Looking for the Wild Boys

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Calder & Boyars, 1972. Design by John Sewell.

This must be the first space novel, the first serious piece of science fiction—the others are entertainment.

Mary McCarthy defending The Naked Lunch in the New York Review of Books, June, 1963.

Mary McCarthy’s view—echoed a year later by Michael Moorcock and JG Ballard in the pages of New Worlds magazine—has never been popular or even particularly acceptable. William Burroughs gets touted as an sf writer by other writers, and John Clute gives him an entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, but Burroughs’ sf scenarios are guaranteed to offend those readers who prefer their narratives presented in a neat, linear form with detailed explanations of How The Future Would Actually Work, or the physics behind some piece of imaginary technology. The books which immediately follow The Naked LunchThe Soft Machine, The Ticket that Exploded, and Nova Express—all feature sf scenes or ideas. The latter was deemed sufficiently generic to prompt Panther Books in the UK to publish it three times as “Panther Science Fiction” although given the severe criticism that Moorcock sustained for trying to broaden the horizons of readers in the late 60s I don’t expect sales were encouraging.

The Wild Boys, published in 1971 (1972 in the UK), was Burroughs’ first novel after Nova Express, and his first book of fresh material after mining the stack of writing that birthed The Naked Lunch and the titles which followed. The novel is subtitled A Book of the Dead (as in the Egyptian or Tibetan Books of the Dead), and is certainly science fiction although I’ve never seen it marketed as such or noticed any sf reader include it in a list of notable genre novels of the period. My Calder & Boyers hardback offers a précis of the fractured narrative:

The year is 1988. The Wild Boys, adolescent guerilla armies of specialized humanoids, are destroying the armies of the civilized nations and ravaging the earth. The wild boys, who began in the pre-present past as petrol gangs, dousing their victims with petrol and setting them on fire for kicks, have grown to an army, dedicated to violence. One of them is used in a cigarette commercial. He becomes a new cult figure, a demi-god responsible for great destruction, and it is left to strong man Arachnid Ben Driss to exterminate the wild boys. He slaughters them, but the battle continues underground until all civilization collapses, revealing a future of horrifying dimensions. The originality of the theme and the very special Burroughs style together make this one of the most unusual science fiction novels ever, a prophetic exploration of the future, that should quickly establish itself as one of the classics of the present time.

That’s accurate, up to a point, although like many book blurbs it misrepresents the content somewhat. It also neglects to say how funny the book is. For anyone with a black sense of humour Burroughs has always been a great comic writer, and The Wild Boys has some prime examples, not least the opening chapter, Tío Mate Smiles, which is best appreciated in the author’s own reading.

Having gone through the novel in the past week, and going through its follow-up/appendix/remix Port of Saints at the moment, a couple of things occurred to me. The first was the way The Wild Boys strongly prefigures later works like Cities of the Red Night and The Place of Dead Roads. This is a fairly obvious point but it’s one that hadn’t fully clicked until now. The Wild Boys takes the problems of repressive control systems posed in the first few novels and offers a possible solution: a homoerotic utopia/dystopia where gangs of teenage boys hide out in depopulated regions, waging war against the rest of humanity with sex, magic and a mastery of weapons, including biological and viral varieties. While doing this they are steadily mutating so they can leave behind all human concerns with nation, family, laws and written language. Cities of the Red Night was Burroughs first novel after The Wild Boys and presents a less radical proposal, ranging through time with its anarchist pirate colonies and the six cities of the title. In The Place of Dead Roads Kim Carsons has his band of outlaw cowboys, The Wild Fruits, and the book gives us the conflict between the Johnsons—those who “mind their own business”—and the Shits: lawmen, politicians, tycoons, all the usual agents of Control.

Continue reading “Looking for the Wild Boys”

Gekko Hayashi: homoerotics and monsters

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Needless to say, it’s primarily the homoerotics which concern us here. Gekko Hayashi is the name under which Japanese artist Goji Ishihara (1923–1997) produced his gay erotica, and these examples are among a small handful to be found on the web. Far more common is his Ishihara work which included some spectacular grotesqueries for the Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters (1972) and the Illustrated Book of Hell (1975). Sate your appetite for the monstrous at Pink Tentacle.

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Hayashi/Ishihara’s work may be scarce but you can read about both his personas thanks to ComiPress, who posted an overview of the artist’s career, and Comics212, who examined the gay side of his output. There is a book collection of Hayashi’s gay art but that appears to be out-of-print. This Japanese page has many samples from the Ishihara work.

The dual career of Hayashi/Ishihara brings to mind another artist equally adept at commercial illustration and gay art, Oliver Frey. As “Zack”, Frey gained an enthusiastic audience in UK gay mags while he was also popular with quite a different audience for his illustrations in computer game magazines throughout the 1980s. He was also no slouch at painting monsters as I recall. A collection of Zack comic strips, Bike Boy, is published this month by Bruno Gmünder.

Continue reading “Gekko Hayashi: homoerotics and monsters”

Weekend links 18

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Rogomelec (1978) by Leonor Fini. Via.

