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Is a naked heroine sexist? 

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I can already hear the detractors, the angry feminists calling me out as a sexist. Their argument, I imagine, will go something like this,

Thelana is the lead heroine in Nick Alimonos' fantasy epic, "Ages of Aenya," and she has everything we love to see in a female character: strength, intelligence, and she can dish out punishment good as her male companion. She even passes the Bechdel test! So why am I up in arms about Thelana? Well, when it comes to hyper-sexualizing women, this author's hit rock bottom. We're not talking chainmail bikinis or skintight tights here either, because with this super hero, there is no costume. You read that right. She is utterly, unapologetically, naked. If "Aenya" was some kind of erotica, I might give it a pass. But no, this is serious fantasy, straight out of Westeros and Middle Earth. So, as a woman reader, I am left scratching my head, wanting to scream, 'Put some clothes on for god's sake!' The author even has the audacity to call himself a feminist. He defends himself by pointing out, "Hey, look, the guy is naked too!" But this critic isn't fooled. Thelana exists to tickle the author's fancy and titillate male (immature) readers.


---Angryfeminist.com



While I have yet to find an angry mob outside my office door, I suspect that, as Thelana grows in popularity, it's only a matter of time. The thing is, feminists have a lot to be angry about. We still live in a largely male dominated society. We have yet to see a female president (go Hillary!), and if we're lucky, we'll have our first woman on paper currency, the $10 bill. Despite such signposts of inequality, women have made huge strides in this country, and most Americans now agree women deserve to vote, to decide what they can do with their bodies, and to get paid the same for the same work. Modern sexism is much more subtle, and in raising two daughters, I see it all the time. The hero in any video game/book/TV show/movie is almost always male. When a woman does take center stage, they are more often treated as eye candy. The message this sends is clear: 1) Women are of lesser importance and 2) A woman's most important quality is beauty. 

To contrast this message, I tell my kids what I would if I had boys, "#1 thing in life is knowledge and compassion." Being a father to two awesome girls, fairness and equality matter a lot to me. I want them to grow up feeling invincible, like they could go to Mars if they wanted. I direct them to strong heroines like Lisa Simpson and Hermione Granger. When it comes to my own writing, I am conscious of inequality, and would hate to contribute to the problem. Unfortunately, Thelana draws out the sexists like flies. Most guys never bother to look beyond the flesh, to read the accompanying story that defines the character. On DeviantArt, Thelana gets lost amid the countless soft core images, those devoid of any life or personality. Much of this could be remedied by simply giving her something to wear, leather armor perhaps, but this is where I part ways with most feminists, because we should never define a woman by the clothes she is wearing or not wearing; and more to the point, we should not make women responsible for the way men treat them.

A girl in a mini-skirt is not "asking for it," and she certainly isn't looking to be raped. This centuries' old taboo, regarding females and clothing, goes hand in hand with sexism, and absolves men of any wrong-doing. False modesty and shame is imposed upon women by the world's worst sex offenders, from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan. Nudity, in and of itself, is neither pro nor anti women. A nude portrait can be liberating and empowering, or it can be humiliating and degrading. Like sexual consent, choice is everything. A woman stripped of her clothes is a victim. A stripper who loves what she does is not. Either way, it is the men typically calling the shots, the men who produce porn, watch porn, and, paradoxically, create the society in which women who engage in it are ostracized. If you're a woman, it's a no-win situation. Women learn from an early age to kowtow to men's desires, but that it is taboo to express their own. 

This double standard extends to how male and female heroes are regarded by some feminists (Cracked.com/Upworthy). Superman and Batman, in their skin-tight outfits, represent the male ideal, but Wonder Woman in her bikini bottom is somehow "objectified." Even Namor and Conan, who wear even less, do not represent equal treatment. Why? Because male superheroes are a projection of male fantasies, what men wish they could look like, or so the argument goes. But there are a number of problems with this theory. Firstly, it supposes that a majority of Superman fans are envying his looks, but as a reader of the comic since childhood, such a thing never crossed my mind. Sure, he's nice to look at, but what appeals to me most, and what I think appeals to most every male, are his powers. And really, who doesn't wish they could fly? Secondly, this argument supposes women do not have similar projection fantasies, that female readers never imagine themselves with a goddess-like physique, like Wonder Woman or Power Girl. Of course, given how my daughters love to dress up, and adding to that the glut of supermodels in magazines like Cosmopolitan, I think it is more common for girls to look at other girls for this very reason. Lastly, this theory implies women do not enjoy sex, or looking at male bodies, or that they have no interest in expressing their own sexuality. Not surprisingly, it is typically the male feminists making these assertions.


More clothes = More empowering?

In 1972, writer Samual Delany changed Wonder Woman into a more "modest" outfit, which he believed was the feminist thing to do. That was, until women's rights pioneer Gloria Steinem got involved, stating how much she hated that the traditional costume was taken away. Wonder Woman has long stood for female empowerment. We should not suggest that she cannot, or should not, expose her thighs, or that by doing so she is somehow diminished. We would never call Tarzan a whore for wearing only a loincloth, or say that James Bond is objectifying himself for exuding male sexuality. Male heroes are curiously exempt from any such moral judgments. While it is true that men enjoy looking at women, it is also true that women sometimes enjoy it when men look at them. Why else do women purchase sexy outfits? Mini-skirts? Thong bikinis? (OK, sometimes, it just feels good to be loose). But if no woman ever wished to be looked at, they would voluntarily don burqas, but it is always the men forcing them to do so. Female sexuality has long intimidated men and there is a storied history of patriarchal societies trying to repress it. In Egypt and throughout Subsaharan Africa, vaginal mutilation is a common practice, to diminish desire and enjoyment of sex. But to deny a woman's sexuality, whether physically or socially, is to deny her personhood.

