Tuesday, 26 August 2014
A-Z of Fetish Artists - Tom of Finland - 2
Short narrative picture series like 'The Careless Biker' in Part 1 were a favourite technique for Tom right from his earliest drawings and they eventually developed into the Kake series of picture stories (1968-82) which have come to dominate our view of Tom's work. It's probably the character of Kake that inspires this affection more than the pictures which are simple, unpolished line drawings (the better quality covers are later substitutions). Nevertheless they do contain some gems and a number of extraordinarily erotic sequences exploiting Tom's powers of exaggeration and visual trickery which can never be matched by mere photographs or film. The series conveniently spans most of Tom's career period after he became famous so it's quite instructive to look at it in some detail.
On the Amazon website the Complete Kake Comics are described (presumably by Taschen, the publisher) thus:-
“Kake lived up to this moniker (the word 'Fucker' on his T-shirt), a sort of post-Stonewall, hyper-masculine Johnny Appleseed traveling the world on his motorcycle to spread the seeds of liberated, mutually satisfying, ecstatically explicit gay sex....... Return with Kake to the days when men were men, sex was carefree, and everyone wore a big thick mustache.”
(N.B. Johnny Appleseed was an eccentric folk hero who travelled the US planting apple trees, don't ask me what the connection is!)
Well, everyone's entitled to their opinion, I suppose, including publishers out to make a buck. Actually you'd be hard-pressed to find a motorcycle in any of the Kake stories. Tom uses them in earlier work but by this time he'd joined the real gay world where leather apparel (and bikes) are mostly for show, not riding. I'm nit-picking of course, but as far as I'm concerned, the vision of an altruistic Kake spreading the notion of carefree sex is a very selective misreading of Tom' s work that does him no favours as an artist.
1. The Intruder
There's a narrative link between the first 5 tales where Kake is portrayed as a reckless philanderer who takes other men wherever he can find them starting in the first story with one who is portrayed as straight and young enough to be still living with his father. The lad is forcefully seduced in his own bed after Kake enters uninvited through the window. This story thus combines two near-universal gay fantasies, (a) being taken by an intruder and (b) opening up the horizons (as it were) of a supposedly straight man. Fortunately for Kake, the object of his amorous attentions passes up numerous opportunities to cry out for help or escape, but I'm not sure this would constitute a defence in court. Kake's explorations are abruptly curtailed when the lad's father arrives and brings this carnival of political incorrectness to an appropriate conclusion by giving Kake a taste of his own medicine while his son looks on.
Tom moves on to safer ground in Kake 2 with a consensual encounter on the beach (which will have been chosen by the street-wise hero for it's known cruising potential). The men's passion evolves out of a shared cigarette, no doubt echoing Tom's youthful cruising experiences (he is approaching 50 years of age at this time). The measured pace of seduction contrasts with first story. Kake regularly suffers some humorous reverse or painful comeuppance in these escapades and this time he loses his expensive, temporarily discarded leathers to an opportunist thief. He is arrested for public nudity (in Kake 3) by a good humoured policeman who escorts him to the police station there to be summarily subjected to a fierce lashing (below) and screwing by all officers present, before being locked up. This unexpected cameo of police brutality comes as a jolt but is highly erotic. It paves the way for the culmination of the narrative in Kake 5.
2. Cop's Brutality
This scene is grounded in fact. There's no record of Tom being arrested while out cruising but it's quite likely he witnessed it or knew of men who were caught. (If not in Finland, he also visited pre-war Germany and Britain in the 50's). At the height of the witch-hunts offenders were routinely humiliated by the police, harshly interrogated and pressurised to reveal names and assist in the entrapment of others under the threat of public exposure, which might lead to loss of their job, family and friends. Some sensitive and vulnerable souls were driven to suicide by the ordeal but other gay men who lived through these times seem to have enjoyed the thrill of the danger. Most were never caught and if they were strong in character and not in sensitive situations they had less to fear anyway. The actual punishments were usually relatively mild and once suffered, exposure lost it's sting.
