Comic History: The State of the Adult/Erotic Comic in the US



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PS. This post will NOT display any offensive images and will remain pretty “clean”, despite the topic.


Let me tell you something funny but true, something amazing and at the same time natural.

This blog wasn’t created as a spur of the moment thing. This blog took a year or so of preparation. Before I went live in May 2011 (Technically the end of April but…), I had already written about 5 articles that were ready to be posted.

I made the commitment of posting 2 entries per week, and I allocated the time from my personal life (after clearing it with the wife, of course) so I would be able to dedicate a few hours each week to building up this blog. I even consulted with a friend who specializes in SEO and we did a few things at the SEO level to gain presence. Goes to show you how dedicated I am.

In my planning phase I took into account that I wanted to keep track of the metrics, who had better tools, and which vehicle gave me better exposure.

So here I am, writing about David Finch, Juan Jose RyP among other artists, and here I am preparing brainy discussions about comics, and hidden classics and stuff like that… and which is the one article that always sends my blog hits through the roof? Which is the one post that gets hit everyday like 10 or 20 times, without failure?

The one that mentions the artist that is synonym with Erotic comics, Milo Manara.

And what terms are being searched for, that return those hits? Erotic Comics and Milo Manara.

Anything else may get a hit or two.  I remember how giddy I got when Larry Hamma reposted in Facebook my entry about Nth Man, and I got like 100 hits just in an hour…. But what was there lurking behind those hundreds of hits? You could find the steady and sure hits for Erotic Comic and Indian Summer.


It makes me smile, and it brings me to the writing of this post.

No matter how good we are with our hobbies, whether it is comics or movies or music, the one thing that still moves more money, power and search-engine hits, is still sex.

This inevitably led me to ask myself “What is the state of the erotic comic book today?” and this blog entry was born.

Let me give you a historical fact, enveloped in a healthy dose of subjectivism: In the US, the country that was founded on Freedom from oppression and Freedom of religion, we turned out to be a pretty prurient bunch for the majority of our history.

I image that our Puritanical past has to carry some historical memory and weight on the psychological building of our nation. After all, this was one of the last countries to abolish slavery, while at the same time it had the most number of churches in the “civilized” world, and a strong cleric base that found ways of morally justifying slavery. See the paradox? It was OK to strip a human being of his basic rights basing your prejudice on the color of the other man’s skin, but it was not ok for a woman to show her ankles in public!

Fast-forward to the 20th century, when prohibition is trying to create a nation of abstinent people (and failing at it) and as a byproduct is creating a whole culture of underground trafficking (those of you too laze to read history books, try catching the critically acclaimed show on HBO Boardwalk Empire, about Atlantic City NJ during the Prohibition.)

The US seems to enjoy its history of finding a problem and addressing only the symptom, never the cause. In the same way that the demonization of some substances in the later part of the 20th century led to the  creation of an amazing economy of law enforcement with thousands of police officers and jails, while keeping a disproportionate percentage of the population incarcerated, but did very little to curtail the real source of the problem, so it happened in the early years of the century (and later) with our perceptions regarding sex in general, and in comics in particular.

I still remember reading that wonderful vignette on Will Eisner’s The Dreamer (his pseudo-biographical graphic-novel of how he started in the business, a must read!) when the main character, an aspiring comic book artist, is offered to draw a “Tijuana Bible” and he blushes and declines.

I swear that the young artist in The Dreamer sometimes looks like Denny Colt as drawn in the 1950’s.

Tijuana Bibles (you can Google it for more info) where the Doujinshi (keep reading for more explanation on what a doujinshi is later on) of the day. They were cheap printed books showing famous charactersof the times (Popeye, DickTracy, Flash Gordon)  engaged in sexual situations. They were parodies, but were made for money and profit, and most of the time the printing was bankrolled by a mobster.

They were pervasive between 1920’s and 30’s and started dying in the 40’s. Now, Will Eisner was no prude himself, although he was a man of taste. But he was a savvy artist, and later a savvy publisher, and he did recognized the power of “Sexyness” versus overt pornography, and used sexy females (and males) in many illustrations. The Spirit was full of femme fatales, and couldn’t tell you which one more sexy than the other. During his revival in the 70’s Will Eisner did some illustrations for conventions and other events that dealt with nudity. But I repeat: The man had class.

And as far as I can tell, the majority of artists have to deal with nudity and sexyness in their trade. There are exceptions to the rule, so please refrain from bombarding me with notes stating “NO!!! ANATHEMA!! Such and Such artist was a righteous man through and through and never did an indecent picture in his life!!” because those cases are the exceptions that confirm the rule.

