Looking Back At Gay Hearthrobs #1

 

gayhearthrobsover1Trashing A Milestone In Gay Comics History

Over the years I’ve searched for old issues of  LGBT themed comics. I’ve written elsewhere about the first gay comic I came across and purchased, Howard Cruse’s Gay Comix #1. Sometimes I’ve had quick success and other times I’ve missed out. Gay Hearthrobs was one of the titles that kept eluding me., if mainly because of cost. I know. Sometimes cost isn’t as big a factor with older comics, but the idea of buying things for at bargain prices was deeply instilled in me by my mother.  And one day my patience paid off!

The day the envelope arrived in the mail I carefully ripped it open. The comic was in good shape. There was the cover image of two classical-looking slender youths in a garden with Bambi, Cupid, and Pan as onlookers. Turning the cover, I saw an illustration that had a stylized Kaluta flair and the quality art in the first story made me excited. I began thumbing through the rest of the comic and was disappointed. Reading the comic from front to back confirmed what my eyes were telling me. This comic, while undoubtedly historically important in the history of gay comics, is a steaming pile of your neighbor’s Great Dane’s excrement with a couple of pearls mixed in. There, I typed it and feel better for it.

Let’s start by working through all the poo first, shall we? “Oedipus Ritz” is, simply said one hell of a bizarre story. And I don’t mean “bizarre” in the sense that Grant Morrison can churn out some bizarre, high concept ideas. The art is crude, but a good choice if you want to make a confusing story even more confusing. I think I probably would have repressed my sexuality more if the dicks in this story had been the first I’d ever seen. Thankfully I had already spied my share of them in gym locker rooms as a purely precautionary measure. As for the story, hell, I can’t even be certain what it really was meant to be about it. The more I look at the art and think about reading the story again, the more I’m convinced the person responsible for this eleven paged fiasco did it while on a bad acid trip. It says this story is an “excerpt of an excerpt” and I want to think it might make better sense if read in its entirety, but that would mean having to look at the art. What makes matters worse as far as I’, concerned is the artist was given the two interior covers for one pagers. The first one is sort of a pin up picturing a naked, bearded man running out the front gate of his family home. The mother shouts “Shoot him, John! Shoot him!!” and the father proclaims “No son of mine is gonna turn queer and live!!” At least here the artist takes more time and care, and the notion of parents’ (figuratively) screaming for the bloody murder of a gay child wasn’t so far-fetched then or now. Remember Zack the gay teenager blogger whose parents sent him away to be “reformed”?The second one pager is just as nonsensical as the artist’s main story though.

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“The Brothers Rim” have two short strips. The art is marginally better than that in Oedipus Ritz. The strip’s saving graces are its messages about confronting homophobia and coming out. Also a plus is the artist’s decision to draw the characters as bearded and either fat or out of shape instead of what had passed as the stereotype in the mid 70s.

A pin up titled Gay Bear Love is a bit on the creepy side. Three cutesy bears cavort in an outdoor scene with cheesy hearts floating in the air. One is meant to be an adult and the other two are younger. All three sport erections and Papa bear has a ghoulish grin as he cums. Junior bear tries to emulate Papa and Baby bear just isn’t quite sure what to make of things.

“The Satisfying Revenge” has some very specific details in the story that makes me think the artist is incorporating them from his life. In this short, five-page story, Peter Longman interviews Rene Heller, spokesman for the “Gay Liberation Front” for “Cock Comix.” Peter asks Rene to relate for the readers his first sexual experience. That incident, like many of our own real life experiences, involves a lot of painful back-story connected to families. In this case, Rene’s older brother imitates their father’s abusive behavior with their mother, only with Rene as the target. Rene leads a solitary life, spending a lot of time at a favorite place, a small pond where he feels free to swim naked. One day, a naked stranger named Noel appears. Desperate for kindness and attention falls for the stranger’s schmaltzy “What could possibly be wrong with sweet, beautiful…love!” and lets Noel “pump thrust after thrust into me with piston-like regularity” until “with a great shudder and a tightened grip he poured molten lava into me!” Yeah, it reads that badly

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The young guys give into their raging hormones and we’re witnesses to some of the sex thanks to some crudely drawn panels. Storytelling, especially bad storytelling, requires tragedy to strike. Indeed it does when Rene’s parents’ die in a freakish car accident. Oh, well, there’s still Fritz, the mean brother, to bully Rene. And that’s what he tries to do until Noel delivers a surprising left hook and knocks out Fritz. Noel concocts a plan to dope Fritz and use forced sex to turn him gay.

