short word counts or limited pages available in publications, and like any good comic artist he uses the complex but identifiable emotional expressions of his characters to say all the things the words do not.
In every panel, Bruno challenges the viewer to stay focused and stay in his complicated sexual world, while common decency might demand they grow enraged and repulsed by the actions taking place before them.
It is inherently quite difficult to discuss about work like this in an open way, because the subject matter and characters and archetypes are often minefields for unacceptable depictions and certainly for ideas that should never be arousing. But here we are, aroused.
And so they must be discussed.
Bruno! I’m so pleased and grateful that you found my way to this site and got in touch. And grateful too, for your patience while I took forever to put this interview together! Hundreds of readers come to badwolf.blog each month by way of searches for your name, and I know they’ll be thrilled to learn a bit more about you.
Your English is impeccable, but your .fr email leads to me to suspect that you’re not American – is that correct? (Not that it makes any significant difference, I just personally found it surprising)
I’m french (nothing to be very proud of, these last few decades and especially this last year) with Italian/Mediterranean parents. I’m not so sure my scholastic English is as good as you suggest (never been able to master the proper use of Past Progressive and Past Simple) but, thanks to some good teachers, pop singers, and comic books (plus Google Translation, of course!), I can express myself pretty precisely in this language, which is more widely used than my own.
What do you presently do for work? Are you an illustrator or artist by trade? It is difficult to imagine such skillful rendering is merely a sideline or hobby for you.
Let’s say I quit school at 17: never ever really worked before then, but I was already good in French & English and there was absolutely no family pressure to succeed there. I… decided I’d rather find a job. The landing was a bit rough: first grape harvest (ouch my back!) then an attempt at becoming a waiter (fired after one month – I was very, very bad).
So I did my obligatory National Service and, after a few more harvests (ouch-ouch!), I had the chance to be hired as a cashier on my regional highway. I didn’t like that job but it was a well-paid enough for a non-graduate unambitious guy: thirty years later, I’m still there.
I know you must be surprised, but drawing is truly something that came to me – I believe it, anyway – from the outside. Fact is I have zero watching capacity, which is a true handicap when it comes to graphic art. I’m dreaming most of the time and tend to see things as I imagine them, not as they look like. I once did a series of psychological tests on the web, and among other funny traits, it seems I’m going through life with my eyes shut: 92% intuition to 8% in vision!
To cut a long story short: my childhood best friend had an art teacher as a father and he, along with his whole family, was super-gifted in anything involving creativity. We spent entire afternoons drawing super-heroes when we were tired of playing with Star-Wars toys and, while he carefully drew one or two pages, clean and pretty, I blackened a dozen. I loved comics immediately – since forever – but my true abilities are literary. I didn’t like to draw, but it sure was a good way to kill time during solitary teenagers years and, in those days, it felt more exciting than today. It was still new and I was so sure I was gonna be super-good.
I’m using what skills I have developed since then (I’m 50 and never quit drawing almost every day of my life since I was 15) but it’s only these past few years that I realized I got very little pleasure from it – apart from the sexual arousal in drawing porn – I experienced almost only artistic frustrations. And admitted it to myself. Fact is I’ve never felt ‘at home’ with the few artists I’ve met in my life. I’m more a creative guy than an Artist; I haven’t achieved more than one medium and my style’s exactly the same since I started, flaws and all.
And that’s where porn intersects. I started drawing big hairy guys around 10/11 years old and, just as dear Tom Of Finland, found joy 😉 in being able to illustrate (more or less properly!) anything that could cross my naïve/innocent mind. And it went on from then until my early forties, almost half of my creative hours were also dedicated to mainstream works: I have tons of pretty/interesting but also corny pics of characters from my own storylines. I haven’t been able to graphically focus on these for some years now and, if I keep on drawing porn, it’s mostly because, as a single guy, I still love to let my imagination wondering. It’s substituted onanism, nothing else.
Listen – you don’t need to defend onanism to anybody reading this blog. I really love that your works come from your genuine sexual interests and that you personally find them arousing. I don’t know if I can communicate how special that is to me; it would be intensely depressing if you were to speak about these much beloved works as simple paid commissions or just a job. That you love them too makes me think we would be friends <3
I’d love to know the history of how you came across Handjobs Magazine.