What matters in feminism is choice and who is doing the choosing. I am not suggesting women should be nude, or sexy, only that the women who make that choice, and believe me there are those that do (they're called nudists!), need not be objectified or labeled. Thelana may be naked, but it is only because she chooses to be so, refusing to be repressed, or be defined by others. When, in Ages of Aenya, some men mistake her lack of apparel for vulnerability, it does not end well for them. By breaking with traditions of false modesty, in choosing to forgo the trappings that clothing represents, Thelana empowers herself, and it is a power that can never be stripped away, humiliated, or degraded.


  • Reading: J.D. Salinger, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Are you a great artist? Do you want to make between $200-$500? Would you like to contribute your talents to a unique and exciting fantasy world that has been slowly building over the past decade and a half? Well now is your chance! By close of 2015, I will be hard at work on a new book campaign, for both "Ages of Aenya" and "The Princess of Aenya," through popular social media sites like Facebook and YouTube "book trailers" to brick and mortar book signings. But I am going to need a lot of great new artwork. This is what I am looking for:

1.) A wide-shot landscape of Xandr and Thelana, standing atop the fallen idol of Sargonus, in action poses fighting off merquid. If you don't know who Xandr and Thelana are, just check out my gallery!

2.) A wide-shot landscape, set at night in the clouds, with lightning flashing in the background, and Thelana leaping into the air, sword ready to thrust, down toward a giant bird.

3.) A medium-shot of Xandr, in an action pose, burying a rusty ax into the head of the Septheran (snake man) prince.  

4.) A portrait of Horde, a Lovecraftian, "Hulk" like cyborg.

5.) Whatever inspires you, based in the Aenya universe.
 

Want to learn more? Shoot me an e-mail at Nick Alimonos with a link to your gallery!

Thanks,
Nick 

Also, be sure to check out my official author site The Writer's Disease and book site The World of Aenya.
 
  • Reading: J.D. Salinger, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Rice Burroughs
The art on this page is inspired and dedicated to the Aenya fantasy series. Since 2003, artists from around the world have contributed their talents to visualizing the people and vistas that populate the Aenya novels. 

There is only so much a writer can achieve with words. Images have the power to evoke thoughts and feelings, to inspire and to transport, in ways that even the best of literature fails to achieve. Which is why I am truly humbled by those artists who have set aside their egos and their own projects to reach out and meld minds with me. Their contributions have helped me to make something greater than any one person. I am honored to include the custom figures/sculpts of friend and fan David Pasco, who beautifully captures the monsters and characters of Aenya and forces me to think about them in ways that have only made them more real. In the realms of ink, paint and digital, I am grateful for the talents of John T' Lustachowski, Billy Tacket, Gene Espy, Julia Bax (Brazil), Evan Kyrou (Greece), Alexey Lipatov (Ukraine) and Frans Mensink (Netherlands). The collaboration between the literary and the visual is a thing of beauty, a synergy that has given rise to many of our most beloved stories. What would Conan be, conceived by Robert Howard, without the fanciful illustrations of Frank Frazetta? Or the beloved Marvel universe, imagined by Stan Lee, without the magic of Jack Kirby's pencils?

This gallery continues to grow, and I am excited to collaborate with great artists in the future, to sharing Aenya with the world.

Sincerely,
Nick Alimonos 


To learn more about Aenya, please visit: World of Aenya

To learn more about the author, you can go to: The Writer's Disease

Like "Ages of Aenya" on Facebook! World of Aenya on Facebook

  • Reading: J.D. Salinger, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Rice Burroughs

Naturism is one of my great passions. Since both of my parents are of Spartan descent, my summers were spent on the beaches of the Greek isles, where not having a bathing suit was never a problem. But I also learned to appreciate the human form in Classical and Renaissance art, in the depictions of gods and heroes so common in our culture, in paintings of Achilles at Troy and in statues like Michelangelo's David. As a writer, I am continually fascinated by literature with nudist or naked heroes, like Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, or any fantasy paperback illustrated by Frank Frazetta. Growing up, I never understood America's obsession with sex and, paradoxically, its Puritanical attitude toward the human body.

As Americans, we live in an insane world, where you can legally carry and conceal a gun, but risk imprisonment should anyone see your genitals. We live in a world where, under the banner of free speech, YouTube permits the hateful Mohammed video which offended and outraged billions of Muslims throughout the world, but Facebook censors a mother breastfeeding; we live in a world where "Mature" video games like Grand Theft Auto entertains children with fantasies of murdering innocents, while a game showing a nipple earns a much stricter "Adult" rating; we live in a world where the Westboro Baptist Church can rally at a gay soldier's funeral with signs that read "God Hates Fags" as police stand idly by, but should a man or woman show up in nothing but the body we are all born into, they would promptly be arrested for "indecency".

I reject the notion that men and women cannot live in sight of one another without clothes. I reject the belief that bodies are inherently sexual and must be hidden from view. And I know, with certainty, that nudity is not harmful to children---in fact, quite the opposite is true---shaming our kids, making them believe that their bodies are sinful, harms their self-esteem and their sense of identity. Sex is an important part of who we are, but it isn't what we are.

