May 22, 2017

Nancy: Lesbian Panic in a 1950s Comic Book

The cheesecake comic strip Fritzi Ritz premiered in 1922, with gags involving the aspiring model and her series of boyfriends, notably the nerdish Phil Fumble.  And a lot of sex jokes.

In 1933, Fritzie took in her orphaned niece, Nancy, a mischievous and rather melodramatic child.  Soon Nancy became the star -- the titular character in 1938 -- and acquired a series of friends and antagonists, including poor boy Sluggo.  Fritzie became mostly-absent parental figure.

Nancy has remained in print ever since. In contemporary strips, written by Guy Gilchrist, Fritzie is in her 50s and works as a music reviewer.

Nancy appeared in several issues of Dell Four Color and Dell Giants, and got her own title in 1957 (numbered #146 for some reason).

When John Stanley retired from the Little Lulu comic book,, he went to work on Nancy, writing all of the stories in issues #162  through #173, and then the renamed Nancy and Sluggo through #185 (1961).

Stanley specialized in the terrors and anxieties of childhood, and in Nancy's world  he goes unbrindled. The result is disturbing, sometimes painful to read.

Fritzie is at best neglectful, and sometimes downright abusive.

Nancy is jealous, spiteful, vindictive, petty, and vain.

Sluggo lives alone in an abandoned house and often goes hungry, unless Nancy agrees to feed him.

They are not friends, like Lulu and Tubby; they are dating, adding dark humor to their interactions as Stanley hints about just how physical they have become.

Neither has other friends, just antagonists and enemies who ridicule, criticize, manipulate, and harass them.

Sluggo has an adult nemesis who literally intends to kill him.

And the weird physical manipulations that, in Little Lulu, happened in stories, here happen in real interactions with the yoyos, who will transform you permanently unless you trick them into letting you go.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of the yoyos are the adults who fall into their trap, and spend their entire lives transformed, until, in old age, Nancy rescues them.

To top it off, there's Oona Goosepimple, who looks like Wednesday Addams from the Addams Family comics, an orphan (that's three of the regular cast).  She lives in a spooky old house with her usually absent grandmother.  Other relatives usually appear, as threats.

One uncle is a giant, lying asleep in the basement.  If he ever awakens, his movements will bring down the house.  So Grandma keeps him drugged.

Nancy dislikes the "creepy" Oona, and rejects all of her overtures of friendship -- but finds herself drawn unwillingly to the house anyway.

She is invited to a party, but arrives to discover that she is the only guest.

Oona pushes Nancy to eat cookies, play games, and spend the night.

Nancy tries to refuse, but can't help herself.

A weird compulsion to spend the night with a creepy girl, or eat the forbidden fruit.

During the 1950s, gay men and lesbians were portrayed as expert seducers, pulling innocents unwillingly into their "deviance."

Just another of the horrors of Nancy's world.

See also: Little Lulu

May 21, 2017

Tom of Finland

When I was in grad school in Bloomington, Indiana in the early 1980s, I used to buy a gay porn magazine at College Avenue Books:  In Touch for Men, which featured not only pictures of naked men, but articles on gay history and culture, dating tips, movie reviews, and even comics.

I was particularly drawn to a series of non-verbal, single-panel comics featuring macho icons like bikers, cops, lumberjacks, and cowboys, impossibly muscular and impossibly well endowed, interacting with each other.  Aggressive, athletic, and masculine, they were a sharp contrast to the contemporary mass media depictions of gay men as soft, willowy sissies.

They all had the same "look": they had wavy hair, Castro Clone moustaches, long faces, and square jaws.  They were always smiling, enjoying every moment of their lives.

There were occasional romantic or humorous moments, but mostly the comics were about sex.  Not the furtive, guilty sex of the 1960s tea rooms -- this was bold, aggressive, joyful, in public, in full view of passersby, who, more often than not, would ask to join in.

