I’m never sure if it makes much sense to debate the origins of our interests in subjects like you find covered here. In some ways I’m put in mind of British comedian Jimmy Carr’s* observation on the analysis of humour – “It’s like dissecting a frog, no one’s very interested and the frog dies.” On the other hand, I found something recently that reminded me of the early stages of my interests and I just thought it would be worthwhile to put it down for posterity. (Well for the Blog at least…).
I’m not sure where this came from but I was looking for some images on line for some web work that I was doing and suddenly saw this…
In an instant, it took me back 50 years to a summer holiday at a seaside town in the late 1950’s when I spent some of my pocket money on this comic book. It is my first memory of being consciously sexually aroused by images. Looking at the comic again (thanks to the world wide web I managed to track down the contents) I found it interesting to discover how many of the themes I return to in my writing can be found in here.
It’s an edition of Phantom Comics that only appeared in the UK, as far as I know. It was published in 1959. August was really hot here in the UK that year and I remember that holiday as being great for weather. I would have been 11 years old. The story that caught my eye then – and the one that is represented by the cover picture of a leggy girl in a ship’s officers cap – was “The Mermaids of Melo Straits”. It had originally been published between November 1945 and February 1946 as a daily strip in the US under King Features syndication. There were three other stories in that comic. I don’t remember any of them!
Lee Falk (who created The Phantom character – a masked do-gooder with a reputation for immortality) and Ray Moore (who drew it) both also worked on Mandrake the Magician : one of the inspirations (along with Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s Doctor Strange) for my stories “Abracadabra” and “Hocus Pocus“.
So what was it about “Mermaids” that had such an impact?
First of all there’s the story. Played out over 28 pages, an all-female pirate gang highjacks ships for their valuable cargoes, by pretending to be mermaids and tempting their prey onto rocks. They imprison the ships’ crews in an inescapable valley. Diana – the Phantom’s love interest – is captured by them and eventually agrees to join them, learning how to be a “mermaid”, before betraying their next attempt to wreck a ship and as a result being placed in extreme jeopardy. Meanwhile the Phantom in his attempt to overcome the gang has several opportunities to overcome, bind and gag unfortunate members of the gang, before finally rescuing Diana from an imminent watery grave. What’s not to like? Like this my stories are stronger on events than character. Maybe that harks back to an enthusiasm for comic books when I was younger? To me, comics have a wonderful way of covering a lot of ground very quickly and while characters do build over time, they rarely do in one story. Interestingly the story has elements of both male and female dominance, bondage, and fetishistic attire (the mermaid costumes look real tight).
Here’s some of the pictures that I found a turn on. I’m guessing at 11 years old it was still pretty much – a “Hey this is neat” response but I can’t be sure. They aren’t in the order that they were in the story, I’ve just grouped them together by theme as that makes it easier to comment on. If you want to find the whole thing there’s a number of Phantom sites out there.
Peril is always a useful component. Jenny has had her fair share of it in the stories I’ve written with Phil Lane. Here’s Diana in peril after the chief pirate clonks her for warning a ship when Diana realises she really can’t be a pirate after all….
Moore’s technique is simple. These drawings are just a few lines but they get to the point…
The pictures showing captures are good too. The middle one of this set hit the spot for me but there’s something great about Diana being led away at gun point too.
Bondage has been a feature of my stories from the very first thing I published (“Education, Education, Education“) back in 2003. There are quite a few frames of bondage in “Mermaids”. The Phantom seems quite adept at getting ladies to stay in one place. Gag’s aren’t Moore’s strong point though – we’re still in the era of the Detective Gag in “Mermaids” and only one of them, more’s the pity. I didn’t know any better then.
Of course regular fans of my writing will know I have a healthy (? Unhealthy) interest in matters fetishistic as well. I’ve never found it too hard to include elements of leather, rubber or other fetishism in my tales and all of those interests go back quite a long way as far as I can rememberThe mermaid theme presented plenty of interest in that direction. The first ship wreck catches a glimpse of our fishy tailed lady pirates. The ship’s captain hears the siren voices of the mermaids singing (over an industrial strength tannoy system by the look of it!) and heads off to get a closer look. Who can blame him with the girls in those outfits?
The next thing we see is the mermaids taking off their costumes and diving clear of the rocks as the ship gets closer.
“OK, Girls… UNZIP!” still seems to me one of the most erotically charged pieces of dialogue I have ever seen in a comic.
Then, when Diana has finally been persuaded to join them, we get to see her being introduced to the skills she needs as a mermaid. Bossy Queenie gets her to strip off and to put the mermaid costume on but Diana doesn’t seem to find it too easy.
Thinking now about it the whole fish-tail costume seems like a good starting point for a bondage outfit anyway.
I also remember a beautiful Bob Carlos-Clarke pic from an early edition of Skin Two which had a girl in a rubber fishtail. You don’t need to see it here. Just search for Bob Carlos Clarke Mermaid on Google if you don’t know what I mean. Queenie would have been jealous, I’m sure.
Even when Diana gets into her costume she hasn’t really got the idea. She’s much too nice a girl to know how to wear this sort of outfit. Luckily Queenie and one of the gang are on hand to show her what to do.
She seems to get the idea pretty quickly. Maybe she’s got a bit of a kinky streak. But then, after all, she is hanging around with a masked man in a skin tight purple suit, so what do you expect?
Of course all this was well in the future for my 11 year old self. This wasn’t a cause of kink but I certainly knew what I liked even then.
I’ve included girl-on-girl domination in my stories since the start and there are elements of that here too. When Diana encounters “Queenie” the pirate chief we get to find out why there are no men in her pirate gang.
It’s because she’s had a bad relationship experience with a gentlemen that turned out to be cheating on her. I guess characters always need some motivation but going on a career of wrecking seems a bit of an extreme reaction to me, although no stranger than some of my own plot twists, I guess.
There’s a slight homo-erotic vibe going on when Queenie tries to persuade Diana to join her gang of piratical mermaids. Diana gets to be tied up by the looks of it.
I suppose she could just be sitting with her hands behind her back. (Although that’s not what I thought back then and I still don’t today). We don’t see her being bound or freed later but I still think that’s what’s going on. Queenie shows off her outfit and jewels (“I got diamonds and I didn’t have to beg any man for ’em either” – quite the Independent Woman, way before Destiny’s Child).
Queenie comes across as the ideal über-Domme. I can’t credit her with sparking my sexual interest in femdom but I certainly remember responding to her character. Queenie is ruthless with the men, herding them off to Prison Valley with a nice line in withering scorn and shooting one that tries to resist being imprisoned.
She’s pretty keen on keeping order in her gang. “Don’t shoot any more men except on my orders,” she declares at one point when she thinks Diana has killed the Phantom for trying to kiss her.
Is she a prototype for Ellie in the Freddie Clegg stories? I don’t think so but maybe there’s a bit of Queenie in her.
Interestingly I have only once – I think – looked at piratical adventures (in “Nautical But Nice“). Maybe that owed something to “Mermaids”. Maybe I should revisit it….
© Freddie Clegg 2012 All pictures © King Pictures Syndicate. Respect to Lee Falk & Ray Moore
*turns out this was actually a rephrasing of a quote from E.B. White co-author of one of my favorite books. (No, not Charlotte’s Web, try “The Elements of Style”), and in fairness to Carr he just credited it correctly on a show on the BBC tonight.