“I became an admirer of Molly Kiely’s work the instant I saw a single example of it. It was a small illustration that used to be on the homepage of her website. A gorgeous woman would greet the online traveler, half her face hidden by tousled, jet-black hair. The other half revealed a high cheekbone, full lips, and a big, languorous, half-closed eye. This greeter was no nubile college girl – she was a woman, probably in her late thirties. Flowers in her hair. And though she was unobtainably gorgeous, the arch of her eyebrow and the slight smile on her sofa-like lips gave her personality, curiosity, something bordering on friendliness. The text above her said: “Here you are…” Below her: “Welcome.”
“Most of the Mollyverse is in that little illustration. The graceful lines that so easily capture female beauty. The flowers, the flowing hair, the inventive stippling, the organic shapes, the beautiful hand-lettering. And more than that, there was just the look of it, the feel, that certain energy that’s in all her work. I knew I would love everything she’s done. And I was right.
“Somehow, I’m embarrassed to admit, I missed Molly’s work in the 1990s. That’s when she made a name for herself drawing erotic comics and pin-ups. She was one of very, very few women in this area. Even to this day, other female artists occasionally add some sexy material to their mix, but it appears that only Molly was going at it full-time – two graphic novels, two series, various one-shots, and pieces regularly appearing in collections. I realize now that Molly created a body of erotic work like no other: It’s suffused with joy, life-affirming joy the whole way through. In the sequential comics and in the numerous pin-ups, these women are happy. They’re almost always smiling – big, bright smiles, not demure little ones – and sometimes they’re outright laughing. Once in awhile they seem giddy. They are always, always having a great time. And then there’s the humor – it’s everywhere. From clever visual puns to downright silliness, you’ll find yourself smiling and, yes, sometimes even laughing while viewing Molly’s hotties.
“There’s a sense of exuberance and optimism and joi de vivre running through Molly’s entire erotic oeuvre. And at the same time – this is crucial – it is indeed hot. She hasn’t sacrificed the sexiness in the slightest. In her hands, happiness equals sexiness. Sexiness equals happiness. I’ve seen lots of erotic art over the years, and if anyone else has done anything remotely like this, I’m unaware of it.
“Even though her erotic comics and illustrations remain her best-known work, Molly operates in many modes and media, always with a sense of wonder and excitement shining through. She brings her immediately identifiable style to portraits of female jazz legends and movie stars from Hollywood’s golden age, as well as the occasional famous writer or criminal. Her collages juxtapose celebrities (usually female) or fashion models with natural landscapes and/or bright flowers. Taking her work into the third dimension, Molly also makes assemblages, including the lovely Hey Ho Rock n’ Roll, Deliver Me From Nowhere, depicting a Sacred Heart bound in guitar strings instead of thorns. (Like me, Molly loves Catholic imagery though she’s not Catholic. See also her image of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha toward the end of this volume.)
“Hand-lettering is an art all its own, and greatness in illustration does not usually translate to greatness in lettering. Molly shines here as well, as her hand-lettered bio in the back of this volume testifies. And here’s an art form you don’t see every day: clothespin dolls. You never know what Molly’s creativity will unleash. I’ve even heard tell of some original art-clothing – including a barbed-wire corset – but no visual record exists, and the originals are no longer in her possession. Maybe someday we’ll be lucky enough to see them….
“She’s quite handy with a camera, too, and, this is the medium she uses to turn her gaze back at herself. Her series of amazingly varied, psychologically revealing self-portraits contains lots of flashing eyes and genuine smiles – you can see the source of the sunlight that suffuses her artwork – but she’s not afraid to post photos where she looks distracted or weary.
“Occasionally a moment of dark humor bubbles up, made all the more shocking by its appearance in Molly’s otherwise bright world – an adorable ringleted little girl points a gun at the viewer, or check out the piece Support Your Local Hunter/Trapper. And sometimes one of Molly’s femmes is quite fatale, such as the perennial favorite Gun Moll (be sure to notice the ingenious way the smoke from her cigarette merges with the smoke from her gun).
“Molly’s adaptations of classic literature are stunning, among her very finest work. This is how I found her. While searching for potential contributors to the anthology set I was editing, The Graphic Canon: The World’s Great Literature as Comics and Visuals, I saw that she had adapted works by the Marquis de Sade, Edgar Allen Poe, and Jane Austen (the latter’s witty little poem I’ve a Pain in My Head is included here). She readily agreed to adapt a number of works from across the ages for my collection. Her series of ten full-page illustrations for Japan’s crowning jewel of literature, The Tale of Genji, will be remembered as one of her masterpieces. Honestly, I would’ve been delighted to have even a single one of these in the book. Two would’ve been amazing. Three, four… but she did ten, each one a gorgeous, confident blending of Aubrey Beardsley’s flowing lines, medieval Japanese iconography, universal womanly beauty, and Molly’s style and her ability to reveal the female psyche.
“As if this weren’t enough, she also turned in eye-popping adaptations of Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School, the nineteenth-century erotic classic Venus in Furs, and a groundbreaking image of Alice in Wonderland. Her one-page take on a hymn/poem from the mystic nun Hildegard von Bingen – included here – is dense with meaningful imagery and is lushly colored with raw earth-based and plant-based pigments, befitting this ode to nature. Molly also illustrated the work of another receiver of visions, the Oglala Lakota medicine man Black Elk. We agreed that a stark black and white take on the buffalo hunt worked best for The Graphic Canon, but here you get to see her original version, filled with vibrant color.
“Molly’s exultant, life-affirming erotic work alone is enough to cement her reputation. But with her, you get so much more. This wide body of creative output has been published all over the place for the past 20+ years, and it’s quite satisfying to see this wide-ranging collection of highlights. Not that this retrospective indicates the close or even then slowing down of her career; on the contrary, Molly’s always creating, and this is the springboard to further decades of saints, celebrities, sexiness, and sunshine.”
Nashville, Tennessee, April 2012
A shorter version of this introduction appears in Molly Kiely Selections 1991-2012.