John Carter, but make it gay!

A beefcake bonanza

Today I’d like to take you, darling, on a journey through some gay erotic surrealism. Think of it as a beefcake bonanza. It all started with a twitter thread of appreciation for the particular skill with which Frank Frazetta presented a wide array of fantastical derrieres. This one, which I’ve written about before caught my eye, especially.

a gay erotic surrealist painting of a fair skinned, dark haired, gorgeously muscular and mostly naked swordsman leaping over mostly naked aliens writing on the ground; the otherworldly background features a fantastic white domed structure and ruins of stone staircases creating a fantastical alien environment.
Swords of Mars (1975) by Frank Frazetta

This little gem packs in a lot of muscle and sartorial impossibility. Naturally, I’ve dedicated some time to unpacking its compositional and anatomical delights. It finally occurred to me to look up what book this was the cover for: Swords of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

While Burroughs made his name with Tarzan, he spent just as much time and purple prose on another hero: John Carter (our nearly nude swordsman above). And, just like the nearly nude vine swinger, a bevy of artists across the 20th and 21st centuries have tried their hand at depicting his exploits. Not to mention a forgettable film or two.

So, I read the first of the 13 books the indefatigable Burroughs penned about John Carter: A Princess of Mars. The brilliant and readable intro by Junot Díaz to the Library of America edition made the book for me—don’t skip it. He beautifully frames the cultural context of the story—both then and now. He highlights themes and images which are important to keep in mind as we decide how to deal with the ugly past that even casual entertainments like this embody.

My own take

One was enough for me. Your mileage may vary. However, I couldn’t resist taking a crack at painting the guy. Like Tarzan, he’s just soooo “masculine” that he’s absolutely, totally, 100% gay. The playful (or should I say cheeky 🍑) recontextualization of masculine imagery is my jam, after all. Funny how the gay vs. macho continuum is actually a snake swallowing its own…ahem, tail. (lol)

Near the beginning of the book, Carter, a Civil War veteran prospecting for gold in the Arizona desert, is attacked by Apaches and left for dead in a cave. He’s not actually dead, but is mysteriously transported, buck naked, to Mars. Why Burroughs chose to have his hero lose his clothes in the process is beyond me. But it just so happens that clothes are not a thing on Mars. I didn’t do a close reading of the book, but near as I can tell, they’re all naked the whole time. Except for armor and ornaments that denote rank, of course. (Ceremonial cock rings, anyone?) Too bad all the various adaptations and depictions don’t just let it all hang out.

I am, of course, depicting the astral Carter in his birthday suit as befits the text. I also chose to suggest, more than depict, the setting as this is not an illustration of the book but rather my own personal response to it.

Progress shots of the new painting. 20 in x 16 in, oil on canvas.

As I was working I had an inspiration. Originally, as you can see in the sketch below, it was just the two figures and moody background. But, an addition suggested itself. A playful bit of surrealism of shotgun shells streaming forth from a bandolier amidst some sensuous and glowing passion flowers. It adds a fun twist, with a bit of mystery and interest, to what could otherwise have been something darker and angstier than I was going for.

And the title? Well, all that’s occurred to me so far is “John Carter, but make it gay”. I love quirky titles, and this has grabbed my attention and just won’t let go. The rest of the particulars: 20 in. x 16 in., oil on linen to be mounted on panel. Drop your details in the box below to stay in the know. Don’t miss your chance to hear when this beauty is ready to go home with you.

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

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Published by Edward Ficklin

Edward Ficklin (he/him), maverick artist not afraid to say gay, is a self-taught painter, writer, publisher and sometimes technologist. He creates sensuous and erotically-tinged queer surrealist art, publishes queer-centered sci-fi comix, and pontificates regularly on a range of topics in his Queer Quantum Dispatch newsletter.

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