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INTERVIEW/Talking about sex should not be taboo: French comic artist

02/24/2024 07:08 PM
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Laetitia Coryn, illustrator behind the bestseller "The Story of Sex." CNA photo Feb. 20, 2024
Laetitia Coryn, illustrator behind the bestseller "The Story of Sex." CNA photo Feb. 20, 2024

By Bernadette Hsiao, CNA staff writer

"The more we understand sex, the less taboo it is," said Laetitia Coryn, the illustrator behind the bestseller "The Story of Sex," a comic book that explores sexuality from a historical perspective.

Delving into something often avoided by society, the first volume of "The Story of Sex" became an instant hit after its publication in France in 2016, and has been translated into at least 14 languages, including Chinese.

Readers can find out what their ancestors thought of sex and the impact laws and superstitions have had on shaping sexuality, all along with humorous illustrations.

A sequel focusing on sex perception in Asian and African societies followed in 2020 and the Chinese-language version was published in Taiwan on Feb. 15, just in time for this year's Taipei International Book Exhibition.

The event, which takes place from Feb. 20-25, features creations from 34 countries and according to Coryn, has also marked her "first time meeting foreign readers."

At a talk Saturday, the comic artist shared with her Taiwanese audience how she got involved in illustration.

Laetitia Coryn's first book "The Wonderful World of Old People volume 1" (Le monde merveilleux des vieux tome 1). CNA photo Feb. 24, 2024
Laetitia Coryn's first book "The Wonderful World of Old People volume 1" (Le monde merveilleux des vieux tome 1). CNA photo Feb. 24, 2024

Aspiring to become a comic artist since childhood, Coryn published her first book, "The Wonderful World of Old People volume 1" (Le monde merveilleux des vieux tome 1) at the age of 23.

Hoping to showcase her capability of different styles, she published "Window overlooking schoolyard," (Fenêtre sur cour d'école) several years later, a more "poetic" work that looks into childhood.

Her capability of diverse styles of painting and ways of storytelling caught the eye of publisher Les Arènes.

Coryn touched on how she went through sort of an audition to become the book's illustrator: "They contacted me and offered me the chance [to work on 'The Story of Sex.'] There were actually three of us, and [eventually] they chose me."

Speaking about working on a subject that is still taboo in most circumstances, the comic artist said she found it challenging to depict sexuality in an inoffensive way, despite society becoming more and more accepting.

"I didn't want to be vulgar, [or be] rude in my illustrations, because it would be easy to be rude for this kind of topic," Coryn told CNA in an interview, adding that she tried to be "funny and classy" while creating her illustrations to go with the text.

Her efforts to be funny appeared to be successful as she has only had positive feedback since the first volume of "The Story of Sex" was published eight years ago.

Although the history of sex is a focus of the books and the text is accompanied by Coryn's witty illustrations, they also contain a deeper message.

"Sex is a normal thing and you shouldn't be afraid to talk about it. It shouldn't be taboo," Coryn said regarding her hopes for what readers will take away from the books.

Laetitia Coryn draws for readers at the book signing event of "The Story of Sex" Saturday. CNA photo Feb. 24, 2024
Laetitia Coryn draws for readers at the book signing event of "The Story of Sex" Saturday. CNA photo Feb. 24, 2024

 She argued that it is the lack of discussion and conversation that reinforces gender stereotypes and results in people having a limited understanding of sexuality.

"I think patriarchy is connected to sexuality a lot [and] that's what we're describing in Sex Story. Actually, we say the base of sexuality in Western and sometimes Eastern [societies] is patriarchy, and this has to change," Coryn said.

She added that there is still a lot to work on as far as women's rights are concerned, that people should not take what has already been achieved for granted, and that "in this fight, we have to talk about sex, we have to open minds to this."

It is also important for people of different genders to feel free to express themselves, Coryn said.

She added that sex education is vital in helping a person develop a healthy attitude to sex.

"It's a subject like any other subject and you don't have to be afraid to talk about it. The more you know about sex, the more you understand and the more you accept things."

She added that if a person does not understand sexuality, they are less likely to be accepting of others: "You can't accept homosexuality, you can't accept pansexuality or transgender people, you can't accept many things."

When describing the educational aspects of "The Story of Sex," Coryn said some junior high schools in France have been using the books as teaching materials. Regarding young children, although it may not be suitable for them to read the books, she emphasized the importance of talking to them about other matters related to sex and gender, like stereotypes.

Coryn shared a recent exchange she had with her 6-year-old son during which he described seeing a man wearing nail polish as "scary" because "it's for women."

"No, it's not just for women. It's for men too and [you can wear it] if you want," Coryn replied.

Her son then said "But [the man] looks like a woman," and Coryn asked him what the matter with that was.

"He couldn't tell me [what the problem is] so there was no problem," Coryn said.

Through her drawings, Coryn hopes to send a message that normalizing speaking about sex can help make it less taboo and that a society with more open-minded people will have an easier time realizing gender equality.

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