As part of the "Legends Project", Brian Tarsis has been recognized as an BDSM Icon
for the work they have done to make the BDSM/GLBT/Leather communities what they are today.
Certificate of Appreciation
for all the years they have worked to make
the San Francisco Bay Area BDSM/GLBT/Leather communities what they are today.
This article is part of 'The Legends Project'
Who is this guy, anyway?
You may have heard of me. Or not. Some folks know me as a bondage artist, some know me as that guy who does all the spanking paintings, and some think I'm dead. The world of B&D is pretty mysterious, after all, and the internet is a terrific source of misinformation. Hi, I'm Brian Tarsis, and I'm still very much alive. The fact is, I've been doing kinky artwork professionally for 20 years now. While I'm not as famous as, say, the late Eric Stanton, I do have a scattered following. I've illustrated bondage, B&D and spanking, and since there are few who, like me, enjoy all three, not many people are aware of the full range of my work.
This website is intended as a launching pad for my new self-publishing gambit, but it's also a means of introducing myself to those who either don't know of me at all, or who only know one aspect of my work.
What follows is a fairly detailed description of my career. If you have any questions at all about me, this should answer them. It should also clear up any rumors or misconceptions, as well as provide a glimpse into the strange world of B&D publishing. But it's long, and all about me, and I don't recommend launching into it unless you really, really want to know!
All About Me
I first got into B&D illustration back in 1983. I'd done four years in the Marine Corps to pay for my commercial art school education, but freelance illustration work was hard to get during the Big Recession, and it wasn't paying the bills as well as I'd hoped. I was looking around for some extra work, a glint of desperation in my eye.
Like most perverts, I'd been kinky since childhood. I'd been drawing naughty pictures for my own enjoyment, and I couldn't help noticing that there was very little good art in the B&D magazines at that time. I decided it might be fun to make a little money drawing what I liked to draw anyway, so I sent some samples to all the major publishers of B&D material. I was surprised when all of them responded! They each had their own styles, of course. Some wanted me to draw raunchier, some softer, some wanted me to depict rape or extreme torture scenes that I found distasteful. At that point I had to take a good hard look at what I was willing to draw for money.
I also had to consider carefully what the magazines looked like that my work would be appearing in. In the eighties, as it had been in the seventies, the prospect was grim. The state of bondage pornography was atrocious, and the magazines I found on the shelves of the adult bookstores were shoddy, sleazy, uninspired lowbrow rags. None of them even came close to my own vision of bondage fantasy. I couldn't understand why the magazines weren't better than they were. I knew I could have done a much better job with them, and if I could, why couldn't they? They were professionals, and I was just some guy. I wasn't a prima donna, I was just an idealist, and more than a little naïve. I would soon learn of the apathic, just-don't-care attitude that dominated the adult industry.
Fortunately there was one publisher that stood out. Harmony's bondage magazines looked a little amateurish, but the text showed some intelligent thought and passion for the subject matter. Even though they insisted on exclusivity and were only willing to pay a pittance for my illustrations, I chose to go with them. I produced a steady stream of mostly pencil drawings for Harmony's magazines until 1987, when I submitted a short story to go with one of them. Realizing that I could write as well as draw, Harmony's editor Eric Holman called me up and offered me his job. I was floored.
At first I thought there was some mistake. I was maybe qualified to be an art director, but an editor? It seemed Eric was serious. I remembered all those crap magazines I'd seen on the shelves, and realized I'd just been offered a chance to prove I could do better. I took it.
It turned out the Harmony staff consisted of me and a guy who worked part-time in the mail room, shipping out the mail-orders. My responsibilities were: to produce three magazines a month; write all the text and editorials; set up photo shoots, hire models, tie them up and take pictures of them; keep drawing pictures to go with the stories featured in the magazines; maintain correspondence with dozens of people who contributed photos and stuff to the readers' section of Bondage Life; come up with enough articles and features to keep Bondage Life interesting; single-handedly plan, script and shoot two in-house videos a month, each video having some thin plot-line that resulted in two or more girls getting tied up at least four times each (and each video being shot entirely within a four-hour span); edit said videos into something coherent; slog through piles of reader-submitted amateur videos to find one worthy of being released each month; make endless trips to the photo processor, the graphics house and assorted other suppliers; keep a rack of VCR's going, duplicating videotapes for sale to those who've ordered them; cobble together monthly mailers advertising each month's products; keep Robert Harmon, the company's owner, (who used to do all this on a somewhat smaller scale and really wants to retire from it even though he can't seem to fully let go of it so he watches you carefully with a critical eye and never seems entirely satisfied,) happy.
Sound like a lot for one guy to get done each month? It is. Eric Holman, the first man to take on this task, did it for three months before he realized it was far too much of a load to bear for well under thirty thousand a year, and began casting desperately about for a replacement. (I know he must have been desperate, he picked me.) I had to learn a number of new skills on the fly, like photography, videography and rope bondage. The responsibility was overwhelming, the pressure almost crippling, but I was too stupid to quit. I had something to prove, after all!
I don't know, it may have been coincidence, but right around this time sales really began to pick up. Some months later Eric was hired back on part-time to help. Pretty soon the mail-room guy had to go to full-time to keep up, then Robert began hiring more people and raising the video output.
During the next few years I began having philosophical differences with Mr. Harmon about the content of our magazines. Harmony was all about "Love Bondage", which the company's official policy claimed was a consensual game practiced between lovers. In practice, however, it seemed to mean that the bondage was done strictly for its own sake, for the 'Love' of 'Bondage', and the purpose for tying up all these girls should be either tongue-in-cheek or left ambiguous, and nothing should ever happen to them while they're tied up. I believed that "Love Bondage" was bondage between lovers, an erotic game done for fun, with a sexual sub-text. Eroticism seemed to me to be intrinsic to bondage. Robert disagreed, emphatically. Whenever I introduced an element of romance or eroticism, or even implied that a bound woman was enjoying her bondage, Robert would become angry, and we'd have words. This seemed to be one area where we simply couldn't see each others' vision or motivation.
