Jul 9, 2016

Leonard and Larry

I moved to West Hollywood in 1985 in the midst of a Renaissance of gay comics.  Humor and not-so humorous strips were appearing in Frontiers and the Advocate, in the Gay Comics magazine, and in the annual Meatmen anthologies.  My favorites were:

Murphy's Manor, by Kurt Erichsen.
Jayson, by Jeffrey A. Krell
Poppers, by Jerry Mills
Dykes to Watch Out For, by Alison Bechtel
The single-panel Donelan cartoons.
And of course the erotic comics of Tom of Finland, Sean, and Cavello.

I wasn't a big fan of Howard Cruise's depressing Wendell, and even less of a fan of Tim Barela's Leonard and Larry.

Maybe I was just jealous of Tim Barela, who my boyfriend Lane had a crush on.  When Tim said "Jump," Lane said "How high?"  I was pretty sure that if Tim ever asked Lane to move in, the U-Haul would be packed and ready to go in five minutes.

But even without the real-life drama, I didn't like Leonard and Larry.

1. Leonard Goodman and Larry Evans are a middle-aged bear couple, one short and Jewish, the other tall and redhaired -- ok, that sounds a little like Lane and me.  Except they live in a house in a straight neighborhood somewhere in Los Angeles, they have mostly straight friends, Larry has kids from a previous heterosexual marriage, and so on and so on.  Way, way too assimilated!

Aside from an occasional depressing encounter with homophobia, they could be Hi and Lois, or Blondie and Dagwood.  What's interesting about that?

2. All of the characters look alike: white, with long faces, sharp noses, and prominent eyebrows. The men all have facial hair.

These are the plumbers, but the guy on the left could be Leonard's brother, and the guy on the right is Leonard's twin.

Ok, so Tim Barela likes a certain facial type, but everyone looks like a clone of the same person, like the Bizarro World in Superman comics.  It's hard to tell who the characters are, who's talking.  And how about a little ethnic diversity?

3. It wasn't funny.  Of course, a lot of gay comics weren't supposed to be funny -- Howard Cruise expected his stuff to elicit anguished wails, not belly-laughs..  But Tim Barela always claimed that he was drawing a humor strip, and there were indeed occasional wry observations on the annoyances of everyday life in the Straight World.  But wry is not the same thing as funny. 

By the way, when I was googling for Tim Barela, I found another one, a 16-year old gymnast from Bochum, Germany (10 in this photo).  The kid has a bright future ahead of him, as long as he doesn't decide to become a cartoonist.

The annoying story of me and Tim Barela is up on Tales of West Hollywood.

See also: Gay Comix

Jul 7, 2016

The Gay Connection of Paper Towels. Seriously.

Paper towels are just there.  They do the job.  They're about as exciting as toast.

During the 1970s, two advertisers tried to make paper towels more exciting.  Bounty got feisty comedienne Nancy Walker to promote the "quicker picker upper."  And Georgia-Pacific countered with Brawny, sold by a Castro clone in a lumberjack outfit, open at the top so you could see his manly chest hair.

So he chops down the trees to make the paper towels?  Does that make sense?

Regardless, Brawny soon became a favorite of housewives and gay kids looking for beefcake in their paper towel purchase.

Lots of gay men say that they got their first glimpse of gay culture from the Brawny guy.  Seriously.

During the 1980s, he got a haircut and changed his shirt.

In 2004 he was replaced by a more muscular Bush-era hunk with a severe black haircut.

The Brawny Guy hasn't been used in tv commercials or print ads.  He doesn't even have a name.  But he still gets a 70% product recognition score (70% of people polled associate his face with paper towels), and some cosplay.

And a surprising gay connection.

In Search of Australian Aboriginal Men

Brisbane, Australia, July 2002

In 1986, I followed an Australian cowboy to his home on Kangaroo Island, with only the briefest of layovers in Sidney before going on to visit Alan in Japan.

This summer, same problem: my conference is in Brisbane, and I don't have the time or money to spend more than two days in Sydney.

Still, a week in Australia!  A chance to meet Aboriginal men!

Of course, there's nothing wrong with Anglo-Australians (80% of the population), or Chinese or Indian-Australians (8%) of the population).  But I can meet Anglo and Asian guys at home, or in Europe.  When will I be able to meet an Aboriginal Australian again?

Their culture is at least 40,000 years old: they began their migration to the continent during the Middle Paleolithic Era.

