I have a short review of Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-Creator Joe Shuster (Abrams ComicArts) in this week’s Las Vegas Weekly which you would perhaps like to go read. Go on, I’ll wait right here for you.
Hey, welcome back. So yeah, that’s what the book is in general, and how it is.
For a general audience, it’s probably something of a curiosity, a tragic tale of how this industry treated the artists who founded it and the dirty secrets behind our most beloved heroes, a so-perfectly-dramatic-you couldn’t-invent-it true story of cosmic ironies. Coupled with naughty but safe coffee table-ready fetish art for guests to chuckle over while you finish brushing your teeth or finding your wallet before you go out.
I think that for an audience already immersed in the wonderful, horrible world of comic book creation, publishing and consumption, it’s a rather more urgent work—or at least Yoe’s opening essay is.
If there’s a positive aspect of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel’s experiences with the comics industry, I suppose it would be that they offer the ultimate cautionary tale for creators interested in the field and, I would hope by 2009, publishers on how to treat creators (I assume—or should that be hope?—that the folks running the comics industry today grew up sympathizing with the Siegels and Shusters of the world, and are now in comics because they love comics and are dedicated to not repeating the sins of the past, whereas the folks running the comics industry at its infancy were mostly guys from other industries who saw away to make some bucks).
And Yoe tells that story here, with a focus on Shuster. The opening essay neatly summarizes the ups and downs of Shuster’s life and career, rather elegantly relating things I had read about it before (the anecdote about the down-on-his-luck Shuster taking a job as a delivery boy and on one occasion having to deliver something to the offices he used to work at always stuck with me), and some new, equally sad anecdotes I had not (including a story about Shuster drawing Superman’s for strangers to prove he created him). And then there’s the subject of the book, the fetish art Shuster provided to accompany BDSM prose porn.
That being the reason for this book’s existence, it gets a lot of attention here, and I think it will prove particularly interesting in light of some fairly common topics in the comics blogosphere/comics media over the past few years, including the legal discussions revolving around the Siegel and Shuster families’ claims to certain aspects of DC’s Super-franchise and the mid-‘50s crackdown on comics that was the subject of David Hadju’s 2008 book The Ten-Cent Plague (recently released in paperback!)
It’s one part of the book I’d recommend pretty much anyone reading this blog read, and yet it’s hard to recommend the book itself too enthusiastically, as Yoe’s essay accounts for a relatively small amount of the entire $25 package. And the rest of the book is BDSM fetish art, which a lot of folks might understandably not want around their house.
(I should note though that as sensational as the art work might have been to 1950s audiences, it’s really rather tame. It looks pretty weird, and there is a lot of submission and people getting whipped and threats of sexual violence and rape, but they are more suggestive that exploitive; for the most part, they are things that are about to occur, and perhaps they do in the prose stories, but they’re not illustrated. The only nudity is the occasional nipple or the side of a woman’s ass. There’s no intercourse at all, and no gruesome wounds or anything; only things like scratches on a man’s chest or a woman’s bottom indicating that perhaps the raised whip has already fallen. Also, it is all Shuster art, so it’s hardly realistic looking, so much as it looks like excerpts from some kind of BDSM how-to manual).
I’d usually suggest the library for those who might not want to part with $25 for a comics-related work (or who might be troubled by some of the imagery), but given the subject matter, I’m not sure how common this will be in libraries (at least a few already have it at the moment, according to Worldcat.org). I know I was afraid to bring my review copy with me to the library to make any scans from it, and I’m glad I brought the ComicsArt catalog instead as I ended up sitting next to a little girl at the library playing video games on the next computer over as I went about scanning pictures of the Justice League fighting Dr. Destiny.
At any rate, there’s a link to my review of it, and a more long and rambly endorsement of the well-written and revelatory first 35 pages, but there are a few more reasons that I think it may particularly appeal to those in the comics blogosphere. Well, two more.
1.) Stan Lee’s introduction. Yeah, Stan Lee writes a one-page introduction, and it’s a pretty nice piece of writing, avoiding most of the peculiar personal tics one so often associates with Lee (it does end with the word “Excelsior!” however).
“One of the ironies of life is the fact that in comic book stories the good guy always wins out, and yet in real life neither Jerry nor Joe reaped any financial rewards from their creation,” Lee writes.
He mentions that he knew Siegel, but had never met Shuster, which struck me as a somehow impossible fact. The Golden Age comics industry that exists in my imagination all happens on the same block, and all the creators eat at the same diners, share cabs and meet at the same bars after work, I guess.
