Friday, December 16, 2011


Despite the rampantly Anglophile nature of this website, we can safely assume that our subject matter wasn't confined exclusively to the English-speaking world. While the Brits are amongst the most highly fetishized societies in human history, the Germans have never been far behind in the nudge-nudge-wink-wink sweepstakes. Reinhard Beuthien's Lilli is a prime example of this kind of cross-cultural visual phenomena.

Making her debut in the German tabloid Bild-Zeitung (June 24, 1952), Lilli was a one panel cartoon originally intended as a "space filler". The contemporary theme of a pretty young woman making her way in post-war Germany struck a note with the Zaitung's readers, and within a few years, the strip had inspired a range of merchandise including perfume, jewellery and dolls. By 1958, a movie based on the character had been released (Lilli — a Girl From the Big City), indicating the strip's growing popularity.

Generally humorous in tone, the newstrip provided a regular supply of cheesecake for its audience; Lilli frequently appeared in her lingerie during bedtime conversations with her room mate (black cami-knickers seem to have been the fashion at the time). Seasonal activities such as ice skating or tennis were accompanied by "accidental" panty shots, and Lilli's dialogue was often laced with naive innuendo.

On a side note: the Bild Lilli Doll marketed in Germany during the mid 50s is known to have been the precursor to Mattel's Barbie. The long-standing rumor that Barbie was based on a "German sex toy" is a misrepresentation; although Bild Lilli was sold in joke shops and tobacco stores, she was initially designed as a novelty item, similar to the kewpies found in sideshow alley. By the late fifties, Bild Lillie was being sold as a children's fashion doll, complete with wardrobe and accessories. Interestingly, her proportions were considerably more realistic than many later figurines believed to be completely appropriate for young girls.

Go figure.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

True Crime Casebook

Hi all, just back from photoshop class with some more retro-style goodies for all you hard boiled enthusiasts out there. Here's my pitch for a Damsel in Distress comic book featuring Sally the Sleuth and similar "lingerie heroines". Naturally, the scenarios would follow the general premise of the old Spicy pulps of the 30s, ie a pretty young thing being threatened with a fate worse than death gets rescued by the hero at the last possible second:

I'll need to do a bit of research to see if Sally is in the public domain; if she isn't, I guess we'll have to alter the strip's title slightly (not an uncommon practice back in the day, BTW). For those with an interest in the historical side of things, this picture is based on the cover of Star Detective Magazine, March 1937 (artist, J.W. Scott).

PS: Leave a message if you're interested in contributing visual content to the book :)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The OTHER Sally...

Wally Wood's Sally Forth wasn't a sleuth per se, but she shared a surprising number of similarities with her 1930s predecessor, at least during the early stage of her career. Both were blond, voluptuous young women who tended to lose their clothing faster than Scientology loses converts. Originally created for the military press in the late 60s, Sally Forth featured a smooth combination of humor and cheesecake, as depicted in the strip reproduced below:

As noted by Don Markstein amongst others, military tabloids had a history of mildly risque comic strips (both Torchy and Miss Lace started out in army publications), and Sally initially followed the same model, blending barracks comedy with sassy innuendo. The sex appeal was provided by the main character's innocent stripteases - usually down to bra and panties; the nudity was more often implied than explicit.

Some time later, Sally left the armed services and continued her career on the hard core circuit. The dressing scenes and panty shows were soon displaced by full frontal nudity and penetration shots. Various historians feel that the move to XXX pornography marked the decline of Wood's artistic milieu. From this perspective at least, it's unfortunate that more of Sally's earlier escapades haven't survived to the present day.