The story’s last three panels are back in the present time. A doorbell rings, interrupting Peter and Rene who are now completely naked. Peter exclaims, “Hurry back, Rene! I simply can’t wait to—er—ah—hear more about this—revenge!” Rene replies, “We did it, Peter and I think you’re about to meet—the end product!” as he opens the door to reveal a grotesque looking Fritz wearing a cape, and mesh top and briefs that must’ve been design rejects for International Male. And the garter thing is to die for.

Sheesh.

I know revenge fantasies are common. Who hasn’t thought about forcing homophobes like Rick Santorum, Karl Rove, George Bush or your boss or neighbor into non-consensual gay sex? Hell, I’ve had a fewof my own, but these days revenge fantasies involve making politicians to use Medicare Part D. I think it’s being confronted with this person’s unique revenge fantasy poorly drawn and told that creeps me out. I’d like to give the artist credit for trying to integrate his people and objects into background because he is more successful than the artist on “Oedipus.” Then, I have to take away points for drawing such incredibly busy backgrounds (imagine someone wearing plaid plants, a paisley shirt and a hounds tooth jacket!), distorted faces, stiff bodies, and some of the biggest assed male hips on the drawn page or real life.

Great Caesar’s ghost! The centerfold would certainly throw Frederic Wertham into a red-faced rant. It’s a comic cover mock up titled “World’s Queerest Comics,” issue #69 from AC/DC Comix. As you can imagine from the title’s cue, the subject is a parody of the World’s Finest Duo: Batfag is nearing climax thanks to Super Bastard’s firm grip on his erection as Jimmy Olsen and Robin analogs look on in shock and hurt betrayal. I appreciate the sarcastic seal of approval that states: “Approved By the Comix Crowd of Tuckers.”

Next up is “Big Guns on the Panseyrosa” featuring Kid C*nt and Climax the Wonder Hoss. Sorry, the names are not made up. The story takes place on a ranch in the Old West where a group of cowboys wear only chaps and vests (okay, that’s a pretty common fantasy, especially after Brokeback Mountain) and are bossed around by a fat, buck-toothed nelly queen who plays “Momsie.” These guys have never seen a woman, so they’re uncertain how to treat Kid C*nt when she and her worn out horse arrive. The Kid saddles up to cowboy Rock Hardee despite Momsie’s threats. Here’s some text that surprised me. The Kid exclaims, “Ahh! Who’d ever think…a little brown jig among all the fruit trees!” Hardee is the sole black character in this strip and the entire comic. In what may be a thought caption for Hardee reads: “I may live on a faggot ranch…but I’m still a n*****!” [Underline used in the original.] So, yeah, Kid and Rock knock their boots together, or “[hauls] ashes” as she calls it while Momsie gathers her boys to give Kid “what for!” The Kid starts shooting her pistol willy nilly at all the nelly boys because she’s just getting started on her three-day sex binge with a now very unwilling Rock. Finally sated, Kid rides off into the sunset on Climax while a teary-eyed and be-wigged Rock clutches Momsie.

The art is some of the better in this issue. It reminds me of art I used to see in Mad Comics a long time ago. I have to say that Kid has the biggest breasts outside of a Jim Balent character or Power Girl that I have ever seen bestowed on a woman in comics.

Well, with two exceptions. The artist for “The Fun Adventures of Ozzle and Harrial Bumsterp” draws his two female characters with ginormous breasts. I mean, even Balent breasts aren’t this big! The Bumsterp kitchen looks like it’s right out of the 1950s, and Harrial’s pearl necklace looks like June Cleaver might have worn it. She’ll have nothing to do with Ozzle’s libido, and he checks into a sleazy hotel. The bellhop gets back at him for offering such a cheap tip, and sends over big-breasted Betty to entertain him. Like your worst boyfriend, he’s a lousy and selfish lay and he falls asleep immediately afterward. And “Holy Dan Savage!” Inspiration strikes Betty. From out of thin air, resourceful Betty dons a strap-on and, to borrow a phrase, pumps thrust after thrust into Ozzle’s artistically drawn prone butt. Later at home, Harrial remarks on how changed her husband is while he peruses a gay skin magazine. Setting aside the act or notion of coerced sex, the message is anal penetration does a straight man some good by turning him gay.

