Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Legend of Toni Gay and Butch Dykeman

Finally, I have my very own copy of the much ballyhooed School Day Romances #3 (Star Publications, May-June 1950).

The reason for this otherwise unremarkable comic's preternaturally long-lived notoriety is that is pairs up for the first time Toni Gay with Butch Dykeman. Yes, let that sink in for a bit.

The pair had existed before this, appearing in School Day Romances #1. At that time, though, Toni's last name was Gayle.

As both the editor of School Day Romances (L.B. Cole) and Toni Gay's artist (Norman Nodel/Nochem Yeshaya) have both died, we'll never know the truth behind whether  the name's were playful references to the queer community or 1950s innocence. While it could be that Toni Gay was meant to be a stylish ("tony") and carefree ("gay) woman, and Butch Dykeman was a masculine ("butch") and stylish ("diked out") man, I choose to believe that the unknown writer of the comic was cooler than that.

So I've included some thoughts on these culturally complex names.

Berrey and Van Den Bark's American Thesaurus of Slang, 1st edition, in 1942 defines a "dyke" or "dike" as a masculine woman, and use of the word "bulldyker" for a lesbian woman goes back to the 1920s. On the other hand, as late as the 20's, the phrase "diked out" was still also used to mean a well-dressed man, lending some ambiguity to the name.

"Butch" is a common enough first name or nickname for a man, but the use with "Dykeman" lends it a queer air. Butch and femme culture had been a part of lesbian culture (and gay male culture for that matter) for years by 1950. It was revealed to at least some of the heterosexual majority by 1954 with a San Francisco Examiner expose on lesbian "recruitment" wherein some teenage girls reports that the "butches" were the women who dressed in "mannish clothing" (see Boyd's Wide-Open Town, 2003).

Similarly, the meaning of the word "gay" was still in a state of flux in 1950. It was still commonly used at that time to mean carefree or unrestrained. It had also, however, begun taking on the meaning of homosexual since the 20's or earlier. See, for example. Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby.

For extra queer goodness, here are a couple of panels from other stories in the same issue.

Midge Martin, "Girl Reporter"

Ginger Snapp by Manny Stallman

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Alan Moore's Providence: Act 1

Providence: Act 1 by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows has just been released by Avatar Press.

I have been eagerly waiting this first collection of Providence for a while now. A gay protagonist in a Lovecraftian setting? Sold. Take my money.

And on page 8 we get a panel that may make this comic the gayest thing to ever happen in comics since Wolverine met Freddie Mercury.

Boom. Mic drop.

For those wondering what makes this so gay, "wearing her hair up" is old-timey gay slang for code switching/closeting oneself around the straight-folks and "dropping hairpins" is letting slip little signs that one is friends with a nice girl from Kansas named Dorothy.

Where might the great wizard Moore have learned of such peculiar bits of gay history? The fine commentators over at Facts in the Case of Alan Moore's Providence (a website that annotates Lovecraftian comics), discovered a video where Moore talks about reading George Chauncey's Gay New York. Chauncey engagingly writes about the history of the gay (and to a lessor degree lesbian) community of New York from 1890 to 1940. If you have the time and motivation, reading Gay New York ahead of or along side of Providence would help inform some of the references in it; though, it is by no means essential to appreciate the comic.

On a related note, one of my favorite sub-sub-genres is queer weird fiction. Admittedly, I've not managed to find a lot of content in this sure-to-be-the-next-big-thing area of culture. What does exist, though, is immensely satisfying.

Take for example Jordan L. Hawk's Whyborne & Griffin series (7 books and a few short stories strong), which checks the additional box of being set in Victorian times.

There's also the mildly underrated film Cthulhu, which is a guilty pleasure of mine that I have watched at least 4 times. The movie stars a gay history teacher with connections to what appears to be (despite the title) a Dagon cult. The themes of rural alienation and inability to escape one's roots works well from both a queer and Lovecraftian perspective.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Midnighter is Over...For Now

DC Comics has ended up canceling the Midnighter series after 12 issues. I never got around to picking up an issue or a trade, so I'm not really in a position to complain about the loss of one of our precious few LGBT-lead comics.

NewNowNext calls it the only gay-headed mainstream comic. I'm not entirely certain that's correct, but it sounds about right. At least we still have Constantine.

Batman, Robin, and Coded Queerness

Slate has another rehash of the old Batman and Robin are gay trope. The only new contribution as far as I could tell was the revelation that this infamous image of the Dynamic Duo was published in Batman #84 the same month that Fredric Wertham (of Seduction of the Innocent infamy) was giving his testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in April 1954.

DC Comics

For more on this topic, see Gay League and anything written on gays in comics ever.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Continuing Adventures of...Harold Hedd

Original Photo via Flickr user _dChris (CC BY 2.0 license)
Last weekend was The Locust Moon (publisher of Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, winner of the 2015 Eisner awards for Best Anthology and Best Publication Design) Comics Festival in Philadelphia. I had the chance to meet two comic book legends with ties to queer comic book history: X-Men writer extraordinaire Chris Claremont, who I got to sign my copy of New Mutants #45, and Bill Sienkiewicz, who I had sign Strip AIDS USA, which he co-edited and contributed to (squee for both of them and how pleasant they are). Local writer Dave Ebersole was also in attendance promoting his new 1940s supernatural noir detective series, Dash, published by Northwest Press. I'll have a write up of that gem in the days to come.  

