Apr 29, 2017

The Human Torch and Toro: Gay Subtexts in World War II Comics

I never had much time for Marvel Comics, but there's something to be said for the Human Torch, a blazing, naked humanoid who bursts onto the scene to rescue his rather buffed (and also flammable) teenage sidekick.

In his first incarnation, premiering in Marvel Comics #1 (1939), he was an android villain who burst into flame whenever he was exposed to air.  But he quickly learned to control his flaming, reformed, and became a superhero, single-handedly ending World War II by assassinating Hitler.

After the war he joined the New York City police force under the alter ego name Jim Hammond.

In Human Torch Comics #2 (fall 1940), the Torch encounters a teenage boy named Toro, who is impervious to fire.  The two become the standard 1940s superhero-sidekick romantic partners, with Toro requiring rescue from a horrifying fate on nearly every comic book cover.

I'm not sure what's going on here.  A cage of women and children is being lowered into flames, and Toro is somehow attached to the chain.

The Human Torch and Toro both faded into obscurity after the War.  They were resurrected recently for the dark, ultra-convoluted, and intensely heteronormative plotlines of contemporary Marvel comics.  Apparently Toro marries, then dies, then gets resurrected, but his wife has begun canoodling with the Torch, and...

You're probably more familiar with another Human Torch, this one actually human, named Johnny Storm.  A founding member of the Fantastic Four, he premiered in 1961 with no connection to the World War II android.  He had a heteronormative plotline, with no teen sidekick, and "died" in 2011.

He was played by Chris Evans in two Fantastic Four movies (2005, 2007).  The gay subtexts were completely gone, relics of the distant past.

Apr 28, 2017

Searching for Beefcake in "The Jungle Book Musical"

The Jungle Book Musical has a slightly different plot from the 1967 Disney movie: feral child Mowgli and his panther friend Bagheera flee from the tyrannical despot Shere Khan.  They meet allies and enemies: Baloo the Bear, the seductive snake Kaa, and the gibbering Monkey King.  Amassing their forces, they defeat Shere Khan, and restore freedom to the jungle.  Then  Mowgli follows a Little Girl to the Man-Village, his heterosexual desire pushing him into becoming a man.

 Depressingly heterosexist.

And Mowgli is no Tarzan: he's a scrawny ten-year old boy.

But he's not always played by a scrawny ten-year old boy..

 Here the grown-up and buffed Tom Boss plays Mowgli at the community theater in the gay resort town of Orono, Maine.

At the King Street Theater in Sidney, Australia, a hunkoid with the amazing name Badaidilaga Maftuh-flynn plays the jungle waif.

At the Rose Theater in Omaha, we find 25 year old thespian Aaron Ellis.  One only wishes that the scanty loincloth would ride up a bit.

This production is at the Oak Grove Theater in Edinburgh.  I don't know who this Mowgli is.  I think that's Bagheera behind him.

Another unknown Mowgli from a production in Amsterdam.  At least he looks South Asian.

Buffed monkeys from the production at the Goodman Theater in Chicago.

At the famous Metta Theater in Britain, Mowgli becomes a girl, and the jungle is re-envisioned as a hip-hop urban wasteland.  Bagheera is a graffiti artist, Baloo a beat-box bohemian, and Shere Khan (Dean Stewart) a crime boss who struts his stuff shirtless.

See also: The Jonas Brothers

Apr 27, 2017

Beefcake and Bulges in Old Swim Team Photos

I love old high school and college yearbooks, now usually digitized and put online as "Alumni Memories."

You can see hundreds of men and boys who have left us now, or who are elderly and reminiscing about their lives, when they were energetic, powerful, full of hope, when they had all the world to choose from.

When they had tight, muscular physiques and bulges that wouldn't quit, judging from old swim team photos.

This is Brighton College in England, 1946, guys about the age of my older uncles, looking forward to the post-War world.  Some nice bulges.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the boys' swim team at Jackson Junior High (West Virginia) clowns around.

California State University, 1949.  No baskets on anyone in the front row except the second from the right.  They must have put the other bulgeworthy boys in back on purpose.  Some nice physiques, though.

Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, 1951, at the beginning of the conservative 1950s.  Every guy has his hands demurely folded over his basket.  I like the hairy chest and thinning hair of the college boy second from the right.

University of Georgia, 1952.  Notice the sharp crewcuts and extended ears.  Also notice that the boys are all white.  Segregation was in full swing.

