Comic fans, what's the straight dope on the history of sex in comics?

I’m writing an essay on this topic (actually, it’s on sexual bondage imagery in comics, but the two run right in parallel.

I’m not asking you to do my home work for me. I’m having too much fun doing it. But I would like to give you a brief outline of what I’ve come up with and if anybody spots a place where I’m wrong or something I’m missing, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know.

OK, from their origin to the 1940s, comics were basically fairly tame. The women wore clothes, or if they were naked they were covered up or obscured by whatnot and geegaws. In the 40s, comics started getting raunchy, with pubs like Wings, Rangers and Fight, I’m betting because of WWII. Women still wore clothes, but they were sometimes drawn as essentially nude figure studies with shaded areas representing clothing that was essentially skin tight. In other words, some of the figures on the comics would be taken for nudes if they’d been inked all in pink with the nipples drawn in.

This continued into the 1050s, along with an increasing emphasis on graphic violence, which got Dr. Frederik Wertham and a bunch of bluenoses all worked up, and he wrote a book called “Seduction of the Innocent” and Congress held hearings and the comics publishers set up the Comics Code Authority as a voluntary censorship board and that was the end of that for nudity/sexiness/violence and most other things that made comics fun for older readers.

This lasted until the late 60s/early 70s when comic publishers felt the ground shifting beneath them because of the rise of underground comix. So they let the censorship go hang and some sexy imagery reappeared. Really nice nude stuff by Frazetta and a few others.

This cranked along nicely until the late 70s/early 80s when there was an interregnum of sorts. Although comics didn’t go back to Comics Code standards by any means, there was sort of a drawing back from naked or sexy imagery. It was still there, just not so pronounced. Then in the early 90s with the rise of indie publishers, comics got raunchy and naked again, with pubs like Genesis 13 and Dirty Pair, a trend that has continued and increased with the rise of the Internet as a marketing and distribution medium, where, of course, anything goes, and every wannabe artist can portray their favorite character as naked or sexually active as they like – and they do.

That’s it in a nutshell. I’m a little vague on what might have happened in the early days of comics, when things were unsettled as to what a comic book might be, and I am curious about the 80s interregnum, why it happened etc.

Any ideas?

In 1970 or 1971 Marvel Comics published Savage Tales, which boasted on the cover that it was “The First Comic Magazine to be rated M” (or something like that. “M” was the then-current film rating equivalent to "PG plus “PG-13” today). It featured limited nudity (bare butts, partly screened boobs), was a magazine-size comic, and had, of course, no Comics Code authority seal. The lead story, a Conan story scripted by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry Smith (now BBarry Windsor-Smith) later ran in issue #16 of the regular comic Conan the Barbarian, but with strategic changes to the Frost Giant Daughter’s costume, so it could run under the Comics Code seal.

After a hiatus of a year or two they brought back Savage Tales, then started adding to the line of oversize, magazine style, non-code comics with Savage Sword of Conan and Planet of the Apes and Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction and others. (Marvel had previouasly run an oversize, non-code comic The Spectacular Spider-Man for two issues, but I don’t recall any “adult” stuff in it.)

Not to be outdone, other companies copied this. Warren Magazines (who published “Famous Monsters of Filmland” and others, put out the “graphic novel”- style 1984, with definite adult content.

You can’t talk about sex in comics without mentioning the “eight pagers” or “Tijuana Bibles” porno mini-comics. They actually have several collections of these available now. Certainly not sponsored by any respectable comic company, but also a part of comics history.

Also, when considering the loosening of the restraints in the late 1960s and early 1970s, you have to take “Underground” comics into account. Robert Crumb’s stuff and “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” and their kin went well outside the bounds of CCA stuff, and a lot of underground comics were far more explicit than Savage Tales and 1984, and were probably responsible for those titles emerging by proving that a market existed. I went to the NY Comics Convention in New York in 1972 and 1973, and I was truly amazed at the stuff that was out there, circulating in small closed groups. Some of it has been reprinted sincer by comics companies like Kitchen Sink Press and the like.
By the way, in response to Frederick Wertham’s monstrous little work, have a look at the recently-published biography of Jack Cole – Forms Stretched to their Limits. Cole was responsible for some of Wertham’s showpieces of objectionable comic art. But he also created Plastic Man, some of the best Playboy caqrtoons ever, and some wholly unrelated comic strips. In the book you can see his stuff in context, and it makes a difference. Again, useful stuff for the history of sex in comics.
Heck, aren’t there books out on this topic?

