To my readers......


Thanks for visiting mitchmen, home of Mitchell's Gay Art

The Caps and Collars/ Flat Cap Gang story at Google Groups has been on a break since January, I hope to resume shortly. (see Group News for link)

Message updated 5th May 2024

Monday 15 September 2014

A-Z of Fetish Artists - Tom of Finland - 5

The Sinister Tom of Finland

'The Rope' - A Cop Is Coming

Before leaving Kake I would give a mention to 'The Rope' which though not officially part of the series has many authentic ingredients – a woodland meeting, an authentic gay cruising ritual with the central character overpowered and tied up to become the passive centre piece of a mass orgy. It's spiced by the arrival of the dreaded Policeman, whose appearance immediately scares off all the other revellers, leaving their captive to his fate. 

'The Rope'  - Discovery

The familiar moment of fearful discovery follows. Fortunately this cop is keen to show off his endowment and have some of the hero's ass, the orgy resumes around them and ends in smiles all round. It's an optimistic, nicely balanced and consistently well drawn story that makes light of the inherent dangers of such cruising.

Forbes notion which I mentioned at the end of the Part 3 that “...there is nothing mean spirited or sinister about a Tom fantasy.” probably does apply to 'The Rope', but in general Kake depicts a world full of mean-spirited people, like the opportunist thief (Kake 2), the Police Officers who arbitrarily whip 'streakers' (Kake 3), a spurned woman who takes her revenge by reporting her former lover's homosexual activity to the police (Kake 6), a landowner who threatens a trespasser with a whip (Kake 21) and attacks him for making an indecent suggestion, a 'hero' who metes out a spanking and sexual assault for the offence of bending a photograph (Kake 23)

There's no shortage of the sinister either, we have a hijacker (Kake 8), several men who force frightened victims into sex at the point of a gun (Kake8, Kake15, Kake 23), an Army Officer who arrests and tortures a civilian for making approaches to his men (Kake 14) and several policemen who abuse their authority to satisfy their sexual urges (Kake 3,22) - and that's not even counting Kake's own, less than consensual, approach to sex with strangers, including 2 straight men (Kakes1, 26) and his use of sex as a punishment, or if you prefer, as a reprisal (Kakes 5, 23)

OK, it's all fantasy and fun and Tom usually covers his tracks with ambiguity and last minute smiles but these aren't biff-bash cartoons, there's a dark mind at work here, who thinks this sort of rough play is erotic and he's absolutely right. He taps into our guilty pleasure at seeing someone else get the stick for a change. 

The Bikers Captive (1963)

The sinister in Tom is not confined to the Kake series. This image from 1963 was published in the first Tom of Finland Retrospective with the bottom section containing the petrol can and matches cropped off. It may be that the dishy captive has simply been caught attempting to set fire to the biker's shed but I'm obviously not the only person who sees a more sinister narrative where the bikers are threatening a terrifying initiation/revenge of the sort later depicted so graphically by Sean.

The characterisation of the captive in this drawing is interesting. His white, sleeveless singlet is a rare garment in Tom's drawings. In that era it suggests conventional underwear and clean living to me, but is also associated with shirts-off manual labour, or it may be intended to signify a crude or slobbish, but very male personality. His hairy body, equally unusual for Tom, poses a similar dilemma. Is it the natural look of an uncorrupted, 'real' man or the unkemptness of a beast? Recall there are two villains in Kake who are depicted with hairy bodies, but they are not nearly as handsome as this chap. Your interpretation makes a big difference to the way you view this image.

Even more intriguing is his posing pouch. This is the uniform of the beefcake model of the time but would never normally be seen on a hairy body (too sexual) or outside of a studio for that matter. So is this a lad who secretly wears one and fantasises about being a model - or have the bikers dressed him that way to live out their own fantasies?
(Comments from readers welcome)

Whipped Prisoner (1973)

There are plenty of whipping scenes in Tom's work which most people detached from the world of S&M would consider sinister in it's own right. However, this victim from a 1973 sketch is unusually animated, indicating a very painful experience. In the final picture (which I don't wish to post here) Tom paired him with a torturer who is a German soldier kitted out in the full regalia of the wartime SS. This is Sinister with a capital 'S'. In the years following WWII the SS became synonymous with cruelty, torture and extermination and by this time the extent of their excesses was universally understood.