Tom seems to be one of these and able to look back and reinvent the unpleasantness as a sexual fantasy, it's probably human nature to sexualise danger and fear but it gives us some insight into his character. He even introduces a more sympathetic (and receptive) Policeman who samples Kake's cock in the cell and lends him his uniform (another gay fantasy) so he can escape.
3. Boys in the Wood
Freed from jail, Kake makes for the woods, a typical cruising ground to this day. Here the magnetism of Kake's borrowed uniform generates another sexual encounter with two young men in the woods. It's a dangerous attraction for them, but Tom shows, step by step, the correct procedure for authenticating intentions. Kake glances backward invitingly after passing them, waits on a bench further down the path, then a mutual show of bulges (above) wraps up the negotiation and kick starts the action. You can always tell when an artist knows what he is talking about.
4. Punishment of the Thief
At the height of the excitement Kake spots the thief watching them in his stolen leathers and manages to catch him and beat him as a punishment (above). The charming, awkward stance of the lad holding the left leg in this picture suggests the quarry is really struggling! This image looks like it's been serially attacked by internet croppers but it's just a result of too little time being available to redraw the scene.
5. Cuffed to a Tree
Kake uses the opportunity to seed his chastened captive and then cuffs him to an overhanging branch. Interestingly this is the first time the handcuffs get used in this story and it's plainly thoroughly arousing for all concerned. Compare with Tam's similar depiction of arousal during bondage.
6. A Further Lashing for the Thief
Kake's new friends take their turn at dishing out the punishment. Encouragingly for fetish fans, it turns out the villain is just as aroused by his punishment as his captors are. This sequence is very good.
7. Doubtful Rescue
In a devious finale the culprit is handcuffed to a bench, seated alongside the borrowed police uniform. He is left to make his explanations as best he can to a policeman who can be seen approaching through the trees. We already know how police in this town deal with public nudity offences but are left to conjecture the consequences of being in possession of a stolen Police uniform.
Carefree sex eh? You can't beat it.
(Notice there's another veiled allusion to the practice of sounding in this image - see also part 1).
In theses five books, Tom does indeed depict a man who enjoys sex wherever he can find it. But if you waive the humorous gloss, the sex is often non-consensual, Kake simply helps himself and hopes for the best. He is no altruist but a bawdy adventurer in the best traditions of classical literature. The plot line is simple but clever, funny and sexy. The key ingredients are theft and retribution against a background of police dishing out summary justice and incorporates a particularly vindictive revenge twist. This is not mere harmless fantasy, it's much more substantial and interesting than that! To package it up as a heartening fantasy of sexual freedom is selling Tom way short of the truth.
At this point in the series (No 6) Tom takes an unexpected direction. The woodland storyline peters out with Kake stealing a muscular Sailor from his female pick-up. The indignant woman storms off to report the matter to a policeman who is seen patrolling in the bushes. We tend to see Tom's cops as a generic fantasy of no particular country but the uniforms are essentially mid-European and the sailor's German-style uniform is a reminder that we (and Tom) are in Europe and this is circa 1968 when gay law reform, let alone liberation has still barely begun, so the woman's action in involving the police is particularly spiteful (and foolish too since she is also flouting the law). As luck would have it it the Policeman likes the look of Tom and his matelot and joins in, lending the woman his truncheon (nightstick) to keep her occupied.
Tom can't have won many friends of any persuasion with this storyline. He experimented with female characters more than once in his career but it seems to have been either at the behest of advisers or simply as a way of imbuing men with the always-alluring “essence of straight”. You can see from his attempts at drawing women that he never saw them as beautiful and he never portrayed them in a positive light either, but variously as domineering, petulant or simply voracious for sex.
