Gay History, Graphic Arts, Homoeroticism, Personal Essay

I didn’t buy it for the articles: After Dark magazine, ca. 1978-79

By Scott Ross

Actually, the articles on theatre, movies and literature were often quite good. But I discovered After Dark magazine, at 17, because my best friend, with whom I was desperately in love, turned me on to it. (He also, through my intense attraction to him, helped me codify what I’d been feeling about other boys for so long. It was not a self-revelation he relished, but that’s another story, as they say, for another time.)

Michael and I bought our copies of After Dark at the newsstand (anyone remember those?) across from the North Carolina State University campus, and compared our reactions to the (many) photos of hot young guys in various states of undress. Michael liked the athletic ones; I preferred the boyish boys. I still do.

After Dark June 1978 5396949394_cfd2d16942

The June 1978 issue featured  piece on Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, which I was lucky enough to see a year and a half later, on my first trip to New York. Anne Reinking was out that matinee, as was her wont. But there were plenty of great dances to watch, and gorgeous dancers. Especially Timothy Scott. Who would, alas, be dead 9 years later.

Although After Dark was not specially gay — it evolved, curiously enough, from Ballroom Dance magazine(!) — each issue was chockful of homoerotic photos, and its subtitle, The Magazine of Entertainment, certainly made it of interest to a gay male audience. Some have said that the emergence of an unfettered gay press (The Advocate, Christopher Street) made After Dark, begun in 1968, a victim of its own times, and timidity. But there was plenty to recommend it to teenage gay boys like Michael and me. Where else, at our age, could we have gotten our sweaty hands on a magazine with so many sexy, gorgeous (and undressed) young men in it? After Dark, like my well-thumbed paperback copies of The Front RunnerThe City and the Pillar and Myra Breckenridge, fueled my 17-year old’s masturbatory fantasies quite nicely, thank you.

Among my favorite After Dark images, which still reside in a clip folder in my filing cabinet:


Accompanying an interview with “Toby” Bluth (brother of the animator Don) was this beautiful sketch. Three or four years later I would be in love with another young man, allegedly straight, who looked very much like Toby’s sexy boy, right down to the long blond mane.

David Vance - Innocence

This ad for David Vance’s lithographs ran in issue after issue. I wanted this boy badly at 17.

Peter Reed SF's Pacific Ballet principal Duncan IMG

Kenn Duncan’s photos of divas and beautiful young men appeared often. Above, Peter Reed, principal dancer with San Francisco’s Pacific Ballet.

John Meehan American Ballet principal Duncan IMG_0003

Kenn Duncan’s incredibly erotic portrait of American Ballet principal dancer John Meehan was an instant turn-on for me. I used his magnificent ass for fantasy fodder more times over the years than I can count.

Duncan dancer IMG

A Kenn Duncan portrait of another principal dancer of the period. I’ve lost the caption, so I don’t know who he is, or with which company he danced. But his laughing face, and the position in which Duncan photographed him, so indicative of how I wanted to find this boy in my bedroom, revved my adolescent engine into overdrive.

There’s a great deal to be said for openness, in life, in art and in glossy magazines; I wouldn’t go back to those days of fumbling subterfuge for anything. And yet, After Dark, for all of its reticence, was the right publication at the right moment for a generation trembling on the cusp of full sexual integration. It served its purpose. It certainly provided a safe erotic outlet for this anxious adolescent. However coy it may have been, it holds a special place in my heart for that.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

Graphic Arts, Homoeroticism

How to Win Boys: Unintentional(?) homoeroticism

You make them like you by fishing? Or do you fish FOR them?

Where was this book when I was a naive teenager?

“Not HERE, Fred! Wait ’til we get back to the dorm! Geez!” (And on the cover of a magazine called “Straight,” no less!)

Google images for Bowery Billy some time; he gets tied up a LOT.

I wouldn’t dare comment on this.

Tattoo bondage? Oh, those Hardys!

The Hardy’s faces suggest they’ve heard a great deal about that old queen in the basement…

Just LOOK at all those flagrant, queerie queers!

Hey, kids: The Hardy Boys called. Meet them where the clock ticks.

For YOUR little fag-in-training.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

Graphic Arts, Homoeroticism

Hidden connections? Or, destroying Superman with a vibrator

“A hidden connection is stronger than an obvious one.” — Heraclitus of Ephesus

By Scott Ross

Somewhere in Gerald Jones’ pop history Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, Jack Kirby admits that as an adolescent in the 1930s he masturbated to the homoerotic imagery in superhero comics. Since I’ve long suspected there is an unacknowledged connection between the hyper-masculine anatomy of the Marvel/DC universes and rabid fan-boy mentality — made explicit by Michael Chabon in The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay — Kirby’s statement (I don’t have Men of Tomorrow at hand, so I can’t quote him verbatim) did not surprise me, although it’s the only such confession by a heterosexual member of the comics fraternity I’ve encountered.

The young Jack Kirby with fellow comic mavens.

Alan Moore, an exception to every rule, frequently attacks homophobia. In addition, his The Mirror of Love consists of an epic poem on same-sex romance, and there are positive gay characterizations in his superb Top Ten series. Participating in a panel on homosexuality in comics (the first part of four segments is at Moore noted, “I was never tempted to sort of suggest a gay relationship between Batman and Robin. I mean, come on, that has been the subject of infantile jokes, many of which I laughed at when I was at school. It’s not really saying anything interesting or important. It’s an attempt to shock and outrage, and it’s very middle class.”

