Review: Gay Art: A Historic Collection by Felix Lance Falkon
Felix Lance Falkon
Edited with an Introduction and Captions by Thomas Waugh
Gay Art: A Historic Collection
Published by Arsenal Pulp Press
Reviewed by Paul Kane
This is a new, expanded and partially self-censored (for more about this, see below) edition of a book that was originally published by Greenleaf Classics in 1972. In essence, it is a collection of (male) homoerotic art, mostly dating from the 1950s, ‘60s and early ‘70s.
The first chapter, though, begins somewhat earlier, looking at homoerotic (and phallocentric) art in Ancient Greece and the ancient civilisations of Peru and India, before moving swiftly on to the Renaissance and the early 20th century. Although quite a rudimentary survey, some of the stuff here is quite fascinating. Such as a drawing of three sailors by Genet’s friend Paul Smara (in the same vein as some of the explicit paintings of sailors done by Charles Demuth, an artist not represented here) and another by Roland Caillaux that was apparently inspired by a passage from Genet’s novel Our Lady of the Flowers. The second chapter, entitled “Modern Musclemen”, concerns itself with the glorification of the mesomorphic male in physique magazines and the like.
The following chapters are the real gem. Chapters 3-9 are each devoted to a particular artist. The most well-known of these artists is (of course!) Tom of Finland and we also get Etienne, Hank and Blade (the pioneer and in many ways a presiding influence on all that followed). The use of pseudonyms is indicative of the fact that drawing dirty pictures, and indeed being gay, was a clandestine enterprise during this period (1945-1970); though such pseudonyms may also have been adopted out of choice, to establish a brand. Later artists, such as the deliciously nasty-minded Bastille and Oliver Frey with his “Zack” persona, also followed this practice. The remaining chapters (10-16) devote themselves to a particular theme, and titles here include “Orgies”, “Dungeons and Domination” (about sadomasochism), “The Super-Stud”, “Humour” (a lot of bestiality in this one!) and “Youth”.
Finally, the book addresses the question, Well, is any of this actually art? Of a sort seems to be the answer, which is probably fair enough. Using Kant’s aesthetic terms, one can say that the drawings here are agreeable and often beautiful (though beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say), but hardly sublime. For let’s be clear: these artists usually had a more modest and mundane purpose: to express and depict sexual fantasy and desire. Yet the best of them are also able (inadvertently, maybe) to capture a (sub)culture and evoke a world.
Felix Lance Falkon’s text from the original edition is intact, but a proportion of the original illustrations were unobtainable for copyright reasons. Also, seven of the illustrations included here have been cropped (i.e. self-censored); these all feature adolescent boys and sometimes (but not always) the suggestion of inter-generational sex. In his introduction, Thomas Waugh outlines the reasons for this in some detail (on pages 19-21) and it boils down to this: a warranted fear of prosecution under current Canadian and American law. It seems curious that illustrations it was OK to publish in 1972 cannot be reproduced 35 years later, but that is apparently the situation in which we find ourselves. And take note: unlike Nan Goldin’s recent absurd difficulties over the Klara and Edda photograph, these are drawings, acts of the imagination. Not photographs or video stills where an actual child, unwilling and unknowing, is depicted. There, one might well support censorship, of course.
Waugh does a good job of setting the book in its historical context and his captions are often erudite and witty, enhancing one’s enjoyment and appreciation of the pictures. I like especially his comment on Figure 59, an illustration by Graewolf (actually Felix Lance Falkon himself): “are these endless processions of smiling bodybuilders with spring-loaded hard-ons gay versions of [Henry] Darger’s hermaphrodite Vivian Girls?” Well, gay art is outsider art of a sort!
In summary, Gay Art: A Historic Collection, even in this slightly bowdlerised form, is an excellent book. It is a large paperback (measuring about 23 x 15cm), its 155 illustrations are well reproduced and at about £15 it’s great value. If you have any interest at all in homoerotic art you will get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Or perhaps, bearing in mind that Waugh calls the original edition of the book “the brazen-ur text of gay graphic smut”, you can think of someone for whom it would be an ideal Christmas present.
Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. Hewelcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at email@example.com
Interview with Anne Brooke by Liam Tullberg
Author Anne Brooke
Having written seven novels, Anne Brooke is an author with passion. In A Dangerous Man and Maloney’s Law, she focused on the gay central characters of Michael Jones and Paul Maloney, men who became her alter-egos while she wrote them. Here she shares her thoughts on their stories.
Tullberg: Anne, your novels, Maloney's Law and A Dangerous Man both have gay male central characters. What made you choose these protagonists?