If the naturist lifestyle has taught me anything, it's that clothing is unnecessary, a matter of social conditioning, a force of habit. People were never meant to wear clothes. We are born far more beautiful than we can ever hope to become in clothes; and we can experience so much more of the world, so much more intimately, with our bare bodies than we ever could otherwise. For tens of thousands, if not more than a hundred thousand years, we were oblivious to our nakedness. After the Ice Age, we adopted textiles to retain heat, but at some point in our history, an invention of necessity became a global neurosis, a hatred for our own bodies. But if we look at ourselves openly and accept who we are as a species, if we recognize that we are inseparable from nature, we might learn to see the divine in humanity. I am not suggesting that throwing away our clothes can solve society's ills. But if we are free to live in the skin we are born into, to live without shame or judgment, without primitive and outdated taboos, might this world not become a better place?



Thankfully, the Internet is quickly bringing about an age of tolerance, as people on blogs and in forums are learning to express alternative ways of thinking. For the first time in history, once isolated cultures are becoming part of a global village. It is only a matter of time before the absurdity of naked shame becomes evident to all. Only when we recognize our shared humanity can we hope to overcome the definitions that divide us. 

For me, naturism means much more than living without clothes. It is a spiritual philosophy I live by, a reverence for nature and for life, a kind of pantheism, if you will. It gives me a sense of awe, for our species and for our place in the universe.
  • Reading: J.D. Salinger, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Internet land exploded recently when a Bungie employee (makers of Halo) in an interview described the design for a new Metal Gear Solid character as "disgusting". I remember being a huge fan of Hideo Kojima's work after I played his first game on the original Playstation. I was especially enamored by the many philosophical concepts he tackles in his series, things you don't typically find in a stealth/action game. While Kojima's name will likely never be brought up in any Philosophy 101 course, it's nice to know that games can deal with more grown-up fare from time to time. Now it seems Kojima's name has become synonymous with sexism and everything wrong with our male-dominated society. While I consider myself a feminist to some degree, I do get defensive when certain women go into rage mode regarding scantily clad characters. With regards to income inequalities, intrusive medical mandates and our overall beauty obsessed magazine culture, sexism is a continuing problem in our society, and yes, popular media tends to fuel this problem. But any discussion regarding depictions of women in the media should be focused on "objectification" meaning "to make an object" or to "dehumanize". While sexy images, particularly those in smut magazines like Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler do objectify women (Penthouse is particularly bad, calling their centerfolds "pets") it isn't the nudity itself that is the problem, otherwise, feminists would also have to complain about the Venus de Milo or Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. 

Conversely, a female character can be fully dressed and be objectified. I sometimes finds things sexist that most people do not even notice. Am I the only one, for instance, who felt that the real hero in Harry Potter was Hermione? The author is a woman, oddly enough, so you cannot blame her for intentional sexism, not consciously anyway, but still, Hermione is the real hero of that franchise; Harry just bumbles along and everyone calls him the "chosen one". Being the father of two daughters, I encounter sexism in video games all the time. Whenever I pick up a Wii title for my 9 year old, the first question she asks is, "Is there a girl in it? Can I play a girl?" It saddens me when I have to say, "Sorry." It's also frustrating having to explain why in Super Mario Bros. Wii andWii U, you can play as Mario, Luigi, and two male Toads (count them, two) but no Princess Peach or even Toadette. There is a very subtle message here: girls are helpless victims and must wait to be rescued by a male figure. Super Princess Peach aside (and even in that Gameboy exclusive, her chief ability is crying), I'll take a bikini clad warrior who kicks butt any day.

Point is, a scantily clad or nude female character is not inherently sexist and a fully dressed character certainly can be. Naturally, sex sells, and feminists can cry foul for a million years and never change the fact that men enjoy looking at women, more so sans apparel. This is design by evolution. But desire for sex does not fall exclusively into the male or female domain (see Fifty Shades of Grey). Rather, lust is just one of many emotional facets that makes us human. The problem derives when eliciting desire becomes a female character's only quality (I am looking at you, Red Sonja). In this case, the character does become, in the eyes of male viewers, an object, which is admittedly disgusting and degrading. So is Hideo Kojima's character, Quiet, unrealistic? You bet! Ridiculous? Definitely! Representative of an unfair double-standard? Probably. Sexist? Not so fast . . .

Take Thelana. This girl could be deemed the very epitome of sexism, and yet, she is anything but an object in Ages of Aenya. In this character we have the whole gamut of human emotion, from fear, sorrow and pride to love, jealousy and compassion. She is courageous, intelligent, and every bit as capable as any male hero. She is a farmer, a warrior and a thief. Incidentally, she never uses sex as a tool, and beauty is not her "primary virtue" as feminist Susan J. Douglas might argue, but rather, climbing and archery. We even get to know Thelana's father, mother, and eleven siblings by name. The only thing that really sets her apart from most female characters: she's nude most of the time, as in no clothes whatsoever. Why? Why couldn't she be all those things and keep her clothes on for heaven's sake? Two reasons  1) Nudity is beautiful and the heroic nude is a tradition that dates back to Ancient Greece, and  2) More importantly, Thelana is a naturist (as is the author) and if you've never experienced the joy and connectedness that comes from experiencing nature in the buff, you cannot really comment on it, which is why many of my female naturist friends identify with Thelana, because they are neither whores, strippers, or objects of male desire. And before any feminist gets all up in arms about double standards, Xandr, the male hero, is just as naked just as often, because there really is a double standard when it comes to male vs. female nudity.

