Out/Lines: Underground Gay Graphics from Before Stonewall


296 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55152-123-7
DDC 704.9'428





Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson is librarian emeritus and former assistant director of
libraries at the University of Saskatchewan Library. He is also
dramaturge for the Festival de la Dramaturgie des Prairies.


Material for Out/Lines surfaced while Waugh was researching his
scholarly work Hard to Imagine. Waugh differentiates iconic illustrated
fantasy (i.e., drawings, paintings, and graffiti) from the indexical
material (photos of real people) subject of the first volume. Creation,
distribution, and even collecting these images crossed licit and illicit
lines. Even today many will see only “the vulgar excess of explicit
genital action” in these reproduced images, despite the alibi of a
bibliography and a serious introduction identifying artists and themes
and dissecting the sociological contexts depicted. General libraries
should be aware the book may provoke challenge or controversy.

In his selection, the compiler deliberately leaves out artists of high
cultural status such as Jean Cocteau or Duncan Grant in order to give
prominence to the “low” and “unclaimed.” Although two-thirds of
the illustrations are unsigned or anonymous, he does include artists
celebrated in the iconography of gay erotica and beefcake (e.g., Tom of
Finland, Blade, Йtienne). Since the images were intended as a turn-on,
Waugh justifies a less formal and frankly lusty approach here. Often his
vocabulary, his puns (intended or otherwise), and his parenthetical
comments seem to be made with tongue in cheek and hand strategically
placed. Although Waugh confesses an ignorance of fine art, he freely
draws lyrical attention to features of certain images capturing his
attention. One never loses sight of the author’s tastes, although
occasionally one might question the accuracy of his observations.

The book is well designed: the 200 pages of “previously unpublished
‘obscene’ graphics” include eight glossy plates. The large page
numbering in the centre of the outside margins makes flipping from
textual references to the reproduced illustrations easy. Page captions
expand on Waugh’s introductory observations, often with a
lightheartedness that seems intended to take the pornographic edge
off—almost as if he is telling the shockable reader not to get too
riled up and to enjoy the romp. To the depiction of these drawings of
well-endowed gay lads, Waugh brings discerning eyes able to distinguish
exactly who is doing what and to whom, even in the most acrobatic orgy


Waugh, Thomas., “Out/Lines: Underground Gay Graphics from Before Stonewall,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/9775.