Thursday, August 15, 2013

Jerking Off to Comic Books (for Robin Bougie)

Sure, I admit it: I have jerked off to comic books. But you have to understand the context: when I began masturbating (at age 12, in 1980), porn wasn't so easy to come by. The internet didn't exist, home video had barely begun, and actually buying an adult magazine required a shamelessness and a ballsiness I did not possess, at least until a few years later, when I bought my first issue of Playboy at a drugstore. That, as it happens, was the April 1982 issue of Playboy, pictured below, and even then, at the hormonally raging age of 14, I was absolutely terrified that the clerk - a matronly middle-aged woman - would refuse to sell it to me, demand to call my parents, or say something humiliating about how I probably wasn't buying it for the articles... Within a couple of years I had a goodly-sized stack o' porn under my bed, but that single Playboy - simply by virtue of being the only one I owned at that time - surely has to hold the record for the magazine I have stroked off to more than any other; I was in a monogamous relationship with that one magazine for months before acquiring my second and third...
Before I got up the guts to buy that first ever stroke mag, tho', I had to make do with what was, so to speak, at hand. Often that meant late night TV, when my parents were out or asleep, when you could sometimes catch late night screenings of Emmanuelle or The Vampire Lovers or other racy fare on Canadian channels. When I finally got a TV in my room, I could stay up late on weekends getting all sweaty-palmed as I channel surfed with an erection. A glimpse of tit on the French channel? The 20 Minute Workout? The Solid Gold Dancers?
I jacked off to all of these things and more, sometimes sitting for hours, changing channels, hoping to stumble across something that stimulated me. In fact, I was exposed to some pretty great culture through that very quest for wank material - that was how I first got curious about Zabriskie Point, when I saw the hippie lovemaking scene on the late late show, though I don't think I actually got off on it at the time. I believe I stopped and thought - "hey, that looks pretty interesting, but it's not actually sexy." Followed maybe by, "Jeezus, I think I just saw some guy's balls on TV! What the hell IS this movie, anyway...?"

Jerking off to TV wasn't always practical, however - particularly since masturbation felt so much safer behind a locked bathroom door, especially when the parents were home or awake. You couldn't bring the TV in there with you, but you could easily sneak in the Sears catalogue, for the bra section, say. I'm pretty sure I read my first issue of Creem in the bathroom a few times, too, for that photo of Joan Jett walking on the beach in a red top that hugged and complimented her breasts. There was a book on science fiction movies that I remember liking for a nudie shot of Valerie Perrine, in the film Slaughterhouse Five, and a movie mag that had an honest-to-god centrefold of a skimpily clad Caroline Munro. Of course, this has made its way online:
And yes, in those pre-porn years, I would occasionally get off to comic books: because no matter how racy the subject matter in some of the comics I bought, it took a fair bit for anyone to object to a kid buying a comic - at least until my father took the time to read an issue of Commies From Mars that I bought at The Comic Shop, during my underground comic years, which came a bit later. He wasn't a big Greg Irons fan, I guess: he made me get rid of it and forbade any more Commies From Mars in his household. But I wasn't jerking off to Commies From Mars, anyhow - and it was the rude political content he found objectionable, not the sexual stuff, as I recall...
No, no, folks: for stroke material, I would go crazy on Vampirella, and Heavy Metal, and 1984, and... well, whatever else I could find that was sexy. Warren magazines often had the odd sexually themed story, or suggestive panel, or glimpse of comic book nudity. Those were the years, understand, when I could brush up against a table at the right level and my dick would suddenly get hard; when frickin' tables can give you an erection, a magazine cover like this can all but make you stain your underwear:
When I bought Eerie or Creepy (also Warren publications), I would actually read the stories, but Vampirella - well, there was another reason I liked her.  Warren publications knew their target market very, very well.
If there was ever any single comic artist who knew where I was, erm, coming from, sexually, as a teenaged boy, it was Richard Corben. I would hate to guess the number of times I jerked off to images in his Den series, in Heavy Metal - sadly turned into the stuff of comedy in the film adaptation, with John Candy giving Den the voice and thought processes of an adolescent male, but played pretty much straight up as a heroic sex fantasy in the magazine. It would have to be in the hundreds, at least. I really, really liked the way Corben depicted the heft and curve of the female breast, and I enjoyed his hyper-real arbrushed art style... and I did read the stories, too! I don't have as much nostalgia for my masturbatory teenaged self as I do other aspects of my life - I would bet Cinema Sewer's Robin Bougie, by comparison, has a whole closetful of stroke material from his younger years - but I actually bought an old back issue of Eerie magazine based on my fond recollection of the Richard Corben cover art (and the story therein which it illustrates). I know that magazine is one I masturbated to, back in the day - and not just for the cover, though it's pretty remarkable, innit?
Thinking on it, you can't get a more perfect illustration of the transition from boyhood to manhood - from dinosaurs to naked women - than that cover, really; and what better metaphor for the teenaged penis than a reptilian, lustful horn, pointed savagely at the female of the species?

