Saturday, October 18, 2014

Satirical Sex

Here's another chapter, like previous Saturdays, I've taken from Sex In the Comics, a book from 1985 I found remaindered a few years ago. More about the book is mentioned in previous installments that can be found in the archives, and as usual, I don't agree with all the text by Maurice Horn.

TRIGGER WARNING: This section may contain information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

I think that's what I'm supposed to do. I don't think any laws should be passed. It's just something an author should do out of courtesy. I don't understand how mentioning a trigger doesn't set off a trigger itself. I'm mainly posting this for the pictures anyway. Here's this chapter of the book for you to enjoy 98% of.

To comic artists nothing is sacred, not even the sacred—or the taboo. It was inevitable, sooner or later, that sex would come in for the same kind of treatment that had already laid waste (in the funny pages, at any rate) such sacrosanct American ideas such as the family, he natural goodness of mankind and the work ethic. This brand of humor is part of the American tradition, going back to minstrel shows and burlesque, of viewing sex as a primarily laughable human proclivity. It evokes the world of the dirty joke, the double entendre, the innuendo, the leering pun and all the other bawdy routines associated with what Preston Sturges (no slouch himself when it comes to sexual satire) liked to call “subject A”

Among newspaper artists Al Capp is probably the best representative of this long-standing though hardly hallowed tradition. In Li'l Abner he stood sex on its head, picturing most of his female characters as oversexed and eagerly in pursuit of the unwilling, harassed men—a common male fantasy, it should be noted. To embody his basic premise, Capp created a handsome, uninterested hillbilly (first Li'l Abner himself, later his kid brother Tiny) warily fending off hordes of sex-hungry females, of whom Daisy Mae was the most persistent, Li'l Abner's philosophy of life was expressed early in this piece of doggerel: “Oh—ah'm glad ah is a bacheluh!/ Ah'm young'n'spry an' free!/Hain't nevah getting' married!/ No gal kin bother me!”

To test his ideals Li'l Abner was put through temptations not unworthy of St. Anthony. When a smoldering high-society dame, the wonderfully named Appassionata von Climax, tried to seduce the hero by wining and dining him and showering him with gifts, Li'l Abner's response was to ask for more and more food, and to take longer and longer naps on increasingly sumptuous beds.

In one adventure Li'l Abner journeyed down to the misnamed republic of El Passionato, where the male citizens were so indolent that our hero looked like a sex bomb in comparison. Accordingly all the luscious Latin beauties were soon swooning over the “foreener”. In desperation Li'l Abner made himself dictator and forced all the men to breathe the dread “Goombo”, which turned them into raving sex maniacs, which in turn prompted them to lose interest in Abner.

In another episode Tiny's love-light, the amply endowed Marcia Perkins could not kiss because her lips gave off 451 degrees of electromagnetic heat, enough to fry any boy's brain. The solution was to have her kiss Li'l Abner whose lips registered 451 degrees below zero, thus canceling her temperature out. In a fitting conclusion Tiny broke with Marcia on the grounds that she kissed another man.

The apex of all this tomfoolery was of course reached every year on Sadie Hawkins Day. That fateful day any girl able to catch one of the fast-fleeing males got to marry him. And that, in Al's mad-Capp world, was as fiendish a fate as could be devised.

Later Capp simply reversed the premise in Long Sam, which was drawn by Bob Lubbers. Sam was an incredibly endowed, naïve hillbilly girl who became the innocent object of every leering, panting male around. The theme was too familiar, however, too close to the sexual situation prevailing in real life, and most of the fantasy was lost.
Milton Caniff, who had honed his sexual wit on Terry and the Pirates, proved a master of innuendo in Male Call. His heroine, Miss Lace, an appetizing brunette, flirted outrageously with every soldier, sailor, and airboy she met, and they in turn were forever drooling over her. This simple theme, seemingly so trite in normal life, proved irresistible to readers of Stars and Stripes, the military paper for which the feature was created. Caniff was cunning enough to know that to a sex-starved buck private out in the field, the mere sight of a girl was fantasy enough.

Caniff's gag technique was almost always the same. In the first panels of the strip he would set up a basic situation that often as not hinted at sex, intercourse or worse, only to deflate it in the last panel. Thus Lace would finally give in to a soldier's insistent entreaties, but after he removed his uniform we'd learn she just agreed to sew a button back on. Or she would closely clasp a soldier in her arms, but only so he could demonstrate a judo grip to her. In one strip Lace woke up with a sleeping form in bed next to her and an officer's jacket spread out over a nearby chair; the bedmate turned out to be a WAC. The implications proved to be too much for the straightlaced editors of Stars and Stripes, who censored the offending strip. These World War II strips still retain enough charm that collections of them have been regularly reprinted over the years.

