Last Thursday night saw two Turnaround-ers chivvy themselves out of the end-of-the-week slump and into Soho for Gosh’s event, ‘Graphic Sex Talk with Stephen Lowther of The Wellcome Collection.’
The talk was so rich with anecdotes and so resplendent with colourful visual examples that it would be nigh on impossible to recall them all. Here, then, are my top-five fascinating titbits instead.
1) Perhaps the first ‘sex comics’ were the so-called ‘Tijuana Bibles’, known also as ‘eight-pagers.’ These were palm-sized pornographic comics produced in the U.S between the 1920s and 1960s. Due to the comics code, they were illegal, though were often to be found being passed between G.I.s in the trenches. They featured sexed-up versions of characters from popular newspaper strips; the surreality of which makes them good for a laugh, whether or not these more dated examples can truly seem erotic now!
2) Tijuana Bibles were produced for men. The women’s equivalent were so called ‘Romances.’ These were short comic strips that featured women being swept off their feet – in between adverts for menstrual products. Because that’s as close as 1950s America could get to sex depicted for women’s enjoyment: romance + periods.
Thank God the ’80s bought us Love and Rockets eh?
3) Moving over to Britain, perhaps the earliest example of sex comics were the Bamforth Postcards. These were crude one-shot images (literally, they were postcards) that you would buy on your holidays at the seaside and send back home from Blackpool to the stuffiest of your aunts to embarrass her.
4) Back to America – the first gay character ever to be given his own monthly was Kevin Keller, of Archie fame. Keller was notable for not confirming to contemporary stereotypes about gay men. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed and sporty, he was every inch the true-blue American.
(Kevin Keller: Top of the World is available to buy from Turnaround HERE)
5) Historically, there has been a fascinating connection between sex and horror. This has been particularly evident in Italian comics, (known as Fumetti). Those interested to know more might like to read Korero book Sex and Horror, which details the work of Fumetti illustrator of the ’70s and ’80s, Emanuele Taglietti.
Why sex has so often been depicted in the context of horror wasn’t discussed on the night, but we’re curious to know more. Our best guesses are killing two taboos with one stone? If you were going to go to the trouble of getting things past customs for one transgression, perhaps you might as well throw a few others in? If anyone knows, do be in touch to teach us more!
As ever, thanks go to Gosh for running such an excellent programme of accessible educational events.