Acquired Tastes, XXXIV: Gay Erotic Illustrations
You know how someone will say they want Mexican food? What do they really mean? Are we talking Taco Bell? Zantigo? That place down the road called LaCasita that is pretty much on par with an Applebees? Or something really authentic? Family-owned? More adventuresome?
See the problem?
You say one thing, but that one thing encompasses a whole horizon of variety in terms of quality, authenticity, style, etc.
I’ve run into that same issue when it comes to writing about Gay Erotic Illustrations. I knew what I thought I was going to write about… or wanted to write about. I like those black ink drawings with the giant bulges, pointy nipples, and bulbous, outrageous asses. And I like those drawings on the pulp novels I remember seeing in adult bookstores in the early 1980’s. I also have a thing for those crude, homemade cartoons that sneak onto websites and are found in odd, less-than-professional looking publications.
So I started doing research on my topic and… wow. Talk about having define your terms! I actually had quite a struggle coming up with information about this particular subject separate from the artists themselves – as in ‘a history of’. It seems there are a number of sub-genres; a variety of styles and types that encompass a wide range of images in terms of quality. Wading through it all I had to constantly ask myself – what exactly did I want to talk about? Can you lump the work of Mel Odom, Bob Ziering and Attila Richard Lukacs in with the work of Michael Kirwan, Mike Kuchar, or Touko Laaksonen? And what of all that delicious anonymous stuff floating out there? There’s a crudeness – an overt sexual element - found in one, but not present in the other.
Although I am sure a number of art galleries and museums have done retrospectives on this particular type of gay erotic art, this Acquired Taste does not pertain to the type of art typically embraced by the mainstream or featured in most LGBT Gay Erotic Art retrospectives. I would like to look at the type of art typically illustrating various works of fiction, be it as the cover of pulp novels or as an illustration accompanying a graphic, short story in one of those small ‘letters’ type publications.
There is something indelible about this type of art. Perhaps it has a lot to do with our first exposure to it. It is forbidden. Enticing. Highly stylized. And oh, so dirty. Sometimes it is done with great flair, other times it can be quite crude. With the advancements in digital technology, many of these images have a kind of glossy veneer that works from an earlier era could not possibly attain.
The one thing they do have in common? Gay sex.
So, let’s steal out to the garage, sneak down into the basement, or pull the blinds in our bedroom, reach into our secret stash of pornographic images, and take a good, hard look at just what is so appealing about….
Gay Erotic Illustrations
Scope of Activity:
An appreciation for highly stylized gay male erotic drawings, the type typically found on the covers of pornographic gay pulp novels or used as illustrations for fictional stories about sexual exploits.
May include everything from Tom of Finland to that anatomically correct (and erect) drawing that you did at the age of twelve in your bedroom that was meant for your eyes only but that your mother found in your trash can, reconstructed, and left on your bed for you find and die a million tiny times of embarrassment and shame (thanks, Mom). Hey, at least I labeled all the parts, so it did have a legitimate educational foundation (I tell myself to this day).
For this entry, we will limit our scope to drawn, static images; typically done in black ink or pencil, with and without color added. Although I’m also going to touch upon digital images, watercolors, oils, etc.
The Official Line:
Artists of Note:
Touko Laaksonen (Tom of Finland)
Attila Richard Lukacs
…and countless others.
BDSM / Fetish
Fantasy / Mythology
Websites to learn more/see more:
Psychology of Cartoons – Part 1: Scooby-Doo by Curtis Silver 2/14/11
Cartoons are an ingrained part of our culture. We grew up on cartoons, and the lessons found therein. As I got older, and the cartoons seemed more like cartoons than reality I started to notice the inherent humanity presented in the characters. They weren’t boilerplate; they were designed a certain way, with certain problems that we – as children – may have absorbed into our subconscious. As we had a habit of dressing up or behaving like our favorite characters, if the influence was great enough, some of us may have taken away more from their behavior than we may realize.
