Guido Crepax’s Valentina
Guido Crepax (1933 – 2003) was a Milanese architect who worked in advertising as a graphic artist for Shell, Campari, Dunlop, Iveco, Breil, Honda and Sharp.
Valentina first appeared in 1965 in Crepax’s graphic novel, Linus, as a secondary character. She was such a huge sensation that she became the protagonist of her own series.
Crepax based Valentina on Louise Brooks, the silent movie star from the nineteen twenties. Valentina’s black bob hair and elegant looks are derived directly from Louise Brooks. Crepax initated and maintained a correspondence with Louise Brooks until her death in 1985.
It has also been said that Crepax’s wife was an inspiration for Valentina as well, which is startlingly evident when you see pictures of her and her physical resemblance to the fictional Valentina. She also used to pose for some of the drawings. Another theory is that Valentina is in fact Crepax’s alter ego. Crepax was a shy, retiring character, and although Valentina can be shy too, she is also often forthright in her behavior, and above all adventurous. In Crepax’s world she provides a fantastical erotic landscape for both creator and reader to escape into.
Crepax’s Valentina is so much more than a sex symbol. She is sophisticated and Avant garde. A Trotsky aficionado, she reads authors like Kafka, Mann and Beckett, loves Hitchcock movies, and ignores pop music in favour of classical and jazz. Her thoughts revolve around situations that activate a conflict between instinct and reason, pleasure and responsibility.
Evie Blake’s Valentina
When Evie Blake began writing the first book in the Valentina trilogy she was asked to keep intact the spirit of the original 1960’s Valentina, and yet bring her into the contemporary world. Thus Evie Blake’s Valentina lives now, in Milan in 2012. And the original Valentina, who Guido Crepax created, is this Valentina’s mother.
Since Valentina is the definitive icon of European cool. Yet to be like Valentina is not unattainable. It is possible for every woman, no matter what her circumstances, to be a Valentina: independent, stylish, erotic, intelligent and intrepid. She is not motivated by money or power. She doesn’t want a sugar Daddy or a Prince Charming. She has no desire to manipulate men, or be a man-eater, and in the same way she always tries to maintain control in her own life, possibly at the expense of intimacy. Valentina is motivated by curiosity and an attraction to what most frightens her. This last fact is a very strong feature of the first book in the Valentina trilogy when Valentina is drawn towards the Dark Room, and what lies inside…..the darker side of desire.
Louise Brooks & Valentina’s Genealogy
One of the most important elements of the Valentina trilogy is the idea that her ‘free-spirit’ has been passed on through the maternal line of her family. Thus in the first Valentina book we meet Valentina’s great – grandmother Belle, who lives a double life as a courtesan in Venice in the late nineteen twenties. Just like Guido Crepax, Evie has focused on Louise Brooks as the primary inspiration for Belle.
Louise Brooks (1906 – 1985), one of the most famous actresses of the silent era, was renowned as much for her rebellion against Hollywood as for her performances in such classics as, Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. Her physical resemblance to Valentina and Belle is obvious: black bobbed hair, her rare, yet enigmatic smile, her dark expressive eyes, her pale skin, and her dancer’s body with small breasts, and strong legs. Yet it is the young Louise Brooks’ personality that is the essential and original spirit of Valentina & Belle: unashamedly liberated, yet never vulgar, sensual yet not a femme fatale, at times boyish, yet incredibly feminine. Brooks slept with both men and women (she is supposed to have slept with Greta Garbo) claiming she was too degenerate for one part of Hollywood, and not degenerate another for another. She never fitted in. Although Louise Brooks herself was American, her best work were films made in Europe, directed by a German, Pabst, and she is very much evocative of the liberated and Avant garde spirit of Germany in the twenties under the Weimar Republic. Thus she is thoroughly fitting as inspiration for the very European Valentina & Belle.
Evie found that the more she read on Louise Brooks the more she admired her. Louise Brooks refused to write her memoirs, yet much can be gleaned from her character by reading some of her letters and essays (Lulu in Hollywood published by Minnesota Press). Evie made her the principal inspiration for the complex character of Belle, the alter ego of Mrs. Louise (Ludwika) Brzezinska, who is trapped in an unhappy marriage in Venice in 1929. It is the same year that Brooks’ film Pandora’s Box came out and caused a huge stir across Europe. Louise Brooks’ performance as the ill-fated Lulu, temptress yet victim, was both admired and lambasted. She challenged the viewer, and so Evie wanted Belle to challenge the reader. She has chosen the life of a prostitute as a means of escaping her real life. If we were her, would we do the same? And yet Belle is probably the most romantic character in the whole book for she is hoping to find the man who can give her everything – both emotional and physical love.
And so Belle’s story concludes at the end of the first book in the Valentina trilogy. We see her connection to our modern day Valentina, and how this essence is inside not only Valentina’s maternal line, but in every woman. In the second book in the Valentina trilogy we meet Maria, Belle’s lovechild and Valentina’s grandmother, and in the third installment, it is Valentina’s own mother, Tina, who becomes a protagonist. In each of these books Valentina’s ancestors mirror her own erotic and emotional adventures and challenges for throughout all of Valentina’s explorations into the world of erotica, from Sado – masochism to Tantric sex, her search is ultimately not only to be loved, but to be able to love.