Τσοντοκόμικ/Smutcomic #2 (@tsontokomik), an erotic comic anthology based in Athens, contains 13 stories by women and non-binary cartoonists in the indie Greek comics scene, and just successfully hit more than double its Kickstarter campaign goal for funding its Greek and English print run.
I spoke with 7 of the Smutcomic #2 creators on a Zoom call about their processes, the ins-and-outs of their stories, and how this highly collaborative, sexy, and very fun anthology came together. Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.
COMIC BOOK YETI: I got a preview of the comic and I read some of the entries. And it's so creative and so fun. There's a lot of joy that radiates through the work. And the premise is also just exciting. One of the things I read about in the preview is that the stories are all interconnected somehow. So how did you come up with that idea and how does that work when you hand stories off to the next creator?
GEORGIA ZACHARI (@heytiganopsomo): Alkyoni (Papakonstantopoulou/Poisoner) said to have [something connecting the stories] because when we did the first one, everyone did whatever they wanted, but we knew that we had to have a theme for [the] second. So Alkyoni proposed having one character have multiple one-night stands, and then we changed it to this — I don't know how it happened exactly, but it was really fun.
ROBERTA YAITZOGLU WATKINSON: I think we had several ideas. We had maybe one prop moving through each story [as one idea,] but I don't think that was as interesting as having one character jump to the next and then the next.
VABIROPULA (@vabiropula): Yes, because Athens is such a small town that, personally… I've met a lot of people who have done something with someone else that I have as well. I mean, for example, I'm not sure if I should say this, but I had a classmate back in elementary school and now she was a girlfriend of someone I knew through my work. And I mean, I don't know, like everyone is everywhere.
ROBERTA YAITZOGLU WATKINSON: If you take into consideration the art scene as well, it's like, OK, we're kind of all in the art scene. It's just a lot smaller.
CBY: I love the idea that this actually has that kind of flow. I think that that's a wonderful way to tie it together. And you mentioned Athens as a character almost, and that also fascinates me. I've been to Athens as a tourist a few times, so I don't know the city very well.
POISONER/ALKYONI PAPAKONSTANTOPOULOU (@poisoner_art): It's like Sex and the City where it was all about New York.
CBY: Oh, that's a good parallel. So how does Athens influence the work? But you mentioned a little bit how it's a small town, I mean, it's a big city, but was there a decision on making it this anthology in a real-life location versus somewhere that’s a pure fantasy?
STELLA STERGIOU: This is just a weird thing, but not everybody [working on this comic] has lived in Athens, not everybody lives in Athens right now. So that's a weird connection, how we finally decided Athens to be the background of everything that's happening…
ROBERTA YAITZOGLU WATKINSON: I think we were kind of going for we have to tie these stories somehow together and not let them get too–
GEORGIA ZACHARI: –since none of the characters are the Highlander, we have to find [a connection]–
ROBERTA YAITZOGLU WATKINSON: –so I think it was just like, OK, we'll have to decide on a place and time, like they all happened in the same kind of area and like time zone. And I think it's just like putting little bits of Athens like in the background and stuff, which I think it was just fun for us to kind of go like, oh, we can get that in there.
STELLA STERGIOU: The little posters in the background of everything, it's a city that's very, very dirty, so you can have fun with everything that you can design in.
CBY: I mean, I know for a lot of people there's like the perception of what Athens is and then there's the reality of what it is. But the reality is fascinating, especially to readers who don't know the city at all, or beyond what they might think it is.
GEORGIA ZACHARI: What was very fun about this was that in our search for backgrounds, sometimes someone would write in the group chat and say hey, does anyone live in Pankrati, Vyronas (neighborhoods in/around Athens), can someone take a picture for me for reference for the comic? So we could get very specific and, in that way, the comic became much more collaborative than what we thought it would be.
CBY: Making a comic about sexuality, human connection feels especially powerful with you all in lockdown during the pandemic. Can you tell me a little bit about what that's been like for all of you working on something like that now, having it coming out now and how maybe you think it might connect with readers differently now?