Brooke: Their voices – Michael in A Dangerous Man and Paul in Maloney’s Law – were both so strong in my head that it would have been almost impossible not to choose them. A Dangerous Man came first and Michael was a character I’ve always wanted to write about. Writing him meant I got to know the dark side of myself a lot better.
With Paul, I dreamt the first scene in Maloney’s Law one night, woke up in the morning and simply wrote down that scene. Everything came from there. Actually, in many ways, Paul is similar to Michael, and just as screwed up, but as he’s older he’s more mature and able to cope better with his life by using humour. Something I suppose I’ve learnt for myself. I hope!
Tullberg: Well, they do say write what you know. So, how and why did you choose to write in first person perspective?
Brooke: I always write my gay male character novels in the first person perspective and my straight/bisexual female character novels in the third person. I find it very difficult to think like a woman and identify far more easily with Michael and Paul than I ever do with my female main characters. In fact some of the scenes in A Dangerous Man and in Maloney’s Law did, in effect, happen and I just rewrote them from my main character’s perspective. The “I” there in those cases is fairly interchangeable with me.
Tullberg: That’s really interesting. Did you do much research to get into the mind of these characters?
Brooke: I did very little character research as such – I just take the things in my own head which are hard, if not impossible, to express as a “UK British female” and express them in a male persona. It’s a relief to have some of this stuff out in the open, I can tell you! In many ways, it’s more a question of getting them out of my mind and onto the paper, rather than me getting into their minds. I think we’re already fairly joined at the hip – somehow.
Even now, I find myself in situations at work or in my personal life and wonder how Michael/Paul would deal with this or that. And, yes, I do talk to them still. Especially Michael. I suppose in that respect, it’s a way of tapping into my own strength and cussedness and using both in a way which I can’t do when I’m being “Anne”. That said, I’ve always enjoyed reading novels with strong-minded gay male characters, and have done from a very early age. I must be the only person I know who read all of “Dance to the Music of Time” before she was 15. And these days reading anything by Maria McCann, Patricia Duncker or Barry McCrea is always fantastic research!
In terms of other research, it’s fairly organic. I always do the writing first, then highlight issues I need to check out or go and investigate afterwards. For instance, after the almost-final version of A Dangerous Man was done, I went round London with my husband and pinpointed and photographed areas which meant something to Michael – eg Jack’s house, the gallery, where Michael starts off living etc etc. It made it more real, and I wanted to get London very much into the book, as it’s haunted me ever since I lived there in my 20s. I’ve always thought of the city as a very dangerous place and I hope that comes over in the novel too.
Tullberg: Yes, it does. Having read the novel, I can see that the city itself it almost as much a character as those with dialogue and actions. In regards to the development of your work, were the results what you had expected?
Brooke: No, to be honest. I didn’t think A Dangerous Man would be quite as dark and violent as it is. As I’ve already said, it’s certainly taught me a lot about myself. It also went through extraordinary amounts of changes. At the beginning, Michael was a cleaner rather than an artist, as I didn’t have the courage to believe I could carry it through if I made him into something that I didn’t know much about. When The Literary Consultancy persuaded me to make him into something more interesting, I took that step, wiped out 80-90% of what I’d written and then started again with him obsessed with his art. At that point, it was strange that the parts where he’s drawing became simpler than I’d anticipated – I just wrote about his drawing as if I were writing about writing. If you see what I mean. Which means that Michael’s anger, his obsession, his passion about his art, his incredible frustration with the business he’s in is actually mine. In many ways, I made myself more vulnerable in Michael than I have in any of my characters. It actually became quite frightening putting all that in, as well as exhilarating.
With Paul, yes, the results were nearer to what I’d thought the novel would be. The things that surprised me were how much of a “now” feeling the novel has – everything Paul does is done in the current time, so the whole novel is written in the present tense. The reader sees almost everything (excepting two flashbacks) as it happens to Paul. In fact this concept of time became a vital part of who he is, and his obsession with trying to control it. The other thing that surprised me with Maloney’s Law was when I was about one-quarter of the way through, I was getting very twitchy and knew something was missing, something was wrong with it, though I had no idea what. Then one morning, I woke up and heard a voice in my head saying, as clearly as if there had been someone else in the room: what about my sister? At that point, everything became clear and I had the key to Paul’s character – once I’d written her in, the novel took on a whole new life. I really enjoyed it. In fact, Maloney’s Law is probably the novel I’ve enjoyed writing the most, whereas A Dangerous Man is possibly the novel where I gave most away.