I'm prepared to allow Tom the benefit of the doubt about Fascism since I've never seen any evidence of it either in his work or the accounts of his life, but he does seem to have been fascinated with authoritarianism in uniform and I am certain that he knew exactly what he was doing in creating this image. It would shock most people (just as an IS atrocity does today), but as we've seen Tom didn't mind being provocative and often paid scant regard to notions of propriety or political correctness. However, in it's time this imagery conveyed forcefully the desperate plight of the prisoner – which was Tom's main purpose. This is a picture about pain and danger. There are plenty of artists around today who use Middle Eastern imagery to similar effect.

see also my historical note on this subject

The Harshest Cut (1978)

This image from 1978 is also capable of no other interpretation than sinister. Significantly, in the final, published version, the droplets of sweat signifying the terror of the victim are absent and the cruel set of the captor's mouth loses some of it's venom. You can see a lot of serious emotion went into creating this sketch but it's actually not about mutilation, it's not primarily about sex either – the knifeman is fully dressed. It's actually a depiction of fear and what it feels like to be deeply threatened. It's a theme that recurs over and over again in Tom's work, but usually less graphically than these last two works. Check out the other pictures in this article as examples. This is also why I highlighted the subtle but equally sinister, mock-lynching sub-narrative in 'Kake in the Wild West'.

Notice how Tom has drawn this picture in such a way that he can easily substitute a cock for the knife if publishing preferences require it. It's a good example of his pragmatic flexibility and also his thoughtful approach to composition, honed to perfection by years of having to disguise eager cocks in more prosaic situations. Coupled with the censorship story of the biker picture (above), it also makes you wonder what other pictures may have been sanitised for public consumption
 - and how.

Cowboys with Farm Implement

At first sight this is an odd, unexciting picture, a simple ranch scene showcasing some nice, erotic figure drawing, but the characters seem uninvolved and disconnected, which is unusual for Tom. The half hidden rope adds a little frisson of bondage potential, but the three pronged pitch fork to one side seems like a gratuitous bit of added 'colour'. However, if you observe the angling of the fork when transferred to the cowboy's outstretched hand, the picture assumes truly sinister dimensions putting the mound between the reclining man's legs in no less peril than the cabin captive's tackle in the picture above (which was drawn just one year earlier).
This one is all in the mind.

Notice again how the incriminating implement can easily be cropped out to avoid giving offence, the blank space bottom left is equally intriguing!

Woodland  Punishment Ritual

This is slightly different but one of my favourite Tom images, showing two men with their cocks strapped together and being belted by a gang of leathermen. Tom depicted a number of woodland beatings like this but usually the victim is solo and it's clear from his boots etc that he is part of the club and we are witnessing an initiation ritual or disciplinary event.

These two are totally naked and are not obviously bikers at all, one is strikingly handsome and long limbed and this uncertainty over their identity and relationship, if any, to the gang immediately introduces something of a sinister flavour. Their joint punishment with it's sexual element raises further questions – are they buddies, lovers, strangers? Novices, troublemakers, or innocent passers by at the wrong time? All in all it's a potent brew.

This is 1977, well after the Hell's Angels heyday, but Tom's biker gangs with their militaristic, leather uniforms and muscular torsos still look threatening and dangerous, particularly in the isolated woodland setting. There is always an element of doubt about them in terms of intent and limits. Tom underlines this by emphasising the severity of the beating with impact symbols in the manner of comic strips. One of the beauties of the picture is the stoic attempts of the victims to maintain manly composure under this fierce assault, which one imagines is going to continue until they both produce a suitable sexual response. There's a finely judged element of cruelty here.

Forbes 'defence' of Tom is untrue but understandable, Tom was still alive and looking over his shoulder when he wrote it. But that's not to imply that Tom was mean-spirited or sinister. His biographers reveal very little of Tom's real character, a modest man with a drink problem, but the Kake stories suggest a bluff, hearty man, totally unreconstructed, who's been through the mill and certainly hasn't forgotten those lessons (and simply 'moved on' as modern attitudes would have it),
but who has learned to laugh at life, through his work at least, while retaining a streak of gleeful maliciousness against those who wronged him. 
These 'sinister' images give us a glimpse of the depth of those feelings.