In this instance, they are competition, there to be thwarted by Kake, who rescues the sailor from his own folly and continues his systematic exploration of gay fantasies by testing the belief that all men are available for gay sex if offered the right incentive. This myth no doubt gained credence in the years of oppression (when Tom was in his 30's and active) by the necessity for all gays to 'act straight' in public. Most gay men will enjoy seeing the 'conversion' scenario acted out with such a fine specimen and I suppose it must have some confidence boosting, empowering effect too. However, although Sailors are supposed to be more amenable than most in gay folklore, (due to being constantly cooped up with other men at sea), I wouldn't recommend Kake's 'touch and show' technique.
9. Joining the Daisy Chain
The artistic drift continues into Kake 7 as the hero moves on to a public toilet for a daisy chain orgy featuring an assortment of male stereotypes. It's the first story in the series where the 'carefree sex' tag truly does apply with no dark overtones - unless you count the late arrival at the ball of the Hell's Angel impersonator who 'introduces' himself by ripping apart the pants of the man at the end. The drawings are raunchy enough, but it's an unmemorable, plot-less, pot boiler and with it's array of contrasting characters it inevitably stumbles into the minefield of fleeting fashions in clothing.
However it is notable for it's chronicling of yet another standard gay pick-up place, the 'cottage', probably in the UK judging by the design detail, which might make this the first of Kake's world travels (long promised in the publisher's blurb). This story also features the first appearance in the series by a black man, stereotyped by his cock-size of course. He's also given a showy outfit more likely to have been seen on the streets of Harlem (or possibly Germany) rather than the London of this time, but it does paint him as the most affluent and best-dressed man in the group, so it's not entirely unsympathetic. There's plenty of other material by Tom demonstrating that he found black men attractive and I will return to this in a later article. Notice, however, how this series continually reflects the happenings and issues of it's time, without campaigning or climbing on the political soapbox . I think it's one of the things that makes Tom's work so real to us, even 50 years on.
10. Searching for Contrabrand
Topicality is even more apparent in the next of this odd group of stories (No 8) which bizarrely features an aircraft hi-jacking scenario. It's an attempt to portray Kake as an accidental hero. Picked out by the hijacker to provide some in-flight entertainment, he is escorted to the toilet for private attention, but his sexual performance proves so distracting that he is able to get hold of the hijacker's gun and take him prisoner, thereby saving all the passengers.
This is strange fare. It's pre-9/11 of course. Aircraft hijackings around the early 70's usually had benign outcomes but they were still terrifying experiences for the passengers and never the stuff of light entertainment, let alone erotic fantasy. Earlier Kake stories are politically incorrect but if Tom was courting controversy, this choice of a sensitive and non-sexual topic seems clumsy and foolish. He was pretty prolific around this time with his new found fame so perhaps he just took his eye off the ball.
Ironically, Tom spots the alternative erotic potential of the customs/security search (above) and exploits it for the first few pages of the tale, but then discards it in favour of the hijack subject. It's a shame since there are considerable comic possibilities involving 'searches' at departure and arrival with scope for smuggling, detention and punishment ingredients as a follow up too. (Sigh!)
Tom repeated the 'Kake as hero' experiment more successfully in No 23 'Wild West' and there's another non-Kake example in the “Jack in the Jungle” series.
11. Errant Husband
Story No 9, 'Coq d'Or', marks the last in this seemingly confused group before Tom returns to form with 'Raunchy Truckers'. Kake's plane has landed in France and he makes straight for a seedy waterfront pub full of drunks, down and outs and men and women of easy virtue, both. It's yet another standard gay venue of the time and he manages to capture some of the atmosphere and danger. Kake picks up a sexily-dressed sailor who might be his brother, their faces are so alike (see above". This 'stereotype drift' is a sign that Tom's attention is not fully engaged and the action drawings in this set are not all they might be. However there's an interesting twist when a wandering husband gatecrashing the party is literally hauled out by his angry, unattractive wife and, in a rare victory for womenkind in Tom's land, taken home for retribution. It's a novel humiliation scenario that makes a nice picture for connoisseurs of that particular art form (above).
Continued in Part 3
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