Tullberg: Having looked at your website, I see that Maloney's Law is set to be published in the States. That must be an exciting prospect.
Brooke: Very much so! So far it’s been a joy to work with PD Publishing, and I’m very glad that they chose to take it on, especially as they specialise in gay/Lesbian fiction. I’m also hoping that having a novel in the States will help widen my readership a little, as I like to think I might have something to offer (when I’m feeling confident, that is!), and it seems easier to sell gay novels in the US than it is in the UK. At least, that’s certainly been my experience. I’ll have to see!
Tullberg: I’ve got my fingers crossed for you. Now, you’ve been writing for seventeen years. What's your writing routine like? Do you have any strange habits when it comes to putting pen to paper/fingers to keyboard?
Brooke: In terms of fiction, I used to aim for 2000 words every writing day (I write two or three days each week when I’m not doing my paid job), but this became too much. So if I can do 1000 words in a day, then I’m happy. It keeps the whole thing moving – if I stop for too long, it’s much harder to get back into it. I tend to write fiction straight to the screen (although this can vary if I feel I need the extra stimulus which comes from doing it differently), but write poetry out in longhand first before transferring it to the computer.
I do always have a writing “tic” which keeps me going. I used to fiddle with a broken green rubber band in between typing, but it just became too fragmented. Sadly! Now, I can’t start my writing day without playing two games of computer Solitaire, and I always go back to this if I have a mental pause. It helps me sort plot out when I’m doing something else, I think.
Tullberg: That’s great. So, Anne, what advice would you give to someone poised to write their first novel?
Brooke: Write what YOU want to write, not what the market says you should write. First and foremost, you write for you, not other people. If you get that right, then you’ll produce the best book that you can. But if you try and change what you have inside to suit others’ expectations, then you’ve failed at the first hurdle. And, hey, you don’t have to write every day either – it’s a myth! Most of all though, enjoy it. Apart from your relationship with your partner/family/friends, it’s the best thing ever.
Liam Tullberg is currently working on his novel, Keeping You A Secret, and can be contacted through www.liamtullberg.com
Labels: Author Interview
Review: The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
The Stone Gods
Published by Hamish Hamilton Ltd
Reviewed by Drew Gummerson
This book is Jeanette Winterson doing science-fiction. Whatever that means? For this is Winterson’s book which most deals with the here and now.
The planet, not Earth (not yet) but Orbus is in trouble. The natural resources have been used up, it’s got perhaps fifty years left, and it is being plagued by clouds of red dust which cause all it citizens to don special masks.
At the opening of the book the citizens of Orbus are given a second chance. A new planet, Planet Blue, has been discovered. It is like Orbus sixty-five million years previously except that it has dinosaurs, large beasts with ‘metal-plated jaws’. It also has forests and trees and oxygen and beauty.
Billie Crusoe, a scientist, and Spike, a robot (or more specifically, a robo sapiens) are sent to this planet. Their mission is... Well, that would give too much away.
Winterson uses the future setting to critique what is wrong with our society. Her future is one of greed and destruction. Commercialism has gone mad / bad. With money you can set your age permanently. Everybody is beautiful, ‘except for rich people and celebrities, who look better. That’s what you’d expect in a democracy’. Sex has become a commodity, natural food a thing of the past.
This section is not without its faults. At times it is too polemical, it wears its learning too much on its sleeve and you wonder sometimes why the narrator is explaining every nuance of her society.
But the faults are minor. This is a book with a quantum plot. Words fizz like sub-atomic particles. History repeats itself, quite literally, and Billie and Spike weave in and out of multifarious worlds. There’s a sequence on Easter Island in the 18th Century and, my favourite, post-apocalyptic Earth.
This last, in my opinion, is the most successful. Abandoned train carriages containing bars form a dividing line between Tech City and Wreck City. Wreck City harbours an alternative life-style. Nebraska and Alaska, two gorgeous girls, have looted World of Leather to create a chic home. Fires burn in bins. Nuns come and go. Parties happen. People talk about what it means to be human.
‘It means art, it means time, it means all the invisibles never counted by the GDP and the census figures. It means knowing that life has an inside as well as an outside.”
It means stories. It means books. Like this one. Go buy it. Drew Gummerson lives in Leicester, England. In 2002 his first book 'The Lodger' was published. It was a finalist in the Lambda Awards in the States. Drew’s next book 'Darts' was a finalist in the UKA/PABD Great Read Novel Competition. Drew’s latest novel 'Me and Mickie James' is due to be published in July 2008 by Jonathan Cape.