To be continued in Part 6
Links to previous articles: Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3 , Part 4

For other artists in the A-Z series click on the label below or search by name.

Monday 8 September 2014

A-Z of Fetish Artists - Tom of Finland - 4

Kake concluded
Links to previous articles: Part 1 , Part 2 and Part 3
After the explosion of sadism and power-play in Kake 14-15, Tom reverts to vanilla with a series of 'carefree', uncontroversial, casual encounters in Kake No 16, 'Sex on the Train' (with a soldier), No 17, 'Loading Dock' and a linked pair, No's 18-19, 'Pant's Down Sailor' and 'Curious Captain'.
Curious Captain (Kake 19)
These last two feature a black sailor for Kake to get stuck into. There's an echo of the dramatic moment in Kake No1 as the copulating pair are discovered, not by Daddy of course but by an Officer (with a luxuriant moustache). I need hardly point out how significant the fear of being 'found out' is for gay men and back in the 70's being found out in the military was double jeopardy. Tom milks the drama as the sailor is ordered to attention and given a teasing inspection by his superior. Kake relieves the tension by drawing this late arrival into the proceedings and revealing him to be wearing a pair of tight underpants (above) which are very sexy. 
The sailor is the second black character to appear in Kake (after the businessman-dandy in Kake 7). There aren't any more – not even in crowd scenes. Between them, these two feature in 3 of the 26 stories (12%) but represent less than 5% of the characters. This low figure may surprise you, since Tom is noted for his mixed race pictures which make him almost unique among erotic artists (of any colour), they even did a book about it! I will return to this topic in a later article. 
This group of more straight-forward sex adventures for Kake ends with No 20 'Pleasure Park', a reworking of the 'accumulating orgy' theme from No7 and equally unremarkable, but it's worth comparing the two, if only to see how far Tom's cartooning technique has evolved in the intervening years.
Greasy Rider Attacked
After the fetish hiatus of stories 16-20, and a break of 3 years, 'Greasy Rider' (1978) represents a return to more interesting subject matter and a step up in drawing quality. I have my doubts whether this story was really intended to be part of this series, since Kake's normal role of subversive, sex adventurer is seemingly played by a different man, noticeably youthful, with curly, blond hair and wearing a doubtful sweater instead of a leather jacket. The character who most looks like Kake is a wealthy landowner and horse-rider with an aggressive attitude to strangers who trespass and proposition him. He doesn't really fit the mould either, Kake has his moments of aggression and anger but it's hard to imagine him keeping his trousers on long enough to accumulate wealth!

However, this story represents a new direction in more important ways. In previous tales Kake is rolled over by authority figures like policemen. It's the same story in several of Tom's early pictures also involving trespassing scenarios. Young men caught illicitly swimming or sunbathing are rebuked and humiliated by security guards (presumably as a prelude to punishment of some sort though I've never seen a picture showing this). This time it's different, the trespasser mocks the angry landowner, inviting him to sample his dick and when he is attacked for his impertinence, he fights back and overpowers the man, tying him to a handy fence. The rest you can guess.
 Tied to a Fence

There's some fine bondage pictures in this set, skilfully imagined from an elevated spectator viewpoint as though we are watching, hidden in a nearby tree. Tom also completed several of the pictures to his more polished standard so it's an altogether better product.
Greasy Threesome
As usual in Kakeland, someone else turns up to join in, a butch-looking, attractive man, something of a cross between a rough yokel and a scantily-clad, late night clubber making his way home. 
As the action progresses the angry landowner morphs into a more youthful Kake, thoroughly enjoying himself but in awe of this new arrival, a young, blond Adonis who has given him a taste of his own medicine.
 Greasy Water Sports

In the final frame, the landowner's submission is total, but it seems his humiliation is not yet complete, as the latecomer beckons to his stallion which stands in the field watching them and already primed. It's a daring sign-off, a reflection of the increasing freedom of the times, although Tom had already frivolously explored some 'animal moments' in his 'Jungle Jack' series of the mid-sixties. That seemed like a mischievous attempt to shock and amuse, but this time Tom is also clearly exploring new depths of degradation and a possibility of sleaze and sexual excess in his characters which goes way beyond anything else in Kake.
Kake Arrested

