J.C. Etheredge’s Gay Erotic Art
When I was a little boy, I had a minor obsession with superheroes. I wanted Superman and his bulge to rescue me, I wanted Batman to make me his Boy Wonder, and I wanted Wonder Woman... well, I wanted to be Wonder Woman. Cartoon superheroes have always been rendered as vaguely (and sometimes explicitly) homoerotic. Look at those hard-bodied physiques, the rippling muscles beneath skin-tight costumes, and the identity-defying masks that lend a bit of S&M mystique to all of the proceedings.
From Disney to Tom of Finland
For an exploring gay boy, it was the closest thing to porn (check out He-Man and his bikini-clad brawn if you don’t believe it.) Besides the eye-candy, however, these superheroes offered something far more powerful-a sense of escape and an affinity with those who are different from everyone else. Digging deeper, it’s easy to find that the duality and double-life that most superheroes live out is exactly what many gay men and women have gone through. Gay artist J.C. Etheredge found his escape from a closeted teenage existence in the larger-than-life characters of the comics, and it’s led him to create his own series centered on a group of gay superheroes.
"The first erotic thing I ever drew was a naked Disney prince," Etheredge states, giving a whole new meaning to a whole new world. Prior to that, however, his beginnings were slightly more innocent. "Before I ever drew anything naughty I practiced by copying the comic strips in the Sunday newspaper. My favorite was ’Peanuts’. I loved the simple but distinct character design. I think much of my art style to this day derives itself from that strip."
Charlie Brown as a sex symbol? Perhaps not, but many a gay man has been drawn to the chiseled Disney princes and the perfectly-pumped bodies of various X-men. Such an influence can be seen in the gay appeal of grown-up, live-versions of superheroes (Christian Bale’s brooding smolder as Batman, Brandon Routh’s much-hyped bulge as Superman, and Hugh Jackman’s fittingly-hairy chest as Wolverine). These have brought an adult edge to what was primarily the domain of kids, and Etheredge pushes this edge ever outward with his own art.
His work is a deliciously racy and raunchy hybrid of Tom of Finland, Falcon Studios, and Saturday morning cartoons, filled with colorful homoerotic images, over-the-top characters, and thrilling renderings of phallic phenomena. One look at the work on his website It’s clear that this is for grown-ups, with compelling and explicit cartoon images not quite fit for childhood consumption. It’s not the stuff of your Sunday funnies, and Etheredge challenges the limits of erotic art in gloriously graphic detail.
There is a rich history of such art, and a growing appreciation and acknowledgement of this work as a legitimate art form. (Witness the hefty price-tags some Disney cartoon cells command.) With the current popularity of manga (the Japanese word for comics), there is a new recognition of cartoons and comics as commercially-viable art. It’s a tradition that harkens to the sexually-charged material of the wood-block etchings of Japan (ukiyo-e). The means and methods of creation may have changed (wood and chisels being supplanted by computer graphics), but the message and emotional resonance remains just as potent.
The rage for Japanese animation has been a blessing for Etheredge, who views the interest in it as a boon to his own business, as well as an affirmation on his outlook. As Etheredge puts it, "I like the way their culture views the art form. First off, they don’t have the same Puritan hang-ups about content that Americans have. Secondly, the industry is just as valid and lucrative for the adult market as it is for kids... The Japanese really do respect the art form and the industry way more than we do in the West."
That strict Western philosophy on sex has been an obstacle for many an artist dealing with erotica. Throw in an unabashedly queer slant to the shenanigans, and you’ve got the possibility of commercially-disastrous controversy. Etheredge has seen his share of roadblocks.
"I do feel as though there is indeed a growing understanding of the type of work I do but acceptance of it is still a long way off. Most people dig what I’m doing and recognize it as a valid art form, but people in the mainstream commercial art world steer clear."