There was no homophobia in this world, but not much gay culture, either. Not many gay rights marches or meetings of the Gay Activists Alliance, not a lot of scenes set on Christopher Street.  Impossibly muscular, impossibly well endowed men interacted in police stations, gas stations, army barracks, tattoo parlors, in the woods.  It was a raw, primal world of same-sex desire.  I had never seen anything like it.

The artist was Tom of Finland, aka Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991), who began publishing drawings in the early Physique Pictorial in the 1950s.  By 1973, he had become so famous that he was able to quit his job in advertising and devoted himself full-time to his art.  He published in In Touch, Mandate, the Meatmen series of gay comic anthologies, and eventually in comic-book length (but wordless) tales of Kake, a gay man on the prowl.

By the time I discovered him, in the 1980s, Tom was falling out of favor.  His work was not political enough, ignored homophobia and AIDS, and portrayed gay men as obsessed with sex.  Besides, it set the bar for male beauty impossibly high, ruining the self-esteem of those who didn't fit his rigid standards of age, size, and body type.  

Ok, but sometimes you just want to look at hot guys.

Today Tom has been rediscovered.  There are retrospectives of his work in museums in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berlin, and Helsinki.   You can buy Tom of Finland books, dolls, and a cologne.  In September 2014, Finland released a series of postage stamps featuring iconic Tom's men.

See also: Sean and the World of Gay Leathermen; The Mystery of Cavelo; and Gay Comics of the 1980s.

The Glory Hole in the Library Bathroom

The summers I remember as a kid were crowded with activity, which makes the summers of adulthood even more intensely dull.

Last Friday the campus was deserted.  Even the secretary in the main office was gone.  I walked down hallways so deserted that the motion-sensor lights were off.

All of the food services were closed, so I had to walk all the way across the street to get lunch.

The campus gym was closed for remodeling, so I would have to go to the YMCA later.  But I had a more pressing problem: I had to use the bathroom.

When I have to sit down, I don't use the restrooms in my building -- they're heavily used, and so rather gross (a surprising number of college students don't know how to flush), and not at all private.  I use the one in the campus gym -- closed! or the one upstairs in the Business Building -- out of order!

Ok, Performing Arts, second floor.


The only other secluded, non-gross restroom I could think of was on the third floor of the library, quite a walk, but...I had no choice!

I climbed the stairs to the third floor.  There were three students in the study area, at separate tables: a girl, a cute Hispanic guy, and a young-looking Middle Eastern guy.

I was curious about the cute Hispanic guy  taking notes from a book -- classes were over! So I walked past and took a peek: pharmacology.  He must be working on a late paper.

He looked up as I passed and stared at me suspiciously.  He was slim, with a round face, prominent eyebrows, and sensual lips.  Long, thin arms, square hands.

The Middle Eastern guy was working on his laptop: all I saw was black hair, a thin eyeglassed face, and a red t-shirt.  He looked very young.  I wondered if he was a newly-admitted student on a tour, taking a break in the library?

 I didn't want them to think I was there just to use the bathroom, so I crossed the room and headed for the PQ Section, French literature.  I browsed through Medieval, Renaissance, 19th Century, and turned the corner to a dead end with 20th Century.

I almost tripped over a guy sitting on the floor, reading an old book.

"Oh, excuse me!"

"No problem," he said, looking up briefly.  He was tall and thin, with black hair and a serious tan, wearing a purple university shirt and jeans.

I was already in this corridor, so I had to pretend to be looking for something.  I picked out a book on Gide and walked past the floor guy again, through the quiet study area.  I put the book down on one of the tables and headed to the restroom.

It was a long, narrow room.  You walked past the sinks into a little alcove with thick, heavy walls, for the urinals, and then another alcove with two very large stalls.  I chose the farthest one and sat down.

Then I heard the far door swing open.

The rest of the story is too explicit for Boomer Beefcake and Bonding.  You can read it on Tales of West Hollywood.