SIADORA (@Siadora_): Well, one of the things I think is the need that we all seem to have about just making a comic, any comic, at this moment, because cons are canceled for the foreseeable future. We were originally planning to just have this comic released for a con, but that never happened, so we actually shifted our focus on just getting it out eventually. We kept the project going on despite the whole world going to hell, and I think it was good for all of us to just keep us grounded and focused on something that was actually going to be real in our hands at some point.
STELLA STERGIOU: Well, for me, I'm still waiting for the orgies after quarantine, like I'm pretty sure everybody else will be out on the street, so we will see, I think.
SIADORA: Nowadays, it's funny. If you have someone come by to fix your porch light or something, and you're like, oh my God, I'm socializing with a guy that's come over to my place. We're starved for [connection].
GEORGIA ZACHARI: I remember people mentioning that like at the start of the quarantine, like last year, that we're now all in like a Regency England and we can't get married to the one we love or we can't touch them, like in Pride and Prejudice in 2005 where they touch hands and then he's like, ah, I touched a hand! But all these things, like, I mean, I think we understand a lot of different cultures or different times better.
The one is that it wasn't so hard for me to, like, storyboard the sexy stuff, but it was really interesting for me to have to write them like interactions with the two characters before they get to it. I'm like, how would people kiss other people? What's the ritual, what happens to them?
What turned out to be very important in this, our [current] quarantine, which has been like five months already, is that what was really important was being in contact with the people that I'm writing this with. But to have a group of thirteen people where we are really, really dedicated to something. And we talk every day and like, it's [a] very precious group to be in.
STELLA STERGIOU: That group chat has brought everybody together.
CBY: There was a Smutcomic number one, that also did well — what did you learn from doing the first one that maybe you wanted to bring over into the second? Or maybe you didn't want to bring some stuff over from the first to the second?
ROBERTA YAITZOGLU WATKINSON: Well, I think I mean, that just like what we said before about the stories continue. We didn't want to do the same thing again. We didn't want to go, OK, everybody go off and do your own things again and come back and have 13 separate stories. We wanted to try something new with that. And then there was the color, because we bring in pink. [The first Smutcomic] was black-and-white [interiors] with just like a pink cover, but it was a different pink, and it took us ages to get together on which pink we would go with in the end for Smutcomic #2.
But more importantly, the organization of it all has gotten hugely better than the first one because the first one, we hardly knew each other then. Now we're a lot better [at] dealing with crises. And it took us a long time to pick the pink.
STELLA STERGIOU: That's it, I think, because not everybody on the second Smutcomic took part in the first one. I was on both, so what I saw or what I got out of it was communication and collaboration. I didn't feel so stressed to send a message to someone like, hey, I need some help there. Can you show me how to put spot colors on the page or whatever?
CBY: Could you each tell me a little bit about how you chose your story, and if you felt like there was something missing in the erotica world that you wanted to fill or if there was a story you were just really wanting to tell? I would love to hear about all of that.
GEORGIA ZACHARI: In my story, the character I started with is an Erasmus student from France and Portugal living in Athens. That's a very common occurrence lately, a lot of Europeans choose to do their internships in Greece and especially Athens. And well, last year before the pandemic, I actually happened to meet some of these guys and it was really fun hanging out with some different people. And when we were all making up characters for this comic, I thought, OK, that seems like someone who sleep around, you know?
So then we did a kind of shortlist of two or three characters [for each comic]. We already had ideas for stories. And I was very lucky to get the most popular character, who is Siadora's character, a lady who owns a souvlaki place and has a motorbike. And what's really great about [that] is that Smar is drawing my character in her story, so she put in some elements [in] her story that would help me set up my thing. So it's like both of our characters have a crush on this souvlaki lady.
So I already have a setup and I'm really lucky because I don't have to do the setup. I only have to show someone who goes to buy a souvlaki from his crush and then she makes out with him. So how do you make them kiss? But it was really helpful.
And I think that's the great part about the collaboration, that it was already an element in Smar's story and she helped me and said, "OK in my story this is what's happened," and then I realized actually, that's perfect for my story.
SMAR (@SmarMakesComics): I didn't know I helped that much!
