*This post has been updated. Since the time of the interview (July 2012), the artist has transitioned and now identifies as Grace Crowley (formerly Stephen).*
The second guest profile on “Disrobing Suspense” is Grace Crowley, famous for the Loxie & Zoot and The Bare Pit webcomics series, featuring Loxie, Zoot, Willow, Tash, Mungo and many others who live and work at Koala Bay Bares naturist resort. Crowley, aka Noodtoonist, began the initial Loxie & Zoot series in 2000. You can hear Crowley’s interview with Stéphane Deschênes on the Bare Oaks podcast series.
Crowley received from me the same query as Cor did about the necessity or the inevitability of scenes of disrobing when writing about the naturist experience. Recognizing that comics art is a different medium—since comics include a storyline as well as illustrations—, it is nonetheless interesting to see how some of Grace’s comments are similar to Cor’s. For instance, Crowley says, “One of the things I can find boring about reading nudist fiction is how it will go into detail about and continually reference the characters’ nudity. Obviously my cartooning gives me the liberty to simply draw characters nude and move on with the story so it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but even so a lot of nudist stories belabor the point of the nudity to the point of tedium. ‘Yes, they’re nude, I get it, where’s the story please?’”
A further criticism that Crowley extends to naturist fiction is that it too often “comes undone” by “focusing on first-time disrobing”: “The core issue for me is that getting naked isn’t, in and of itself, a story. Getting naked and then finding out you need to save the world from an alien invasion while naked… now that’s a story. Or better still – a naked guy has to save the earth from aliens – why even bother with the ‘he has to get naked’ part at all? Just make him naked already! Yet time and time again stories (or at least the ones I’ve seen) all stop with ‘he/she got naked – it was great, it was liberating, it was awesome – the end’… pretty dull really. I have to say too, I often find there are uncomfortable sexual undertones in the disrobing element of some ‘first-timer nudist fix’; it’s almost fetishized in those stories.”
But Grace does agree that “naturist fiction can reasonably be said to require nudity and/or the desire to be nude/disrobe. However, because a lot of my characters have moved on to the stage of being nudists and they are comfortable with their nudity and the nudity of others, I have been at liberty to move past the ‘first-time’ clichés and focus on other stories and ideas. Even in my first story The Koala Bares, the first-time experiences were only a small part of the overall plot.”
Concerning the issue of the “nervous first-timer,” Crowley maintains an attempt “to blend that into the overall narrative rather than making it a central part of it. Having a multitude of characters makes this easier to achieve, since the story isn’t so tightly focused on one individual which it usually seems to be in most naturist fiction. Also, in most cases, I aim for humor rather than dramatic emotion.”
Grace lists some of her stories in which there isn’t really any focus on disrobing per se: “Twinkle,” “Ghost Story,” “Enchanted,” “Frank.cam,” “Prudes & Prejudice,” the Halloween stories, and “Three-Hour Tour.” In most of the other stories, she says, the characters “who have issues about nudity are part of a broader narrative. In ‘Birthday Suits’ there is a lot more going on than Loxie’s family getting nude for the first time; likewise in ‘Nood World,’ Belinda’s and Jon’s discomfort is supplanted by the main plot involving jewel thieves.”
In summary, Crowley says that in her perspective, “the nudity is only one element in the story; it isn’t the story. You may notice that in many stories I downplay the nudity, especially amongst the nudist characters. They just go about their business as normal; it’s only when the outside world interjects (or as in the case of ‘Prudes & Prejudice’ where Darcy interjects into the outside world) that nudity becomes an issue for non-nude characters.”
The following page is an imaginative example of suspenseful disrobing from the story “Birthday Suits” (page 74). Bob (Loxie’s brother-in-law) and Eric (Loxie’s dad) are compelled to visit Koala Bay Bares naturist resort for family reasons. While there, they remain dressed, but they lose a bet to Mungo regarding his spear-fishing abilities. In the scenes below, Bob complies with the “nude up” outcome of the bet, but Eric has refused, for which he was chased off-scene by an agitated emu. Meanwhile, Maurice is Bob’s co-worker, a fact that speaks, in the middle panel below, to many people’s concern of “What if I see someone I know?”
As Bob hikes through the outback looking for Eric (who has taken refuge up a tree), he discovers the joy of nude movement in nature. Eric does eventually remove his clothes, but only due to the emu’s belligerence. Losing a fishing bet with an emu as enforcer – where else but Koala Bay Bares?
But just as compelling and creative are Crowley’s forays into the fantasy worlds of naturist gnomes and fairies (“Enchanted”), vitamin-D-craving vampires, and the mysterious were-nudist (“Tales to Scare Your Pants Off”). Her amazing art and story-telling know-how can easily move beyond (FAR beyond) the nerves of the first-time nudist, without abandoning portrayal of the exuberant epiphanies of naturism.