At the same time that the sexual humor cautiously surfaced in newspaper strips, a host of anonymous cartoonists were spoofing sexual themes much more explicitly in a variety of black-and-white comic books, “the kind men like”, as their promoters advertised with a leer. Dubbed “eight-pagers” or ”Tijuana Bibles” (though most of them were actually produced in Cuba), they were four-by-six inch booklets that lost no time in telling their story, which always dealt with the sexual activities of either public figures (most often movie stars, gangsters, and politicians) or comic strip characters.

The first type, eight-pagers about public figures, seems to have been the earliest. They flourished during the depths of the Great Depression and, reflecting their times, often mixed sly social commentary with unabashed sexual satire. One of these early eight-pagers (titled “A Hasty Exit”, and typical of many) depicts notorious outlaw John Dillinger engaged in sexual activity with two girls when the law, in the person of one Captain Tracy, pounces upon him. Dillinger thereupon invites the cop to share in the fun in exchange for his freedom. A general frolic ensues after Tracy phones headquarters to tell them that the fugitive has escaped over the border. The subversive message was carried further in several other booklets that showed gangsters taking the rich (and usually bankers' and politicians' wives whom they had first seduced) to give to the poor (for instance, some out-of-work shopgirl or secretary they'd picked up on a park bench).
Whatever their merit, the public-figure satires were greatly outnumbered by the comic-strip parodies. Every prominent comic character was fair game for the cartoonists of the eight-pagers—not only such supposedly virile late heroines as Jane Arden and Little Orphan Annie, and even week little wimps like Mac of Tillie the Toiler and Pete the Tramp. All the readers' fantasies about the private lives of their favorite funny-page heroes came through in these little booklets. Thus we find Popeye making it with Olive Oyl, Dick Tracy shooting Junior in the head for interrupting his coitus with Tess, and Clark Kent/Superman finally bedding Lois Lane—who promptly sends him away in disgust (the oversexed superhero was a cliché even then).

As a matter of fact, the comic parodies came out so fast and in such profusion that the best-known characters soon found themselves “played out” and minor characters of obscure strips or protagonists of obscure strips had to be pressed into service. In one of the comic booklets Walter Hoban's Needlenose Noonan, a cop, answers a call only to find help only to find a sex-hungry mountain woman waiting for him in the buff. Losing no time in preliminaries, she proceeds to undress the hapless Noonan and use every last part of his body—including the one that earned him his nickname—to satisfy her cravings.
By the end of the forties the eight-pagers had become tired and repetitive, every character and every situation had been milked to the fullest, and there were few sexual variations left to explore. The booklets finally petered out in the fifties (when cheap and heavily censored versions were advertised through the mails, in contrast to the real items, which were generally sold under the counter). When the more permissive era of the sixties opened up new fields for the graphic depiction of sex, they sinply became objects of curiosity and even nostalgia.

It is easy now to snicker at the crudeness and single-mindedness of the “dirty comics”, but as Bill Blackbeard (writing under the transparent pseudonym “William Teach”) says, “Of course, sex depicted in the old comic booklets was crude and forced, just as slapstick could be forced in the legitimate strips...But this excess is largely the result of the equally crude and forced repression of the most minimally frank handling of sex in the general comic strip.”
The eight-pagers, with their raunchy humor and unfettered une of established cartoon characters, found modern-day more sophisticated counterparts in the “underground comix.” Cartoonist Dan O'Neill achieved perhaps the ultimate in sexual parody by having Mickey Mouse and his beloved Minnie perform a well-publicized sex act. The Disney people were not amused and promptly sued for lèse-majesté (the actual charge was copyright infringement), a case they eventually won.

Another undergrounder, Gilbert Shelton, satirized Superman with no repercussions in his Wonder Wart-Hog comic strip. In his civilian identity—Philbert Desanex was a meek, much put-upon reporter—an obvious dig at Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent—but when he donned his costume, the “Hog of Steel” did not confine his exploits to the destruction of evildoers. His prowess also extended to the sexual field, where he liked to make use of every part of his anatomy, including the celebrated snout.
In the early days of his career Richard Corben (under the pseudonym “Gore”) also enjoyed doing sexual satires, but his always had a sharp edge to them. In ”Dumb Story” earthmen bring so-called morality and civilization to a guilt-free and sexually contented race of extraterrestrials whom they destroy. ”Horrible Harvey's House” concerns a porno star jaded with the blandishments of sex. After acting in yet another skin flick, she is raped in her sleep by a horrible creature who awakens in her stirring he thought she had forgotten. She eventually abandons her director boyfriend to pair up with her newfound love. In both tales the undertone of bitterness at human weakness and human folly is unmistakable and can not easily be dismissed.
The concept of sex itself got a working over in Denis Kitchen's Ingrid the Bitch. This five-year-old nymphet disdained the usual comic-book heroes including the inevitable Superman) in favor of her faithful and no less libidinous canine companion. Pooch.