There's another gap in time before the next story, No 22 Highway patrol, where Kake finally appears on his motorcycle for the very first time in the saga, (there are two more fleeting appearances in Nos 23 and 24, see my introduction to Part 2 about this). He is approached by two traffic cops planning to use him for some fun. They handcuff him and drag him off for an intrusive and humiliating sexual ordeal behind a roadside hoarding. Kake quickly produces an erection for them but his face doesn't show much pleasure until one of the cops offers him some ass, thereafter all is smiles and routine, 'carefree' sex.
Kake Humiliated by Cops

Notice that these are American cops (for the first time in Kake) and Tom has captured the buffed-up, tight-fit, power look that some US Policemen cultivate. They are far more intimidating physically than their UK counterparts and the latent power to punish, inherent in the Police role, infuses this encounter with uncertainty and danger from the outset. If these two were dressed as sailors it would all seem quite different! There's enough ambiguity and closing clarification in this fantasy to sidestep accusations of forced sex, but as Tom well knew, it is that initial ambiguity, that doubt about intentions, that makes the scenario so erotic especially when compared with the simple 'meet and greet' stories like, for example, No16 'Sex on the Train' and the orgies (7&20) .

This story (1982) comes shortly after Tom's first visit to the US in '78 and all the remaining Kake adventures are inspired by or set in North America, (you might also discern some American influences in the immediately preceding tales too), however the drawing of the cops in this episode is the only example in Kake that seems to reflect something erotic that Tom actually saw on his visits.

Kake himself ages as the series progresses and it's round about this time that the familiar jutting chin and big moustaches start to become dominant features, a development that is destined to split his followers into two camps.
Kake Tackles the Outlaw

Kake's bike makes a second appearance in No23 'In The Wild West' and it all looks like vanilla land as he discovers a saloon full of eager studs. Their revels are rudely interrupted by a be-stubbled outlaw who proceeds to poke the frightened cowboys at gun-point. The new, heroic Kake emerges from hiding to disarm him, he is overpowered and stripped to reveal a deliciously hairy body.

I say deliciously hairy but I guess not all my readers would agree, Tom's attitude is harder to pin down. He rarely drew hairy men which is perhaps not surprising as he comes from the era of beefcake, shorn of all hair to avoid any suggestion of sex. However his occasional depictions do seem to show a grasp of what makes a hairy body attractive, so it's interesting that in this story he uses it for a bad man, creating a beast who stumbles on the orgy and takes the young ranchers at gunpoint (instead of aggressively seducing them as Kake would normally do himself!) You may recall another conspicuously hairy man in the Kake saga who is also a criminal, the man who stole Kake's leathers (see No's 2+5). I suppose this story predates the 'emancipation of bears' but quite why Tom should associate hairiness with wrong-doing I'm not sure.
 The Renegade Led Away For Punishment

The subdued offender is led to a tree outside the town to be hoisted - but only (only!) by his balls. It's erotic in it's own right but despite the humorous slant it there's also a very dark presence from the parallels with Western lynchings. I suspect this is not accidental having seen Tom's liking for hinting at forbidden fetishes (like sounding, fisting and bestiality) and how adept he was at disguising his messages when he needed to.
Strung Up By The Mob

The suspended outlaw is memorably chastened by belt and cock and left hanging, shortly to become an object of interest to a randy American Indian who just happens to be lurking nearby. This suggestive ending is similar to Kake 5 where the compromised and helplessly-cuffed (and also hairy) thief awaits the (probably cruel) attentions of an approaching policeman. Unfortunately, even allowing for Tom's penchant for provocative post-scripts (as in Kake 21) this version involves an unhappy use of racial stereotyping. It's in a similar vein to his depiction of 'natives' in the 1960's 'Jungle Jack', in fact the imagery in this Wild West story seems to be drawn entirely from the comics and films of the 50's and 60's. Even the cowboys don't seem to reflect Tom's visits to America when he had probably seen real ones (who can be just as well built and impressive as the cops in Highway Patrol).