You see, most artists at one time or another have to draw the human figure naked, and what some people may consider “indecent” others just consider it part of their jobs. And then there are lots of artists who thoroughly enjoy focusing on drawing nude figures. And then you have those even fewer artists that made a living at drawing only sexy nude figures (Armando Huerta, Raven Gregory I am looking at you kids, and tipping my hat!).

So, in the US Publishing ladscape between 1900’s and 1950, you had some adult material. They were likely frowned upon, but you had also Pulps, the mass produced POP stories, lots of them also covering seedy themes and displaying sultry temptress in their covers. No pictures inside, though.

But after the 1954 Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency, the ones that brought into being the Comic Code Authority, the history of sex-themed comics is spotty and murky. The witch hunt generated by the hearings not only sent a lot of the publishers of sex-themed books out of business, but also did plenty of damage to legit publishers, as William Gaines is proof.

I ignore the history of most sex-oriented comic publications from the 50’s through the 80’s or whether there were any at all. Talk about serious underground in the US. I mean, you get guys like Wally Wood doing Sally Forth, and Ron Embleton doing Wicked Wanda for the Penthouse magazine, but besides that… it is unlikely to find a line of comics, or a run on a sex-oriented magazine/comic in those dark years, other than Snatch or Zap in the underground section. More learned comic-book historians will correct me here, I’m sure of it. But Underground section means what it says UNDERGROUND. UNDER THE ROCKS. HARD TO FIND. Robert Crumb, Gilbert Sheldon, Jay Kinney… all cut their drawing teeth in the underground scene.

But fast-forward to the 1980’s when comics started to break free from the Comic Code Authority, and some comics start to get published in magazine-format to avoid answering to the Comic Code, and we find the lines starting to blurr a bit more. I actually remember seeing reprints in album formats of the hilarious work of Gilbert Sheldon with The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and its spinoff Fat Freddy’s Cat. My sides still hurt and threaten to split after all these year at mere mention of Fat Freddy’s Cat!!

But these were far in between. The few shops that dared to carry them, had them in a special section, cordoned with alarm bells and big signs that read “Pervs ONLY”, just like they used to do in the VHS store days, where you had to go behind the curtain, and all eyes were set on you going in!

NO! Of course I am not advocating that adult comics be intermingled with the Disney’s main titles sharing space in the same rack! (This message is important, thus the bold letters)

But the way that most stores in the 80 and some even in the 1990’s demonized sexually-explicit comics was not the answer either.

I promise a whole rant (Blog entry) on that excuse about “SAVE THE CHILDREN” that we Americans constantly use for everything, but now let me continue with my thread.

But despite the separate areas and the big signs, I remember that eventually Larry Weltz came into the scene and published his Cherry Poptart (now known simply as Cherry) and two things happened:

One is that his style is very easy on the eyes, and his characters are usually parodies of other characters, so lots of “Concerned Parents” groups started setting up petitions and movements to ban Larry’s materials from comic shops. Then again the rest of the industry didn’t get the memo stating that comic books stores are supposed to be hang-outs for kids, de-facto babysitters for parents.

Second is that the comic book industry experienced that small boom of the late 80’s and Larry’s material was able to wade most storms and thrive.

In the scene also erupted Tim Vigil with his violent, bombastic and artistically groundbreaking Faust, and suddenly, in the comic books stores in the US we started seeing racks that were deemed “For Adults Only” and it had issues of The Crow, by James O’barr, Rick Veitch’s Bratpack, and all the issiues of Heavy Metal being published. The signs got less demeaning, and the quality in the racks went up by leaps and bounds.

I even remember the famed Cracked magazine putting forth the silly interviews of Nanny Dickering, drawn superbly by Bill Ward, and you knew that cheesecake was here to stay!

After that the Adult comic category continued to expand at a good rate during the 1990’s and 2000’s. Although the category of ADULT continued to encompass (And wisely, if I may say so) both erotic and violent or too graphic material, it is very seldom that we hear complaints about watchdogs groups raising a stink regarding this. I think the industry must be doing something right, after all.

We should also give a very special mention to Fantagraphic publishers for their imprint Eros Comix for importing and translating so many great adult oriented graphic novels from all over the world.

Now the 21st century has turned to be an embarrassment of riches on the real of the Adult comic book field. For starters the internet has bridged the gap between far away geographies and we can enjoy lots of artists from Europe and Asia, and appreciate their craft. You can order publications in their original languages when not available in english, and access over the web Catala Comunications orNantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing, and have access to Milo Manara and his whole Click collection, or stay more conservative and read the magnificient adventures of Guissepe Bergman.