GEORGIA ZACHARI: You helped so much because, like, all the emotional resonance was there, I didn't have to work for it. It's great. And then what was interesting for me in working with the kind of couple where there's a younger man and an older woman, there's this dynamic combination that you get, where two people who are really excited and then you get the female character who is even a bit more – I wouldn't say dominant, per se, in a sexual way – just like, has a presence. Yeah, maybe a bit more aggressive.
OK, I will reveal two things for my story that I think are important. The first is that there's premature ejaculation, and that's something we don't see in erotica, and it's something very natural. Like for me, reading erotica, what really hits is when it's a little bit realistic, like this person has actually had sex in their lives, you know? No aggressive position changing, that kind of thing.
But it's also very cool for people to write this kind of thing if they haven't had sex because this is like an exploration for everyone. And I also wrote fanfic as a teenager with no experience whatsoever. It's really interesting to think about what I felt the need to see.
And then for the second important thing in my story, I had a scene when where they put on a condom, which also is not something I've seen very often, and I modeled it after an ancient Greek vase.
CBY: I love these details. These are great.
GEORGIA ZACHARI: That's my favorite part of my story. So really, what I wanted to show was everyday life and then getting to make it sexy.
SMAR: For my story, for example, I have a scene of my characters putting on a glove for sex that you also don't often see anywhere else.
The thing is, my work always had an agenda of sorts, it's always very queer-focused. I care a lot about representation. And since most of my work has been so far about mostly women, queer women, it's funny that I chose – like, we had so many characters that were women in this anthology to choose from – I chose one of the rare guys, and I was like, "I will make it queer anyway, in some form!" So while my characters are having sex, they're fantasizing about the souvlaki lady, so she does show up in my story too.
CBY: As an aside, what is "souvlaki lady's" name? I need to know.
SIADORA: "Anna," and her souvlaki shop’s name translates to "Lit-up Coals," but it's a pun in Greek with her name. OK, really, it's a really lame Greek pun, it's awful.
SMAR: Just to make things even harder for myself, I inserted even more characters into my story. I wanted to show something not exactly polyamorous, because they're not exactly in relationships, but I wanted to show characters rooting for their partner to pair up with somebody else and having fun with it. It's a long agenda for just nine pages of comics.
SIADORA: Speaking of the souvlaki lady, my character is Anna who owns the souvlaki place and the bike and is kind of a cool chick. And I immediately fell in love with Elena Gogou's character, who is a personal trainer by day, porn star by night. This character was almost a fantasy porn star with swords and stuff, which is really, really my thing in comics. So my characters are going to have sex with her and I got to work with pretty cool characters who were badass women.
And my first idea was to immediately make something sickeningly sweet with them, like they were going to have a little meet-cute in the gym and they're going to like exchange glances and then really go at it. It's going to be really cute at first. And it's about the sex and not just meeting someone once and never again with a stranger. Maybe even in this brief moment, you can get a connection and it's really nice. And well, people are not one-dimensional, they are many things at the same time. So you get to see an insight into their lives. You usually make fun of porn that has intros and stuff, but I wanted to really focus on that this time.
CBY: In the few excerpts that I read, that comes across in a lot of the work, that there's a lot of development in the story that really endears the reader to these characters.
SIADORA: It's all about the lead-up to the whole thing. How will the sparks fly or, you know, how you get around to the person you're going to end up doing these things with?
CBY: And doing that with an economy of pages is not easy.
SIADORA: Yeah, it's a good challenge. Get ready for some porn with character development, I guess.
VABIROPULA: What I liked about this project that from personal experience, for most of my life, if not most until my 20s, I was very asexual. So it was a huge challenge for me to actually draw people having sex.
I actually chose a character who was a sex worker. I wanted to show support for sex workers as I actually find them really cool. When I was in high school, I was on Tumblr and I saw a sex worker [film] that had really good directing, and the lighting was perfect. [Before then,] I think, in a huge part of porn, I didn't like the aesthetic, so I didn't like [porn]. I think I based a huge part of my story on her because of that.
My character is a cam girl and a genie at the same time, so she's not actually human. But in real life, behind the screen, she's a college dropout who is trying to get through life.