The portrayal of this native American is so dated that it speaks of naivety rather than malice, a miscalculation like the hi-jacker scenario in Kake 8. But at this time (1982), Tom is a mature 60 and culturally we are midway between 'Soldier Blue' and 'Little Big Man' (1970) and 'Dances with Wolves' (1990), so one might have hoped for something more enlightened.

The next story isn't actually set in the US at all. 'Kake in Canada' (No 24) is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for Tom with a friendly, hulking logger providing the entertainment. Tom frequently depicted sexual encounters in woodland settings which are standard cruising grounds for gays (e.g. in Kake 4). However, loggers in forests are quite different animals. They are symbols of male virility, like construction workers, who unselfconsciously display their naturally developed bodies as they work and are frequently admired from afar by adolescent boys (and men who should know better). Coming across one working alone, Kake sees the opportunity to realise a boyhood fantasy and his approach accordingly is more circumspect and respectful than usual, as he confesses his admiration for the logger's physique.
Evening All!

The lonely logger soon catches on and one thing leads to another, but their fun is interrupted when a Mountie (i.e. a Canadian Mounted Policeman) comes knocking on the door, minus horse and seeking shelter from the inclement weather - shades of Agatha Christie and a hundred horror films. Those who doubt my views on the threatening, authoritarian role of Policemen in these stories might like to observe how Kake and his new friend hastily make themselves decent as the Mountie enters. Tom has has dedicated a picture exclusively to this scary moment of 'being found out' and he's drawn it with a care which clearly demonstrates it's erotic significance to him.
 A New Mount

Kake rapidly decides that this brand of copper in his fancy, bum-flattering, red coat is an opportunity not a threat and is soon up to his usual groping tricks. His muscular new friend proves to be of like mind and restrains the shocked Mountie while Kake goes through the contents of his trousers and then conducts an in depth follow up. It seems to be a sweat-inducing, frightening, new experience for the Mountie (above) but an intensely satisfying, shared pleasure for the boys.
Double Cocked

Their enjoyment is short lived however, as the Mountie shows considerable ingenuity in locating his handcuffs and somehow locking both his attacker's balls into the same ring, thus fulfilling the old adage that the Mounties always get their man. He celebrates by baptising their conjoined genitalia with a well-aimed despatch of cum. This scene where the Policeman reasserts his authority and pays back his tormentors is the only picture in the whole story where the viewer can see that he is aroused and therefore can be presumed to be enjoying the occasion. His cock is obscured from view during the preceding events, which is rare enough in these stories to be considered significant, just like 'the dog which did not bark in the night'.

The story tantalisingly ends at this point, all we see is the Mountie departing towards the mountains seemingly savouring the memory of the encounter with the rub of a hitherto unseen, riding crop, - a crop whose sting one might suppose has just been tasted by Kake and his Lumberjack accomplice, thereby restoring him to his customary mid-table position in the hierarchy of Kakeworld.

The structure of this plot is very similar to the 'Wild West' story with an opening, free and easy sex scenario, followed by a rather more fraught middle section and an open ending featuring tethered balls in both cases. It's quite clever how Tom has flipped the characters to produce a very different storyline.

 Can't You Read?

Postal Sex No 25 dispenses with the carefree sex altogether and features another of Kake's red rage moments when a postman/mail-man foolishly bends his photograph while attempting to get it into the mail box. Compare this image with that of the Careless Biker and Careless Sailor in Part 1 and see how Tom's fascination with domination spans the years. Hardly changed, except now it's Kake who's doing the dominating. The rest of this tale perhaps gives an idea as to how those 1963 series might have developed in different times.
I Didn't Mean It Mister!

The Postman is subjected to a stinging spanking and forced to provide sexual services as punishment for his laziness. The 'Do Not Bend' instruction on the package provides a justification for this action and a humorous (but not entirely accurate) comment on it, but Tom allows Kake to exhibit surprising levels of anger and controlling behaviour on occasions. It seems to be completely at odds with his apparently carefree approach to life, but if you think about it, is actually quite consistent with his no-negotiation, 'get on with it' seduction technique.
Kake's Special Delivery