Most of the tribes practice so-called "ritualized homosexuality," in which the older men initiate the young men into the community through oral sex.

Initiate, right.

There are 27 language families, with over 100 languages in daily use, as distinct as English and Navajo.

The Wagiman word for "penis" is lagiriny, "tail."

The Ngarluma word for "erection" is jurdu, a cognate of jurdurn, "mountain peak."

Now that I've got to see!

Aboriginal Australians have a distinctive look, with dark-skin, frizzy hair, and broad noses. I couldn't find any nude photos on online bulletin boards (the precursor of blogs), but I imagine they have rather impressive mountain peaks..

The full story, with nude photos and sexual content, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

The Boys of Lassie 3: Skip Burton

Of all of Lassie's boys, Skip (later Robert) Burton was the oldest, and had the fewest gay subtexts.  But at least his adult roles featured substantial nudity, and his package was checked out in the shower in Linda Lovelace for President.

After Timmy (Jon Provost) immigrated to Australia, the remarkably long-lived collie spent most of the 1960s (1964-70) working with Forest Ranger Corey Stewart (Robert Bray).  The wilderness setting was perfect for new color tv sets, and Lassie got to interact with many different characters, instead of just Timmy and his chums.

After a year by herself (1970-71), Lassie moved back to the boy-rescues, moving onto the ranch run by Keith Holden (Larry Pennell) and his 14-year old son Ron (Skip Burton).  She stayed on for 3 years, and finally hung up her collar for good in 1974.

Afterwards Skip (renamed Robert Burton) did not become typecast as a kewpie doll; in fact, immediately after Lassie, he starred in the softcore porn Linda Lovelace for President (1975). Since he was married to 1970s scream queen Karen Black, he also starred with her in Trilogy of Terror (1974).

And several soap operas.

In the 1980s, he went to work on Wall Street.

See also: The Boys of Lassie 1: Jon Provost

Jul 5, 2016

Uncle Sam Wants You: the Gay Connection of America's National Symbol

I'm not very patriotic.  I hate all of those companies that try to sell you lawn mowers or shoes with red white and blue logos and yells of "Freedom!" and "Liberty!"

Wilkes-Barre has a Freedom Farm, Freedom Toyota, Freedom Plumbing, and a Freedom Express Delivery Service.

Plus Liberty Bank, Liberty Cleaners, Liberty Truck Stop, Liberty Pizza, and Liberty Travel.

And what about those commercials?  "I'm glad to be an Amur-ican, where at least I know I'm free."

Or "Freedom! Faith! and Family!" used to sell chicken.

Except I'm too nauseated by the maudlin, heterosexist drivel to be hungry.

But I rather like Uncle Sam.

The symbol of the U.S. was originally a real person, Samuel Wilson, a meat packer from Troy, New York, who supplied rations for troops overseas during the War of 1812, and stamped them with U.S., for United States.  When asked what U.S. meant, he joked "Uncle Sam."

The name caught on, and appeared in a satire of the War of 1812, The Adventures of Uncle Sam in Search of His Lost Honor (1816).  

Uncle Sam was depicted in art several times during the 19th century, but his standard image -- a stern, elderly gentleman with a top hat, a blue coat, and red-and-white striped pants, pointing a finger at "you!" -- first appeared on the cover of Leslie's Magazine in 1916.

I like the forceful dominance of I want YOU!!!  It's like an S&M scene.  I want to say "Yes, sir!  Anything you want, sir!  Shall I tell you my safe word, sir?"

That image is probably as familiar to Americans as Santa Claus, and has been used extensively for military recruitment, and just about everything else.  I Want You to fight inflation, vote for Hoover, end the drug war, stop bullying, get out and exercise, learn to read, curb illegal immigration, and find a cure for AIDS.

Uncle Sam became a superhero during the 1940s.  In National Comics, he's the ghost of a soldier killed in the Revolutionary War, who appears to fight Nazis along with his teen sidekick Buddy.  He returned to DC comics thirty years later, this time as a spirit conjured up by the Founding Fathers to fight un-patriotic activity.

A number of ads and illustrations have Uncle Sam ripping off his shirt to reveal a bodybuilder's physique.  Here he's flexing on the cover of The Economist, with red-white-and-blue tassles attached to his nipples.

And don't forget the real-life musclemen in Uncle Sam costumes, like Blake Jenner (Glee, top photo) and Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike, left)

Anybody into Daddies?