He refers to Yoe as, “My colorful friend Craig,” which gives me weird mental images of this guy
and this guy
out together for a night on the town or playing chess together in Central Park or drinking coffee out of Styrofoam cups while on stake out together. He’s a comics historian. He’s comics history personified. Together they’re cops. That show would be fantastic!
Finally, Lee writes that “Obviously, there’s far more sexy stuff here within these pages than you’ll find in any mainstream super hero comic book.” (Lee doesn’t read any mainstream superhero comic books anymore, does he?) But there’s the good part: “Much of it isn’t the sort of material that rings my bell…”
Ah! There you have it, True Believers. I’m sure many of you have, over the years, wondered exactly what kind of sexy stuff it is that rings Stan Lee’s bell, as it were. Well, while we still don’t know his exact turn ons, we can safely eliminate the sorts of stuff in here.
2.) Many of the characters resemble the Superman cast to a downright disturbing degree. I don’t know if “thrilling” is necessarily the right word (probably not, when discussing fetish art), but “exciting” doesn’t seem quite right either. “Interesting” definitely isn’t an interesting enough word.
But it’s thrilling/exciting/interesting the degree to which so many of the characters share features with those we’re familiar with from Superman comics (not unlike the experience of reading The Pin-Up Art of Dan DeCarlo and recognizing grown-up versions of Betty, Veronica, Josie and Melody in lingerie).
Yoe wonders if this was simply a matter of the way Shuster draws, or if it was a small act of rebellion and intentional subversion, whether conscious or unconscious.
I don’t know. Based on the simplicity of Shuster’s character design, I suspect any pretty brunette he tried to draw would end up looking a lot like Lois Lane. He just didn’t work in enough details to give his gals, say, different shaped noses or faces or eyes. They were mostly defined by their hair and clothes.
But hey, if you ever wondered what Golden Age Lois Lane looked like in her undergarments, her bra falling off to reveal a nipple, here you go!
Here, for example, is a bald bad guy who looks like Lex Luthor dangling a woman who looks like Lois Lane over a pit inhabited by…whatever that animal is supposed to be (a dinosaur, maybe?):
That’s from the strangest set of illustrations, in which the bald chap has all sorts of bizarre devices, none of which match up with the story they were used to illustrate at all (Yoe doesn’t reprint the actual stories, just brief summaries, and context for the individual images).
Here is (a cropped image of) Lois, dressed up like a sexy maid, whipping a shirtless and bound Superman:
Given the weirdness of many of Lois Lane’s comics adventures, I can’t be sure that this same exact thing didn’t happen in a DC comic book. Although that whip would have been kryptonite.
And here is a photo I took of a page featuring Jimmy Olsen getting Lucy Lane high on marijuana as part of her initiation into a teenage sex gang in a story entitled Never Been Kissed.
I never saw the 1999 Drew Barrymore vehicle with the same name. That’s…that’s not what that movie was about, was it?!
Check out Yoe’s secret-identity.net site for lots of examples from the book, and the extremely colorful-looking launch party for it, which involved live re-enactments of some of the pictures, and some crazy superhero costumes.
A couple days ago when I was preparing this post, I looked online to see if I could find a scan of the above image featuring characters who looked like Jimmy Olsen and Lucy Lane smoking, not wanting to bring a book of fetish art with me to the public library to scan.
So I Google image-d "jimmy olsen" and "fetish," hoping I'd turn up a scan of the image, and dreading I'd find amateur porn featuring naked people wearing nothing but green check-patterned blazers, bow ties and drawn-on freckles, or maybe Jack Larson's head photoshopped onto naked bodies.
I didn't find what I wanted, but I didn't stumble upon a world I feared might exist (Apparently, no one actually has a real Jimmy Olsen fetish).
The number one result was the cover of Secret Identity, and the first page full of results had the cover and some select, non-Jimmy Olsen-looking scans from Secret Identity. Here, for no reason other than I found puzzling over why some of these came up amusing, are the top seven non-Secret Identity related Google image results for "Jimmy Olsen" and "fetish."
The cross-dressing story was no surprise, but the robot? Turtle Boy? Weird. The search I did, by the way, was like Sunday or Monday night. I just did another one to see if it's changed much, and the results were indeed different. Just in case you wanted to repeat the experiment. And hey, who wouldn't?