You’re missing the Tijuana Bibles, which were very early unlicensed comics basically showing other comic book or famous characters having sex.

In the 80s and 90s, there was an explosion of professional-grade porn comics, most notably XXXenophile, which was unique for being a healthy and well written one. Also, Eros Comics was notable for the amount of comics and TPBs they put out. In the late 90s, there as Penthouse Comix and the Japanese Invasion.

I worked in a comic book store for five years. I saw weird shit, man.

One assumes you’re well aware of the “subtle” bondage undertones present in Wonder Woman in the 40’s.

With a username like that, you’d have to be. :wink:

Okay, I don’t have a cite for this, but it’s most likely in one of any number of history of “Batman” compendiums. Anyway, Dr. Frederick Wertham’s assertion that Batman & Robin was a disguised gay couple was actually a somewhat “backward” assertion.

See, for about the first year of Batman’s run in Detective comics, his “sidekick” was a Lois Lane-type female (‘Chase Madison’ or some something like that) who was Bruce Wayne’s fiancee, but unaware he was Batman. The standard plot set-up was for Ms. Madison to be abducted by some nefarious villain (in somewhat soft-pedaled “rape” scenarios), and Batman would swoop in to rescue her. But Wertham-type “social crusaders” objected to what appeared to be a misogynist and overtly-sexual depiction of a woman (Ms. Madison typically was drawn semi-naked.) This sexually-charged gimmick was as much criticised as the overtly violent nature of the series (Batman machine-gunning down a room full of gangsters, for example). Robin was actually brought in to replace Ms. Madison in order to make the series less sexual. It was believed (in those somewhat more naive days) that, since Robin was a boy, there could be no sexual connotation to the standard series gimmick of Batman having to swoop in & rescue him. (Irony alert!)

Anyway, another anecdote I do have a cite for (Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones) is the strange story behind the golden age “Wonder Woman.” He notes that (contrary to Gloria Steinem’s feminist assertions) the Amazin’ Amazon did not have a strong following of young girl readers. In fact, the primary audience for her astonishingly successful series were young prepubescent boys who were titillated by the scenes of scantily-clad, tied up women! Author Jones notes that the advertisements displayed in the 1940s-era Wonder Woman series have a decidedly male bent (bb-guns for example) that indicate that the publishing industry were well aware that WW was being bought & read by horny, kinky-minded boys too young to get their hands on actual pornography.

Off-topic, I’ve never heard Gen 13 called Genesis 13. I remember a story that it was going to be called Gen X until the X-Men-related Generation X was released, so I don’t even think the Gen stands for genesis. Just brought this up in case that title was going to be mentioned in your paper.

Shite! Sorry to double-post, but I just had to add something – in your paper, you might take a note of the “sexlessness” of Jack Kirby’s own Marvel characters. Just take a look at any of the characters Kirby drew during the mid-1960s Marvel Comics boom - they distintinctly lack sexual organs. Women are flat-chested. Men have a decided lack of “packaging” in their groin areas. For an example, just check out the “Challengers of the Unknown” cover on this page.

While it’s true that Jack Kirby seemed to majke everything look as if it was carved of stone, I can’t go along with this. Sue Storm definitely had a female shape, although not as pronounced as other artists drew women (I was a big FF fan). Later on, in the late 1960s and 1970s, Kirby definitely gave women boobs. They just looked as if they were carved out of granite.

The Golden Age Wonder Woman certainly needs to be a topic, given that Wm. Moulton was not only an avowed feminist, he was also obviously a bondage fetishist. He also invented the lie detector, by the way.