More after the break.

Apr 26, 2017

10 Shirtless Photos of Billy Joel, Sort Of

Whenever I begin researching an article about an actor or musician, I try to find shirtless pictures of him for illustrations.  I check websites like Just Jared and Shirtless Male Celebs, and of course Google Images.

Right now I'm looking for pictures of singer/songwriter Billy Joel (1949-), so I put "Billy Joel" in quotation marks, added "shirtless," and specified that all the search terms must be present.  Here's what Google Images thinks is him:

1. Billy Ungar.  Where's the "Joel"?  At least he's a singer.

2. Billy Currington, a country-western singer who modeled in Playgirl.  He "likes it slow and long."

3. Former teen idol Joe Jonas.  Come on, it's "Joel," not "Joe."

4.  Joel Rush.  Actor/model, NOT a singer.

5. Zac Efron.  No Billy, no Joel, not a musician, although he starred in High School Musical.

More after the break.

Apr 25, 2017

That Boy: My First Porn Film

It may be a little strange to mention a porn film in a G-rated blog, but That Boy (1974) is special.  It was a defining moment in my life, the first gay erotic film I ever saw, in the spring of 1984, during my second year at Indiana University.  My friend Viju and I drove into Indianapolis to go to the bars, and someone invited us to see it with him.  There was a midnight showing in a sleazy theater near Monument Circle.

The star, 32-year old Peter Berlin, moved from Germany to San Francisco in the early 1970s and quickly became a gay icon, appearing in magazines and films, acting as his own cinematographer.  He was renowned for his gleaming, muscular physique and gigantic bulge, but more importantly for his utter lack of guilt, hesitation, and fear.

There was no such thing as a closet in Peter Berlin's world, no such thing as homophobia.  Only endless nights of cruising -- but not the meaningless, destructive tricks that later generations condemned us for.  A glorious sexual freedom that was, in itself, fulfilling enough to be the sole purpose of life.

That Boy has more of a plot than the usual porn film: An unnamed sexual Everyman (Peter) wanders through a bucolic San Francisco, looking at men, and being looked at.  That gaze, being an object of adoration, is even more glorious than the sexual acts themselves.  But then he looks at a boy who does not look back.

Could this be the one person on Earth who does not desire him?  No, the boy is blind, so Peter must try new, different tactics to draw him into the world of sexual freedom.

During his heyday, Peter Berlin was filmed, drawn, photographed, and painted by such greats as Tom of Finland and Andy Warhol, and had several exhibitions of his own work.  Then in the 1980s, AIDS, neoconservative retrenchment, and changing sexual mores made him seem quaintly naive, even dangerous.  He disappeared from the public eye.

Today he is over 70 years old, still living quietly in San Francisco, still happily recalling how he gave a  generation of gay men a glimpse of what it was like to experience sexual desire without apology or regret.

His films Nights in Black Leather and That Boy have been released on DVD, and a documentary, That Man, appeared in 2005.

Apr 24, 2017

Tarzan, the Stage Musical: Major Loincloth-Clad Hunkage

With all of the movies, tv series, books, comic books, and toys surrounding Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan since his first appearance in the October 1912 issue of All Story Magazine, it makes sense that someone would attempt a musical.  One appeared in 2004, but based on the 1999 Disney animated feature, not on Burroughs.

The plot follows the movie: his parents shipwrecked on the coast of Africa and then killed, Tarzan is raised by apes. He and young naturalist Jane Porter meet and fall in love, in spite of the opposition of the ape tribe and the jealous interference of her guide, John Clayton.  The ape-human conflict is resolved in a monumental battle, Clayton goes back to England, and Jane stays in the jungle with Tarzan.

It is very heterosexist, but there is one queer spot: Terk, Tarzan's best friend in the ape tribe, is a girl in the movie, but in the play, a flamboyantly feminine, gay-vague buddy whose emotional attachment to Tarzan matches anything Jane could provide.

You're one of a kind, I can't explain it.
You're kind of cool, in a wonderful way.
Struggling along for years and years, until I came along for you.

The original Broadway production, with Josh Strickland as Tarzan, played for 486 performances in 2006 and 2007.  There have been many regional productions in the United States, plus international productions in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and the Philippines, with such stars as Anton Zetterholm, James Royce Edwards, and Isaac Gay (left, playing Tarzan in the Children's Theater of Charlotte, North Carolina).

