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The ‘Comics Stripped’ Exhibit: 100 Years of Comic Porn in One Room


Comics, by their very nature, are poorly suited for museum exhibits. They require a lot of space to tell their stories, a problem that is typically solved by printing them on thin sheets of paper which are stacked and bound. Laying the sheets side by side makes even a relatively small trade paperback take up a lot of space, which is fine — except that museums, (especially museums that cover niche topics like sex and comics) don’t have much space. I don’t have the solution to this problem, and neither does the Museum of Sex in their Comics Stripped exhibit in New York City, curated by Craig Yoe, which deals with erotica in comics.The exhibit suffers from an overabundance of comic porn. Rather than investigating one artist or theme in depth, they attempt to cover all of comic book porn history worldwide, resulting in a broad, shallow exhibit with an emphasis on some of the more extreme examples.

This problem is immediately apparent from the first display which tackles Hentai in three pages, a few paragraphs and a video of edited together clips from various anime features. Which isn’t to say that the Hentai section isn’t interesting — Did you know there’s a Japanese law forbiding the depiction of pubic hair which is often circumvented by artists not drawing it, thus making the characters look prepubescent? I didn’t. But let’s face it, if the entire exhibit had been on Hentai sexuality, it barely would have started to scratch the surface..

And so it goes. Comics Stripped breathlessly moves from Tijuana Bibles to Red Hot Riding Hood, Dan Decarlo, R. Crumb, Screw Magazine, Dean Yeagle, Jessica Fink, Jack Cole, Joe Shuster, the Comic Code Authority and Seduction of the Innocent, Eric Stanton, Wesley Morse, Jean Claude Forrest, Spain, Disney and much, much more. Even the most hardcore (pun intended) of comic book fans will be blown away (pun intended) by the breadth of comic book artists that drew dirty comics. It’s as if the social and legal restrictions of the time surpressed these desires until the pressure to express them became so extreme they exploded, leaving an inky burst onto the page (OK, I’m done with the puns, they’re out of my system I swear).

Or maybe it’s for some other reason. Are comic book artists especially inclined to create porn? Did financial pressures due to limited intellectual property rights force creators to turn to porn? Do dirty comics pay that well? Alan Moore believes that comics have a unique advantage in that the sex acts depicted are pure fantasy — as in his pornographic comic Lost Girls — as opposed to filmed porn where real people are involved. Could that explain why comic porn is so common and popular? The exhibit doesn’t attempt to answer the questions it raises.

Prominently featured are depictions of famous cartoon characters in various combinations of fornication, starting with Wally Wood’s famous Disney Memorial Orgy and working its way down to tons of anonymously drawn hardcore cartoons involving the Little Mermaid, Marge Simpson and Lois Griffin. It also has a money shot from the new, live action Wonder Woman porn Wonder Woman XXX: A Hardcore Parody, not to be confused with Wonder Woman XXX: A Porn Parody. Oh, and you get to see four pages of Wonder Woman getting raped, three from Eric Stanton’s Blunder Woman, one from Sex Manuel’s Fabulously Filthy Funnies. After going to this exhibit, I feel confident in saying that pretty much every famous cartoon character has had anonymous, dirty drawings done of them. [Ed. note: The internet will also confirm this.]

If you’ve read this far, you are probably thinking, “Well, if they couldn’t cover one subject in depth, at least they touched on everything important.” If only it were so. The omissions from the show are baffling; longer comic works that explore sexuality in depth, such as Black Hole or Lost Girls, are completely ignored. They mention R. Crumb’s version of Genesis, but not his treatment of sex in Genesis, which is perhaps the most interesting part of the book. Wonder Woman’s creator, Dr. William Moulton Marston, a.k.a. Charles Moulton, recieves no mention despite being a polygamist who used Wonder Woman to explore bondage and submission fantasies.

So to review, you get to see Wonder Woman get raped four times and take a load to the face, and yet there is no mention of the complicated and interesting sexual dynamics of her creator or her origins. Which really sums up my problem with this exhibit: While trying to cover everything, the exhibit leaves itself only a small space for historical and artistic context. The end result of this is a museum exhibit that feels a bit exploitive rather than educational.

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