Comics Stripped: Learning Sex From Cartoons

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In 1954, during the McCarthy era, the Comics Code of Authority was created, giving birth to underground publications from artists like Crumb that featured characters like Mr. Natural and Devil Girl.

Later, as sexual mores loosened, erotic drawings became an integral part of magazines like Playboy, with artists such as Jack Cole, whose cartoons became the gold standard for the men's magazine.

The exhibit features original art by Harvey Kurtzman of Playboy's "Little Annie Fannie," and the magazine's iconic cover of Marge Simpson.

Comics as an art form have a "tradition of exaggerating things in words and pictures," according to Yoe. "This is the stock and trade of the cartoonist. It gives more latitude. Cartoons and comics were groundbreakers."

As for Yoe's favorite artist, that would be Crumb, who created the scandalous Fritz the Cat for his underground Comix. The character was launched in 1965 and was the first cartoon film to receive an X rating.

Fritz, according to his creator, is "a sophisticated up-to-the minute young feline college student who lives in a modern 'supercity' of millions of animals -- yes, not unlike people in their manners and morals."

The New York City exhibit opens with an erotic self-portrait by Crumb, Philadelphia born, but who now lives in France, and other original pieces.

Other historic displays include 18 original pulp instruction books from Wesley Morse's "Tijuana Bibles" and MAD magazine cartoonist Wally Wood's sexually satirical drawing of Disney's characters.

Joe Shuster's "Nights of Horror" depicts doppelgangers of Superman and Lois Lane in fetish scenarios. Eric Stanton's "Blunder Broad" mimicked Wonder Woman.

Playboy Enterprises, Inc. has loaned many of the magazines images for the exhibit, which also features original gay fetish comics from Tom Finland and racy art from Brazil and Japan.

"Sex comics straddle borders and realms of possibility," said Yoe.

Erotic comics have been "taboo-breaking and opened up doors and changed culture," according to Yoe. "Plastic surgeons can't even come close to accomplishing what we can with a pencil."

"They reflect the culture and attitudes toward sex and male and female roles, placing humor and fantasy in sex," he said. "From the cultural and anthropological, it's fascinating. And once you get beyond the entertainment and the titillation, which is the best part of it, you get a cultural history."

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