We are seeing Brian Pulido and Armando Huerta taking erotic arts to new heights, and in we can search by artist or themes and get our share of pros as well as new comers. The imprint Zenoscope has been cruising that fine line of sexy art while keeping out of the pornographic realm. Their covers are certainly sexy and provocative but their contents are pretty mild.

While westward across the pond Japan, always known for its quality manga, has also raised the bar on its Hentai production (Manga of sexual nature) and the quality is astounding at times. What’s more their artists have an easier time moving between PG manga en Hentai without so much stigma placed on their careers. If the artist is good, it’s a good artist, period.

Japan is also producing Doujinshi of startling quality. Doujinshi, as I promised the explanation at the beginning of the blog entry, are Hentai comics that use characters famous in anime or manga, and put them in sexual situations. You see? The Tijuana bibles of Japan, except that lately they have amazing art!!!

And the web is the great equalizer. We still have to find better ways of monetizing the work of the artist, but otherwise a person can research an almost bottomless trove or riches by typing names such as Milo Manara, Paolo Serpieri, Guido Crepax,  Adam Warren, Horacio Altuna and a loooooong etc…

And a whole other area too large to address here is the one pertaining private websites, where you register and pay to access it, and some offer you exclusive content created just for the site that you won’t find anywhere else. Fansadox is one that comes to mind that has recruited very good and professional artists, although they mainly cater to the S&M crowd and the subject of most of their books will deal with taboos of submission and sadism, to a degree that catches a lot of readers unprepared.

The list is too long to put here (and believe it or not, it is not my specialty, anyway).


Now, let me take my place in my soap box for minute:

I don’t BELIEVE this blog NEEDED to be labeled “For Adults Only” because although it does deal with an adult theme, there is NOTHING in it that I think could be harmful to a minor.

I also BELIEVE that minors have no business reading this entry and that’s why I put the initial warning, and refrained from putting any illustrations. I preferred to err on the side of caution and put the disclaimer at the beginning of the blog entry.

This entry has been written with care and with tact, aiming to be informative, and above all non-offensive.

But unfortunately in the US we still carry and defend lots of hypocritical attitudes that should be defied, challenge and torn down.

For example, we let our sons and daughters join the armed forces at 18 years young, but then we deny them the freedom to exercise their self restrain when dealing with alcohol.

In other words, we allow our young to learn about firearms and killing (under the pretense of patriotism), but not about how to moderate your beer intake.

And our media outlets (POP Music and movies) have no problem allowing children of 13 to see a violent film where dismemberment takes place, but as soon as a female breast is shown, it turns the venue into Adults Only.

AMERICA, we can’t sustain the hypocrisy of saying people are old enough at 18 to carry a tool of death (firearm) but they are not responsible to manage their own alcohol consumption.

Notice that I am advocating equality in the eyes of the law. Either let them drink at 18 and make the legal age for everything, or don’t let them joined the armed forces till there are 21 and make that the legal age for everything.

But then we have reality shows glorifying teen pregnancy while in the county next door the school board is against sexual education classes altogether!!


Let me get off my soap box before I say something I truly regret!

As always, any comments are welcome. I prefer them as comments posted on the blog, but I will continue to answer private messages, that’s just the type of nice guy I am.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. vincent Lavarello says:

    America has had the double standerd throughout its history! It sad but true! Before Jesus was born the Eygyptians already had erotic art everywhere, and I’m sure it goes much further back in time then that! You did forget to mention the great Robert Crumd who broke some barriers in the 60’s! Of course my peronel illustrate book collection go well back to the 1930’s pulp and paperback covers with nudity! In art school

  2. vincent Lavarello says:

    In art school we had to draw the human form from live naked (yes naked) models, most aspiring artists had no problem with it but there was always tnat small percentage who did or were embarassed by it! The college Broward Community even made the best teacher I had stop playing Bob Dylan music as it distracted some of the retirees who were taking credits just for fun, not to pursue art as a career! I guess you just can’t make everyone happy, but in a country founded on freedom of speech and the pursuit of happiness, I think it time to actually live what we preach!

  3. ComicWatcher says:

    In my defense, i did mentioned Robert Crumb when listing the important underground american artists, together with Gilbert Sheldon, Jay Kinney.
    But I have to agree with you that he does deserve much more coverage and space here, than the brief mention I did. All of them do!

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