San Francisco had long been a mecca for queer people by the time the third issue of Gay Heart Throbs was published in summer 1981 by Inkwell, Inc, a company founded by Larry Fuller and Ray Horne though it was initially known as FulHorne Productions. The two men, Black and straight, had met in 1971. A year earlier Fuller had created and published Ebon, the first Black superhero comic. The first issue was published in 1976 and issue #2 followed in 1979.
What else was happening in 1981? Ronald Reagan is President and a lot of Americans understand the lie about “trickle down theory.” Disco isn’t dead yet and punk rock and the British Invasion are gaining in popularity. Movies like An American Werewolf In London, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Body Heat thrilled movie audiences. Dynasty, Hill Street Blues, and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends all debuted on television that same year and you either stayed home to watch episodes or caught them in reruns because VCRs were uncommon due to cost. And a new comic book featuring a character who’d be loved and embraced by many queer fans launched in early 1981. Maybe you’ve heard of Dazzler?
Between the two covers are four stories and two pinups featuring lots of nearly naked or nude men having lots of fantastical, wild, tender, and erotic sex with other men – none of which can be shown here out of concern over host provider issues. If you’ve ever seen a Meatmen anthology then you have a really good idea.
Mike Kuchar’s “…And Still They Come” is a story about carnal pleasures and excesses and naked gladiators fighting one another for the entertainment of the Roman elite, in particular one champion gladiator over the course of a day and a night. Kuchar’s gladiators are beefy, muscular, and swaggering just as they should be and every penis is just as big and veiny a shower as you can imagine! The aesthetic on display belongs to the “more is better” school. The Art Nouveau period artist Aubrey Beardsley comes to mind, but in a very different stylization. Muscles are detailed with hatch line strokes, more shading and texture is created with cross-hatching and stippling. Backgrounds brim with details: phallis shaped idols, people, buildings, eagles, and more sexual imagery. The bit of text in the images give you an idea of Kuchar’s writing reflects. It’s reminiscint of how stories were written in porn mags back in the day.
Here’s another sample if you like: “Muscular and gleaming in sweat he knelt at my feet. I eased in. The sensation was delicious. I kept pace with the mounting groans around me and to the pulse of my own racing heart, sliding in, out, in, out and around, held firm in the sweet slippery embrace of a lover’s lips, until a flood that was bliss turned me inside out.”
“The Playground” Joe de Anchon and Bendal on art is puzzling. The story involves two antagonists, an unnamed, racist construction worker and a man Rodriguez. They meet in a park while Mr Racist eats lunch alone, calling a shirtless Rodriguez practices yoga nearby “Gomez.” Refusing to be baited, Rodriguez states several panels later that “I use no drugs. I don’t take coffee or tea. I don’t smoke. I have nothing to do with women. I will come back in the next life as a white man and fuck all the white women I can.” Mr McRacist is also a rapist who threatens to kill a woman if she screams while also calling her a slur. A shadowy figure (actually Rodriguez) half hidden behind a tree observes without taking any action. Tension escalates between the two men and explodes another night as Rodriguez attacks rapey Mr McRacist about to rape another woman. A chase leads them to an abandoned building where they fight. Rodriguez gains the upper hand…and then coerces McRacist into having sex causing him to have an emotional breakdown. De Anchon supplies the reasoning with this speech: “You have experienced your true nature, It is truly said that as you do unto others so shall it be done unto you.”
Later that night McRapist attempts to commit suicide but his effort is thwarted by a passerby, a gay man named Albert. A good listener, Albert leads our anonynomous bad guy to a nearby park, offering to listen to his troubles. Of course it leads to some amazing sex between them and sets him on a new happier, presumably non rapey, non racist path with Albert by his side. To be fair the creators had a lot to cover in trying to make a coherent story full of complex ideas in just seven pages so there’s a lot of nuance to be desired. Even so, I find it difficult not to think the moral of the story is eye for an eye (or hole for a hole) justice can riddle you with guilt to the point of suicide but the understand of a goodnatured gay man can lead to a happier life all the while unwittingly help you to avoid arrest by police because they see creepy gay guy Albert hanging all over you in public and assume you’re gay even though the police wanted sketch is an exact match you.
As the title suggest, “Narciss” is a gay interpretation of the Greek myth of the beautiful youth Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection after seeing it mirrored back by a pool of water. Here the uncredited creator(s) take it a step beyond with Narciss’ reflected image emerging from the pool to enjoy each other’s bodies. Here too Narciss’ fate remains true to the various versions of the myth.
“Bath” is the closing story and also the longest coming in at 11 pages. This story, like “Narciss,” is uncredited according to the Grand Comics Database which is a shame because it is in my humble opinion the most well aesthetically realized piece of the lot. Here our anonymous creator(s) follows one man going to a bath house for sex, tracing him from out on the street to paying, stripping, watching other men, finally having sex with another guy, and then back on the street later that night. A great sense of anatomy gives the artist a firm >ahem< foundation for drawing sexy, muscular men with body hair. Every body or object is drawn with a thick confident line. Reorienting most of the pages to landscape format, flipping the comic 90 degrees, allowed the artist to create a more cinematic focus to draw attention to these sexy and very sexual men. There is no dialog or sound effects to distract the reader, now turned into a voyeur, from this celebration of gay sex.
“…And Still They Come” and “Bath are perfect choices to begin and end the issue as the aesthetics are opposites evan as the creators focus on the sensuality of male bodies and men having sex with men. Kuchar’s art is full of detail, almost ornate while the style in Bath sparse. The scripting for the first story is full of dialog and interior thoughts of the gladiator where “Bath” is entirely wordless.
Rounding out the issue are pinups for the interior front and back covers featuring art by W. Spade, AKA Wiley Spade and A. Christian Black. Both names were aliases. The first used by Ray Horne and the second by Larry Fuller. Horne’s alias was perhaps his way of defusing a racist slur though this is speculation on my part. Horne died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1995. Both men’s pinups do not shy away from eroticism of the male body. The sexual energy in Fuller’s collage of solo men and male couples is so unmistakable that I’d easily believe Fuller was gay. One of Kuchar’s main gladiators, drawn in full color, graces the full color back cover. A viewpoint from near ground level puts the focus on the gladiator’s thick penis and powerful hips and thighs. Two nude gladiators drawn in silhouette with a red/orange/yellow ombre coloring effect flank the first fighter. Placing them against an all white background really punches up the erotic energy.
Apologies for the lack of explicit imagery. You’re in luck if you’re at all curious or want to own a piece of early queer comics history! Copies can be bought from Last Gasp for $7.95 (plus shipping) as of the date of this writing. That price is a lot more reasonable than what Ebay sellers typically list copies. Just follow this link.
Addendum: Perhaps the singular most important event that happened in 1981 came the first week of June when the CDC reported a cluster of five cases involving gay men diagnosed with Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, or PCP, an opportunistic infection that would soon become an all too well known symptom of a collapsing immune system and definer of HIV/AIDS.
If searching for more info about this issue or the previous two, keep in mind you may need to use “Gay Heart Throbs” or “Gay Hearthrobs/ Heartthrobs” as your search terms.
Thanks for reading!