It's a favorite of high school, college, and community theaters, giving audiences all over the world the opportunity to see major loincloth-clad hunkage.

What Not to Say During Sex: 11 Words and Phrases that Kill the Mood

I've been engaging in regular sexual activity for a number of years, and I've heard everything imaginable before, after, and even during the act:  laughing, screaming, crying, yelling an ex-lover's name, Bible verses, dirty talk, French, German, Klingon.

I can ignore almost anything.

But some words and phrases are too grating and asinine to ignore.  They make me much less likely to invite you home in the first place, and they ruin the mood once we get there.  They're likely to elicit laughter or a groan of disapproval.  You'd be better off quoting Monty Python ("My nipples explode with delight), or just giving your vocal cords a rest.

Here are 11 sex words and phrases that will kill the mood:

1. Fit

Oh, aren't you fit!

 Physical fitness is a measure of your cardiovascular endurance,  muscle strength and endurance, flexibility, agility, and fat-to-muscle ratio, not your physical attractiveness.  Saying that someone is fit makes you sound like a leering, groping Creepy Old Guy.

2. Delicious/Mouth Watering.

 Your kisses are delicious!  Your cock is mouth-watering!

You use your mouth for both eating and sex, but otherwise the two activities are not at all related.  Sex has nothing to do with your taste buds; a hamburger can't be sexy, and a person cannot be delicious.

7. Fag

There will be a fag at the party.

Fag is another derogatory term for gay men, implying that that they are objects rather than people, far inferior to heterosexual men.  And why would you refer to just one of the gay men at a party as a fag?  They're all gay.

8. Dom/Sub

I'm a sub into getting whipped and spanked, looking for a dom.

Dom (dominant) and sub (submissive) are terms taken from heterosexual master-slave scenes, infused with the heteronormative depiction of sex as always involving a "boy" and a "girl."  It brands you as a newcomer to gay communities: we say top and bottom.

The full article, with nude photos and explicit sexual terms, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Apr 23, 2017

Bobby London's Homoerotic, Homophobic Popeye

You may not know this, but E. C. Segar's  Thimble Theater comic strip, which first appeared in 1919, has never gone out of publication (and it's still called Thimble Theater, even though Popeye has been the undisputed star since 1929).

After Segar's death in 1938, Tom Sims took over the strip, then Bill Stein, and most notably Bud Sagendorf, who introduced Popeye and his costars to the fads and foibles of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (here Popeye battles a beatnik).

In 1986, Sagendorf decided to retire, and the syndicate hired 38-year old Bobby London to draw Thimble Theater.

Perhaps an odd choice: London was an underground comic artist whose work appeared in such disrespectable publications as National Lampoon and Playboy.  His most famous character, Dirty Duck, was foul-mouthed, sleazy, and amoral.

When London took over the strip, he resurrected characters who hadn't been seen since the days of Segar, such as Olive Oyl's parents, her brother Castor, her ex-boyfriend Ham Gravy, the prehistoric man Toar, and Alice the Goon.  He also introduced the conceit that the characters had actually been alive since the early 1900s (although they hadn't aged), and were confused and befuddled by the craziness of the 1980s.

The fun was in the juxtaposition of the 1930s characters with 1980s life: Olive taking aerobic classes, Poopdeck Pappy on a skateboard, the Sea Hag opening a disco, Castor Oyl trying to use a fax machine.

The gay-subtext friendship between Popeye and Castor Oyl was still intact, although muted by making them both rather aggressively hetero-horny.

In spite of his radical past, London was quite conservative, and his fear and distrust of this brave new world came out often.

And, occasionally, a dose of pure homophobia.

Of course, London was homophobic in his underground comic days, but one can forgive his depiction of a gay man as a bearded drag queen named Tiger Lily who gets into a multi-sexual orgy.  It was, after all, 1972 only a few years after Stonewall.

But not in 1988, when Castor Oyl says that tv wrestling is "real rough stuff," but Popeye begs to differ.

Take a closer look at the limp-wristed, eyelashed hair stylist.  Not much has changed in 16 years.

In June 1992, London began a continuity in which Olive Oyl receives a Baby Bluto doll, and decides to get rid of it.  Passerbys think that she intends to get an abortion.

Worried over even the implication of the a-word, the syndicate fired London and refused to run the continuity.  They've been running repeats of Sagendorf strips ever since.

See also: Popeye, the First Gay Superhero.

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