As for the '80’s pull back, I’d guess it to ber a combination of factors. First ot was part if a segmentation in the markwt, with Marvel and later DC creating separate matture readers books tat had boobs in them, and therefore distinguished them from the other books by bowldlerizing. Also I think both


Both Martvel and DC were at thaty time bought out from family businessesd into parts of big corporations which may jhave been more concerned about stuff like that.


I guess I’d need more evidence than this. I find it very hard to believe that any woman was being drawn half-naked in a 1939 DC comic. I’ve read many times about the complaints over Batman using a gun, but never that any social crusaders were disturbed about sexual implications.

You’re also slightly misremembering Batman’s machine gun. Mark Cotta Vaz’s Tales of the Dark Knight says:

Robin was introduced in April 1940 and Batman immediately stopped killing. That’s the real connection, I think.

And Bill Finger is on the record as saying that he created Robin for the simple reason that it was easier to write Batman if he had someone to talk to.

The OP might want to check out so-called “good girl” art and “headlights” covers from the 1940s and early 50s. That may be what he was referring to in his paragraph on the 40s, but the terms might help in searching.

Adult-oriented magazines had naked heroines in comics before the Zap comics era. Harvey Kurtzman’s “Little Annie Fanny” debuted in Playboy in 1962 and sparked a number of imitators, including Penthouse’s Wicked Wanda and Hustler’s Honey. Michael O’Donoghue’s “The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist” was in the Evergreen Review from around 1967. She’s naked from the first episode and is never really covered again except when she dies and is covered in “carnation-pink spores.” (Episode V of XIII.)

Non-US comics had more freedom for a longer period. Topless and naked heroines were printed in the regular comic pages of British and French newspapers probably even earlier than this. 1968’s Barbarella movie was based on a French strip that had been around for a while.

Comics started in the Middle 30’s.
Superheroes in the Late 30’s.

And the early issues of Superman & Batman featured some pretty sexy drawings, though no nudity.

BTW-- in the 70’s-Era Marvel Comic, Ms. Marvel, I recall reading that the artist drew the character nude, then inked in the costume.
Seeinfg the art, I believe it.
Source, The Comics Journal.

I recall reading that is why most heroes wear skin tight spandex. Because they are basically nude greek statues, minus genitals. Source: Vague memories of “How to draw comics”, the Marvel way."

The comics took their cue from the pulp magazines of the day, where scantily-clad bondage babes graced the covers almost every month. Steranko’s History of Comics has a detailed write-up, including sample covers. Yowza.

Isn’t starting with a nude figure common practice for artists in any medium?

Well, it got me some funny looks around the kindergarden Play-doh table…

On the lighter side when Marvel started ‘The Dazzler’ (she’s a disco singer and can make her own light show!) there were cheesecake shots in almost every issue. I swear that girl changed clothes every two pages.

Epic Illustrated #1 had a sex scene in it drawn by Wendy Pini, no less.

And you want sex in comics? Look up these: Cherry Poptart is one…quality varies.

And if you want the good stuff (including much bondage) go out and get yourself the trade paperbacks of Omaha the Cat Dancer. Omaha is an exotic dancer who gets mixed up with the wrong people.

Oh. And she’s a cat. Really. With really big hooters.

Shouldn’t she have six of them?

Thanks for all the input. I made up a couple of links to some of the covers I’ve found that gave me the bad ideas about the forties, seventies and nineties, especially the forties which really surprised me. They’re not porn, being comic book covers and all, but they’re not all that work safe.


I think Exapno might be kinda surpised, here.

Now, as for Wonder Woman – yeah, I know about her. Really interesting and kinky story. I might have to make a link to John Willie Coutts, who published the “Perils of Gwendolyne” comics in the 50s and 60s and developed quite an underground following. there ws never any sex or outright nudity, but boy did Gwendolyne get tied up a lot.

The central idea of my article is gonna be this – mainstream comic artists create much more intense bondage imagery than most mainstream media do, not because they’re all that kinky or trying to appeal to a kinky audience, but because they have to develop the most intense powerful imagery in general that they can to attract their audience of mostly male, mostly teen readers. I think they’re kinda kink neutral – they’ll use it however they can to attract readers, but it’s not that important to them.

The same is true of mainstream media in general, but they are not nearly so attentive to developing powerful imagery.