With Young Lust (an obvious takeoff on Young Love), an underground comic edited sporadically over the years, Bill Griffith and Jay Kinney set out to parody an entire genre, that of romance comics—an easy target, admittedly. Their Method was to take the concept to its most outré limits (and beyond). Two examples should suffice. In ”Plug Un-Plug” by Griffith, the lead character fantasizes his love life, which includes a hilarious would-be rescue of Jayne Mansfield from a shipwreck. In “Under the Covers” Jay Kinney and Paul Mavrides mix the clichés of romance stories with the conventions of the spy-thriller genre in a tale of the love between the two CIA agents, one of whom turns out to be a KGB mole.
The undergrounders, like their eight-pager predecessors, also like to produce well-known-politicians (usually their perceived enemies on the right) in kinky situations, showing them as basically beastly, dishonest and hypocritical Richard Nixon particularly came in for the heaviest share of the underground cartoonists, who never tired of portraying him as “Pricky Dick”, “Creepy Dick”, and worse.
As the widely acknowledged “pope” of the underground, Robert Crumb has been at the forefront of the sexual revolution in comics. Even his early Fritz the Cat strips displayed a playful understanding of sex: under his animal guise his character behaved pretty much like a normal sex-driven human, playing out his role of cat-about-town with the expected bravado. In one episode the sly fellow dazzled his date with the high-flown rhetoric about the meaning of life while imperceptibly but surely leading her into bed. In another story he managed to turn a sex orgy in a bathtub into a transcendental group encounter.

Crumb had a keen ear for the cant that pervaded much of the sexual revolution of the sixties, as well as a sharp eye for its more egregious lunacies. He was very much in time with his time but could also revert with a wink to the practices of an earlier, more repressed era, using a blackout technique that stopped just short of the depiction of the sex act. At one point, for instance, Fritz elaborately undresses a demure kitten in order to pick fleas off her body.
Later, moving from funny animals to funny humans, Crumb liked to depict children of nature innocently engaging in sex and unashamedly enjoying its pleasure. One such was Angelfood McSpade, an African Amazon of gargantuan sexual appetites, who would willingly submit herself to any male she chanced to encounter. Ironically, Angelfood, introduced to Western civilization, promptly had her hair and skin bleached, turning herself into one more version of the average middle-class housewife, to the disgust of her male partners. Another unabashed hero of the same ilk was Dicknose (Crumb's names for his characters were nothing if not descriptive), who somehow managed to get his proboscis into the most compromising spots. Crumb's earth children were contrasted with Whiteman, a typically repressed product of Western Hypocrisy, greed, and power lust.

Some of Crumb's comic book badinage was so inhibited as to bring prosecution down upon the artist's head. Joe Brancatelli wrote in World Encyclopedia of Comics “Crumb's work was shockingly explicit for the late 1960's. Each and every story centered around lovemaking, or kinky variations of it.” In mock contrition Crumb would self-deprecatingly sign his more ribald pages “R.Scum” or “Crumbum” or “El Crummo”, which of course only called attention to the outrageousness.
Crumb and his wife, cartoonist Aline Kominsky (whom he'd earlier depicted as “Honeybunch”) have been of late publishing comic book diaries, If anything, Crumb's confessions prove that he has steadfastly remained true to himself. They are remarkably candid, as well as excruciatingly funny, in the depiction of more aspects of conjugal life. As one critic put it, Crumb “can make even married sex look like fun”.

At a casual glance, the world of the underground cartoonists does not seem too far removed from the raunchy preserves of the eight-pagers. The difference lies in the artistic integrity the undergrounders brought to their work, however limited the artistic talent of some of them. Indeed, Crumb enjoyed the rare distinction of having his comix ruled works of art by a court of law, which acquitted him of obscenity charges on precisely those grounds.
Wally Wood, whose works include the now famous poster of Snow White sexually molested by the Seven Dwarves, has also made a not inconsiderable contribution to the farcical treatment of “Subject A”, much in the manner of a Sturges or a Blake Edwards. His stylish exercises in this vein extend all the way from his wild comic strip parodies in Mad magazine to such seventies frolics as The Pipsqueak Papers (a charming skit about a tiny homunculus tricking the standoffish nymph he pursues into lovemaking) and his wholly uncanonical treatment of Alice in Wonderland. In these slight tales Wood has proved he can be a master of the quiet wit as well as frenzied satire.

