Éloïse Marseille’s debut graphic novel, Naked: The Confessions of a Normal Woman, has been making waves since it was released in English last November: It was as one of CBC Books’ “Best Canadian Comics of 2023”, hit the #1 spot in “Hot New Releases in Nonfiction Graphic Novels” on Amazon.ca, and has been hailed as “a memoir that’s as honest as they come… deeply engaging and beautifully made” (Mike Donachie, The Toronto Sun) and “an excellent book, in the best spirit of the auto-bio tradition, from a new talent with a lot to say” (Henry Chamberlin, Comics Grinder).
Just prior to the books release, Éloïse sat down for a video chat with François Vigneault to discuss the origins of the project, her approach to balancing humor and sorrow in her work, visual artists and filmmakers who have influenced her unique style, and what she hopes readers will take from her book. Below is an edited version of the talk, and feel free to check out the Pow Pow YouTube channel for the full discussion!
Naked: The Confessions of a Normal Woman is available now in bookstores, comic book shops, and your favorite online retailers.
Pow Pow: Naked is a graphic memoir, and right from the very beginning of the book you make it clear that you’re really going to put yourself out there on the page. What made you want to tell your story for this project?
Éloïse Marseille: When I began, I didn’t think it was ever going to be published and seen by as many people as it has! It started as a project in university. At first I thought it was going to be a 25-page project, and I didn’t know what to write about, so I went on Google and I wrote “How to write a story?” And the advice everyone gives you is “Write what you know”!
So I thought, what do I know better than my own life? At first I just wanted to do a recollection of funny or embarrassing sex stories. We all have them, and to me, it’s really, really funny! And as I was drawing it, it kind of ended up going into very deep, emotional, raw places that I didn’t expect it to go.
As you mentioned there’s a lot of really funny stories, lots of goofy humor, but then you end up delving pretty deeply into some sad, very serious, and even traumatic stories from your youth. Was it a challenge to balance those tones in the book?
Honestly, not really. I think the book is very similar to my own personality. I love laughing, I love making jokes, but I’m also a very open person. I always say I don’t have secrets, because I just share everything, and I think for me it actually made it a lot easier to talk about those harder or more sensitive subjects by using humor.
I watched an interview with Phoebe Waller Bridge yesterday, and she said something that I thought was really good, and links to my book a little bit. In Fleabag she touches on very harsh subjects, and she said “You use humor so that your public lowers their defenses, and after that you punch them in the face.” I really related to that, I was like, “Oh my God, that’s what I do too.” It wasn’t necessarily hard to write either. I didn’t think that Naked was ever going to be read by an actual public. So it was more of a journaling experience. It was very therapeutic for me to talk about it.
So it doesn’t sound like it, but you weren’t nervous at all to put some of the stories out there? It’s very much like a “mature readers” book, and it’s dealing with sexuality, and all kinds of like quote-unquote embarrassing situations. There’s even a great moment where your Mom is talking to you in the comic. She’s like, “I love you, sweetie, but just don’t do a comic about this!”
I love that you mentioned that joke. I think it’s the best joke in the entire book! I’m a very open person. I find a lot of empowerment talking about those harsher subjects. In the book, I talk about being sterile, and I remember when I was younger, I was so, so embarrassed of that. When I started sharing it and I had support and validation, I remember that I stopped hiding. Because I had such a positive reaction from people, I just wanted to share it with more people to get even more positive reinforcement, you know?
And I think maybe it’s a little bit the same with my book. All the stories I share, I’m not ashamed of anymore. And by sharing them, I get validation from more and more and more people. So, it helps me in return feel even more confident in the events that have happened in my life and more confident as a woman and as an adult.
Every time I got negative feedback, it was really stupid stuff. Seriously, like a lot of people were very angry that I drew my characters with leg hair! I can’t take that seriously. To me, that criticism has no legs to stand on, so I’m just like, “Okay!” And even if I got really terrible feedback, it doesn’t change who I am, it doesn’t change my value as a person.
When people read Naked: The Confessions of a Normal Woman, what do you hope that they take away from it at the end of the book?
Sex can be this very big scary monster, this very big subject. I hope it can be more of this silly, stupid thing that is not that serious. To me, sex is very funny. What’s hard with that is that there’s so much outside pressure, which is so frustrating because sex is so intimate, but there is this insane pressure crushing you… How you should act, how you should be feeling, how your body should look, what you should enjoy, what you shouldn’t enjoy, how your body should react, all that stuff. And I feel if my book could maybe help ease that pressure a little bit, I think that would be really, really amazing. Something that people told me is that they felt very “seen” in the book. Which made me really, really happy because one of the major themes of my book is shame, and most of my shame during my entire life came from feeling alone and not normal, so hearing that other people felt seen sort of makes me hope that it made them feel less alone, and maybe took away a little bit of that shame that they feel.
Yeah, that’s what I hope. And I hope people find it funny too!