Cartoonist Katie Skelly debuted her first installment of Agent 8 on Slutist in the fall of 2013. Three years later, we’ve become intimately acquainted with Agent 8, Agent 9, Agent 10 and Agent 73, who have all come to life through Skelly’s inimitable renderings. Fans and critics alike have fallen in lust with the intensely erotic and, at times, emotionally fraught sexplorations of her characters. The AV Club called the print collection of Agent 9 sensual, with a “transcendent spirituality,” and The Establishment included Skelly in a new generation of creatrixes subverting depictions of patriarchal sex in comics. As Skelly takes a break from the Agent series to finish her forthcoming book, My Pretty Vampire, we decided it was the perfect time to discuss the evolution of her process, and what she has in store for the future.
How do you see the Agent series developing in form and content from the first one you drew in 2013 to the latest one in 2016? What has changed and what hasn’t?
When I got started I just wanted to draw sex and intimacy the way I wanted to see it in comics—which was as fun and sexy and playful—and see what that would feel like. As time went on I wanted to expand the narratives and see how sex and story could blend together, and if they could at all. But the biggest thing for me was to be able to push myself to draw the ideas I wanted to draw and let go of what people would think about it. That stayed constant.
You triumphantly declared “flesh is like a whole new medium” in a recent interview with The Establishment. How has the Agent 8, 9, & 10 series specifically allowed you to explore this medium of flesh in ways your other work has not?
You really get to know your characters when you know how they’re going to perform on this type of level, so you get a much more holistic understanding of how the people (or skeletons) you’re drawing operate. And you have to explore more abstract ideas like arousal and sensation. Those are really difficult things to visualize when it’s just you looking at a blank page. A lot of the cartoonists whose work I admire have fit dirty comics work into their careers and come out better for it; it felt almost like a rite of passage to becoming a better cartoonist.
What are some of the secret influences on the Agent series that might not be detectable to the general reader’s eye?
The manga of Leiji Matsumoto for sure. To me, I can’t visualize sexiness and outer space without thinking of Leiji Matsumoto’s work. It’s charming and weirdly innocent. Also Guy Peellaert, the Belgian cartoonist. The Adventures of Jodelle was a coloring revelation!
You are more high profile now than when the series started, what kind of backlash — if any — have you faced for the sexually explicit content in your work?
I think doing this work has only helped me raise that profile. I didn’t use a pseudonym; I didn’t hide this work away. More than anything, I had to be cool with it myself, and that took a good minute. I think some readers were surprised by it, but I’ve also seen a lot of readers delight at it too. I’ve gotten a little flack here and there but nothing from people whose opinions I value. Jaime Hernandez is a fan; every other opinion is invalidated.
How tired are you of talking about “women in comics?” Can the conversation move on to something more nuanced/complex or in your opinion is it still a necessity to highlight the gender disparity in your field?
I’m so tired that I could be medically dead. It’s historically and culturally ignorant; like, if you don’t know who Marie Severin is and why she’s important, you don’t fucking know comics. Period. To act like women in comics are new and haven’t existed this entire time is bizarre. But I don’t know if comics is ready for a larger conversation because it’s been stalled in the same gear since the ‘60s. I want to see a woman be heralded as a “master of the medium” with the ease Daniel Clowes or Frank Miller are, which is a way that isn’t questioned. Men are masters; women are gifted, or agile in the medium, or whatever… like it’s always coded as a surprise. I think that takes giving more room to non-white guy comics critics, which I do see happening, but it’s very slow.
Who are you slut icons?
Edwige Fenech, the giallo film star. I’ve been drawing her over and over again. She is totally captivating. Also the rapper Trina. Listen carefully to Trina and you could probably build a successful business in a couple months. I would vote for Trina, she gets it done.
What erotic comics (besides yours) does everyone need to dig into, stat?
Guido Crepax’s Valentina series is incredible. Gorgeous Italian comics that ran from the late 1960s all the way through the ‘90s. Crepax does more with black and white than most people working now can do with color. They start off as these fun, mod adventure type stories but get deeply cerebral and deeply sexy. Crepax is a huge influence on my work and my life!
What inspired you to branch out and share text duties in Agent 73 with your long time collaborator Sarah Horrocks? What was that creation process like?
We’d been talking about collaborating on a comic for a while and the timing finally felt right because we were both between big projects. The process was really fun; I’d wake up at like, 4 in the morning to a bunch of texts from her with script notes and Helmut Newton photos, and I’d get really excited and start sketching out character designs. And making the switch from digital coloring to hand coloring was really good too, because I suddenly became way more aware of the space I use in my comics. Figuring someone else’s vision out is something I do very rarely, so it was a really illuminating experience. I feel totally invigorated after this one.
What are you working on now? And what is the future of the Agent series? (Please say it will go on in some way for forever! :D
I’m going on an Agent sabbatical for the moment while I finish my new book, My Pretty Vampire, and I’m very happy to say I’ll be bringing all of my hard-fought dirty comics knowledge along with me to the project. It’s a comic I’ve been writing for ages about a young female vampire who wreaks havoc on a city. I can’t give official details about where the book is coming out from yet but here’s a hint: it will be a great fit between Crepax and Peellaert on your shelves. But don’t worry, I’ll be back with more filth as soon as I can. It’s addictive!
All images: Katie Skelly