Wood's longest-running feature was Sally Forth, a comic strip he did in the late 60s and early 70s for the servicemen's publication Overseas Weekly (not to be confused with the Sally Forth strip currently in American newspapers). Sally Forth shows just how far the army has come since the days of Male Call (“The New Army wants to join You,” indeed). While there is still no full frontal nudity and explicit lovemaking is only hinted at, much high-spirited manhandling goes on in the strip, and implicitly sexual situations abound. In particular the tug-of-war on the steps of the Pentagon pitting the nude Sally and her equally naked cohorts against U.S. Soldiers in full-dress uniforms (shades of battle between the Amazons and the Acheans!) is certainly more than a little suggestive. Wood's flexible drawing style is particularly suited to representing action hovering midway between tongue-in-cheek fantasy and straight narrative.
It fell to another Mad alumnus, Harvey Kurtzman, to achieve in Playboy magazine what is probably the most widely known of all the good old-fashioned comic-page parodies. Little Annie Fanny. As the title suggests, is an obvious takeoff on the old Little Orphan Annie newspaper strip. The title character is a ridiculously well-endowed blonde ingenue whose obliviousness to men's lewd advances constitutes the main theme of the feature. The supporting cast includes Annie's well-heeled protecter Sugardaddy Bigbucks (modeled on Daddy Warbucks, of course), her peppy girlfriend Wanda Homefree, and Solly Brass (a Phil Silvers clone), her scheming, loudmouthed, press agent.

So far Annie Fanny has managed to retain her innocence amid all the shenanigans, though Wanda has come in for her share of fun (mostly offstage). The bawdy humor, for all its outrageousness, seems a bit forced at times. However, Kurtzman makes up for it in some pointed social and political satire, at the expense of such targets as industrial tycoons, power-mad generals, right-wing politicos, TV network executives and the NAS space program. The artwork is for the most part contributed by Will Elder, yet another Mad graduate, whose lush style and creamy colors are well suited to this erotic version of Candide.
The success of Annie Fanny in Playboy prompted other men's magazines to follow suit, Pretty soon they were all carrying comic strips of varying quality. The best of these was undoubtedly Oh, Wicked Wanda, which British artist Ron Embleton created for Penthouse on scripts by Frederic Mullally. Wanda was a voluptuous brunette whose charms were very much in view most of the time. There was none of the coyness exhibited in Annie Fanny; Wanda went the rounds like someone who knew the score. She never lost her cool, even when thrown in a dungeon by a jealous rival or on the verge of being executed as a spy by shifty Eastern European types.

Wanda's adventures were humorous rather than satirical, filled with peril and sexual shenanigans. Nudity was freely depicted, and there was no dearth of explicit sexual situations. Withal the strip was roguishly charming rather than scabrous. Mullaly's tongue-in-cheek writing certainly helped, but the major credit belongs to Embleton, whose elegant brushwork endowed Wanda not only with allure but with more than a touch of class as well. Embleton now draws another strip for Penthouse, Sweet Chastity (on texts by Bob Guccione himself), about Baron von Frankenstein's creation of the “perfect woman” and her epochal struggle with the baron's power-crazed daughter, the aptly named Electra.
Though they have been extremely prolific in other types of sex comics, Europeans have seldom achieved a truly satirical treatment of the subject. One notable exception is Georges Pichard, who imparts a good dose of humor to even his most outrageous narratives, His first essay in the genre was Blanche Epiphanie, a parody of turn-of-the-century dime novels, in which the much-undressed heroine was much on the verge of being raped by the libidinous banker Adolphus, only to be saved in the nick of time by a masked avenger.. This was followed by Paulette, about a wealthy and comely heiress who went through all sorts of harrowing ordeals (of which rape was the least objectionable).
Pichard sounded much the same theme in Caroline Choléra—with an interesting twist, however:Caroline experienced the whole gamut of kinky sex out of sheer feminine curiosity. When she judged that enough was enough, she would turn on her aggressors with a vengeance. In one episode, for instance, she was captured by “birdmen”, who subjected her to a thorough inspection to determine what species of bird she was. From the brown circular spot on her rump they concluded she must be a Canadian goose. Upon hearing herself be called a goose, Caroline, who up to then had endured all other indignities with a casual air, jumped to her feet I a rage, sending her tormentors scurrying for cover.
Thus have today's cartoonists killed two birds with one stone, by bringing sex into the comics without taking comedy out of sex.

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