One of the other real highlights was finally nabbing a copy of All Canadian Beaver Comics #1, purchased from none other than Denis Kitchen's wife. 

Published 1973 by The Georgia Straight, Distributed by Last Gasp
Beaver Comix reprinted an early strip of Rand Holmes' famous hippie character Harold Hedd, originally published in October 1971 in The Georgia Straight, a Vancouver underground newspaper. In the Straight, though, portions of the strip depicting graphic sex (puns!) or penises were censored, as detailed on the delightful StreetLaughter blog. This was during a period when comic book distributors--mostly owners of local stores--were not uncommonly being brought up on obscenity charges in both the US and Canada (see John Lent's Pulp Demons, 1999; Illinois vs. Correa, 1987). The Straight itself had been hit with obscenity charges nearly 30 times between 1967 and 1969 and had had tens of thousands of copies rounded up and destroyed by city police (see The Dependent's history of the Georgia Straight and this fun documentary). 

As luck would have it, I was able to hunt down a copy of the Harold Hedd issue in Penn's massive underground newspaper microfilm collection. You can see that the juicy bits have been pasted over with black bars and commentary from the editorial staff, but most of the core elements remain. Holmes, via Harold, lambasts the stereotyped and absurd views towards homosexuality of Dr. David Reuben in his Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). The censor-free strip as it appears in Beaver Comix, however, goes further and shows Harold and his partner fellating one another in a 69. This scene combined with the admonition in the final panel serves as a daring (at the time and still today) "fuck you" riposte to government and society, with the message that even if gays were sticking "canteloupes an light bulbs" up their asses, it is no one's business but their own. 

That message is diluted somewhat in the censored versions I've reproduced below. You can read the complete, uncensored version over at StreetLaughter

It should be noted that the creator Rand Holmes was unsurprisingly a rather queer person himself. His journals, reprinted in Patrick Rosenkranz's biography The Artist Himself, mention he was at one point of his life very much in "the gay scene" but soon discovered it was not for him, despite a fondness for fellatio (giving and receiving). Check out Graphically Inclined for more on Holmes' sexuality and gender identity. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review: Homosexuality: Legitimate, Alternate Deathstyle

Dick Hafer was an asshole. He wasn't always an asshole (like when he wrote about puppies or trains), but when he was an asshole, it was bad. Real bad.

Copyright 1986 Dick Hafer; Published by The Paradigm Company, Boise, Idaho

In 1986 he wrote this incredible piece of gay history. And I truly mean incredible--lacking all sense of credibility.

It's filled with such shocking statistics as 85% of homosexual men reporting that their first sexual encounter was with another man, whereas 96% of heterosexual men had their first encounter with a woman. Shocking!

Did you know that gay men have sex with between 300 and 500 partners? It's true! Dick helpfully illustrates how this is possible by showing the long line of men each of us has outside our bathroom homes, waiting to be serviced during our grueling 12-hour shifts.

One of the more remarkable chapters covers the History of Homosexuality, in surprisingly good detail given the context. Dick mentions that gays have been around for thousands of years and have faced significant legal and society persecution. He even works in references to the Mattachine Society, Frank Kameny, Stonewall, and the Gay Liberation Front.

Then, of course, it gets silly again and really drives home the whole "gay are perverts" thing by reducing gay mens' existences to the sole pursuit of sex and reminding us that gays are having sex in every national park and behind every patriotic memorial. It gets less silly when it celebrates the marines who assaulted gay men at the Iwo Jima memorial.

If you couldn't already tell, the book is a mess. The vast majority focuses on gay sex acts and how disgusting they must be, but every now and then the book will say something startlingly progressive like how gay men come from all walks of life and how cross-dressers may or may not be gay. There's also a halfway decent chapter on AIDS that looks much like gay-produced comic book primers from the same time period (with a little extra hysteria and a little more homophobia). Oh and later Dick will ponder if maybe AIDS was God's attempt to bring gay men closer to him. Better luck next time, big guy.

Dick's summary of the infamous gay agenda is rather spot-on:

But when discussing anti-gay laws and issues of "fairness," he gets a little confused:

Dick starts to wrap things up with chapters reminding us that gays are a) only interested in sex, b) disease vectors, c) pedophiles, and d) more likely to be criminals, especially mass murderers. Apparently we are even "31% more likely to report at least one traffic accident in the past five years!" [exclamation mark his]. A rational human being would see a statistic like that, recognize that a person's sexuality affecting their driving ability is mind-bogglingly stupid, and assume that the "study" that found this was probably flawed. Dick just goes with it.

Finally, we are assured that homosexuality can be cured, possibly AIDS too. In the meantime, though, we should probably impose a "total quarantine" (dead serious you guys) for all gay and bisexual men. You know, just to be safe.


For a primer on what gay people were up against in the 1980s, there are certainly worse sources out there. Deathstyle provides historical context, a summary of the social and legal hurdles facing the gay community, reveals the problems with early "research" about homosexuality, and reminds us that much (though not all) of the discrimination against queer people is driven by religious groups and individuals. It's also wildly entertaining if you read it as a self-parody.

Two big, gay thumbs up.

Comics With Problems scanned much of the book and has made it available online in two parts

Quick Picks: Dignity & Respect

Original Photo via Flickr user Steve Mohundro (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

From Dignity & Respect: A Training Guide on Homosexual Conduct Policy, published by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Department of the Army in 2001.

Scanned by Comics With Problems
...and oh what a story it would be.