As ridiculous as Hideo Kojima's new heroine appears, let's not rush to judgment here. Let's play the game and see what this character is all about, while keeping in mind that the most insidious form of sexism is more often found in places where it has the most damaging influence, in the minds of young girls, particularly with the dearth of role-models for young girls in video games.
  • Reading: J.D. Salinger, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Rice Burroughs
If I could not be a writer, I would like to be a fantasy artist, because I think in images. When I was a kid, I drew my stories (comic books) just as much as wrote them. That continued until I realized I wasn't quite on par with others my age. Scenes of vivid detail still stick in my mind, however, which is why I have a tendency to describe every little thing in my fiction. It's an amateur mistake I try to avoid, since no matter how well you write a scene, every reader comes away with his or her own picture. Despite the hundreds of thousands of words devoted to Xandr and Thelana and Emma, there is just something magical that happens when a character crosses into the purely visual medium; it brings them to life in ways that words cannot. For just this reason, I am grateful to the artists who have contributed over the years to my work, from my friends Evan Kyrou (Greece) and David Pasco (USA), to Julia Bax (Brazil) Tazio Bettin (Italy) and Alexey Lipatov (Ukraine). If I have anything to gripe about (and don't I always?), it's that the feeling isn't mutual. Artists don't seem to value my skills the way I value theirs. Not wanting anyone else playing in their imaginary sandbox, they spend an exorbitant amount of time drawing characters with no real story, no real life. Their illustrations are often based on their own amateur fiction, but just like the hundreds of junk novelists on Amazon, they fail to recognize their literary limitations. I pay artists to realize my characters visually, at the mercy of their interpretations, but I have never been approached to aid in writing a background. I could just as well draw my own heroes, but my skills with a pencil are as wanting as theirs is on the keyboard.

A perfect example of characters failing as story can be seen in the many nude or semi-nude women on DeviantArt. It is a testament to free expression that virtually no censorship exists on DeviantArt, aside from self-censorship, and of course, who doesn't enjoy looking at such scantily clad vixens? But more often than not, the nudity is meant as a tease, to grab attention, solely to arouse. The way female warriors are dressed, if in anything at all, rarely makes sense in a literary context. Why would anyone wear breastplate armor but no underwear, leaving their genitals, a much more tender spot, unshielded? What is the sense in that? At least, if she is completely nude, you might argue in favor of increased agility, but how encumbering is a loincloth or a bra, really? I am equally annoyed by chainmail bikinis. How do these things stay on? And what exactly are they protecting? In a medieval setting, the bikini is anachronistic. After all, it is a uniquely American convention, a product of our hypersexualized/Puritanical culture, meant to satisfy both voyeurs and censors; but even in a fantasy setting, it defies all logic. What function does it serve? It neither shields from enemies, protects from weather, nor gives the impression of chastity. The loincloth, at least, is in keeping with African and South American cultures, and in the rare instances that the women of the tribe hunt, it is not by choice that they go without protection. In Frank Frazetta's animated feature, Fire and Ice, the heroine runs around the movie in nothing but a flimsy piece of thread that barely covers her pubic area, and somehow, despite climbing hills and being kidnapped numerous times by ape-like creatures and getting swept up in rivers, etc., her silky thong never tears or falls off. In my book, Ages of Aenya, Thelana is either fully naked (because her people don't wear clothes), or fully dressed in either a tunic, a keshaba (a traditional desert robe), or in furs (when it's cold). She might wear armor (she does, at one point, after joining the Kratan army) but anything less than complete coverage is just added weight, and if she were to ever come across a thong, she would likely wonder what it's for (a slingshot, maybe?). Sure, it's fun to imagine a topless, thong wearing warrior with a two-handed sword, and art should not be limited to logic (Picasso and Dali made careers out of defying logic), but these kinds of characters lack story potential. Frank Frazetta is my favorite fantasy artist because his work told a story (just look at the image above). It wasn't just in the detail of the bodies of his characters---but that his characters came alive. When you look at a piece by Frazetta, you feel as if you've stumbled upon something that extends beyond what's on the canvas. You get the impression that if you close your eyes, the scene will continue to play out. Let's take, for example, the topless girl with giant sword motif. When I look at such a picture, I often ask myself, Who is this girl? What kind of culture does she come from? Is everyone topless there? Are breasts considered sexual in this world? Are her allies from among this same topless society? What do they think of her exposing her breasts? When she goes to town to buy milk, what does the average merchant think of her? Or are we talking about a planet without bra technology? Is she a shy person? An exhibitionist? A naturist? A stripper? A prostitute? A porn star? Did she have a mother? Father? What do they think of her going topless? Did she know her parents/her family? These are the kinds of questions a writer has to ask himself, but most visual artists don't care to. If you can't imagine a character coming to life, if you can't extrapolate a back story that follows logic, your character possesses no depth. They may look cool, but they're nothing but static images, 2-dimensional eye-candy.

DeviantArt is an amazing place for talented people to come together. I simply wish there was greater collaboration between writers and visual artists. I wish there was greater understanding and appreciation between mediums. We know, from history, the amazing things that come about when people of different skills put aside their egos. Where would Frazetta be without Conan author Robert Howard? Just look at film, animation, and comic books. Look at Walt Disney. George Lucas. Stan Lee. None of whom would be where they are today without the talented people who supported them.

