Maurice Vellekoop's Playfully, Beautifully NSFW Comics
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Maurice Vellekoop’s Playfully, Beautifully NSFW Comics

You’ll find this Elf ready to share his staff in Maurice Vellekoop’s Pin-Ups.

Maurice Vellekoop admits to being a little embarrassed that he won’t be bringing much new to this year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival. “I’ll be selling the same old books that I’ve been selling the last couple of years,” he laughs, in a phone interview from his Toronto Island home. He needn’t be worried: the author of four books and accomplished illustrator—a fraction of the big-name publications his works have appeared in include the New Yorker, the New York Times, Vogue, and Wallpaper—has more than enough in his repertoire of sexy, witty images for his third showing at TCAF.

Celebrated illustrator Maurice Vellekoop.

Throughout Vellekoop’s work, his inspirations in film, fashion, and vintage illustrations are evident. You’ll find a portrait of Audrey Hepburn looking wide-eyed at the viewer in My Fair Lady, a style maven in a floral-print dress styled with blonde hair pulled back tight into a high bun, and a tattooed sailor with a mischievous smile—a perfect pin-up—topless and in revealing white pants. “Pastiche would be my favourite sort of form,” says Vellekoop, reflecting on his work. “Clichéd, overused things appeal to me.” Vellekoop’s aesthetic of re-contextualizing familiar properties has a striking effect in his series of gay erotica illustrations, which are at once nostalgic, sensual, playful, and cheerful.
“One of my big influences in gay erotica is the great Tom of Finland [awesomely NSFW], and what I love about Tom is there’s always a joyfulness in the work—and I’ve consciously tried to put that in my stuff,” he explains. In “Greek Love” [again, great, but NSFW] a series of prints that reinterpret mythology through a queer filter, Vellekoop demonstrates a mischievous, winking quality through scenes like Dionysus coupling with a handsome faun. In his book Pin-Ups [once more with feeling, NSFW], a well-endowed, green-skinned alien captioned with “I Come In Peace” provides a frolicsome attitude to sex, a welcome contrast to the pouty-lipped blandness that can personify attractiveness along Church Street storefronts.
“When you do erotica that’s very sunny and appealing, it’s easier for people to get,” says Vellekoop. “Humour is a great thing that diffuses people’s fear and hangups about sex. The little joke makes it all go down so much more nicely.” The purposeful use of humour to broaden accessibility and to disarm potential sex-negativity in people is important in its own right, but could become even more relevant as a wave of social conservatism washes across Canada.

The cover for Vellekoop’s upcoming World of Gloria Badcock.

For Vellekoop, art was both a route to self-acceptance and a source of freedom from a “repressive Christian” background: “I’ve had to fight against a lot of things in my life in terms of accepting my own sexuality and even using my sexuality was hard for many years. It was easier in art to think about and do what I wanted. It’s very liberating because you are only limited by your imagination.”
In addition to showing at TCAF, Vellekoop will be part of a panel titled “TCAFabulous,” a queer mixer starting at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night at Crews & Tangos (508 Church St.). There will be a strong likelihood that he’ll be discussing his next project, The World of Gloria Badcock. World is a return to familiar roots, both in revisiting an old character of his, free-spirited magazine editor, Badcock, and in drawing comic books, Vellekoop’s first in over a decade.
The comic book, to be released later this year by Koyama Press, will look at “polymorphous, perverse sexuality,” says Vellekoop. “It seems as if it is more open and liberal than before, but there’s still a lot of repression, ugliness, and fears around sexuality.” Originally, the illustrator had hoped to have World ready for TCAF, but it got sidelined by commissioned illustration work—hence the guilt over having nothing new to show this year.
Fans will surely be disappointed by the news, but, as Vellekoop can attest, there is something deliciously pleasurable in a well-executed tease.
The Toronto Comic Arts Festival runs this weekend (Saturday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.–5 p.m.) at the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street), FREE.
All images courtesy of Maurice Vellekoop.