When I found Handjobs publications on the internet and, sent them some scans, they contacted me the very same day and agreed to publish some of my works. I think the total novelty of my hunks’ specific traits played a lot in their enthusiasm, but also the fact I was comfortable with drawing younger types. Sometimes a bit TOO young, but i was still learning 😉
The official feeling of it, plus the feedback through the letters, stimulated my creativity much more than the money. Almost at the same time, I was selling pics to a French gay porn video magazine (just a few, alas!) and, through it, came in contact with Logan with whom I did one (re-alas!) little comic for the very short-lived Comic magazine Ultimen. I suspect that if i hadn’t already had a comfortable job then, I would have thought a little more about taking this hobby more seriously. I was in a couple, as well, and we were doing only SERIOUS things 🙁
The first instance of your work as a Handjobs Illustrator I’ve found in is The Birthday Gift from 2008. Is that your first story with them?
I do believe Birthday Gift is my first comic for Handjobs, yes: triggered a lot of reactions 🙂
How were your first works there received? Did you get a lot of feedback (either from the guys at HJ or from readers directly)?
Most of the reactions to my stories were positive. I only had bad remarks when I did Special Time In The Bathroom, mostly because I didn’t really understand what I was doing as a porn-illustrator.
I did build the sexual tension of that story around the father’s
shock and fascination with his son’s rather *raw* appetites, so what was logical and mostly harmless to me, was perceived as violent transgression that changed the following actions to feel more as plain rape, when it was clear to me the kid could only enjoy it.
Re-reading it with those critics in mind, I realized I hadn’t been careful enough and decided that day I should use realism only in the looks and attitudes of my characters, and not in their feelings.
It’s honestly really interesting to have you speak to that. Because I write a lot about the necessity of looser rules in a fantasy space, and how that does not translate easily or well into reality. Lots of people aren’t capable of making a solid divide between “fantasy” and “reality,” and therefore, certain subjects and ideas are eventually deemed unacceptable in either space.
I imagine that artists and authors must be keeping those ideas in mind from minute one, but of course there is always learning and growing to be done. It’s fascinating to hear you talk about that aspect – the maturing – and how it influenced your work going forward. These are intensely taboo subject matters for so many! I’m definitely personally uncomfortable with works where force or coercion are key elements, and far more fascinated with things where hesitation or confusion ultimately leads to enjoyment or enlightenment. As a storyteller, is everything fair game?
I think pornography could be used in more interesting/much deeper ways than it still is today. But it’s better for me to stick to what I do best and let others deal with the psychology of it. And, although I’ve found myself incredibly aroused reading some Nifty.org tales (some of Mike The Soccer Coach stories are incredibly well written), I did restrain myself to a comfortable grey area for my art: I don’t draw or write about kids, for example, even though some of my earlier works for Handjobs sometimes featured “boys†.”
That’s where being a GOOD artist would make a difference 🙂 And I don’t like coercion, in sex or anywhere else. Even as play. I don’t play in real life (I don’t like to win and/or to loose!).
†Handjobs publications do a sturdy job of printing a disclaimer at the start of each edition stating “despite terms such as “boy” or “son,” all characters are fictional, and are 18 years of age or older.” While that won’t satisfy everyone, this declaration of “fiction!” is meaningful. It’s not real, and no real people were hurt in the making of these works.
You have such a gift for drawing sexualized male bodies without immediately resorting to the ‘superhero build’ that so many artists lean on as a visual synonym for “sexy”; the muscular V-shape to the shoulders and torso, six-pack abs, and often enhanced or inflated genital size don’t seem to be required for the men you regularly invent. Your characters are intensely erotic, but often living in (forgive the crassness of this expression) working class bodies and clothing.
Is this deliberate, on your part? Are you making a comment about what is desirable? Or are these the types of bodies that you simply find arousing? (Tom of Finland has that famous quote about getting an erection over his own work – I’m curious if you feel similarly?)
I deliberately draw big burly men because it’s what excites me, and what I grew up accustomed to. Sexual preferences are sometimes fixed very early and I essentially saw builders or hunters as a kid. Growing up, I also deliberately longed for more and more shocking fantasies (my imagination, whatever the subject, is uninhibited) and that’s when I started to include fathers in my mental scenarios. I have very few inhibitions, sexually speaking; mine are purely rational beacons to keep me balanced. I too confess feeling happy to be a bit on the side, with my men and their special and different appeal; although they’re wayy more common today than they were when i started drawing them back in 1981.
