Social norms dictate that one’s nudity is best reserved for intimate moments and for cleaning one’s self. It’s usually a private matter, but as Steven Seagle of Man of Action talks about in his new graphic essay collection, Get Naked, the definition of taboo gets blurred quite a bit.
Out in comic shopsnow from Image Comics (and bookstores later this month), Get Naked has Seagle tackling the idea of nudity across the world as well as right here in America, with a handful of talented independent artists that visualize Seagle’s words from embarrassing to humorous situations.
“The whole idea of doing a book of graphic essays started when I wondered if I comics could do something like the form of the essay after hearing some great comedic essays delivered by the NPR crowd on shows like This American Life and The Moth,” Seagle stated.
“So I started to talking to a few of my artist friends around the world and asked what they thought about doing a graphic essay. Flash-forward to me being affiliated to these journalistic comics and I approached some people and suddenly I was writing them.”
So why tell this sort of story? Seagle said it was because he simply enjoyed reading those type of experiences.
“An essay is a story with a thematic argument and I like books and stories that seek to make a specific point. Of the first essays I wrote for practice, two dealt with my discomfort about being naked in public settings and the other was about some sort of emotional nakedness and that seemed to be building up a theme. And I was talking to my wife and saying that I tell a lot of stories to friends about instances where I get naked in foreign places out of necessity and weird things go down. So I started writing them down. I also felt like getting the word 'Naked' on the cover would at least get people to look at the book just on the subject matter. Essay comics are a hard sell!”
Looking at the artists involved with the project, for example Sim Mau for the Tokyo story, Seagle had a lot of praise for his collaborators.
“The key to making graphic essays work was grabbing hold of the form and saying: "I know what to do with this." For the Tokyo essay, I wrote the script as prose and Sim Mau found a way to balance negative space and color and text so that the "too many words" became a part of the art as well.”
The Tokyo story also discusses the taboo about sex clubs. In Tokyo, Seagle said he passed by one of these and it was an intense eye-opener.
“The story happened just the way you see it on the page,” he explained. “I went to Tokyo on business and one of my business partners talked about these blowjob bars and I was like: "That can’t be a real thing."
"Turned out, it was."
"As a writer you want to experience new things, but as a person who can’t even take his shirt off at a beach, there was no way I could do the BJ bar by any stretch of the imagination," Seagle continued. "Later that same day, though, I went to a huge Tokyo bathhouse and I did get naked. I found it kind of peaceful though. Nothing sensual. Trying to wrap my head around the difference in these two types of nudity is where a lot of these essays found their center."
“I really liked travel stories and I love to read prose and novels taking place all across the world.”
In Get Naked, there are 19 stories – Some of them are global, the rest are somewhat local within California like the San Fernando Valley. He went on to talk about that story.
"I have evolved into a person who can now get naked. Like today I am with my writer’s group and we're sitting in this big Korean spa and working all day. But at the end of the day at a Korean spa, you soak, which means you’re going to be naked for about 30 minutes. With my group, they’re mostly Americans, and that to me would have been shocking a couple of years ago - that we could see each other naked in that context and not have it be a big deal. But the truth is, the second you do it? It’s not a thing anymore, it’s not a thing at all - at least in my head now. Looking back, it’s weird to think that being naked accounts for some of the most anxious experiences in my entire life, and then you're at a Korean spa for like 30 minutes and suddenly it’s not even a thing anymore."
“Then you travel to places like Korea or Japan where it’s not a thing from the time people are born,” he continued. “And you understand the anxiety is a learned behavior from the get-go.”
He then talked about if that sort of thing could be “unlearned” and our natural state be more normalized in the right setting.
“Absolutely we could unlearn it.” Seagle said, and he also talked about the "never-nudes," who can only be naked if they’re alone. It’s where he categorized himself before his get naked revelation.
"But as soon as you have an experience where you do get naked, it all just evaporates and adds another level of intimacy to your friendships."
"This wasn’t like an overnight conversion to full-on naturalist! It's not like I’ll just get naked at McDonald’s or whatever,” he joked, “But if I’m playing racquetball and have to take a shower afterwards, it doesn’t bother me if I'm naked around my buddies. Whereas growing up if that was my only option in school? I just wouldn’t have ever returned after the first shower."
Aside from getting over his own fears and personal qualms with same-gender nudity, Seagle also learned that parts of Europe had full-on co-ed nudity in some places.
“Yeah there were a lot of cultural divisions. One of my favorite examples happened while I was in Berlin. I have this heart condition where I have to swim everyday to kind of keep my heart rate at a double and not let it go into a triple beat, which I talk about in the book. So I have to swim, but I didn’t learn how until later in life. What no one mentioned in Berlin was that some spas in Germany are full co-ed. That was a big step for me. I remember going into an open shower and then a woman stepped in right next to me and I was like, 'Oh crap! I’m in the wrong shower!' Then a guy stepped in next to her and I thought 'Oh crap! She's in the wrong shower!' But nope. Nobody was in the wrong shower. It was coed and the Germans didn’t care at all. If this happened in America, the outrage would be insurmountable, but there’s an entire country where that’s just not a thing."
As for taking on something like this again, Seagle would be all for it but isn’t sure how something like this will have a reaction, just simply because of the format.
“I enjoyed the format, but not sure there’s an audience for it yet, but I hope so. I got more weird things that have happened to me. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”