Number 578, Dec 21, 2006

'Big! Fucking! Cocks!'

Curious historical compendium does have one thing going for it.

If you are drawn to raunchy drawings of sweaty muscle-bound white guys fucking and sucking, you will want to flip through the pages of Arsenal Pulp’s Gay Art: A Historic Collection. The book, written By Felix Lance Falkon with Thomas Waugh, is a revised edition of A Historic Collection Of Gay Art, originally published in 1972 by Greenleaf Classics. The original, now a rarity, was published “at a time,” according to Arsenal Pulp, “when gay men’s sexuality was still a dangerous thing.” By implication, gay men’s sexuality is no longer dangerous, and nor are these images.

Waugh describes the book as “Felix’s pioneering post-Stonewall historiography of queer desire or, in other words, the brazen ur-text of gay graphic smut” The latter description of the two is more accurate. Either that or Waugh’s definition of ‘queer’ is overwhelmingly close to the definition of ‘gay.’ Semantics aside, Gay Art is largely a picture book with running commentary akin to DVD extras. The images are the reason the book exists, and they don’t require much explanation to understand what exactly is going on in them. After all, it’s not as though they are laden with weighty metaphors. The goal of these images is largely to make people get off. May I take this time to suggest an alternate title? BIG! FUCKING! COCKS!

The original book arose from dialogue between Falkon and publisher Earl Kemp, the man behind Greenleaf Editions, who were known for their gay erotic periodicals. A fact worth noting because it essentially means the book was produced by people involved in the world these images belonged to, rather than by someone on the outside looking in.

Ok, so we can agree that gay men’s (sexual) histories have been filled with oppression and that gay sexual imagery has suffered many attempts at eradication, but I still have to ask what makes these specific images important today? Maybe its because all of these images were created before I was even born, but they feel, well, overdone really. Admittedly I don’t have the historical perspective on these images that the authors do.

Noted revisions in Gay Art include: printing only about half of the Tom of Finland drawings that appeared in the original due to copyright difficulties, generally better quality and uncropped reproductions, and Waugh’s jokey picture captions which include several references to his book Out/Lines: Underground Gay Graphics from Before Stonewall.

Also notable is Waugh’s apologia for the “preemptive cropping,” (read, self-censorship) of seven images dealing with adolescent sexuality. Basically these images are presented to give the appearance they’ve been torn out. A decision much more frustrating than omitting them altogether. In the preface Waugh states, “we fear for our livelihoods and our freedom and safety…” and discusses how in some ways life in 1972 was a good deal more innocent than it is now with regard to depictions and discussions on sex and youth.
If nothing else, he is transparent about this decision and the accompanying conflict. “…my obligation to record the historical record of 1972 fantasy and art has been irremediably compromised.” Neutered? Oh yes.

Exactly where their line has been drawn is unclear since readers can’t actually see the drawn lines. For example, one chapter is dedicated to the art of a person known only as Robin, whose images include several depictions with “youthful involvement.” The accompanying text describes one of Robin’s censored images as a scene that “would be rape if the younger weren’t so obviously enjoying being overpowered,” but also confusingly describes the drawing as “intergenerational horseplay, non-genital and non-nude.” All we get to see of this drawing are the smiling faces of two men in t-shirts. Right, we still live in Canada.

Another problematic portion of Gay Art comes in the form of a chapter on early sources of gay art, as in 465 C.E. early. Can the art of time still be considered to have “homosexual content” even if the classification didn’t yet exist? The examination of early works is cursory, and also quite a leap from the bulk of the work in Gay Art, which was produced during the 1960s.

Rather unsurprisingly, this book being reprinted from 1972 doesn’t have a lot of new information to share, so this isn’t going to be for everyone. In any case, there is no shortage of hot and horny men in Gay Art. If you are looking to add to your collection, or take a stroll down memory lane this is a worthwhile pick-up. Be wary of the censors scalpel.

Gay Art: A Historical Collection
By Felix Lance Falkon with Thomas Waugh
Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, B.C.