What I also like about this project is that, even though we never planned it, we actually have three sex workers in this book. That's one of my favorite parts. I think sex work is important, it's good to pay for something that you want and appreciate the workers.
STELLA STERGIOU: We didn't have a conversation between us beforehand so everybody just came up with their own like this and then we went about to discuss them all together. Amazing that there are actually three of them.
VABIROPULA: And also the character that my character has sex with in his story, he identifies as male... I wanted to show through my story that he pays a woman sex worker, but they could have sex with strap-ons and everything. Through people that I've met and who've told me their experiences, I think it's really nice when men have sex feeling comfortable with their bodies and experiences that [they might otherwise] think it's something "bad" and, like, that's what I like about it. But you don't have to say you are polyamorous, you can be anything that you want. You don't have to put any [labels] on it.
STELLA STERGIOU: I can jump in here because the character that's having sex in Vabiropula's story is doing something with my character. So when I was thinking of creating my character, I was thinking, "OK, we are in an anthology with 12 other people. I'm pretty sure that there will be some extraordinary person with superpowers or very unusual looks. So," I thought, "I'm going to go with a guy next door, with a beer belly and hair that is receding, the guy that hasn't changed since high school."
So my character, he's working in the bakery shop, he's the kind of person that's going to flirt but in a bad kind of way because he doesn't really know how to, and he doesn't really care. ...shit, I'm describing my character like a real asshole right now. But what I wanted to concentrate on [in] my piece composition-wise was that my stories take place on the stairs of a building. So it was really interesting for me to find a way to draw the sexy things but also make it kind of artsy.
CBY: That sounds like an interesting artistic challenge to set yourself up for, to really push yourself in that way.
STELLA STERGIOU: I was very happy with the result, but I'm not going to draw any other stairs in my life right now.
CBY: That or crowd scenes.
STELLA STERGIOU: Maybe that's going to be the next porn story.
GEORGIA ZACHARI: This is really funny because Stella and I are working on a thing together now, where there's constantly people going from one room to the other. So she will be drawing some stairs for me.
STELLA STERGIOU: Well, it's good that I had to warm up, so it's fine. So anyway, my story's perspective, it's something quite ordinary. But it's also kind of funny because the other person that my person interacts with is the one with actual superpowers. So I have the most regular guy with the most extraordinary person in the whole setup. This makes for an interesting combination.
POISONER/ALKYONI PAPAKONSTANTOPOULOU: So my character is pretty normal, has some sort of bad office job, and then meets with Silena Nikolopoulou's character...they kind of run into each other in some sort of like, you know, artsy thingie in a bar, like bad modern shit. And they start talking. And essentially what happens is that they get really drunk. It's about consent and just, you know, like cute work sex.
The biggest challenge was in terms of finding how to put it on the page. Silena's character is non-binary. You know, when when I was given the info, the first thing that I thought was I didn't want to show genitalia at least for [Silena's] character. And [the character,] they have this really long, long hair, which [I] wanted to use in the paneling and for like making a setup and things.
I don't have that much experience in comics in the sense that I have made a couple of stories. And for me, the pacing is usually the biggest challenge. I use [my expertise] from photography to pace things out.
And also I decided against my better judgment to include a crowd scene. I am not good drawing people in places! In all of my comics, you see people, you see their bodies, like in a weird angle or whatever, but then it's like you will see a wall and maybe a plant, but in the very corner of it. Now I have to draw the entire bar and I'm asking myself, why did I do that? Yeah, all the wrong choices that led me up to this moment, yes, I can see them.
CBY: But worth it for the comic that ended up happening in the end?
POISONER/ALKYONI PAPAKONSTANTOPOULOU: Yes, but also, I think but for me, it has kind of given me the incentive to start learning how to draw digital, because I do everything by hand. And even though I'm still doing pencils and inks by hand, I will have to do the coloring digitally because in all my previous stories I would do all the dot work by hand, which is not smart. It's not smart. Also, the computer is our friend. It's a tool. We should learn how to use it. And also, I'd like my arm to continue working even after 30.
