When I was a kid, I spent way too much time drawing naked people. I was sexualized from an early age thanks to clandestine research conducted on the (heterosexual) pornographic magazine collection of my older cousin Vance, access to which was facilitated by his little brother—my dream brother—Wally. I would spend more time examining the men in Penthouse than the women, though Hustler was my favorite because it was the filthiest and was more likely to show couples having sex. I always thought it was weird that "softcore" existed...it struck me like wanting to eat chocolate chip cookies with less chips instead of just buying the ones with more.
Drawings were throughout these magazines, perhaps most memorably in the form of Hustler's "Chester the Molester" (its illustrator was later convicted of molesting his 13-year-old daughter and spent 23 months in prison, from which he continued the strip) and those racy illustrations in Playboy that were at once sophisticated and sleazy. I don't know if that's what inspired me, but I used to express my sexual urges or, considering my age, my sexual questions/fears/nightmares in the form of elaborately drawn nudes or women with pronounced cleavage represented by a "V."
I remember my mom catching me once—though I didn't know if she'd found a rudimentary penis sketch or a busty naked lady. She just told me, "Don't draw those things anymore," without referring to what exactly she'd found. Maybe that's why I have to few of them to this day—I drew, felt relief, then discarded the evidence.
I also at that time drew bosomy superheroines and elaborate fake movie posters featuring made-up starlets showing too much leg and bearing a beauty mark or two. The films were always tawdry serials at first, then gradually segued into respectable hits and finally Oscar-bait as the leading ladies became less cheap but remained unbelievably ripe, their breasts barely restrained behind tight, Lana-Turner-eat-your-heart-out sweaters.
These, too, were expressions of sexuality, or a trying-out of sexual norms. They became a way to develop a personal sexual history without actually having had one. I was a knowing nine-year-old, to be sure.
Somehow, I missed the November 2007 release of Hard Boys (Green Candy Press), a quality paperback with almost 200 pages of drawings by Harry Bush (yes, that was his birth name), a pre- and post-Stonewall illustrator who worked with gay publications like Physique Pictorial and Drummer. Bush, who died in 1994, had an effortless-seeming understanding of the male form, and imbued many of his sketches with an unabashedly perverse, taboo sense of humor.
As far as Bush's work was concerned, separating the men from the boys was most likely to be accomplished with a garden hose.
I find his work amazing and insightful and uncomfortably familiar—not all of his obsessions (pubic hair, teenage boys, exhibitionism, prostitution, famous men) mirror those of every gay man, but many are universal at their root even if his expression of them was scandalously frank.
Bush wasn't a happy man—he feared being outed and even destroyed much of his work. He almost didn't leave his creations in the care of anyone. I would argue that would have been a tragic loss, like the one "this big!" that got away.
More after the jump...
Back to the idea of illustrating fabulous women, I'd like to recommend MemoraBEALEia (March, AuthorHouse) by Walter Newkirk. This "private scrapbook" to Little Edie Beale of Grey Gardens fame was compiled by Rutgers student Newkirk, who in the '70s interviewed the Beales for his school's paper after that famous film was released and quickly became a favorite correspondent. He paints a respectful picture of Little Edie, defending her as more of a larger-than-life eccentric than a flat-out kook, and sharing with other fans a wealth of her original notes and many private photos.
The cover drawing, by Bruce Lennon, resembles a fantastic creature from the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, and reminded me of the kind of passionate gay-drawing I referred to as this post began. The rest of the book has a number of other artistic representations of Edie, but it's Newkirk's recollections that draw the sharpest portrait of this one-of-a-kind personality.
Gay men always know how to nail down an obsession, whether it involves what's going on in the pants of a persuadable piece of ass or what's going on in the mind of a woman too fabulous for her own good.