Moving Through Old Daylight: A recording of Mark Fisher, Jim Jupp and Julian House of Ghost Box Recordings and Iain Sinclair in conversation at the Roundhouse, Camden, London, 5 June 2010. Topics under discussion included Nigel Kneale, TC Lethbridge, John Foxx, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, alchemies of sound, the homogenisation of culture, imagining space and the impersistence of memory.

The Surreal House, “a mysterious dwelling infused with subjectivity and desire” at the Barbican, London.

Ars Homo Erotica at the National Museum of Warsaw. Related: “(Gothenburg) Museum stops exhibition about homosexuality in religion“.

• A lot of people still arrive here looking for art by Zack aka Oliver Frey. Bike Boy, 96 pages of Frey’s exuberantly homoerotic comic strips, is published in August by Bruno Gmünder.

• “EM Forster was a virgin until the age of thirty-nine, when he had his first ‘full’ sexual experience (a ‘hurried sucking off’, Wendy Moffat informs us) with a passing soldier on a beach in Alexandria.”

• JG Ballard’s archive is accepted by the British Library, or “saved for the nation” as they rather grandiloquently describe the process. Samples from the documents to be preserved at the BBC and the Guardian.

• Shades of Ballard’s singing sculptures, Sun Boxes is a solar-powered audio installation by Craig Colorusso. There’s more at Designboom.

• Nathalie visited the MAXXI, Rome’s new museum of contemporary art designed by Zaha Hadid.

Stephen Pinker wants everyone to stop fretting over the alleged distractions of electronic media.

• “It basically comes from love”: John McLaughlin in conversation with Robert Fripp, 1982.

• More collections of print ephemera: Agence Eureka and Ephemera Magica.

The Serpent and the Sword, an Alan Moore rarity from 1999.

Gulliverovy Cesty (1968) at A Journey Round My Skull.

Within the Without: a new Thombeau Tumblr.

The Hidden Posters of Notting Hill Gate.

The Letters of Sylvia Beach reviewed.

• It’s Kubrick Season in St Albans.

Riot In Lagos (1980) by Ryuichi Sakamoto still sounds futuristic thirty years on.

Weekend links #7

The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (and sporting my design inside and out) is now in print. The grotesque creatures on the jacket and inside are from a celebrated set of prints by Arent van Bolten.

• More VanderMeeria: my cover for Jeff’s novel Finch continues to garner attention. Artist John Picacio selected it as part of his contribution to this discussion of genre cover designs (thanks John) and io9 followed up by choosing it from SF Signal’s selection.

• Graphic design: the Ballets Russes at BibliOdyssey; Julian Montague’s “books from an invented intellectual history” at A Journey Round My Skull; Women, Snakes and Stalkers, book covers from the PK (Indo-Iranian languages and literatures) section of the University of Chicago’s Regenstein library (also here); I want this book: Arabesque – Graphic Design from the Arab World and Persia.

• Photography: Richard Davies’ documenting of Russia’s wooden churches; Dave Walsh’s fata morgana mirages in the Arctic.

• Illustration: Jacob Escobedo at Sci-Fi-O-Rama; Mahlon Blaine reprinted.

• The gays: Oliver Frey (aka Zack) has originals of his erotic art for sale; 100 is the third book of erotic portraits from photographer Dylan Rosser.

Silent Porn Star is back. Related: Susie Bright praises sexual expression.

• The Libel Reform Campaign is trying to reform England’s egregious libel laws. Sign their petition here.

• RIP: Victor Arwas, art collector, writer and scholar; Alex Chilton, musician and record producer.

• The record sleeve that’s also the record player.

• Song of the week: Guess I Was Dreaming by The Fairytale (1967).

The art of Oliver Frey

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It’s inevitable when writing about gay art and artists that Oliver Frey’s name will turn up eventually, so here’s the requisite posting. Frey is often better known in gay circles under the nom de plume he used in the 1980s, “Zack”, when he was a very prolific illustrator and comic artist for Britain’s small number of gay mags. As Oliver Frey he was already well-known as an accomplished professional illustrator who was for a time an artist for Look and Learn‘s long-running science fiction adventure strip The Trigan Empire. That professional work makes him probably the most widely-seen of all gay porn artists simply because he drew some Superman pages which are briefly seen at the beginning of the 1978 Superman.

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His career as a comic artist honed his skill at dealing with figures and telling a story which is one of the reasons his gay strips are still highly valued today. Those strips tend to be completely pornographic right from the start so I’ll spare the delicate sensibilities of some of the readers here and link you to some collections of his Zack work instead. In the meantime, I’d love to know where the picture of the boy with the sword (above) comes from originally. It’s a lot more finished than his Zack drawings and is paired on this page with a similar picture of serpent-twined tribal youths which hints at some kind of Burroughs-esque Wild Boys scenario. If anyone knows the answer, please leave a comment. As it is, it makes a good addition to the Men with swords archive, as does the piece of fluff below.

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Update: As noted in the comments, original art by Oliver Frey/Zack is now available for purchase here.

Oliver Frey links:
Zack Art | official site.
Arrumako’s Gay Blog | A substantial collection of complete strips and sundry illustrations.
Daddy’s Here | More single illustrations and some magazine scans including an interview with the artist.
Gay Erotic Art Links | Another page with further links elsewhere.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive
The men with swords archive