I would love to know if you have a favourite story you’ve drawn (whether it ended up getting published or not), and why it sticks with you. My personal love is Big Hungry Mouth from the June 2013 issue of Handjobs. I find the raunchiness of it reaches such levels as to be comparable to the violence in a Tarantino film; it is so extreme as to be nearly comical, diving right past any possible offensiveness. But it’s also deeply arousing and the characters take their situation deathly seriously, propelled by overwhelming lust. That’s a curious thing to balance!
I believe it is one of your more beautiful works, too. Clear and sparing linework overlaid with gorgeous sepia washes make it feel like something remembered or dreamed; cinematic enough to not feel totally real.
For my works with Handjobs, i really liked Cosmic Love. I thought it was clean, honest and I liked how colors worked better on this one. Plus I personally had a lot of fun with it: Science-Fiction is my favourite genre, whatever the media.
On the inverse, they had to elongate the Dad’s Prostate Exam panels to make it fit the dimensions of the magazine pages and the result was ugly (though the comic wasn’t good in itself). But I really loved the dad’s face! I think I’ve done better work, since then. Sometimes I’m able to control the way the story goes, and sometimes i loose myself in Pornography and it usually annihilates any attempt to create a progression or narrative; everybody’s just fucking everybody after the first page. You can find plenty of this precise flaw of mine in many stories. Again, i’m sure Tom understands my dilemma 🙂
I’m happy you like Big Hungry Mouth: it’s efficient and I believe it’s because it came very easy and almost drew itself. Also, i liked the colours too but, if i remember, Photoshop did a lot to better with the final rendering: my brush strokes drowned the pages!
Listen. We all need a little photoshop now and then. There’s no shame.
Without getting into too much technical stuff, the composition of your panels and the POV angles you use really add a depth of interest and action to your narratives. I’m not even a novice at illustration (I’m completely terrible) – do you plot all of that out in advance? Like storyboarding a film? Or do you just draw each scenario as you go, plucking it straight from your mind? What does your process look like, generally?
I’m afraid the way I work can’t be described as a process. At the best, I just have a masturbatory fantasy in mind that I feel could be staged into a few pages, so I sit at my desk and draw quick sketches (always too quick and inked before taking time to see them clearly, but i’m so impatient!). When the idea itself is independent, the main characters are invented right on the spot ( I know it’s crazy, and it doesn’t even always work well).
Then, if I manage to keep my interest up (!) long enough, I set the scene to be able to just do fill-ins over the next few days. Other times I just want to use a precise guy. I’ve done – with more or less accurate results! – Bob Hoskins, Victor Lanoux, Bud Spencer, Oliver Reed, Roger Baptist. Handjobs stories couldn’t exceed five pages and it sure helped me to stay focused on what I was exploring – a precise situation, and not the whole Kama Sutra!
That’s not a bad idea… I should still do the same process, five pages by five pages…
Searches for your name and your works bring loads of readers to badwolf.blog every month for the comics I’ve written about, and it seems like that is only increasing with time. Do you have any intentions of capitalizing on your catalog and style in the future? I know it might seem silly, but I’d love to have the chance to purchase original panels or even a coffee mug or something, featuring an original Bruno illustration.
About taking it more seriously, I sure miss the feedback! I believe my not so little ego craves more and more loving fans all around the world, thanks to technology.
But, even though I have no problem assuming I’m a good – sometimes very good – Pornographer (I’m an empath before anything else. It’s almost a handicap in daily life, but I know what others want!), I KNOW for a fact I am a lousy artist and (even though i’m more at peace with the fact today) it still hurts a bit when I draw something as simple as what I’m drawing and it ends so far from what I meant it to be. I’m efficient and I know how to tell a story; but I sometimes would love to feel more proud about the drawing itself. I just don’t know.
It’s easy to agree that Bruno is an empath, but it’s hard to imagine ever having any displeasure about where his art ends up. As a lacklustre and self conscious artist myself, I can recognize the feeling he’s describing. But I can’t imagine something as beautiful as his work is to me could ever be the cause of it.
One of the things that I think is so significant and so easily overlooked as frivolous, is the joy that art like his (and Josman, and Robin Walden, and Julius) brings into peoples’ lives. It’s something so long lasting, too, as these works are newly “discovered” by younger audiences, and shared online or discussed crassly on forums. At the root of all of that is this spark of joy, that these men – these artists –have the ability to bring forth, just from their imagination!
And what a gift that they would have the audacity to share it with all of us.