1972: Bizarre Sex

Bizarre Sex (1972) #1-10 probably edited by Denis Kitchen

This is a blog series about underground comics, and I’d take it that anybody interested in underground comics are going to be aware that there’s a lot of sexual imagery in them, so if they don’t want to see that, they should be elsewhere? OK?

But this is a blog post about Bizarre Sex, so there’s going to be more of that than usual, and there’s also bizarre violence and bizarrely sexual violence, so I’m just warning you more than usual.

So here’s a picture of a tea pot to give you a chance to close this browser window before we get to the imagery from the comic book:

Everybody gone now? Good!

Denis Kitchen said, when he started Kitchen Sink just two years earlier, that he’d never be able to publish the really out-there stuff that the West Coast publishers were doing, because he’s in the midwest and he’d be run out of the sate. Two years later, he launches Bizarre Sex, and this is the first bit in the first issue:

This is bizarre, all right, and it also seems virulently misogynistic. Tim Boxell had contributed stuff to various Kitchen anthologies, and they’re all… er… imaginative? But from a nasty place.

Daniel Clyne’s Hungry Chuck Biscuits Comics and Stories read like it was a doper comic by somebody who’s never done any dope, and this seems, oddly enough, like a sex comic by somebody’s who’ve never seen any sex. It’s just the oddest thing, and I like that.

Art Spiegelman (allegedly) does a kind of parody on romance comics under the Joe Cutrate pseudonym.

Boxell (allegedly), again (under the name Grizly) contributes the longest piece, and it’s very bizarre indeed.

But… more than a third of the first issue is a reprint of stuff Kitchen had already published in Snarf and Bijou. And the rest of the stuff is pretty tough sledding: Most of it’s just so amateurish and offputting. The book feels like a cheap, nasty cash grab.

The printing I have here, is the seventh printing, and it’s weird:

_
It is rather odd that Kitchen Sink replaced the entire interior contents of the 7th through 9th printings of this book with all the comics from Bizarre Sex #2, 2nd printing. I’m guessing that Kitchen Sink really wanted to reprint the first issue of the series sometime in the early ’80s but did NOT want to actually reprint Grass Green’s “Incest” story during the Reagan era. I suppose I could be wrong, but I can’t figure out any other reason for the deception.

So what I have here isn’t actually the first issue at all:

The first story by Richard “Grass” Green is about brother/sister incest (“Incest”), and Daniel Clyne follows up with a three-pager about interracial homosexuality (“Dr. Lum Bago’s Creation”). Tim Boxell fills out most of the rest of the book, though Wendal Pugh also contributes “There’s 1 Born Every Minute.”

But I have the first printing of the second issue… which I’ve already read all of, except an eight pager by Grass Green. And:

Bizarre Sex #2 not only has two different front covers within the first two printings, but the content also changes from the 1st to 2nd printing. Richard “Grass” Green’s story “Warla in Wonder World in Prisoner of the Arab Slavers” in the 1st printing is replaced in the 2nd printing by some other material from Jim Mitchell, Don Glasford and Denis Kitchen. A Grass Green story also disappeared from latter printings of Bizarre Sex #1, but I am not aware of the issues that caused these changes.

It’s all so complicated.

The Grass Green story that was dumped on subsequent printings (and not reprinted in #1 7th printing) is really lame, though.

The third issue continues the lameness with this thing by Mike Vosburg, but at least the artwork looks more competent.

The weirdest thing is this by Mike Roberts… but it’s not actually good.

At least Howard Cruse shows up with some Barefootz pages.

What could be the horrors that hide behind this cover, then?

Good lord! *choke*

Anyway, the first three issues of Bizarre Sex were, basically, unreadable dreck. Things change substantially with the fourth issue, and it seems like Kitchen is taking the book more seriously. It’s a big seller, so why not put some actual talent into the book? So we get a story by Harvey Pekar! About picking up a prostitute and having sex at a drive-in. (Illustrated by Budgett & Dumm.) It’s… an actually good piece.

