Mar 212011

The promotional website for the book Permanent Obscurity has a brief history of fetish and bondage artist Eric Stanton and his business relationship with Irvine Klaw.

Biographical facts about his life are often contradictory and murky; and sometimes he would contribute to this misinformation personally. There’s even some question of his real name: was he born “Ernest Stanzoni” as claimed in the huge Eric Kroll coffee table book? Or is his birth name “Ernest Stanten,” as claimed by Belier publisher and personal friend and associate, J.B. Rund?

Most of what I know about the sexploitation era and the subgenre of what was then labeled “bizarre,” which today would be assigned fetish culture or kink, I’ve learned through tracking Stanton. He remains, in some strange way, a central figure for me (my own personal Dante) whose life intersected with other curious characters of the day, artists and business people, gangsters and hacks … shadowy and mythologized figures I’ve come to admire and who I never grow tired of hearing about: Irving Klaw, Bettie Page, Gene Bilbrew, Lenny Burtman, Eddie Mishkin, Stanley Malkin…. And then, of course, there’s Steve Ditko, Spider-Man co-creator and Stanton’s friend-as well as his studio mate of 10 years.

(ellipsis in original)

According to this, Stanton would self-publish and self-print his own works with his own photocopier. I’ve always been interesting in the means of production and distribution for works that had such a huge influence on the history of kink, and it seems fitting that so much of it was produced on a shoestring, in a confluence between people who were seeking a market niche and people who were seeking their kink.

PS: I’d be interested to know what Ditko, known for espousing a harsh Objectivist philosophy in his work, would have made of Stanton’s fetish art. Then again, there’s something a bit kinky in Ditko’s Objectivist characters. The Question wore a rubber mask that made him look like he had no facial features at all, just smooth skin. Mr. A, an even harsher character, wore a steel helmet that gave him unmoving, impassive features, as well as steel gloves that locked on. It struck me as fitting that a character so committed to an ideology would go to such extremes in concealing his own humanity and in not having to touch the messy, complicated human world. (Both characters were the inspiration for Rorshach in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen.)

Jan 192011

Strange Sisters has a gallery of vintage lesbian pulp novel covers with BDSM themes from decades past.

Most of them seem to depict lesbianism as a form of sadistic predation of the dominant, often masculinized woman upon the “confused” woman. Others create a triangular composition of helpless male observer, aggressive female and victim female. The male observer seems to vacillate between delighted voyeur and underdog hero. Some of the images also incorporate elements of the occult, too, with burning braziers or strange idols, and cover blurbs that mention “cults”.

Aug 212010

From A Sound Awareness, a 1965 album called Tortura: The Sounds of Pain and Pleasure, released by Bondage Records, nothing but people screaming, moaning, crying, groaning and laughing while being whipped. Note the sub-Willie/Stanton/Bilbrew art. (Mediafire download, streaming audio at

This blog has some other images of historical kinky ephemera, including a collection of pro domme advertising cards, and some Atomage rubber fetish fashion images.

May 232010

I finally got through the 1400-or-so pages of the Taschen reprint of John Willie’s Bizarre.

Bizarre is definitely in the tradition of Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, London Life, Photo Bits, but unlike them it made almost no pretense of being a general interest magazine. It never completely gives up the pretense. Most issues include a photo or illustration of a woman tied up with the captions “Don’t let this happen to you!” and “Learn Jiu-Jitsu and the art of self-defense.” I believe it was sold through adult stores instead of general interest newsstands.

A brief rundown of the fetishes: bondage, corsetry, high heeled shoes and boots, gagging, cross-dressing, amputees, masks, spanking and humiliation.

The second volume is less interesting, as there’s little of Willie’s art, replaced by photo reprints from movies, and the letters get repetitive. There are also fewer editorials in Willie’s voice, a man-of-the-world who writes on fashion and style, in a kind of faux aristocrat tone.

As with all fetish correspondence magazines, there’s the question of how much, if any, of these letters were real, and how much, if any, were mailed in from readers instead of being written in house. My take is that the letters came from readers, for the most part, though probably edited a bit.

Some of them are more plausible than others. One guy wrote in with tips on how to smuggle cameras into movie theaters and take pictures of the film, and included a list of movies with bondage scenes in them. This is a distant ancestor of the video captures traded on the internet today.

At least one of them was for real. “Ibitoe”, later known as Fakir Musafar, wrote in Volume 21 in about his self-driven body modification efforts. It’s likely that this was the early form of the modern body modification/modern primitive culture, just isolated individuals pursuing their own muses, and no means of connection other than these obscure magazines.

The editorial material has a backwards-looking tendency common in fetish publications. Some of the stories refer to Victorian-era clothing and social relations, with “Memoirs of Paula Sanchez” purporting to be a 19th century memoir. Other features wax Orientalist. Volume 19 had “Saudi Arabian Nights”, supposedly based on “Flesh for Sale”, an article published in the New York Post in 1956, which claims that the slave trade continues in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Accurate or not, the author of the article instead switches to “the report of a British agent who was through the area in the early 30’s,” privileging this anonymous “agent’s” account over the more recent news article. The “agents” account goes into pornographic detail about the alleged slave markets, describing the slaves and how they were dressed and bound, and speculating about Russian female aristocrat ending up as slaves.

