Comics Stripped: Learning Sex From Cartoons

VIDEO: Some say sexy comic strips at Museum of Sex are important to American culture.
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Craig Yoe, a child of the '60s and now a grandfather of two, as well as the father of a 4-month-old, said he learned it all from comic books.

Sex, that is.

Yoe, a comic book aficionado, is co-curator of "Comics Stripped," an exhibit that opened this week at New York City's Museum of Sex and traces the titillating history of erotica in comic books.

The exhibit will feature 150 artifacts from the Great Depression to the present, including original drawings, illustrated books, comic books, magazines and videos.

"Sex comics were entertaining and erotically stimulating, but also educational for younger people in the past," said Yoe. "The Internet serves the same function now as a way to find out what the birds and bees and flowers and trees and Mom and Dad did."

One of the featured artists is hippie-era illustrator Robert Crumb, who drew such comics as "Fritz the Cat" and "Keep on Truckin'," where Yoe said he "learned the mechanics of copulation and the joy of free love."

Comics entered the mainstream in 1938 with the advent of Joe Shuster's "Superman." But during the Depression, many other artists began "dirty drawings" of busty women, fetishes and even homosexuality.

Over the course of the 20th century and beyond, these comics have not only depicted sexual fantasy but have loosened taboos and lampooned popular culture.

And for boys like Yoe, who grew up in the uptight 1950s and early 1960s, naughty comics even had an "educational factor."

"I can personally attest to that," said Yoe, 59. "You found your Dad's "Playboy" under the socks in the dresser drawer. You talked about sex, but you didn't quite yet know how you did it."

"When you came across the sex-oriented comics, they were diagrammed well beyond Playboy and the health classes," he said. "You got to see how the physical act was performed and it was quite revelatory."

Yoe's interest in erotica seems a far cry from his day job, developing toys like Cabbage Patch kids and My Little Pony. He was personally recruited by Jim Henson to be creative director of the Muppets and later went on to be vice-president manager. He also worked for family-friendly Disney, the parent company of ABC News.

"It's all a part of the whole," he said. "I am a creative type and in touch with my inner kid. But I have an adult side, too, and an interest in sex. And I love comics."

Today, he runs Yoe Books, which produces books about comic history in his upstate New York home.

"When we think of comic strips and comic books, we think of kids, but historically more adults of read them," he said. "They appealed to kids who lay on the floor to read the Sunday funnies. But there was a rabid adult following."

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Adults Turned From Romance to Sexy Comics

During the 1940s a big part of the audience was soldiers reading superhero action comics, but an "underbelly" of publishing had already begun producing something more risque.

Sexually-oriented comics began in the 1930s with "Tijuana Bibles," a pocket-sized comic book, printed by the mob, according to Yoe.

They featured popular characters like Mickey Mouse, Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon and Blondie in "hard-core sexual situations."

"They were quite crude with no deep message," said Yoe. "They were totally titillating...they had a good buzz factor."

Later, artists put beloved characters like Popeye's Olive Oyl and even Disney's Snow White in highly compromising erotic situations.

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