Sex and (comic) sensibilities

Dirty pictures
By CAITLIN E. CURRAN  |  January 30, 2008

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Barry’s Don’t Judge Me animal perv.
Josie and the Pussycats were sexy for cartoons, but they were a fairly chaste trio — too shy to appear in full-frontal shower scenes.

What would they have thought of Tijuana Bibles, the genre of comic-book pamphlets (circa 1930s), described by Pulitzer-winning graphic novelist Art Spiegelman (Maus), in an introductory essay to the 2004 anthology Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s, as “cheerfully pornographic and downright illegal . . . they seem to marvel at the very idea of sex”?

Today, explicit sex still thrives in underground comics and graphic novels, and the Washington Street Art Center (WSAC) is taking a close look at the genre with an exhibit titled “Inappropriate Touching: Dirty Comics and Art,” opening Friday. The show includes works from more than 20 contributors, including Whatever artist Karl Stevens, Vice magazine back-page creator Johnny Ryan, autobiographical comic artist Ariel Schrag, and Chicago Comics artist Jeffrey Brown.

“I see this as a sort of celebration of the medium’s stranger histories,” says local artist Alex Barry. One of his contributions to the show is a drawing of a smiling animal of uncertain species, standing with one hand down his pants beside the words “Please don’t judge me.”

“I’ll admit that there’s some pretty twisted stuff in there, but my aim isn’t to offend anybody. It’s more like poking fun at our right-leaning culture through irreverent wit,” explains Barry.

Artist and curator Sarah Schoemann, who organized “Inappropriate Touching,” considers sex in comic art the perfect topic for WSAC. “If you want to show something off that’s colorful and subversive, it’s not going to be on Newbury Street,” she says. “Sex is something that people don’t talk about enough and aren’t open about enough. I love reading a story about someone’s sex life and being able to relate to it, and artwork takes that to the next level.”

Schoemann is also piecing together a zine with selections from the exhibition, to be available at WSAC; sales will benefit the center’s live-music programming, which she hopes to expand. The show’s opening will feature live music from the Real Life Time Machines, and disco and dance tracks by DJ Area D, among others. The Tijuana Bible prophets were never this versatile.

“Inappropriate Touching: Dirty Comics and Art” runs February 1 through 24 at the Washington Street Art Center (321 Washington Street, Somerville, 617.623.5315). The opening party will take place on February 1, from 6 to 10 pm.

  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Media, Books, Graphic Novels and Comics,  More more >
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