Of course, we’re living in a very different world from the one Stan Lee and his compatriots grew up in and, later, worked through. It was the era of that infamous charlatan Frederick Wertham (M.D.) whose specious, hysterical and largely fabricated attack on the comic book, Seduction of the Innocent, led to Congressional hearings and the formation of the Comics Code Authority, the “funny book” equivalent of the equally purblind and woebegone Motion Picture Production Code (and its hypocritical offshoot, the MPAA Ratings Board.) Aside from “openly gay” artists like Howard Cruse (does anyone ever say “openly straight”?) or the, essentially one-joke, re-imagining of The Rawhide Kid in 2003, and the gay-bashed Terry Berg in Green Lantern, there is the celebrated (and now “gay-married”) Kevin Keller of the Archie comics.

Since I’m not by any means a superhero expert — my comics of choice as a child were of the “funny animal” variety (Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Looney Toons characters. Terrytoons, the Harvey line and, later, those strange Charlton Comics) — I’m sure there are other, and better, examples. The point is that subterfuge no longer seems necessary, or desirable. Especially, perhaps, for a more knowing, ironic, audience, one that sees what Moore calls the “infantile” in anything remotely double-edged, intentional or not.

Which brings us to the nub, as it were: The many, and often jaw-dropping, period comic book howlers that increasingly show up on the ‘net. Even if we grant that changes in slang and other verbal nomenclature can alter the meaning of much — the very word “gay” had, to the wider culture, a much different meaning in the West even as recently as 40 years ago — the fact that these allegedly unintentional double entendres were perpetrated by adult men, who had to have known what they were doing, and writing, makes me question just how “innocent” these “boners” are.

No other comic book enjoys (if that’s the word) a greater reputation as a sexual eye-raiser than Batman. Panel from the story “The Joker’s Comedy of Errors.”

Bruce Wayne and his “ward” Dick Grayson. (What ABOUT them?)

Bruce and Dick at home.

Only a few seconds? Where’s the fun in that?

Just catching a few moon-rays. In the nude. Maybe Wertham was on to something after all.

The 1960s television incarnation of “Batman” included one of these suggestive images in every episode.

“What? Don’t ALL adoptive father-figures sleep in adjacent twin-beds with their wards?”

That Robin. Always going for the seat of the problem.

(Why, as they used to ask in Esquire’s Dubious Achievement photos, is this man laughing?)

Well, THAT’S a novel approach, I guess.

Moose clearly has some ideas about that.

Spanking is a recurrent theme in comics of the pre-modern age.

That has got to be SOME vibrator!

So, is Superman arriving… or leaving? And was he indeed faster than a speeding bullet? (The original dialogue balloons have been removed from this facsimile for maximum salaciousness… though not by me.)

How many inappropriate words and images can you cram into one cover, anyway? (And just when did Jughead have a son? And by whom?)

You can ask me, if you like.

A REALLY long time…

Does Robin know?

Jimmy Olsen takes a walk on the wild side.

Kid Flash and Superboy enjoy… well, modesty forbids. (And is it just me, or do those vertical lines recall a men’s room stall? It’s just me, huh?)

Which of his adventures is that rope a souvenir of?

I don’t know who Toro and Torch are, but that double-bed is a definitive improvement over Batman and Robin’s twins.

Cruising, Smallville style.

What the HELL???

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

Graphic Arts, Homoeroticism

Wildly (if unintentionally) inappropriate advertising

All of my underwear has a gay crotch.

How could they tell? (It’s those hands… those tiny hands…)

This artwork has “Mid-1960s to early-’70s” written all over it. But what in the world was the point? More important: What was the graphic designer thinking?

Okay… will someone please explain this one? The boy isn’t shining shoes. He has a foot fetish? At his age?

Who knew that Burr Tillstrom enjoyed gay cruising? And with Kukla and Ollie? (Was Fran their beard? Or were the puppets Burr’s?)

Even supposing one could actually drink like that on one’s back, why are they playing footsie?

It’s also upside-down.

Wait… Dad and son just got married?

Most of us can tell it with the lights on as well.

Isn’t that sweet? Daddy and his Boy have matching togs.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue… Don’t Bite”?

Does Bill Cosby know?

Kid showers with daddy at his age, and has the nerve to call someone else “sissy”?

“Johnny! Eat your vegetables!”

A Gay Top to go with your Gay Crotch.

really good boy gives his friend a hand. Or turns his back. If you know what I mean. And I think you know what I mean.

But… but… isn’t the one on the right a dyke?

Let’s face this, while we’re at it: If you’re using Edward Everett Horton to sell your ciggies, they really are fags.

Although some Homos prefer theirs un-cut.

Exactly who, or what, was Ingersoll’s target audience here?

“Daddy really loves it when his train goes into your tunnel, son.”

Mom is clearly a very modern woman.

Guy with rod in his hand, thinking: “Just who does he think he’s kidding with that Sonny Corleone routine?”

See? See? The Gay Agenda is evil!

Later, at home, Bob’s wife had a sneaking suspicion her hubby had been tasting more than just Bill’s beer…

Was that “Cisco,” or “Crisco”? (Does anyone remember how every episode of the television Cisco Kid ended with the Kid and his sidekick exchanging the cryptic exchange “Oh, Poncho!” “Oh, Cisco!”… followed, one presumes, by a discrete fade-out.)

“I say… Rawlings Senior seems awfully intrigued by the size of my club…”

Sometimes a torpedo is just a torpedo.

Thank you. I always do.

And then write dumb disco songs about it, which straight people don’t get.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross