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. 


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