Cruse ups the ante considerably, and gets autobio on us, and explains why people draw in the first place. It’s very funny. (I think Cruse turned out to be the most prolific contributor to Bizarre Sex by the end.)

Trina Robbins does a couple of very strange little stories.

And… wha…. Hippies, man. If I read that signature correctly, it says Casserine Grenier?

Again with the printings. The original printing of this didn’t have Omaha, the Cat Dancer, but I’ve got the… fourth printing? (The first edition was magazine sized, too.)

But this R. Crumb piece was, apparently. And it’s the most Crumb thing ever.

This edition of this issue also pads out the pages with yet another reprint of some stuff from Snarf. I have no idea why — was there something particularly offensive he had to leave out, or was it just too lame? Or he couldn’t get the rights?

We also get three pages from some French public domain magazine.

I’ve got the fourth edition of the 6th issue, and it’s magazine sized. It’s the only one with an editorial, written (presumably by Denis Kitchen) under the Steve Krupp pseudonym.

The issue is mostly a bunch of gag oriented shorter pieces…

… but Sharon Rudahl sneaks in a mythological thing.

Steve Stiles does a new pieces that wasn’t in previous printings, so I guess they dropped some more stuff. This is all making me very curious to read the first printings of these issue… but not so curious that I’m gonna buy them.

Joe Coleman does this totally unhinged thing, and … is this where Dave Cooper got his entire art style from? It’s impressively disgusting.

In the printings I have, at least, there’s virtually no gay content at all. I think this is as close as we get in any of the issues?

Richard Larson and Tim Boxell take about half the pages in the 7th issue with this somewhat undecipherable thing.

Steve Stiles sounds accurate as always.

And… a random collage thing by somebody unnamed?

Art Spiegelman returns, possibly. So many pseudonyms.

The eight issue is probably what Bizarre Sex is remembered for, if anything. It’s got 42 pages of Omaha, The Cat Dancer, which went on to become a rather big thing.

Reed Waller has a really appealing art style, and the story is a mix of soap opera and mobster action (kind of), so it’s not hard to understand. And I remember being really into Omaha as a teenager. Reading it now, I find it pretty… messy? I mean, the plot doesn’t make much sense…

Joost Swarte! Again, Kitchen ups the stakes: The tenth and final issue is… dare I say it… good. It’s an actually good anthology now.

Guy Colwell takes up almost half the issue with his extremely accomplished ruminant story about taking acid, watching porn on the TV, and possibly fantasising about going out and having sex (or was it a fantasy?) The storytelling is fantastically assured: The pacing is perfect, and it’s got such a flow… it’s compulsively readable; it carries you along.

*gasp* Rick Geary!

William Messner Loebs finishes out the issue with a story about a heroic cross-dresser (who gets all the girls).

So this anthology has some kind of trajectory. The first three issues (at least the printings I have) are … pap. Then Kitchen gets talent in, and every issues gets better than the one before, until we get to the tenth issue, where we finally have something rather special.

The Comics Journal #65, page 25:

Bizarre Sex #9 will fea-
ture a book -length story
called “Omaha, written
and drawn by newcomer
Reed Waller , and starring
funny-animals in what
Publisher Denis Kitchen
calls “kind of. a Barks-
land mix-up.
According to Kitchen ,
he discovered Waller
in Vootie, a small-circu-
lation publication appear-
ing out of Minneapolis.
“I saw him in there
Kitchen commented, “and
thought he was just
excellent and deserved
wider exposure. So he
developed this story
As for why the 34-
page story ended up in
Bizarre Sex, tradition-
ally an anthology title ,
Kitchen explained the
commercial reasons
behind the decision:
“It’s been my experience
with sales that solo books
by underground cartoon-
ists are very risky if they
haven’t had much previous
exposure, so just to call
it Omaha would have been
unwise. De•iding that
the ,story “qualified” as a
Bizarre Ser story , Kit-
chen decided to print it
there.
“Normally I wouldn’t
do that Kitchen noted,
“but I am making an
exception . He added
that the following issue
of Bizarre Sex, #10,
would be published next
fall and would feature
the more usual kind Of
anthology stories.•