Mr. Harmon and I agreed on one thing, at least. It was time for me to move on. So, after three and a half years with Harmony, I went to work for H.O.M. I left Harmony the same year, I believe, that Robert Bishop, a very well-known and popular B&D artist, committed suicide. I think that it was this coincidence, combined with the secretive nature of the B&D industry, that led to the rumor that I was dead.
One of the skills I had learned at Harmony was video editing, so I became H.O.M.'s video editor. After a couple of months I convinced them to let me operate the video camera during shoots, as well. Calling on my college theatrical experience I started building and decorating all their sets. In six months I was also directing all of H.O.M.'s videos, as well as the ones for London Video, the parent company.
Over the next six years I shot all the videos for H.O.M. and London, more than a hundred and fifty titles in all. I either directed or co-directed (with my good friend Olivia Outre), ran the camera, built the sets, came up with the bondages and "tortures," edited the tapes, and dubbed the music. Often I even wrote the scripts. These were much grander productions than anything I'd done at Harmony, with much higher production values. We were doing full-on B&D, with naked girls being whipped and tortured in dungeon settings, a far cry from the tie-'em-up-and-watch-'em-struggle material I had been doing for Harmony.
I liked it. As my career moved on, so did my taste in B&D. During these years I involved myself in L.A.'s several B&D clubs. I went to play parties big (as many as five hundred people) and small (a few couples in someone's living room). I became adept at wielding floggers, straps, canes and other utensils of discipline. I played with many partners, and made friends in the B&D community that I still treasure, even the ones I've lost touch with now. I discovered the realm of spanking and corporal punishment, a somewhat different region of B&D that I would later come to enjoy more and more.
It was during this time that Chelsea Pfeiffer, who I had been married to for 14 years, left me. After several years of grief and moping, I finally pulled my shit back together and looked around. Shortly thereafter I fell in love again and married my beloved devon.
At H.O.M. I went balls-out into making videos. Olivia and I did good stuff, if I dare say so myself. Calling on my love of history, we did many historical epics, with pieces set in medieval Britain, France and Hungary. We did the Renaissance, Victorian England, '30's gangsters, even ancient Egypt. Nobody else does that sort of stuff. We did vampires, we did tongue-in-cheek aliens from space, we even did an inner-space journey into the id. We had a lot of fun and met a lot of terrific people, and we worked with some extremely talented and sexy actresses. Even though I've never been a big fan of videos myself, I had a great time making them.
Lyndon Distributors, which owned both H.O.M. and London Video, was a strange outfit, very well connected but reluctant to do anything to promote itself or to change or improve. As other companies rose to compete with it, it chose to keep a low profile and gradually sink into obscurity. Mike, the boss, didn't really care whether the company did well or not. Even though we were doing great videos, he refused to advertise or enter any of our stuff in the AVN awards. These were the years when the Reagan and Bush administrations were actively trying to destroy the adult industry, using various underhanded tricks to run one company after another out of business. Mike had already done his time in prison, and I think he just wanted to be left alone so he could retire in peace. One great thing about this attitude was that he left the creative team alone to shoot our videos the way we wanted. As long as we didn't cost him more money or cross the lines drawn by his ever-cautious lawyers, we did our videos as we pleased. Life was good.
It was during this period that I met my good friends Tony Elka and Eve Howard, two of the three folks who make up Shadow Lane. I was starting to develop a real interest in spanking, and I started doing spanking illustrations for their magazine Stand Corrected. I also starred in a few of their spanking videos, just for fun. We are still good friends to this day, and I still do illustrations for them.
Eventually, I grew restless with all this video production. I really missed doing magazines, and my first graphic novel, City of Dreams, was doing really well. When my friend Ernest Greene called me from B&D Pleasures and hinted that there might be a job there doing magazines, I investigated. I soon found myself working there, creating B&D magazines full time and loving it.
A year later devon and I decided to move north to Seattle, and B&D Pleasures let me keep working for them from my Seattle home. How could I say no? There I was drawing comics and digitally assembling magazines in my living room, with evergreen trees outside my windows. What a gig!
I had just one small complaint: B&D Pleasures has always done everything as cheaply and shoddily as possible, including the printing of their magazines. This conflicted somewhat with my innate desire to create quality stuff, to do work I could be proud of. No matter how much I put into a magazine or comic, after it was printed on a web press with paper plates onto newsprint, it all looked drab and muddy. I was constantly disappointed at how my work came out. But you know, there were those evergreen trees, and I was working at home, and the paychecks kept coming in the mail as long as I kept sending them finished product.
I kept it up for five more years. In addition to creating a steady stream of picture magazines, I produced two full graphic novels (Daphne and Wormwood) and two books of short-story comics (Tarsis Anthology one and two). I even wrote and illustrated a novella (The Long Cruel Winter). I was doing work I loved, even if it did always end up looking shoddy in print. But eventually it had to end, and it did.
This brings us up to now. After spending all these years doing what I do for others, I am finally self-publishing! This website is the first place my new work will appear, so if you like my stuff I'd recommend bookmarking it and checking it periodically. I've got some great things in the works!
So there you have it, practically my life story. Now you know almost as much about me as I do. So much for the mysterious world of B&D!
Ever and anon,
A Personal Note from Robin
Brian is an exceptional artist who has produced bondage art for many publishers. His "Opal" series is still one of my favorite works!
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