ROBERTA YAITZOGLU WATKINSON: There's not much I want to add. [In making my comic,] I did have fun. It's more about the aesthetics. I went with a guy that works in a textile shop, because I like doing textile and patterns and stuff. I wanted to get that "me" in there, because my personal work has nothing to do with sex or Athens. So I needed to bring some "me" in somehow.
And he meets Maya, who's a fortuneteller. She comes in to buy a cloth that she uses for her fortunetelling, kind of weird stuff and shit happens, and it leads to sex.
CBY: Shit happens and it leads to sex. That is a pretty good line.
SIADORA: Yeah, we would use that as a subtitle for the next one.
"What I wanted to show was everyday life and then getting to make it sexy."
CBY: Is there anything about the book that you want the broader world to know that maybe we haven't covered yet?
GEORGIA ZACHARI: What most people don't know is that we're not getting all that much money from the Kickstarter. We pay for shipping. We are not suddenly millionaires. We actually have to pay the printer.
CBY: So meaning we should all go to your individual websites and buy your work from you directly.
GEORGIA ZACHARI: Yes, but I know this is on record, but what I'm going to say is a little bit off the record, but not much because I don't care. I just I think a lot of people have been tweeting us or talking about us in the scene as if we are suddenly getting a lot of money just from being women & non-binary artists who do literotica, which, hey we should get a lot of money for this, everyone should–
STELLA STERGIOU: –not only we as women and non-binary artists, but also everybody who does comics.
GEORGIA ZACHARI: Yes, of course. But I think all people seem to think that the number someone sees on Kickstarter is like the money we get, like we're all going to get a thousand euros for our story.
POISONER/ALKYONI PAPAKONSTANTOPOULOU: We're not?
GEORGIA ZACHARI: Some of it goes to printing! And yeah, I kind of feel the need to clarify it. I feel like I'm going to be very defensive when cons start rolling again, like, "Fucker, I saw what you posted to Facebook!"
CBY: Even if you did get every single penny from that money, it's not like you can stop making comics and stop working forever.
POISONER/ALKYONI PAPAKONSTANTOPOULOU: For me, before we did the campaign, it was always quite nice to see campaigns that did very, very well. For one thing, it meant that there were people who were ready to support artists. Which if you live in Greece, and I am assuming in the rest of the world, especially in the past one and a half years now, it's important to remember that generally, we don't exactly have good working rights or good paying rights unless it [the employer] is super, super big. And even the way that things work through a publishing house, at least in Greece, are not exactly always...
CBY: …Fair to the artist?
POISONER/ALKYONI PAPAKONSTANTOPOULOU: Yes.
SMAR: I mean, the most successful comic artists in Greece do not work in Greece. Yeah, because you can't...anyway, it's a can of worms.
POISONER/ALKYONI PAPAKONSTANTOPOULOU: And for me, it shows also that perhaps there is...there can be found a way for things to work alternatively, like, I would be pumped if we had...like this money was enough that we were like, "OK, you know what, fuck this, we're going to make a small publishing house."
Georgia has had this idea of making her publishing house, and I'm just like trying to get the skills to work there one day. Because this is something that maybe can't happen right now, but it can be something to build upon instead of thinking, "Oh, we will always have to struggle, and there're only, like, one hundred people in Athens who read comics, and if they buy that's fine," but then it's like, then what?
CBY: You have a much broader audience now by publishing in both Greek and English now, which is exciting. That dream could happen honestly, especially now that you've had at least two successful Kickstarters, right? That's huge.
GEORGIA ZACHARI: Elena, who's not here now, did the first Smutcomic campaign a few years ago and was successful, especially for Greek comics, and Elena (Gogou) is never going to see this but we love her very much and we all admire her very much for doing these stories.
SMAR: Yeah. And also, kudos to Roberta for the graphics series. I feel like one of the most important things for this project is that so many of us have different skills and a few of us have worked extra hard to make this look good and actually happen. It's not easy to make it.
CBY: It looks great. And you have a global audience with it, so I hope it means a lot of success beyond the local scene. I just really want to thank you all so much. And this has been so much fun for me to just listen to all your stories and hear about the process. Well done and congratulations on a really wonderful book.