The Comics Journal #78, page 13:

NEWSWATCH
Undergrounds: “Omaha” Ban Spawns Satire
U.K. “Omaha” Ban Spawns
Story: The official ban on
Kitchen Sink’s Bizarre Sex in
England has resulted in a
satirical commentary on the
affair in the pages Of a British
underground.
In the lead strip of Knock-
about Comics cartoonist
Hunt Emerson examines the
problems of censorship. The
story, “A-B.Seize It!,” includes
• specific references to the Bizarre
Sex case, with quotes from the
magistrate on the matter.
Bizarre Sex #9 consisted of the
book-length “Omaha,” written
and drawn by Reed Waller,
which was released in 1981 to
general critical acclaim in the
United States.

The Comics Journal #123, page 106:

Q: Handling you People’s Exhibit #2 for
idenrijicarion, looking at the cover of the title,
Bizarre Sex, what would you describe them as
doing on Cha,’ cover?
A: A bunch of women embracing a tiger
swallowtail caterpillar.
Q: What are (he women wearing?
A: They are not wearing anything.
Q: Could you describe their positions on this
caterpillar-shaped object?
A: It’s not a caterpillar-shaped Object, and I
[speak here as a biology major in collegel—it’s
a tiger swallowtail caterpillar. They are pushing
it down into the ground.
Q: And there is a woman on top of it?
A: Yes.
Q: Are they reaching for it?
A: I don’t know. They seem to be trying to hold
it down or they could be reaching for it. One Of
the feet is grabbing the women.
Q: Directing your attention to the chapter in
Bizarre Sex entitled “Joel Beck Presents One
Dong’s Family.”
Q: What muld you state or in your opinion what
is this story about?
A: This is a parody Ofa television show called
One Man’s Family which was—rather a radio
show in the ’40s.
Q: Its characters in that story, whar does it show?
A: The characters, all of the characters in the
show, One Man’s Family, have been replaced
with genitals.
Q: Could you be more specific?
A: Well, they have been replaced with a genital
of the sex appropriate to the gender Of the
character in the radio show, One Man ‘s Family.
In other words, the female character in One
Man’s Family has been replaced by female
nitals, and the male with male genitals.
: Wbuld it be fair ro state that story is about
how this one dong ‘s family goes through a day?
A: Yes. It’s humor. that of reducing people to
only their genitals. as if they had no other facets
to their lives, no hobbies, no interest, they only
existed as procreative elements. It is a satire of
an American life and family relationships.
Q: As a seller, would you like to separate this
type of material from children ‘s material or not
allow children to see rhis rype of material?
A: That particular story, I wouldn’t Object to any
child seeing that. It’s a humor story.
THE COURT: only because it’s fun in yur
oplmon?
YRONWODE: Yes.
THE COURT: That ‘s the only reason yu would
let a child see it?
YRONWODE: Yes. 1 don’t think there is
anything harmful in that story. It’s Istuffl like kids
would write on their notepad lin schooll.

Yeah, there were all these court actions taken against comics, and Cat Yronwode is defending them admirably. And this is what she gets as a thank-you in the Comics Journal:

She apparently talked to much. Women! Hah! What a funny joke!