Thanks to Dan Savage we know that some straight guys like to be “pegged” by women, and it doesn’t mean they’re gay. And thanks to all of those pious and uptight conservatives who really want to dictate all sexual expressions this little two-pager still has some relevance today in light of all those Family Values morals bandied about.

Here’s the best for last. “Made For These Arms” is the first story and its artwork is the best drawn and professional. I’m reminded of Estaban Maroto’s art. Its style is taken right from romance comics of the time. A dashing man named Larkin Maxwell spies a glamorous woman by herself in a very tony bar, and he feels irresistibly drawn to her. They talk over a drink, and the pair becomes entranced with each other. On the outside it’s fantasy come to life, but they each have a deep secret. One afternoon Clarice meets Larkin at a romantic park where he proposes to her, and in best melodramatic fashion, he’s left confused when she refuses his offer, and instead, runs off. The last two panels reveal their secrets. While undressing, Larkin thinks, “It’s not who or what we love but that we do love! After all, it’s not everyday two people meet who are made for each other!” As the clothes come off Larkin is revealed to be a woman. Clarice enters a theater and thanks to the marquee we learn she is really “the world’s greatest female impersonator.” Oy, the plot is still hackneyed.

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Okay, my trashing these stories is finished. My disappointed comments in a thirty-year old comic don’t negate its importance, especially since it is considered to be the first all male gay comic (not counting the aforementioned and elusive Bat Fag from 1966). In today’s age of the Internet, overnight shipping, direct market, web comics, and blogs it’s easy to forget or be unaware of the efforts it must have taken to produce and, perhaps more importantly, distribute this comic. I can still remember my amazement at finding Gay Comix #1 on a spinner rack in a newspaper stand on my route Chicago’s Howard El train stop. Laws regulating pornography and its definition was surely different in 1976 than in 2006, and there was no CBLDF to help any shop owner or distributor if they’d been arrested. How did the editor find and convince people to contribute work? The indicia has an address in San Francisco and I imagine there was at least one gay friendly printer at the time.

I’ve often heard the comment from other gay readers that a gay or lesbian creator doesn’t guarantee a good comic. Lordy knows that can indeed be true with comics still today as it was in gay comics’ infancy. Not every LGBT person is a reservoir of genius and talent. A friend has a hardcover collection of Harry Chess strips, one of the first documented gay strips, and I’ve tried to read them. I just can’t force myself to read more than a few pages before giving up. Maybe the next time I’ll drink a couple of beers while reading it.

Despite trashing most of the comic, I’m glad to own a copy. It’s always important to have markers along the journey to compare where we once were and where we may be now in order to know where we might go next.

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2 Responses to “Looking Back At Gay Hearthrobs #1”

  1. Robert L. Mason says:

    That is a great piece of blog writing in regard to the ore-1970’s era.

    That s a first time to hear or know about “Harry Chest” gay comic strips.

    Any way to post the works of “Bat Fag” comix?

    I wonder whether the SF GLBT archives have handfuls of gay comic book collection, Joe Palmer?

    Warm regards,
    Robert

  2. Joe Palmer says:

    Hi Robert. Thanks for the comment here and at the blog. It didn’t appear right away because all first time commenters haves to be approved. Cuts spam way, way down.

    That piece was written probably sometime between 2006 and 2008. Sorry, I can’t be more specific.

    That blog is open to anyone and everyone. Being an introvert, I’m fairly terrible at marketing and promotion.

    That’s a good question about SF’s LGBT archives. I’d like to think so, but I haven’t a clue.

    Here’s something else you may be interested in. I have to admit that it’s woefully out of date for the past several years.
    http://www.gayleague.com/wordpress/lgbt-comics-timeline/

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