I would hate to think what 13 year olds jerk off to nowadays. I'm sure any adults who make art like the above, in magazines aimed at young people, would be viewed most suspiciously in the current climate - and rightly so, perhaps - but I haven't cracked the cover on an actual contemporary kid-oriented comic book in a long time; God knows what's in them now. I suspect that comics and other print publications that kids can get their hands on are far more regulated than they were during my pre-porn heyday (1980-1982). Also, they likely have less incentive to try to pitch themselves at horny youths, since kids today can doubtlessly find anything they want by way of stimulation online and don't need comics for their sexual content. (I bet the Sears catalogue doesn't get snuck into the bathroom very much these days, either). Besides, for those without access to the internet, there's a whole new class of magazine - from swimsuit issues to Maxim - that didn't exist when I was young. My masturbating to comic books at age 12 and 13 was a matter of deprivation, of making due, of being hungry for sexual stimuli and not having any other easy access to it; it was the equivalent of guys having sex with other guys in prison, because there weren't any women around (except, in my case, real ones, who were terrifying and mysterious and not at all interested in weird chubby kids like me).
Now that I'm an adult, now that I have the freedom to jerk off to pretty much whatever I want (within obvious legal limits), I don't NEED sexy comics to stimulate myself, and more importantly, I don't want them. I'm still curious about sexually themed comics and animation - I've peeked at the odd hentai manga, and I watched the Urotsukidouji movies and found them fascinating - but that shit doesn't turn me on; it amuses me, it startles me, it can be very oddly entertaining and revealing of the psychology of its authors - but good God, jerk off to it? Why? Why, when I have a girlfriend on the one hand and the internet on the other and a few pornos on DVD on the side? It's not like I have a tentacle fetish or anything. For an adult male to jerk off to cartoons or comic books... that's just wrong, isn't it?

This brings us to the point of the article.
I picked up Robin Bougie's fourth and newest Cinema Sewer anthology the other day. To be honest, I feel a bit like Colin Upton in regards some of the stuff Bougie writes about/ draws. Bougie has a free-range enthusiasm for some pretty twisted stuff - from hardcore bondage to Brazilian fart porn to films and kinks I have not heard of, he pretty much seems fearless, unwilling or unable to censor himself, and disinclined to view pretty much anything that consenting adults get off on through a moralizing, condemnatory eye. While I could take sides with anti-porn feminists about a few of the films he writes about, for the most part, his content doesn't offend me - I'm just far more vanilla in my porn consumption, and in my sexuality in general. I read him talking about jerking off to Brazilian fart porn somewhere; I haven't even exposed myself to it, and have absolutely no desire to do so, and really do not feel like I'm missing anything.
True to that, the stuff I read first when I pick up a Cinema Sewer anthology is usually the stuff that deals with straightforward, non-pornographic cinema. Robin has articles in the current anthology on film noir, for instance - including his description of Panic in the Streets, an excellent Jack Palance/ Richard Widmark movie that he himself turned me onto at the Videomatica rental store some years ago (thanks, man!). He has another piece in defense of Brian DePalma, whom I also admire (though why Bougie rejects Redacted and ignores Casualties of War, Snake Eyes, and Hi, Mom - three of DePalma's finest!- is beyond me). He has a page on "Crazy Hong Kong Subtitles" that he's compiled that is filled with fun (including lines like "How can you use my intestines as a gift?" and "We cops. Have no time for farts" - taken from films I have never heard of, let alone seen). This is all very enjoyable reading, and well within my frame of reference and comfort.