To see how words and images come together, check out the Illustrated "Ages of Aenya"---featuring art I have had commissioned over the past ten years. When viewed in order, the images tell a story. It is by no means a perfect or complete work, more a "work-in-progress"; I wouldn't even call it a graphic novel, but it's a start!
  • Reading: J.D. Salinger, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Rice Burroughs
I love DeviantArt. I love to browse the many nude characters people around the world have come up with. But always I come across the same problem. The nudity is meant as a tease, to grab the watcher's attention, for titillation, for sex appeal. The nudity serves no real purpose. It's fun to do, to imagine, and yet it's inconsequential to the story. More often than not, naked warrior women make no sense in the context of their surroundings or in the other things they might be wearing. Why would a warrior woman be wearing a breastplate with no underwear? What is the sense in that? At least, if you aren't wearing anything at all, you might hope for increased agility. Unfortunately, these beautifully done images fail on the story level, which is a shame, because I have always felt that the very best art tells a story. This is why Frank Frazetta is my favorite artist; it wasn't just the detail of the bodies in his work, it was that his work told a narrative. Artists want to find reasons to paint nudes in fantasy setting, and I applaud them for it, but they seem to be at a complete loss for how to make sense of it. It's like they are painting a wet dream where the women exist solely for the men to leer at.

The solution is obvious if you have been raised, as I have, as a naturist. I've spent days without wearing a stitch of clothing. I've actually hiked over rugged rocky terrain, run through thick forests over mossy ground strewn with roots and blades of grass, with nothing but my skin to protect me. I know what adventuring naked feels like . . . and I have known my share of women who have felt the same way. If your warrior girl deems underwear too cumbersome, she'll likely avoid the heavy bracers and boots and two-handed sword also. Being naked for the sake of male appeasement is unrealistic, unless your warrior woman is also a prostitute or a stripper (at which case she may be killing two birds with one profession), and the whole "it makes her more agile" is silly. How less agile does a loincloth really make you? But to feel the air on your body, the sun on your skin, the soil beneath your feet, this is as good a reason as any to take your clothes off and keep them off. While I may not ever know whether I would prefer fighting a goblin with my parts dangling, I'll leave that aspect to pure imagination. Otherwise, it's the only realistic option for painting a nude and having it make sense in the context of a broader story.
  • Reading: J.D. Salinger, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Even after ten years, it is not so easy to give up on Aenya, to move on to a new book. As far as I can tell, it's a good story, with enough drama, action, monsters, and exotic locations to satisfy any lover of fantasy. What brings me back to it again and again, however, are the heroes. I have scoured the Internet, talking it over with many naturist readers, but I have yet to find anything quite like Xandr and Thelana. After all, they are unique in the genre, as their bodies are their costumes. Some people bring up Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, or Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of whom dabbled with nudity or naturist philosophy, to a limited degree and with mixed results. Sure, the Martian in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land prefers to be nude, but is too far removed from humanity to be relatable, going so far as to consider cannibalism proper etiquette. Burroughs, while featuring both Tarzan and John Carter in the buff, devotes very little time to naturist philosophy. In Carter, the nudity is incidental and inconsequential to the plot, a matter of titillation for adolescent boys in an age before Internet porn. There have also been a number of naturist novels, written by and for naturists, like Co-Ed Naked Philosophy by Will Forrest, but while his musings are sometimes worth the read, the novel fails as fiction. As with most naturist books, his characters are 2-dimensional archetypes, mannequins to be dressed in the author's beliefs. Now a reader might question, and I have often put this to myself, Why does it matter? Couldn't Xandr and Thelana be just as heroic without their genitals dangling? What makes being naked so special? And what is it with my preoccupation/obsession with the human form? The answer can be summed up in three words: the heroic nude.

The heroic nude is largely forgotten in our culture. Any representation of a naked man or woman, in art or in fiction, is almost always for sexual stimulation. But this is an unnatural attitude, a myth propagated by mega-corporations who manipulate our sense of arousal to sell their products; what's more, the myth must be continually reinforced by increasingly sexualized imagery. Simply showing a body is not enough. Just type the words "nude" in any search engine and you will find every kind of erotic pose, extreme close ups of erections, artificially augmented breasts, and grotesque distortions of anatomy in XXX cartoons. You rarely find the human body as it truly is, in its simplest form, which is precisely why so many people find it difficult to see nudity in an honest and realistic way. When I look for artists for Xandr and Thelana, I have a hard time explaining to them what I want to see. Americans simply do not accept nudity without sexual intent. Often, the artists I am soliciting think I am asking for porn, and if they have moral objections to porn, they turn me down. It is no wonder that, after ten years of searching, the three artists I found come from outside the country. One lives in Brazil, the other in Italy and another in the Ukraine. Having studied art history, they understand what the heroic nude is and why it matters.

