Meeting French fantasy art model Drakaina at a local diner is like a phone booth rendezvous with Clark Kent. She's not difficult to spot, even while wearing a wool minidress that demurely covers her double-D chest. It's the hair that gives Drakaina away: long, blonde curls that cloak her shoulders and back.
Fantasy art has never been mainstream, but there's a long history of models like Drakaina posing for comics, science fiction books and heavy metal album covers. Ever since dudes learned how to hold pencils, they've been drawing boobs, monsters and swords, but really, this kind of fantasy art is no more pornographic than a 1950s Bettie Page photo spread.
While her illustrations may be the wet dream of every Dungeons and Dragons-playing nerd, this wasn't Drakaina's chosen career.
"Most little girls, they want to be an actor or a model. I wanted to hitchhike around the world with my dog," says Drakaina over a slice of cheesecake. In 2001, while living with her sister in Luxembourg, Drakaina came across an internet ad that, out of boredom, spoke to her. It was from Ariock, a French photographer specializing in "fearotic arts," who was looking for a spokesmodel.
"His ad was very intriguing because he was looking for someone who was very tall, very skinny, with..." she pauses. "Huge top. And brunette. So I replied to his ad saying, 'I've got none of what you want except...well, you know...I have everything but actually I'm a redhead. Is that going to be a problem?"
A couple of hours on the phone led to daily conversations. Three months later Drakaina moved to Avignon in the south of France, to live and work with Ariock, a man whom she hadn't even met in person, and to give birth to a new fantasy character.
"He created it," she says. Of course Drakaina isn't her given name---the model prefers some real-life anonymity---it was Ariock who named her.
"He was telling me a story about the mother of all monsters and she was Drakaina. I think time stopped for half a second; look, I'm doing it now." She points down at the light hairs standing up on her forearm. "I felt it in my gut, I felt it everywhere. That's my name. Drakaina."
Originally Drakaina was only supposed to appear in Ariock's work, but other artists started taking notice online. There were no fantasy art models in Europe then, "so they all wanted to work with me."
The first outside commissioned project was a painted triptych. Ariock and Drakaina set up a photo studio with lights and sewed the costumes. "When I first saw the artwork, I thought, 'That's cool,'" she remembers. "In 50 years from now people might see the painting. I think I enjoyed it really because I never had the desire to do it. Entertainment is not my thing."
Artists from around the world began sending ideas. She posed to their specifications, and Ariock would take the photos, which would then be interpreted into the artists' vision. "The artists need to see me nude so they can draw the costumes without being distracted by whatever clothes I'm wearing," she says with European casualness. Some props appear; swords are popular. All photos are protected by passwords. I eliminated all the lurkers," she says. But not the attention.
Drakaina appeared on French TV and in publications like Heavy Metal magazine and Playboy. On askmen.com, she was named the number two in a list of top 10 fantasy models. She trademarked her name and began referring to herself as a fantasy art muse, producing two books of illustrations by international artists. Drakaina Masters is launching at Hal-Con. "People would just send me drawings saying, 'Drakaina, I'm inspired by you and I've drawn you. This is how I see you and this is the life that I see for you.'"
In 2006, a friend suggested that it was time Drakaina conquered North America, recommending Nova Scotia as a place where the "weather was warm" and the industry was "booming." So Drakaina put away the bikini, sold the props and the studio and moved with Ariock to Halifax. Although most of her work is done online, it hasn't always been easy living here. Ariock, who was creating erotic art for Penthouse to make ends meet, hasn't found a local company to hire him. "If you're not from here it's hard to break in," Drakaina says. "And I was coming from France where everyone pretty much knew who I was."
Drakaina has a day job, which she says keeps her grounded. There's no cash in fantasy art and whatever she does make gets put back into other projects: "Once you start putting money in something you lose the love for it."
Five months ago Ariock and Drakaina broke up. They still live and work together, and take care of their beloved Shiba Inu puppy, but for the first time since becoming a fantasy warrior, Drakaina is single. She admits she's terrified of North American dating rituals and male intentions. "The first thing I wondered when I became single was how will I know if guys approach me because they want to be with me, or because they want to be with a model or because they think I know people."
But worries aside, she's focused on a new project. At Hal-Con, Drakaina is also releasing her own comic book. The first in a four-volume series written by Stephanie Angel and illustrated by Newton Burcham, Drakaina Untamed is about a mercenary who retreats into the wild and is nurtured back to health by a pack of wolves. When someone starts harming the wolves, Drakaina takes revenge. In real life, she is an animal rights activist who can barely speak of animal cruelty without becoming visibly upset.
"Animals are so pure compared to people and I love that," she says, with a huge smile.
Yes, fantasy art is retrograde: salacious images of women bouncing on the laps of mermen, riding dragons. But Drakaina shrugs it off. "I'm not a feminist, but I won't take crap from anyone, guy or girl," she says. She edits all her own images (never enhancing or decreasing her size) and ultimately controls her image, even as it's seen through the eyes of others.
"It wasn't hard for me to be represented as Drakaina because it's still me," she says.
"If you look through my pictures, I've never been a little fairy. They might be darker or more sexy---they are males, after all---than my everyday life, but it's still me."