A refreshingly beautiful anthology, The Jade Door is a succinct reminder of the sensual subtleties of Asian eroticism. In the able hands of five Chinese artists and illustrators, the book adapts ancient tales censored since the 17th century into a graphic novel both delicate and provocative.
Rather than pastiches of old shunga prints, the art sticks to a more modern and realistic look throughout the volume. Though computer-coloured and liberally manipulated, most pages retain an organic feel, with the line art unburdened by blurs, gradients or other pixel gimmickry. The Garden of Blooming Peach Trees, the most heavily doctored of the stories, has a bold look somewhere between watercolours and pastel.
The collected tales belong to an era of candid sexuality. Seen as an inherent part of a healthy married life, sex is never reproachable. Adultery, however, is the central conflict of both Girl Reading in the Western Pavilion and The Case of the Shirt of Pearls, both straightforward accounts with little in the way of a moral or a twist. Precious Leaves From the Jade Peak, by far the most sophisticated narrative, follows the sexual awakening of a young student against a backdrop of erotic games from an older generation. The story flows with an elegant, near-Fellini-esque humour remarkably pungent for its short length.
Seasoned fans of erotic comics will no doubt find the book tame when compared to the raunchier classics of the genre by luminaries like Milo Manara and Guido Crepax – none of the stories includes hardcore art, revealing no more than nipples and glimpses of pubic hair. The sex depicted glistens with spontaneity and passion, but if a stroke book is what you’re after, this is not it.
The literary jargon of Chinese eroticism is a little too recurrent for such a short volume: after a few pages of ‘jade tigers’, ‘terraces of pleasure’ and ‘tasting the scent of honey’, the soft euphemisms begin to lose not only their poetry, but even their unwitting humour. However abused, though, they function quite well in maintaining an atmosphere of exoticism, which is of course of great interest to most Western eyes reading the book in translation.
As an omnibus, the collection is unusual in its cohesiveness, making for a compelling and unique read of the kind that doesn’t come along very often. If you think all that the Far East can produce in terms of erotica is stomach-turning videos and tentacled cartoon monsters, The Jade Door will be an eye-opener, and an eye-pleaser.
The Jade Door by Chaiko, Cheng Cheng, 7th Orange, Sheng Tao and Sun Rui; NBM/Eurotica; ISBN 978-1-56163-606-8; £12.99