What is important to understand about the heroic nude is context. The Greeks did not literally conceive of their heroes as nudists per se. Homer goes to great lengths, in fact, to describe Achilles' armor, and Heracles often wore a lion's mane. But what mattered to Europeans of antiquity was the human ideal expressed through nudity. Michelangelo's David, for instance, is more than a character from Hebrew scripture; he is man in his highest and most idealized form. For the Ancient Greeks, there was nothing more beautiful than the human body. It was the apex of natural design, the highest expression of art, utterly divine. This is an important distinction, because it set the Greeks apart from the rest of the world. At roughly the same time you would find, in Ancient Egypt, gods with the bodies of animals, Ra with a hawk head, Anubis as a dog, Bast as a cat. In India, you find Shiva with many arms and blue skin, Brahma with three faces, and Ganesha with the head of an elephant. Other cultures were more extreme in their conceptions of god. For the Hebrews, god was and is invisible and unknowable. The supreme deity for the Aztects, Quetzalcoatl, was a feathered serpent. Only the Olympians were human, and often, naked. In fact, you can easily identify Aphrodite, goddess of love, in any museum, since she never wears any clothes. For the Ancient Greeks, the gods were not up in some inconceivable realm. They did not look down upon mankind with indifference, or shame or judgment. Man was not born into sin. Nor was man, as the Viking myths portray, the product of giant sweat. In fact, Zeus found human females so attractive, he could not help but descend from the heavens to mate with them. By depicting gods as human in every way, with muscles, bones, veins, and genitalia, god and man became inseparable, which had a profoundly positive effect in how the Greeks perceived mankind. Like the gods, man could be inventive, could create, do anything imagination allowed. It is no wonder that Daedalus managed to build wings and fly. This positive outlook gave rise to history, geometry, drama, philosophy, and democracy. The Greeks elevated humanity, from lowly creatures groveling before god-kings, to divine beings with reason and individuality. Without the Classical world, our modern society would not exist as it is today. We could never have dreamt of going to the moon much less gone there. And the heroic nude is rooted in this tradition. With Hermes, Praxiteles achieves the heroic ideal, the highest of man's aspirations, man made larger than life, inspiring, divine.

So what happened? In a word, Christianity. The collapse of the Roman Empire was followed by centuries of disease, war and poverty. In such a harsh existence, it was easy for Europeans to reject the world of the senses. Taking cues from Plato and Judaism, early Christians focused on the heavenly kingdom, the world of the spirit and the afterlife. YHWH could not/would not mate with Mary (conceiving without sex), nor could man ever hope to achieve divinity. Man became a shameful creature, born into sin and destined for the fires of Hell. Only by God's grace could he hope to be saved. Anything of the physical world, whether food or sex, was of the Devil, which is why so many monks lived in seclusion, away from women, often castrating themselves. Worshipers of nature (who often went naked during pagan rituals) became "demonized", which meant they were witches in the eyes of the new faith, and as witches, were tortured and burned. The heroic nude became utterly forgotten, and the human body a thing of evil, of temptation, to be rejected if possible.

Flash forward a thousand years to the sexual revolution of the 1960's and 70's when the counterculture rebels against Church doctrine. While many become sexually "liberated", attitudes about the human body, deeply entrenched for centuries, do not wash away. American society is deeply divided. It is a country with a billion dollar XXX film industry that delays the Superbowl for seven seconds lest a performer accidentally reveal a nipple. With the advent of the Internet, these divisions run deeper. Graphic and unnatural depictions of sex, things that would shock even the most depraved Greeks and Romans, are at the fingertips of any man, woman or child, and yet Facebook censors a woman breast feeding. A perfect storm of deeply rooted Platonic/Christian beliefs and an equally powerful counterculture has resulted in our current schizophrenic state, and what we have forgotten in all this, is how to look at human beings as human beings.

We have forgotten that our bodies are good things, that gods and heroes often went naked, that that was the ideal. Through my fiction and my art, I have tried to revive this age old tradition, to bring about a new Renaissance, which is why Xandr and Thelana, as modern vestiges of the heroic nude, are so compelling to me. Their costumes are their bodies, because they are descendants of Apollo and Aphrodite, of gods and heroes that once inspired and elevated our thinking from our prehistoric and superstitious beginnings. Xandr and Thelana carry the Olympic torch of heroic nudity so that we might see within ourselves and in our bodies something pure and good and divine.
  • Reading: J.D. Salinger, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Rice Burroughs
In anticipation for the upcoming John Carter film, I decided to pick up Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, the first of eleven books in the John Carter series. During my research, I was completely floored to learn about the character of Dejah Thoris. Burroughs describes her this way,

"She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure."

Those familiar with my work can attest to my passion for naturism in fiction. My most popular blog to date, Nudity in Aenya, makes a strong case for a resurgence of the heroic nude in modern fantasy. I have spent a lifetime developing, what I believed to be, the first naturist heroes, only to discover that Edgar Rice Burroughs beat me to the punch by nearly 100 years! Am I bitter? No. In fact, I couldn't be more thrilled. I have often argued that there is no such thing as an original idea, and this discovery further proves my point. Plus, Dejah Thoris isn't the first entirely nude female character in fiction---that would be Eve, followed closely by Aphrodite. But with the very popular and commercial John Carter series, I know I am not alone; I have proof that a market for the Ilmar exists. But being familiar with the works of Frank Frazetta, who was of the first to draw the people of Barsoom (Burroughs' name for Mars), the nudity in the books came as a complete surprise to me. A quick search on Google shows Dejah Thoris in skimpy attire, but only very rarely naked. Why? when Burroughs makes it clear that she is entirely naked? I can only speculate that a Dejah Thoris in words allows the reader the freedom to imagine her, clothed or otherwise, whereas any visual representation forces the "obscenity" upon the viewer.