You know, Adobe photoshop is a truly amazing program. With a basic knowledge of the system, you can take an old, faded and extremely distorted image, and give it an entirely new lease of life. It's particularly useful for restoring ancient, grainy snapshots such as this:

It took me most of the day, but I managed to clean it up to a relatively pristine condition, adjusting the contrasts and straightening out the lines as best I could. While not as crisp and sharp as a direct scan would have been, it gives a good impression of what the original might have looked like, fresh from the newsstand some seventy-odd years ago:

Next, we have page two, as initially "scanned":

followed by the restored version of the strip (ain't I a clever little elf?):

OK, I know all this proves is that I have waaaaay too much time on my hands, but any picture of Sally the Sleuth in her lingerie deserves to be treated with the utmost respect. For my next trick, I'm thinking of trying my hand at drawing a two-page Sally strip in the style of the artist. If anyone has any ideas for a storyline, feel free to post your suggestions below :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Spicy Detectives

The majority of comic aficionados are familiar with Bill Ward's Torchy and Matt Baker's Phantom Lady, but "racy" female characters have been around at least since the pulp era; Spicy Detective's Sally the Sleuth being the prime example). Taking her bow in November 1934, Sally was probably the first 'lingerie detective' on the American comics scene, and had a considerable number of literary descendants during the later 40s. Her main legacy to the artform seems to have been an impressive talent for fighting crime in her underwear (a trick she appears to have learned from Norman Pett's Jane).

Created by cartoonist Adolphe Barreaux, Sally the Sleuth started off in Spicy's back pages several years before comic books became an established format. Drawn in a "primitive" but surprisingly effective style, Sally's adventures usually ran for two pages, telling an entire story in less than 15 panels. A typical plot-line consisted of Sally working undercover to solve some local gangland mystery, resulting in her being stripped down to her bra and panties when the stock villain of the month caught her snooping about.

In most cases, she was rescued by her boss, Chief Brady (occasionally her kid sidekick, Peanuts), although she was capable of holding her own when the odds weren't overwhelming. Recurring themes included abduction, white slavery, extortion etc - standard pulp scenarios providing Sally ample opportunity to have her clothes torn off by the latest lowlife racketeer. As time went on, the action (for lack of a better word) became more risque, as Sally was stripped, bound, gagged, spanked, and whipped with ever-increasing regularity.

During the war, Sally started fighting the Axis and the feature was handed over to more sophisticated illustrators. While the artwork improved, it lacked the raw sexual energy of the Barreaux years. Part of the strip's innate charm had been the bold, naive approach to the subject matter; despite the inclusion of the popular 'homefront' subtext, the stories just didn't pack the same punch anymore. Still, the sado-masochistic elements continued to multiply, and Sally was one of the very few characters you could count on to lose her clothing within two or three panels.


Sally the Sleuth Google Reader

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Racy Heroines (Part 1)

As most of my regular visitors are already aware, I have a tendency to get on my high horse over the issue of censorship. In previous articles, I've railed furiously against the likes of Will Hays and his ludicrously puritanical Motion Picture Production Code (see the Wikipedia article for more info, I can't discuss the matter without suffering a major conniption).

Being opposed to all forms of censorship, I've also harbored a life-long loathing for the Comics Code Authority, the "self-regulatory" body that effectively drove free speech from the American newsstand between 1955 and 1972.

For those of you whose lives don't revolve around suspenders, stockings and Bettie Page, a brief synopsis will probably be in order. Stating the case as simply as possible, comics were more-or-less entirely uncensored throughout the so-called Golden Age. Publishers followed their own judgment regarding what was considered acceptable content - a decision based mainly on whatever their target demographic happened to be.

While most titles were obviously aimed at kids (funny animals had always been the biggest seller), there was also a burgeoning market for teens and young adults (ie single males with waaaaay too much time on their hands). Naturally, some publishers catered to the demand for "risque" funny books (no, not that kind) featuring scantily dressed heroines in mildly compromising situations.

While Companies such as Fiction House and Fox had always specialized in "good girl" imagery, by the end of the 1940s, practically everybody was leaping onto the band wagon, especially after the romance, crime and horror genres began take off. Oddly enough, the best-remembered character of the time belonged to neither genre. As various comic historians have observed, Bill Ward's Torchy occupies a niche all of her own.

Created by Ward while he was still in the Armed Services, Torchy was a ditzy blond who spent most of her time looking for work in post-war America (a process which generally involved falling out of her clothes for some inexplicable reason). Despite her haphazard employment prospects, Torchy seemed to possess an exceptional sense of fashion - particularly in regards to her lingerie, which she displayed at least once every story. Wandering obliviously from one unlikely escapade to the next, Torchy found herself stripped to bra, panties and stockings on the flimsiest pretexts imaginable.