Trina Robbins is interviewed in The Comics Journal #53, page 56 (she was having problems getting Wet Satin #2 printed):

SHERMAN: Could you recap the difficulties you had?
TRINA: The printer, who was the midwestern printer
who has printed all of Krupp’s comix.
SHERMAN: Including Bizarre Sex?
TRINA: Including Bizarre Ser. Which 1 use as a classic
example because there was one cover of Bizarre Sex where
the cover was so awful it actually had to be covered with
a white paper cover on the stands. (Bizarre Sex
Came from Alpha Centauri Looking for Love , ” which had a
giant vagina attacking a city skyscraper. I He was willing
to print Bizarre Sex , but he wouldn’t print our book. He
called it pornographic. And when he was asked why this
was pornographic and not Bizarre Ser, he said, “Well. men
draw Bizarre Sea.” These are his words. t’ It was all in
fun. It was a satire.” And Wet Satin wasn’t a satire; it was
taken seriously. Yet, we have this review from Screw—I
have an editorial in Wet Satin #2 and in there I say that
Screw , which is by no means a feminist journal, gave us
this fabulous review in which they said that the whole
reason that Wet Satin was so good and what saved it from
being a really dreary feminist diatribe was the fact that we
all had a sense of humor and we were able to poke fun at
ourselves and that it was satire, that it actually was fun-
nier than the men’s books. So you see we’ve been censored
in the miawest.

Amazing Heroes #174, page 9:

NEWSLINE
FRIENDLY FRANK’S DECISION OVERTURNED
The obscenity conviction of Friendly
Frank’s Comics employee Michael
Correa has been overturned by an Il-
linois State Appelate Court. Correa
was originally arrested in November
of 1986 for selling allegedly obscene
comics to an undercover policeman.
In a unanimous decision, the three-
man court ruled that the books in
question—including issues of Omaha
the Cat Dancer, Bizarre Sex, Weirdo,
and others—did not constitute obscene
material: “We hold that none of the
cartoon comic books on which the
State based its prosecution constitutes
patently offensive hard-core obsceni-
ty.. .. Consequently, [Correa’sl con-
viction and sentence must be re-
versed.”
Correa was arrested originally on
December 10, 1986, by an undercover ,
police officer in the Lansing, Illinois,
Friendly Frank’s store he managed at
the time. After first visiting the store
on Nwember 28, 1986, and then pur-
chasing copies of Omaha the Cat
Dancer, Weirdo, Bizarre Set, The
Bodyssey, Wéirdo, and Murder, police
officer Anthony Van Gorp in
December and took Correa into cus-
tody.

Bill Sherman writes in The Comics Journal #72, page 128:

File this under Commendable Deviations.
After eight issues of a repetitive (if
successful) anthology format, editor Denis
Kitchen’s Bizarre Sex turns its pages over
to an issue-length “funny animal novel.”
The idea is to give Reed Waller’s 42-page
story a ready audience (Bizarre Sex is one of
Drupp’s steady sellers), a decent break for a
relative unknown. I have to wonder,
though, what it means when a work this
fine has to find its way into underground
publication beneath another title. What
does that say about today’s comix audi-
ence?

[…]

Waller’s characterization, however, falls
down with his antagonists, the political
and moral forces that drive Omaha into
dancing in a decadent private club for
international diplomats. That these moral
movers and shakers turn out to be hyp-
ocrites is no surprise, but Waller ultimately
overdraws them into power-mad mavens
on the brink of incoherency. “Omaha’s”
final pages, where Waller’s villains gets to
explain themselves, comprise the last deft
part of the book—as out of sync as if Doc
Doom made a walk-on in the last scene of
Threepenny Opera.
And yet Waller’s art (and an effectively
Open-ended final page) keep the book from
falling apart. Nicely detailed penwork with
an effective placement of blacks and greys
gives the book a lightness that’s especially
effective during “Omaha’S” erotic se-
quences. Occasionally, Waller’s insistent
focus on his characters obscures their
movement from one scene to another (for
. example, an exterior Of Charlie’s Restau-
rant, aboveground site for the under-
ground club, is unfortunately omitted from
a sequence showing Omaha and her friend
Shelley entering the club from the streets),
but it’s hard to quibble when Waller draws
his characters in such a physically ex-
pressrve, manner.
I don’t care if Stewart the Rat ever sees
the light of print again, but I wouldn’t
mind seeing more of Omaha and Chuck.

This is the fourteenth post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.

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