Speculative fiction frees our minds to explore other ways of living, helping us consider whether taboos make sense in a modern world. Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, is known for advocating non-marital sex. But despite one hundred years of changing mores, we won't be seeing Lynn Collins shedding her clothes in the Disney adaptation of John Carter, just as Tarzan, raised by apes, needed a loincloth in the animated feature. The advent of the Internet has made nudity infinitely more accessible, especially to young teens, but I realize that our society is still not ready to give up shame. We are still stuck in a primitive, religious mindset, and our youth and beauty obsessed culture only adds fuel to the taboo of social nudity. Does the inaccuracy between book and film worry me? On the contrary, I am relieved. I know now that my fears of Xandr and Thelana being rejected for their nakedness is unfounded. What will go on the cover of Ages of Aenya? Perhaps a moment when the Ilmar are clothed (it happens), or better yet, something abstract, or better still, a tasteful nude. But what would an Ages of Aenya graphic novel look like? Maybe, like Dejah Thoris, Thelana will be inaccurately forced into a skimpy outfit. Better to be dressed than rejected. Or maybe society will come to embrace social nudity, just as fear and hate of homosexuality is rapidly declining. There are already a number of accurate depictions of Dejah Thoris on deviantArt.

There are important differences between Aenya and the Barsoom novels, however. Unlike John Carter, the Ilmar cannot be accused of sexism; Xandr is naked just as often as his female companion. And unlike Dejah Thoris, Thelana would never bother with heavy ornamentation when even underwear, for the Ilmar, is confining. Naturism is a theme that runs throughout Ages of Aenya, a vivid metaphor in a tale of nature vs. rampant technology. As far as I know, Burroughs was never a naturist himself. The nudity in John Carter existed to titillate young male readers, but for me, it's the nature that matters, the why behind the nudity.

In my craziest fantasies, I imagine a film adaptation of Ages of Aenya. Silly, I know, but stay with me. I imagine a scenario where the actor and actress playing the parts of Xandr and Thelana just aren't comfortable enough to do the majority of their parts in the buff. It's hard to act normally with things dangling (I can relate). So I came up with an idea that, at the time, seemed completely absurd: CGI nudity. The actors would wear blue screen underwear and the naughty bits would be added in post using digital bits (and bytes). I was actually too embarrassed to tell anyone about this idea until . . . it's already happened! In the 2010 film Machete, Jessica Alba is CGI'd to appear naked on screen. So is this a possible future for a Xandr and Thelana film? Is society ready for the Ilmar? Or will they, like Dejah Thoris, have to wait another hundred years for Burroughs' vision of a world without clothes. Only time will tell.
  • Reading: J.D. Salinger, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Rice Burroughs
My fans, who are typically open minded readers, are often puzzled by the naturism in the world of Aenya. Sometimes, when people learn how often Xandr and Thelana roam about naked, they become quietly embarrassed, as if I just told them I'm gay. I find this aggravating, considering we live in a world of South Park and Family Guy, where constant references to S&M, rape, bestiality, and in one instance, necrophilia, is so embraced by the public as to have become standard household viewing.

In all honesty, I love nudity in all its forms. I even love the words nude and naked, which can carry so many, often dichotomous meanings, from natural to truthful to indecent. On the contrary, I hate porn, Hentai, and  grotesque deformations of the human body on display in magazines like Heavy Metal.

Before I even knew what naturism was, it was part and parcel of my fiction. My first fantasy hero, the Greek demi-god, Dynotus, whom I created when I was 14, was more often naked than not. My inspiration for him and for Xandr came from summers on nude beaches and Greek sculpture. Neither Heracles, Perseus or Theseus bother with a stitch when standing gracefully in the Louvre or in the countless other museums of France and Italy. The late Frank Frazetta (RIP) also featured nudity in his art, which was never obscene---but in the exotic worlds of Conan seem only natural. Nudity in comics and film is not uncommon either. Before the film 300 popularized the Spartan myth for the modern age, Frank Miller had Leonidas traipsing around in nothing but a red cape (and no loincloth) throughout the graphic novel. In Alan Moore's Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan's genitalia is only hidden by the blue tone of his skin.

What makes Xandr and Thelana unique, and I think, shocking for some people, is the way they are naked. People seem bothered by the notion of natural nudity, or nudity in non-sexual social settings. Perhaps it is the "ism" in nudism that our modern society is afraid of. But for the Ilmarin people, to whom Xandr and Thelana belong, nudity is a non-issue. In their language, the word "nude" or "naked" does not exist. After the Great Cataclysm, when the planet Aenya stopped rotating, a paradise formed in one niche of the world which provided perfect weather . . . and isn't clothing, traced through prehistory, simply a protection from the elements? Doesn't environment dictate cultural norms as evidenced by Amazon tribes who know nothing of clothing, or Arabic cultures whose ancestors relied on head and mouth coverings to retain moisture?

The Ilmarin people are naked in the same sense. It is not to arouse or shock or to be risqué---it's simply their way of life. Or was at the start of the story. Just as in the Garden of Eden, the Ilmar lose their innocence when they are ousted from paradise (unlike Adam and Eve, however, they never accept their shame). The loss of innocence, and the other side of that coin, paradise, is a recurring theme in Ages of Aenya. Nudity becomes then a powerful metaphor when Aenya's "civilized" cultures, who are greedy, hubristic and materialistic, show nothing but contempt for the shameless, nature loving Ilmar. A quote from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, which could have been lifted from Ages of Aenya, beautifully expresses how Xandr and Thelana feel,

"Clothes he abhorred - uncomfortable, hideous, confining things that reminded him somehow of bonds securing him to the life he had seen the poor creatures of London and Paris living. Clothes were the emblems of that hypocrisy for which civilization stood - a pretense that the wearers were ashamed of what the clothes covered, of the human form made in the semblance of God."

