To paraphrase the rap artist, at this point in time I’d like to share a few words about my libido. Working on Burlesque-A-Pades the last few weeks has caused me to do some thinking about the relationship between sex and comedy, both in the culture-at-large, but also in my own life. In the process, I remembered something…something from my formative years.
Unlike most normal little boys in our unhealthy society, I never had much access to girlie magazines (isn’t it customary to find dad’s old copies of Playboy in the garage?). I’ve always counted this omission in my development as a sort of blessing. I’m no Phil Donahue, but, on the other hand, I was never conditioned (as so many seem to be) to prefer pictures of women over actual women, or to seek an unrealistic, obsessive ideal over the wondorous variety of natural body types. Don’t get me wrong. STILL obsessed with sex. STILL obsessed with women. In fact, undoubtedly more so — I seem to find 95% of them attractive, as opposed to the 5% the media encourages us to prefer.
Still, I WAS once a pubescent…and there WAS something out in the garage. (Our garage was actually an old carriage house we called the “barn”). In a trunk full of my dad’s old Air Force things, I found a book full of naughty cartoons. And this was my relatively innocent (if unusual) launch platform into sexual orbit. When I was a kid, I was kind of embarrassed about it. The other guys all had Playboy and Penthouse; all I had was this. But in retrospect, I think it was a very good thing. For me, sex and art and humor and imagination are all interconnected. I haven’t spent my life seeking a woman who looks like or is as well-behaved (silent, smiling, two dimensional), as a picture of another woman.
But enough with the piety. Anyone who is familiar with the magazine in question will be mighty amused that anyone would ever try to associate reading it with “virtue”. The periodical in question was called Sex to Sexty, and it was published from early 1965 through 1983 by a gentleman in that hotbed of the mainstream publishing business, Fort Worth, Texas. I Googled it recently, and learned that “the best of” had been published in an enormous coffee table book, with forwards by Diane Hanson and Mike Kelley. It now sits on my shelf.
The editors have subtitled it “The Most Vulgar Magazine Ever Made” not so much for its sexual content, which is no worse than that of other men’s magazines but because of the odd proliferation of hillbilly humor therein. This was its niche apparently, and explains the magazine’s wide popularity with servicemen during the Vietnam years. The mix of sexual revolution era freedom combined with rural humor strikes a chord (in fact, a banjo chord) not unlike Hee Haw (remember Barbi Benton?), and one comes across a larger than usual degree of cartoons featuring first cousins “doing it” in the haystacks; mental defectives in overalls in amorous pursuit of livestock, and door-to-door salesmen defiling farmer’s daughters. It won’t surprise anyone who’s seen House of Trash to learn I read this magazine.
But that’s only a portion of the content (granted a prominent one, as the magazine’s covers were usually this sort of cartoon). The fact that it exists at all is what gives Sex to Sexty its niche identity. The rest of the cartoons have the same sort of content we associate with the cartoons in other magazines: housewives seducing milkmen, sailors making love to mermaids, lecherous gynecologists and their patients, little kids playing “post office”. Like anything else, there are aesthetic rules, an iconography. Streetwalkers are always leaning on lamp-posts and adorned with hoop earrings, beauty marks and fish-net stockings. The women are all either nude, topless, or at least buxom and cleavagey, with gravity-defying melons. They all wear the old-style (pre-nylon) stockings with garters. Let us say, it is repetitious without being the slightest bit boring.
My favorite of the cartoonists (both then and now) was a gentleman named Bill Ward. I Googled him and he turns out to have a following among aficionados of so-called “Good-Girl Art”. He is most famous for illustrating a naughty comic book called “Torchy”. He also contributed to Cracked magazine, which is no doubt where I first encountered his distinctive work. I like some of the other artists, too, but on any page of cartoons, Ward’s will pop out as being far in advance of the rest. They’re usually funnier, but more importantly they are just more visually arresting. Let us just say, Mr. Ward put his heart and soul into his work. The women he draws all tend to look like Tina Louise or Liz Taylor in Butterfield 8. And isn’t that the gold standard, in certain departments?
I’m leery about posting any of the racier ones here, but I do hope you will check some of them out at this link. (It should go without saying that the content you will find there is “mature”…even if it is immature).
I’m not saying this material is not sexist. It is, above all, that. So it’s not likely to be a permanent part of our library (I prefer our in-house librarian). I acquired the book as a reminder that it existed, to see what it looked like after all these years, in the same way I re-engaged with my old comics and Mad Magazines when my dad passed away a few years ago. I just wanted to look at it again to know that it was real. Miraculously, it is. If you’re interested in checking it out, you can get it here.