The Quest for the Shirtless Superman

When I was a kid, I read Harvey Comics, the Disney ducks, the Gold Key jungle comics, and occasionally an Archie -- but not DC: Superman, Batman, and their ilk.

Who could follow the never-ending story arcs, spread across multiple issues and multiple titles, with references to event that happened ages ago that everyone was supposed to know about?

Besides, the big-city settings were dull -- give me a jungle any day -- and who cared about battling bad guys?  Find a lost civilization or seek out buried treasure, something mildly entertaining instead of the constant zap! pow!

But the biggest problem -- the musclemen were never naked!  Tarzan, Korak, Brothers of the Spear wore skimpy loincloths, so there were massive chests, 6-pack abs, and bulging biceps to ogle in nearly every panel.  The DC superheroes were never shown out of their stupid costumes.

Logically, I can understand why -- strip Superman out of his suit, and no one will know who he is   You'd never know that this is a picture of Superman (actually Kal, from an alternate reality where Krypton explodes in the Middle Ages rather than 1930s, so the super-baby refugee grows up to be a blacksmith rather than mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent.  Got all that?)

But still, there's no reason why there couldn't be at least a few shirtless scenes.

Nope.  I just spent 2 hours on the Grand Comics Database, looking at the covers of  866 issues of Action Comics (1938-2016), 423 issues of Superman (1939-1986), 333 issues of the second incarnation of Superman (1987-2006) and the third 92011-2016), plus all 230 issues of The Adventures of Superman (1987-2006) ), The Justice League of America, Batman/Superman, Superman/Batman, and Supermen from Britain, France, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Sweden, and Finland, over 2500 covers in all.

7 of them show a shirtless Superman.  

That's 0.26%

Nothing at all for the first 25 years.  Then, in 1963, Superman agrees to fight his arch-nemesis Lex Luthor on a planet with a red sun, where his superpowers don't work.  He takes his shirt off to get pummeled.

In 1964, on another red-sun planet, a caveman steals Superman's clothes (he has a beard so we know it isn't really Supe).

Why the lack of beefcake?  I suspect it has something to do with the writers, who were typically girl-chasing heteros who had no interest in drawing the male form.  Or else they thought that the audience consisted entirely of 15 year old hetero boys who had no interest in seeing the male form.

No shirtless covers for 36 years, until, in 2000, Superman appears in a wilderness setting, his shirt half torn off, fighting monsters, with Wonder Woman behind him wielding an axe.  The title "Immortal Beloved" seems to be reflecting the Edgar Rice Burroughs story "The Eternal Lover," about a warrior from 100,000 years ago who falls in love with a 20th century woman who is a reincarnation of his ex-girlfriend.

Then 13 years passed with nothing.

In 2013, "the “Psi-War” epic begins! Psi-War erupts as Hector Hammond tries to take control of H.I.V.E. from its queen, but there are other forces in play as well, as a new Psycho Pirate emerges, and Superman is caught in the middle, unable to protect those closest to him."

The 3-D cover shows a brutal, scary Bizarro or Borg Superman, but at least he has his shirt off.  Note the "real" superman captured in the background.

Justice League 40 (2015) is about the Darkseid War!  The Justice League comes face to face with "the two most powerful and dangerous entities in existence!"  More dangerous than the Sun-Eater that ravages entire galaxies, from a 1967 Superman continuity?

But the cover shows Superman, Batman and company as strippers in a homage to the movie Magic Mike.

Earth One is a series of graphic novels set on an Earth that didn't participate in the mega-retconning "Crisis on Infinite Earths" of the 1980s, and thus is not limited by the continuity restraints of the new DC.  Volume 3 (2015) depicts Superman's battle with General Zod and romance with someone named Lisa.

Superman 42 (2015) has Superman fighting an information-skimming mega-crime syndicate called HORDR.  Also, Lois finds out his true identity, and he loses his powers yet again.

But a variant cover shows Supe drawn like a character from the Nickelodeon cartoon Teen Titans Go!, in his underwear, trying to pick out a costume to wear.

H's a cartoon, but he's still shirtless, so it counts.

3 covers from 1938 to 2012, and then 4 from 2013 to 2015.  Maybe things are looking up for DC Comics beefcake fans.

Check out the Shirtless Superheroes blog for lots more shirtless pictures of Supe and company.

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