From Ancient Greece to the colored "tights" of Superman and Batman, the nude form has been an icon of heroism for thousands of years. So when, as heroes, the Ilmar go into battle sans apparel, it is intended to evoke the same heroic ideal as can be found in Classical and Renaissance art. For Xandr and Thelana, their skin is their costume and nature their armor. If there is anything truly original about Ages of Aenya amid the torrent of elves and dwarves and chainmail bikinis lining bookstore shelves today, this is it. And yet, it should not be so strange or original, when one considers how commonly the heroic nude features in the Louvre and every major museum in Europe. The Internet is rife with sex, but what it is sorely lacking is the "heroic nude". With Xandr and Thelana, I do not wish to add fuel to the fires of noncomformist thinking. Rather, I hope to revive a very old tradition, what the Christian Orthodox conversion abolished with its grotesque images of humanity. I hope to revive the innocence and beauty and divinity that is in the human form. And if that isn't the best way to add something new to the fantasy genre---a genre that, like science fiction, should challenge social biases---I don't know what is.
  • Reading: J.D. Salinger, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Rice Burroughs
I am always looking for talented artists with a passion for fantasy, storytelling, and a deep appreciation for the human body. As an author and naturist, my literary goal is to challenge social convention by providing images that can inspire and make people think. With the Ilmar, the heroes of my story, I hope to capture the beauty, innocence, and sexual power of the heroic nude form. What I am not interested in is porn or erotica of any kind. So, check out my gallery first, and if you feel you have something to contribute to my work, please contact me. If you're good, and willing to work to make something the best it can be, then I am more than willing to pay. Typically, I'll pay an artist between $50-$100, but for something major, like a book cover, I have been known to shell out $500. Interested? Send me what you got at: alimonosnick@gmail.com
  • Reading: J.D. Salinger, Neil Gaiman
Hello, my name is Nick Alimonos. I have been writing fiction for the past thirty years. In the following month, I'll be sending my newest book out to publishers. My heroes are Ilmarin (naturists), which means that they do not wear clothes. I am always looking for artists who appreciate the beauty of the human body (both male and female) and have the skills to help promote my work. If you would like to add your interpretation to my gallery, please contact me. I am willing to negotiate on commissions.
  • Reading: J.D. Salinger, Neil Gaiman
In 2004, I self-published a fantasy adventure novel called "The Dark Age of Enya." Admittedly, the book met with mixed reviews, but it was only my second attempt at writing a novel. I also learned, the hard way, that self-publishing is not a good way to sell books. So I decided to rewrite my entire novel, from scratch, with the goal of getting real shelf space in real bookstores. I have been writing fiction since I was six years old and it has been my life's purpose to see my work sit along the shelf with the likes of RA Salvatore, Margaret Weis, Ursula K. Leguin and Robert Heinlein (to name a few). The rewriting process has taken me six years since I am also a full-time restaurant manager and parent.

The new incarnation, "Age of Aenya" improves on the original in almost every way. It has a richer story and a more fully realized world, a more cohesive narrative, and the characters are much more fully developed. Some people have asked me why I did not bother to write an entirely new story and the answer is simple; I love these characters. I've spent so many years thinking about Xandr, Thelana, and Emma, they've become a part of me, and I just could not give up on their story because I believe it's a story worth telling.

I hope, through this site, to share the ideas that have been rattling around in my head this past decade and to (hopefully) share my success with whoever takes a chance on a dreamer like me.
  • Reading: Arabian Nights
  • Playing: Super Street Fighter IV
I am often asked why the two main characters in my novel don't wear clothes. I suppose the short answer is: I love nudity. There is nothing more natural and more beautiful than the human body. From Ancient Greece to the colored skin "tights" of Superman and Batman, the nude form has been an icon of heroism for thousands of years.  

But the long answer is more complicated. I have never been a fan of hentai or erotic comics like those featured in Heavy Metal magazine. I am also not a fan of the grotesquely disproportionate nudes featured by Simon Bisley or the creators of "Den". My inspiration comes from Frank Frazetta. The stories he tells in a single frame are remarkably vivid, and the nudity in his work is never shameful or obscene--but in his exotic worlds seems only fitting.

Being of Greek descent, I spent many summers in my youth on nude beaches. I was also exposed to the wonderful classical statues of the Greek heroes: Hercules, Perseus, and Theseus, none of whom ever wore any clothing. So it is not such a stretch of the imagination for me to have come up with heroes that follow in the same tradition.

Nudity in comics, books, and film today is pretty common. What makes Xandr and Thelana unique is why they are naked. It's not to be arousing or shocking or to be risqué or to be exhibitionist; it's not part of some ritual; it's not to make some preachy statement---it's simply their culture. They are naked for the same reason tribes in the Amazon rain forest are naked. Their society--the Ilmar--is more innocent and more "green" than any other on Aenya (the planet where the book takes place) which makes for great story potential when they encounter the more "civilized" peoples of their world. But when, as heroes, they go into battle sans apparel, it is intended (hopefully) to evoke the same heroic ideal as can be found in Classical and Renaissance art. For Xandr and Thelana, their skin is their costume---and nature their armor.
  • Reading: Arabian Nights
  • Playing: Super Street Fighter IV