Psychology of Cartoons – Part 2: Sociology of The Smurfs by Curtis Silver, 4/19/11
Growing up in my generation (1980s) and prior, going back to the advent of the television, it was inevitable that our young minds would be shaped by the world around us, including the Technicolor world of television. While what we learned wasn’t always the most beneficial to our development (Roadrunners recognize and can escape elaborate traps funded by the ACME Corporation) there were plenty of items that weaseled their way into our general psychology and helped shape our views of the world. It couldn’t be helped. You are a product of your environment…
My point for using these articles? To help illustrate the effect idealized drawn images have on our collective psyches. Reread the above and substitute ‘cartoons’ with ‘gay erotic illustrations’ and ‘childhood’ with ‘adolescence’ or ‘young adulthood’ and I think you see where I’m going with this.
As adults, we appreciate those highly stylized drawings of male sexuality and anatomy in the same manner that we appreciate the cartoons of our youth. Those images helped formulate our expectations regarding sex. They help form our likes and dislikes. Because they are drawings and not photos – they mimic reality and help create a kind of ‘safe’ distance. That distance - between fantasy and reality - allow our psyches to consider sexual acts and activities outside the norm without the slap-in-the-face of something like hard core porn.
There is also the factor of unattainability that comes into play. It helps create a safe distance allowing us to be more open to exploration and consideration. The downside of these images is that no one lives up to them. If we base our sexual desires upon the personal meaning we inflate these images with, can we ever be truly satisfied with what is to be found in reality? Take the highly stylized depictions of male sexuality, male physiology, and male anatomy as found in the work of Touko Laaksonen (Tom of Finland). Yes, we can perhaps find something close to it in real life, but… really? If those images are what we base our sexuality and sexual expression and expectations on, we are in for some major disappointment.
I remember my first trip to an adult bookstore – it was owned by Ferris Alexander and found on the corner of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis. It was filled with dated, early 1970’s style porn, most of it straight. Paying limited attention to the straight stuff, I stumbled upon the gay mags and, feeling overwhelmed with feelings of lust and shame, I stood and gaped at the racks of smut. I ended up buying a bunch of magazines… I think they came bound in a plastic bag, three for $9.99. In my way of thinking, if I bought a lot at once I would never have to walk through the doors of this store again. Those images have stayed with me long after I shamefully dumped them in a neighbors trash bin in the middle of the night, and action that, of course, meant I would have to return to said bookstore (many times).
The other thing that has stayed with me, my fascination with the tiny pulp books that filled another rack in the gay section – and it wasn’t because of the stories contained between those covers, it was the art that adorned them. It was a mixed bag of pseudo-bondage, blond twink beach love, smart lustful executive three piece suits, bears, gym/locker room/sauna encounters and redneck lovin’. I wanted to buy them all, but I was on a limited income and the black and white pictorials that I purchased instead promised to have more visual impact (as well as nice sized pages to spatter many a load of cum – or page cement, as I came to call it).
Those cartoon-like images fueled many a masturbatory fantasy. They also introduced me to all sorts of kink in a manner that was easy to digest and process.
To this day, I love looking at this stuff. For me, these images are as iconic and potent as the old VHS boxes in the gay section of my local video store (also owned by Ferris Alexander). Whenever an image happens to tickle my fancy I download it and save it on one of my memory disks. These days, my appreciation has more to do with the workmanship involved or the energy created in the image itself, rather than as a tool for self-gratification.
Bottom line: I think it’s best to simply allow the images to work their magic and speak for themselves. And so, I will…
I bet it goes back to cave drawings.
And, yes, I’ve overthought this topic and probably under-researched it at the same time. In relation to so many of these images I wonder: who drew that? What was their inspiration? Does that crude, skillfully drawn depiction capture the illustrators psyche? His needs, wants, desires? Background, development, and childhood? What does the drawing before me, depicting a hirsute, dark-haired giant with massive muscles and a pre-cum spewing, oversized erection contemplating the ass of a twink-ish boytoy wearing a scout uniform presenting on all fours, say about the man holding the pen?
In the end? It’s a dirty picture. Smut. Porn. J.O. fodder.
But it endured.
It was drawn by an individual and then replicated until it found my eyes. Therefore, it must have value; it must have meaning… because it survived.
If an alien being came down, and these images were all that they were allowed to see in terms of what gay male sexuality was all about… what would the think?
Yep, I’m all about the questions. It’s that curiosity that fuels many a fetish, many an Acquired Taste. I think it’s important not to assign too much meaning to the trivial. But I also feel it is important to determine what meaning something holds for us as a culture – especially something as enduring and iconic as the images found in the world of Gay Erotic Illustrations.