On the other hand, his 2007 article on "The Public Sex of Sonan," about a Japanese teen who gets off on having sex in grocery stores and such, simply doesn't speak to me the way the other content does (though now that I've flipped through the book looking for an example of something I normally wouldn't read til last, suddenly I want to read that article... And I'm keen to read "Ted Bundy: Porn Made Me Do It," having just watched the compelling serial killer movie Riverman, with Cary Elwes as Bundy and Bruce Greenwood as a detective who interviewed him...)

Two things really struck me in flipping through the book, however. First, in regards all the drawings of masturbating nuns, Jesus with a giant erection, countless girls performing fellatio, a girl (on page 149) on her hands and knees, spreading open her asshole with both hands... this stuff is actually pretty healthy, I think. It doesn't make sense, given how normal and ubiquitous sex is, that we repress so much of it - that there is so much hypocrisy, so much dishonesty, so much confusion and obfuscation when it comes to communicating about sex in our culture. That girl spreads her asshole, and I think, "right on!" Even the illustration on page 93, capturing a scene from a Latin American film in which a woman is being forced to perform oral sex at gunpoint... while I find the idea objectionable, don't want to see the film, don't find the image arousing, and feel no impulse to produce such images myself - as a cartoon, it doesn't really bother me; and it seems valuable that Bougie doesn't restrain himself from representing such images. I think I'd rather live in a culture where representations of sex and sexuality, even in extreme forms, flourished aboveground and in the arena of public discourse, than in one where it was repressed and shamed and forced underground; that's where the real sickness starts, when shame and guilt and fear and confusion and the inability to communicate openly about ones thoughts, desires, feelings - however weird! - make people turn to perverse and private and often antisocial means of gratifying themselves - or where shame and repression lead to hatred and the desire to strike back... I see absolutely nothing of that in Bougie's work, even at its weirdest, and see far more grim a threat in the idea of government censorship than I do in the obsessive drawings of some horny nutcase with a pencil (I mean that in a good way, Bougie, really I do).

The second thing that struck me, though, was a comment Bougie made in an interaction with a fan, on page 47, where he proudly declares that what he makes is porn, not erotica, and says (in a little speech-bubble, beside a cartoon image of himself) that "jerking off to what I draw is the ultimate compliment." Suddenly my head did a little flip-around and I scanned the book again and thought, "Jesus Christ, are people actually jerking off to this stuff?" To hand-drawn pictures - DRAWN BY A GUY! - based on scenes from porn films, when they could simply go onto the internet and look at actual XXX?

I mean - Bougie's a very entertaining and talented artist, and some of his images (like the "All Night Dildo Session" on page 80) definitely have some heat to them... but jerking off to Cinema Sewer - really? The thought is utterly bizarre, and I reassured my gal tonight, on inviting her to the Cinema Sewer book launch this Saturday at They Live video (4240 Main, starting at 8pm), that I do not actually jerk off to comic books.

At least, not any more.


Anonymous said...

Louis CK and you: two intelligent men in their 40s seemingly stuck on discussing/writing about masturbation. Women don't seem to get stuck in that teenage loop as much - I'm not saying women don't masturbate, of course of course. But the chronic need to discuss it, especially as they move beyond adolescence, just doesn't seem to be there. Does it ever get tedious? It doesn't seem to for Louis CK.

Allan MacInnis said...

Hm? Other than a couple posts on autofellatio a few years ago - one relating to a Gregg Araki film with an autofellatio scene, which I'd interviewed Araki about, so it was fairly relevant - I don't *believe* I bring the topic of masturbation up particularly often here; I certainly don't feel like I have a "chronic need" to discuss it... I wrote the above in response to something that struck me in the new Cinema Sewer anthology; I thought it would amuse Robin Bougie, and indeed, it did. I was also trying to find a novel way to plug his new Cinema Sewer anthology and launch party Saturday. Somehow, I don't imagine you're a fan of that publication, but believe me, masturbation is a *germaine topic* when it comes to Cinema Sewer....

Anyhow, sorry if the above didn't amuse you, but you're under no obligation to read what I write, about any topic... and while we're trading helpful advice, perhaps you might want to reconsider making anonymous criticisms of people on the internet? It isn't very becoming or brave-seeming, this sniping from hiding. I hope you have more productive ways to assert yourself in the world...

Allan MacInnis said...

...though in recent years, I do mention masturbation whenever I bring up Ernest Borgnine...