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January 20th, 2023

Age Sixty-Nine…A Little Late To Stop Being An Artistic Prude.

I’m finally starting to make some kind of progress at the drafting table that I was hoping for when I retired. Apart from A Coming Out Story, I’ve had several other things that I began working on years ago that I’m beginning to make some progress on, and some new stuff too. But alas, some of that is not going to be visible here because it isn’t safe for work. For nearly all my life I’ve had a reticence about certain subjects that you generally don’t see in a graphic artist. At least not in the free world. I’ve lived with it, made excuses for it, and ignored it. But there are some things I want to do now that I’ve retired, things I want to explore, and that reticence is something I have to deal with if I want to make progress. 

Mind, I don’t do pornography. Pornography is obvious and cheap and all it does is push buttons. But I have struggled for nearly three years now with a short graphic story riffing on the song You Can Leave Your Hat On, ever since I first heard it at a gig my classmate Rev Billy did with another band, and it’s been basically about this deeply ingrained reluctance I’ve always had about



about nudity in my artwork. There. I said it. Specifically about how much to show. If you’ve read the first episode of A Coming Out Story, that gag came about when I realized that I simply could not draw the character representing my libido as a completely naked me, and then realizing that it was right after all because that reticence was a truth about me after all.

“I’m your libido, not Robert Crumb’s libido.”  It was a self truth that became the series running gag. Ha ha. 

The song I was listening to in that bar that night, waiting for my classmate to take the stage again, was about a guy asking what I assumed was his girlfriend to take off her clothes and give him a dance. The line You can leave your hat on, recurs throughout. That first time I was listening to it, it seemed your usual pop heterosexual love and desire song, a little odd for a Randy Newman song, but he has a very wide range and I have loved his movie music, especially for Avalon and Pleasantville. So I was sitting in this bar among a bunch of middle aged and older (like myself) customers observing the crowd and waiting for my classmate to get his turn on stage. Everyone was getting into the song…

Baby, take off your coat… (real slow)
Baby, take off your shoes… (here, I’ll take your shoes)
Baby, take off your dress
Yes, yes, yes
You can leave your hat on
You can leave your hat on
You can leave your hat on

And this was the sort of bar crowd I’m not usually in the middle of and I’m almost zoning out just then because these sort of pop tunes never speak to me. If I really like a song and it’s your usual boy loves girl loves boy song I’ll mentally change the pronouns in it so it can speak to me too. I am barely a post Stonewall gay guy and living in a pop culture that until recently simply refused to even admit that such as I existed, I’ve had to do that all my adult life. But I’m watching the crowd and they’re loving the song and having a good time and I will never begrudge anyone that. This poor angry world would be a lot nicer and a lot more peaceful I’m thinking if everyone could have a fulfilling sex life.

Then I hear this…

Suspicious minds are talking
Trying to tear us apart
They say that my love is wrong
They don’t know what love is
They don’t know what love is
They don’t know what love is
They don’t know what love is
I know what love is

…and suddenly now the song is speaking to me and I’m fully absorbed. Wow.

I’m pretty sure Newman didn’t intend this to be a song about a gay male couple…the dancer was asked to take their dress off after all.  And heterosexuals often get static from their families and communities over their choices in love. But those lyrics…those lyrics. When I heard them I knew I had to do my own take on the song. I listened to it carefully and when I got home that night I bought several copies of it in the iTunes store. And I listened, and the entire thing I wanted to draw, the artwork, all the panels and the layout, came to me.

I knew it had to feature the guy I’d drawn about that same time, after some babbling nitwit online complained that gay guys at Pride were all wearing nothing but short shorts and go-go boots…


He was already wearing a hat, which made him perfect for the role of the dancer in the song. Mr Homophobic nitwit hadn’t said anything about a hat, but I added one on an impulse when I drew him because I thought it added to his sexiness.

