Friday, January 14, 2011

Comics Get Stripped At The Museum Of Sex

By Nancy Mattoon

A History Of Dirty Drawings By Craig Yoe,
Curator of the
Comics Stripped Exhibit.

One of the greatest things about art, whether it consists of words or images, is that it can create fantasy worlds that have never existed, and never could. Mention the literary genre of fantasy, and the first images that come to mind might be unicorns, fairies, swords and sorcerers, or other stock elements of children's books. But another kind of fantasy, the adult, sexual kind, has also inspired a genre of art with its own instantly recognizable icons: voluptuous women and muscle-bound men; fetish clothing featuring six-inch stilettos, leather, lace, and latex; bondage gear including handcuffs, masks, and corsets; and sadomasochistic props like whips, chains, and ropes.

Craig Yoe's Arf Forum,
"Celebrating The Unholy Marriage
of Art & Comics."

Call it erotica or pornography, the art that sexual fantasies inspire is as transcendent, and as impossibly unrealistic, as anything found in the worlds of Harry Potter or The Wizard of Oz. New York City's Museum of Sex has just mounted (pun intended) a new exhibition of the erotic art of comic strips and comic books in the 20th and 21st centuries, to "reveal how the comic book medium has been used over time to depict sexual fantasy, poke fun at taboo topics and lampoon icons of popular culture." Comics Stripped, a show made up of over 150 artifacts, including original drawings, illustrated books, comic books, magazines and videos, chronicles the history of "dirty drawings" from the Great Depression to the present day.

A Selection Of Tijuana Bibles.
(Image Courtesy of The Museum of Sex.)

The exhibit begins with 18 examples of the rare, underground comic books known as "Tijuana Bibles." These cheaply-produced pulp paperbacks, clandestinely published in the 1930's, often featured well known mainstream comic strip characters, such as Blondie and Dagwood, or Popeye and Olive Oyl, engaged in graphic sexual activity. In what may well be the most shocking statement in the exhibit's press release, the Museum of Sex staff maintains these crude little comics were frequently used by teenagers as sexual "instruction books." (A reminder that responsible sex education in the home is always the smart move...) Despite their lowbrow pedigree, the Museum points out that some notable comic book artists moonlighted by producing "bibles," including Wesley Morse, who created the Bazooka Joe and Gang characters featured inside the wrappers of Topps' bubble gum.

Cartoonist Wally Wood's
Erotic Take On Superman.

(Image Courtesy of The Museum of Sex.)

Tijuana Bibles also took on the most sacred cows of wholesome cartoon characters, those created under the auspices of Walt Disney. Featured in the Museum of Sex exhibit are two rare (and Disney wishes rarer) "bibles" featuring Donald Duck and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in compromising positions. Another artifact lampooning the squeaky-clean Disney characters is a centerpiece of the show. The Disneyland Memorial Orgy, a tableau drawn by Wally Wood, and published by Paul Krassner in his counterculture magazine, The Realist, hit the newsstands in 1967. Surprisingly, the ever litigious Magic Kingdom chose not to sue the orgy's creators, in order to avoid bringing any more attention to the blasphemy. (For those of you can't wait to see Goofy having his way with Minnie Mouse, a link is thoughtfully provided here.)

Joe Shuster's Cover Illustration
For The First Issue of Nights Of Horror.

(Image Courtesy of The Museum of Sex.)

But Goofy and Minnie Mouse were far from the only comic icons to be eroticized by the sexual comics, or comix, movement. Artist Joe Shuster, co-creator of DC Comics world-famous Superman, drew sadomasochistic scenarios featuring Lois Lane and Clark Kent for his Nights of Horror, a fetish comic book series. And Eric Stanton's Blunder Broad series starred a less-than-wonderful version of Wonder Woman, forever enduring sexual humiliations due to her own ineptitude. Five original issues of issues of Nights of Horror will be on display during the exhibition as well as six original illustrations from Blunder Broad.

Cover Image Of A Collection Of
Playboy Cartoons By Eldon Dedini.

The exhibit also features the erotic cartoon art of risque "men's magazines" from Captain Billy's Whiz Bang, through Ballyhoo, and on to Playboy. Of the Playboy cartoonists, the Museum's press release notes, "Visitors to Comics Stripped will enjoy original art, on loan from the Playboy Enterprises, Inc., of iconic Playboy artists Jack Cole (1914-1958) and Eldon Dedini (1921-2006). Cole may be best known for creating the superhero Plastic Man. His cartoons for Playboy became the gold standard for creating cartoons published in the popular men's magazine. Dedini's watercolor depictions of horny satyrs chasing voluptuous nymphs were an iconic Playboy feature."

A Candy Bar Wrapper Featuring R. Crumb's "Devil Girl."
(Image Courtesy of The Museum of Sex.)

Comics Stripped also examines the ongoing censorship of erotic comics in the United States, culminating in the creation of Comics Code Authority in 1954. The repressive legislation of the red-baiting McCarthy Era ironically led to the proliferation of underground publications, containing outrageous, shockingly graphic images, deliberately unsuitable for publication in even the raciest mass market men's magazine. The most famous artist who got his start in those publications was R.Crumb, the creator of such characters as Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural and Devil Girl. Comics Stripped includes many of Crumb's original drawings, which have recently been on display at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. Homoerotic comic art from gay underground publications is also on show at the Museum of Sex, including the iconic work of Tom of Finland, who proudly proclaimed: "If I don't have an erection when I'm doing a drawing, I know it's no good."

Craig Yoe's Well Reviewed Book On
The Fetish Art Of Joe Shuster.

Comics Stripped was created by Museum of Sex Curator Sarah Forbes, and Guest Curator Craig Yoe. Yoe has been called "Indiana Jones of comics historians," the "archivist of the ridiculous and sublime," and "a fine cartoonist and a comic book historian of the first water." He is the author of the definitive work on Superman's co-creator, Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Joe Shuster (Abrams ComicArts, 2009). Yoe himself modestly says of his curatorial duties for Comics Stripped, "Many artists of 'dirty drawings' had full time gigs in mainstream entertainment. I consider myself to be following in a fine tradition of men who knew what they wanted and how to put it on paper." Knowing what you want, and knowing how to put it down on paper--a perfect description of the art of sexual fantasy.

Comics Stripped opened at the Museum of Sex on January 13, 2010, and continues indefinitely.


  1. That sounds ... interesting. (ahem) Is there a catalogue?

  2. Mistress Nancy,

    Whoa, Nellie! Since when did BT get so X-rated! 8-}

    Such pure (& impure) filth! And here I always figured you were the demure, hair-in-a-bun-stuck-thru-with-#2-pencil-only librarian type!

    Reminds me of another of your posts, also excellent, the one last year on Dr. Frederic Wertham & comics:

    Thanks for this -- esp the cool images & panoply of puns-- it really warmed my cockles, etc.



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