A letter in Volume 26, “Eastern Diplomacy”, is another classic Orientalist fantasy set in Turkey circa 1917, full of harems and flagellation.

Another letter by “Darlene” (Vol. 24) had a man forced, by blackmail, to dress as black woman and to pick cotton.

I had hoped that there would be some suggestion of what the hetero BDSM culture, if any, was like the USA in the 1940s and 1950s. Once you remove the letters that are just implausible, there doesn’t seem to be a culture, just isolated individuals writing letters to magazines and newspapers, and gleaning bits of fetish art and photography from mainstream culture.

Nonetheless, this is an ancestor of the modern BDSM/fetish culture.

Jul 192009

EMPOWERED 5 duct tapery japery by *AdamWarren on deviantART

Comics artist and writer Adam Warren on “Empowered“, his “sexy, superhero comedy”, (except when it isn’t). Empowered is a chronically unlucky rookie superheroine who loses all her powers whenever her skin-tight, black suit is ripped even slightly. Because of the “unwritten rules” nearly all superheroes and villains subscribe to, she won’t be killed or seriously hurt, but she does end up tied up, or strapped down, or gagged, or chloroformed, or glued to something, etc. Often a little spanking too.
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Sep 272008

I found an extensive archive of essays and images related to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a key abolitionist text.

One thing that surprised me is that, after reading Robin Wood’s account of the sexualized images used in abolitionist writing, the hundreds of images in the archive, from 1852 to 1930, most of them were not at all sexual. There are many depictions of key scenes in the novel (e.g. Tom rescuing Eva from drowing, Eva and Tom together, Eliza’s dramatic flight across the ice floes) but very little in the way of beatings. I don’t know if this is a preference of those who edit the archive, or a representative sampling of the period.

However, there was a notable exception.

Uncle Tom\'s Cabin Cruikshank 1852 utilljso02

George Cruikshank was one of the most famous book illustrators in Victorian England. The twelve “original illustrations” in this turn-of-the-century edition were originally drawn in 1852, for one of the many pirated British editions of Stowe’s novel. At that time they were even more influential than the pictures Billings drew for Jewett’s editions in shaping the way readers around the world “saw” the novel’s characters and events.

As you can see, this scene (which I think is meant to represent the fatal beating of Prue) is the most graphic depiction of punishment in the archive, far more so than any depiction of Tom’s fatal beating at the end of the novel. The woman is young, shapely, lighter in skin color than the man beating her, and positioned just so that one of her breasts is visible. She’s probably supposed to be a mulatto, and could be read as “white”.

I guess this means that the pornographic interpretations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin are in the minority, one of many re-interpretations of the work.

May 172007

Silent Porn Star pointed me at an interview with a woman artist who created some of the covers for Weird Tales in the 1930s, Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales

As kinky as these and other covers were (check out Dian Hanson’s books on post-WWII men’s magazines), they seem to have been created by people who had no particular kinkiness to them.

Everts: Do you recall the most controversial Weird Tales cover?

Brundage: We had one issue [the September, 1933 issue] that sold out! It was the story of a very vicious female, getting a-hold of the heroine and tying her up and beating her. Well, the public apparently thought it was flagellation and the entire issue sold out. They could have used a couple of thousand extra.

Everts: Did you choose that scene to illustrate?

Brundage: You see, I would submit about three different pencil sketches. And they would make the selection of the one I was to do in color. Once in a while I would suggest a little color in my sketches, but most of the time [pause] well, they were very rough. And yes, they chose the scene. I didn’t. Having read the story, the thought of flagellation never entered my head. I don’t think it had theirs either. But it turned out that way.

Everts: What inspiration did you use for the exotic covers, the clothing, the monsters?

Brundage: In almost every instance, just off the top of my head.

Everts: Were you ever asked to start covering your nudes a bit?

Brundage: I was never asked to, no. One funny thing did happen. One of the authors — well, Weird Tales asked me to make larger and larger breasts — larger than I would have liked to — well, one cover, one of the authors wrote in and said that things were getting a little bit out of line. And even for an old expert like him, the size of the breastwork was getting a little too large.

So, a magazine with two scantily clad beautiful women, one holding a whip, on the cover, and the public “thought” it was about flagellation?

It’s weird that there’s a whip (technically a cat or flail) in the illustration, yet Brundage takes no responsibility for it. Neither does she put the responsibility for it on the magazine’s editors and publishers. It sounds like it just appeared there spontaneously. Maybe it did, in the sense that people do include things unconsciously in their art.

I suspect that these types of illustrations were an American manifestation of memes bubbling up from European erotica/porn, but also American illustration traditions as well. Maybe kink is a kind of strange attractor which keeps pulling minds toward it, even if they’ve never heard of it before. Pauline Reage claimed she had not read Sade before she wrote Story of O.

See Yankee Classic for a collection of Weird Tales covers.

Apr 132006

I’m currently reading Peter Stallybrass’ and Allon White’s The politics and poetics of Transgression (Cornell University Press, 1986), which is largely based on Bakhtin’s concept of the carnivalesque. BDSM certainly fits the definition of a world turned inside out and upside down, where people chose their roles from a variety of options. The old become young (ageplay and infantilism), men become women and women become men (genderplay), the weak become strong (femdom), rape becomes love (rape play), confinement becomes freedom and pain becomes pleasure.

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