I had a good idea of what the singer looked like and was wearing too. Another guy, maybe slightly older, suit and tie like he’s just got home from work and he’s had a very tiresome day and his boyfriend comes over and he asks him to give him a dance and the boyfriend is all in for it. Because at that age one of this life’s simple pleasures is making the one you love all hot and bothered.

So I had my story, I had the layouts, I knew Exactly what every panel was going to look like. Sort of. Then I sat down to actually draw it my built-in reticence about nudity kicked right in. I kept trying to draw the dancer in the song tastefully if minimally covered, because deep down I just could not go where the song went.

I had reasons. Perfectly logical reasons. That left/right brain running gag in A Coming Out Story is no joke. I wanted my take on the song to be postable most anywhere. I wanted it to be safe for work. I don’t do pornography. But nudity isn’t necessarily pronographic unless you’re a right wing nutcase, and truth be told, somewhere deep down there were fears that at age sixty-nine I still hadn’t really examined.

Charlie Chaplin writing to his daughter said…

“Your naked body should only belong to those who fall in love with your naked soul.”

The artist shows their naked soul in every work they produce. But giving the world the naked bodies of my art subjects just cut too close to the bone…so to speak. I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t shame, it was if I’m honest, a deeply ingrained fear of being vulnerable I’ve had since grade school. And of being Scrawny. Weak. Ugly. I was a slight, somewhat girlish kid and I got a lot of bullying from some of the other kids, and a lot of body shaming by adults in my life for being so thin and unmuscular. The mother of one of my classmates asked him outright if I was a heroin addict. Ragweed season always made me look like I was on drugs all the time. My clothes, mostly second hand, never really fit very well. My teeth were crooked. 

There’s a story I like to tell about the day I came to class in sixth grade. Next year I would be in junior high school which I’d learned by then was a whole new world. Instead of sitting in the same classroom day and and day out I would be given a schedule of classes for math, english, science and art and so on, and walk from one to the other. I’d have my own locker to put things in between classes. And every class would be a different teacher, and a different mix of other kids. But there was a very unpleasant surprise in store.

That one day in that sixth grade class I saw that some kids from the previous year had come to class before we got there to visit their old teachers. They’d written about their experiences in junior high on the chalkboard. I started reading. Then I came to this line…

Tell them not to worry about group showers. It’s no big deal.

I wish I had a picture of my face just then. My jaw dropped. I was horrified. What!? WHAT!? WHAT!!!???  Suddenly I was no longer looking forward to high school, junior or otherwise.

So there I am at the drafting table trying to get this little slice of life story out of me and on to paper, make a statement about gay love and desire, and I’m all inhibited and trying to be restrained and temperate and keeping my dancer suitably covered for family audiences…and the song just doesn’t read like that. Well…except for the hat. There’s still a hat.

So no matter how I drew the dancer I was never satisfied with what I was drawing. I’m pretty sure I got the singer/audience right the first time I drew him. But the dancer just would not appear. Worse, most of my tries were crap that made me doubt I was good enough to even try illustrating this song in my own way. It had to be done right or it would be embarrassingly awful. It was making me hate my drawing and I hate it enough as it is. But it wouldn’t let go of me either. I kept coming back to it, there was something there I wanted to say, and I kept having to walk away depressed.

Finally I had to admit my drawing was crap because I wasn’t really being faithful to the song.

I was riffing on this song because I wanted to shine a light on what it said to me about love and joyful playful desire, and that is universal across the Kinsey scale. It was important to me. Gay love and desire is a beautiful, meaningful, fulfilling thing for those who are lucky enough to find it. And nothing that came out of my pencils was working. Finally I had to admit nothing I did would be right unless I was completely faithful to the song. Which meant that I needed to get over some residual reticence about nudity in my art I’ve had since…forever.

So I’m going for it.

And now it’s working. The dancer is there finally on my drawing board. He’s everything I need him to be to make this graphic story work. This is going to be one of my best.

Problem is, it won’t be safe for Facebook. Or any social media.

That’s okay…I have my own website here.

And at age 69 I feel a little more free. One less brick in the wall…

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