My roommates and I were watching that old Marlon Brando movie The Wild One a while back, the premise of which is a bunch of bikers getting scolded by small townies for partying too much (well, basically). At some point not too far in to the film someone commented on how 'gay' the main characters, especially Brando, look. The tight jeans and leather jacket combo, that once meant 'bad boy,' has long since transmogrified, and in this day and age the face of masculinity is much different. In The Wild One, Brando looks like something straight off of Tom of Finland's desk. Familiar?
I'm not gonna' lie, Tom of Finland's illustrations aren't really for everyone. Heck, it's probably for very few in the grand scheme, but in all honesty, I'm an admitted fan. Aside from the big remaindered Taschen collections of his work (kept upstairs next to exhilarating titles such as The Big Penis Book, and Japanese Bar Girls Bare All) most of his books would be found in the fantasy and erotic art section of Green Apple, the most puzzling section that I am set to the task of maintaining. There, amongst the Boris Vallejo and Hajime Sorayama collections, Tom's work stands out- and not just because of its blatant homosexual content amid a myriad of clearly heterosexual artists. There is something in Tom's work that is inherently subversive.
Tom's drawings were appearing in 'men's health magazines' before the closet door had a handle. He was questioning gender roles and above all, authority. This was a time when most countries in the world still held on to archaic 'acts against nature' laws (Tom was born in nineteen twenty). Still it was not until the nineteen seventies that Tom began to receive public recognition. Fashion designer Viviennen Westwood picked up on Tom's art and incorporated it in to her own back in the heyday of UK punk, sometime before the genre had become a parody of itself. Floating around somewhere out there are some very famous photographs of Sid Vicious wearing her designs which feature Tom's art.
I suppose what fascinates me is (aside from the fact that his drawings crack me up), is the concept that two yoked dudes getting sweet on each other is so appalling in this world. Maybe I've been living in The Bay Area too long to understand. Regardless though, I'm happy Tom's work is out there, and I'm happy that he made it safer for us all to be a little weirder.
Touko Laaksonen (Tom's real name) RIP (and Marlon too).