TEXT BY CLAIRE MILBRATH
PUBLISHED IN ISSUE 17
Staring up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, there are swarms of male bodies: bulging, complicated, exaggerated muscle. We find chiseled hands gripping rippling biceps, or floating bubble butts thrusting into the faces of other men. Michelangelo’s homoerotic dream would help form our notion of ideal masculine beauty for centuries to come. This ideal was most well-illustrated by Mike’s long-standing crush, Tommaso dei Cavalieri, who, 35 years his junior, was the subject of Michelangelo’s longest sequence of sonnets, all about the burning desire for “shapely arms.”
Fast forward hundreds and hundreds of years to 1950, when illustrator Touko Laaksonen, otherwise known as Tom of Finland, cashed in on hypermasculinity as sexual fantasy. Tom’s vision was to create a world where masculine men—usually working class— co-existed together, sexually liberated, characterized by a total lack of inhibition.
Tom of Finland’s livelihood and popularity relied on the rise of “beefcake” magazines and the steady income which they provided him. Between the 1930s and 1960s, beefcake magazines were distributed widely and openly throughout North American pharmacies and newspaper stands. While it was understood that the market for beefcake publications was mostly gay, they were presented as “fitness and health” magazines, educating readers on the latest exercises.
Bob Mizer, often said to be one of the pioneers of gay pornography, founded his own beefcake empire. After spending nine months in prison for distributing black-and-white photos of bodybuilders wearing g-strings, Bob created The Athletic Model Guild, which created a sort of shield of professionalism under which his pornography could flourish. Through his guild he published the first all-male, all-nude magazine Physique Pictorial. It was in these pages that Tom of Finland would first publish his erotic illustrations.
Physique Pictorial Covers
I see Roscoe as the precise heir to Tom of Finland. The 1990’s counterpart to Tom’s idealized, photo-realistic muscle men are the glistening, hyperbolic bodies of Roscoe. Roscoe’s scenes are at once grotesque, funny, erotic, and masterful. Roscoe is Michelangelo’s David with a huge erection.
One day while browsing the web I found a scan from Roscoe’s comic series, Adventures of Timmy, wherein he listed an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. On a whim I sent an email, and heard back right away. Roscoe, otherwise known as Tim Neil, was humble and honest about his work. He worked for 25 years as a commercial artist in Hollywood, illustrating posters, storyboards, and even sometimes acting. After growing tired of the predictability of such work, Roscoe tried his hand making something nastier. He sold his first erotic drawing on the adult section of early eBay. On the phone from his backyard in New Orleans, Roscoe drawls, “Money was calling me.” Roscoe, like Tom of Finland, relied on gay publications for steady pay. “The thing that really got me started in the beginning was HandJobs Magazine. I was counting on regular income from them, so it kept my interest, and kept me focused on being very prolific,” Roscoe tells me.
Illustrations by Roscoe
Outside of his work for magazines like HandJobs, Bad Puppy, and Men Magazine, Roscoe developed his own series of comic books. “I had a fantasy of doing six of them, but there were only three: The Adventures of Timmy. That’s my name, Tim,” he says. “He was a dim-witted college student who was a farm boy, and he got tricked into being a whore for the fraternity. That was the beginning of his escapades, being a world-wide porn star.”
I ask Roscoe about the humour in his art. Take some of his narratives, “After the Game Drill,” or “Truck Stop Toilet Tramp,” for example. He answers, “Entertainment, to me, is what it’s all about. It’s all about entertainment.” We talk about hypermasculinity, and the Tom of Finland inspiration. Roscoe says he learned to draw the human body from Archie comics. “I had a good education in what sells, because I did work for advertising agencies and TV stations. I had a good grip on what people thought was sexy.”
It seems Roscoe, perhaps as with Michelangelo and Tom of Finland, depicted hypermasculine studs because that’s just what was fun and lucrative. Bob Mizer said of Tom of Finland’s characters that “they momentarily transport us from the real world, filled with almost oppressive mediocrity, to one peopled by the stalwart heroes we would all like to be.” If you like what you see, write email@example.com, he would love to hear from you.
© 2019 The Editorial Magazine