The triggers for Kake's anger in this case are interesting - a damaged picture (no doubt close to Tom's heart) and the Mail-man's disregard for the written instructions. Kake's impatience with a younger man's casual rule breaking is a typical sign of growing older, but more than a little hypocritical. The anger in Greasy Rider (No 21) is slightly more complex, it too stems from a young man's disrespect for 'The Rules' (of trespass), but is also prompted by a direct sexual challenge to the older man (who both is and isn't Kake -see my commentary above). Both stories but Greasy Rider in particular seem to reflect rather neatly a confused resentment of ageing. This explanation can also be applied to the 'Just out of Reach' picture, which I discussed some time ago. That one's from 1970 when Tom hits 50. Now with the Mail-man he's nearly 65 and has just discovered a veritable wonderland of youth and guilt-free sex, but he's too old (and too venerated) to enjoy it fully. Wouldn't it make you feel grumpy?

(Kake's anger in story 5 is slightly different, caused by the theft of his leathers, which represent his 'gay identity' as well as property. Theft was another sore point with Tom and I will return to it later.)
Predatory Punks
Back with the Postal Sex story, the postbox design and 'mail-man' terminology provides a tenuous anchor in the USA but there's not much other evidence of observation of Postal Uniforms or any other aspect of American life, although you might count the two passing punks I suppose. These are two of Tom's more scary creations and become involved in the action. They end up participating in the exploitation of the hapless young postman, feeding him to Kake's dick and then taking a piece for themselves. When he finally escapes, the Mail man is smiling, but it's for the first time in the story - and he's already being closely watched by a sly policeman who clearly fancies a go himself.
Kake In The Office

Kake becomes a chauffeur for his swansong in a big city office but there are no white knuckle rides here. I love Tom's clothing fetish but not always his taste in military uniforms and Kake's gear in this story is almost a parody of Tom's fixation on the buttoned up look and ballooning pants. For once he does not seem able to tap into the subject environment convincingly, nor pick up the potent power mechanisms that make his best stories fizz. Instead he falls back on a roaming variation of the jaded, accumulating orgy theme. If you don't mind skirt, the story is enlivened when he catches out the office Romeo shagging a secretary over a desk, a neat reversal of the gay 'exposed' scenario. Kake takes advantage of Lover Boy's unprotected ass which seems to have the effect of temporarily boosting the (supposedly) straight man's performance with his girl, but he seems rather less unhappy about the after-burn effect (above).


Tom really raised the ante in this final group of stories blending the consensual and non-consensual in an ever more ambiguous manner, with an occasional, tasty topping of the threatening, extreme or bizarre. It's powerful erotica that is loved by millions of fans precisely for it's dangerous perversity and edginess. The series was never simply about a Utopian dream of men giving themselves freely in carefree sex. It's also chronicles what it's like to be gay, how the gay world functions, it's pleasures and it's dangers. 

Kake grows older and changes as the series progresses. His clumsy youthful adventuring transitions into comfortable, mid-life promiscuity until, in Tom's advancing age, he is made to confront his demons again. He doesn't entirely grow up or become sensible and he never quite loses his vulnerability, but he grows in stature and courage, so that by the end he's not just taking what he wants, but confronting what he sees as wrong.

As the series ends there's a sad sense of job done, game over, as Kake wanders through the totally alien environment of an office, going from one group to another, repeating what has gone before without very much purpose, but still simply enjoying the company of men.

Tom's fans reading these stories instinctively recognise and empathise with the expression of personal gay experiences and feelings that shape these tales, including the resentment, hurt and anger that sometimes simmers just below the surface. That recognition of a kindred, slightly tortured, spirit is just as empowering as the sight of men free to enjoy sex together without guilt and is part of Tom's continuing appeal in more enlightened times.

The innocuous 'joy of sex' terminology beloved of his modern day publishers and attempts to whitewash his career with a superficial paint job of political correctness and arty respectability not only misrepresents and devalues his achievements, but denies the very essence of his work, which is anything but correct and respectable. Tom, I think, was an easy going chap who would go with the flow to achieve what he wanted but I suspect he would be both amused and saddened by the spectacle of spin-doctoring. Fortunately we still have his work and that will always speak for itself and keep the torch burning.
To be continued in Part 5
Links to previous articles: Part 1 , Part 2 and Part 3
For other artists in the A-Z series click on the label below or search by name.