Like many, I was extremely excited (and aroused) to learn about this volume of Tom of Finland's art edited by Dian Hanson and published by Taschen. I thought it was about time that someone came up with the brilliant idea of putting Tom's leatherclad bikers into one volume. I preordered a copy and waited impatiently for the book to arrive.
For someone who is new to Tom of Finland, this volume provides an excellent way to be introduced to his biker genre. For those of us who are more familiar with most of Tom's oeuvre, this book most likely prompts the following thoughts.
The book does a good job at incorporating much of Tom's most famous art depicting horny bikers. The most exemplary choice is the seven panel story of the leatherclad biker who forces a nude hunk onto his motorcycle to try out a few skill testing positions. It is also interesting to see the biker as he evolves in Tom's art, from the brown leather, shoulder padded jackets that his slim, delicate men wore in the late 1940s to his mustachioed uberman in shining black leather astride his gleaming motorcycle in the 70s. I also appreciated the editor's choice of the reference photographs Tom used to draw his bikers - best of all, there are several new photos, particularly of bikers in sex scenes. The price is also excellent: anywhere between $10-$20. However, it is likely that this amazing low price for this collection of fantastic homoerotica accounts for some of the issues I had with the volume.
The quality of some of the images (certainly not all), particularly from the comic, The Rope, was not clean. The first few images appear messy. Some pictures also seem faded, the leather not as glossy. I realize the tools Tom used influenced the look, but he could make leather gleam in any medium! Evidence of carelessness is also apparent: images from panel stories are omitted, or out of order and context. There's even one image which is duplicated in the collection. I won't gripe about the repetition of these images - you can find the vast majority of them in the most recent volumes of Tom's art by Taschen (XXL, The Complete Kake Comics, The Complete Comics Collection) - because the point of this volume, in part, is that Hanson is categorizing Tom's art so that those of us who are fascinated more by his bikers can refer to them easily in one central source. This goal the volume achieves to a good extent. At the same time, however, I was hoping this volume might have included a rare panel story, or other single images which are less frequently reproduced. I know there is one panel story out there in the archives that involves a leather jacket-wearing biker who picks up a leather vest-wearing hitchhiker; the couple carry on to have some great fun while being watched by a group of other men. You can see a couple of tiny images from this series towards the end of the magnificent XXL book.
This leads me to my biggest criticism: the choice of some of the images presented within. The book does not profess to be the definitive collection of Tom's leather bikers, but there is certainly room for improvement here. First, on a minor note, while Kake clearly has a role in this volume, I wonder if his story, Highway Patrol, would have been the obvious choice of all the superstud's exploits to include in this volume? Not only is Kake on his motorcycle, but he attracts the attention of two horny motorcycle cops (or is this being saved for Tom of Finland - Cops?). The only other times Kake appears straddling his hog is in Kake in Canada and Kake and the Wild West. Don't get me wrong - I have no problem with the inclusion of Kake #2, in which our leatherclad hero seduces and has his way with a hunky sunbather (I'm a BIG fan of leatherman on nude man action), but the presence of motorcycles is also a critical erotic element. Yes, Kake is a biker, but he always struck me as more leatherman than biker ... which raises the question: does leather a biker make? The inclusion on page 169 of the image of a leather master in his S&M dungeon emphasizes this issue. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but shouldn't the biker image be the focus in this volume? Why include the leather master, but not the iconic image of the leathered biker - in his chaps, and with his gauntlet gloves tucked under the epaulet of his leather jacket - astride his motorcycle outside the leather bar, The Pits? It strikes me that Hanson can easily produce another volume devoted to leathermen (vs. bikers), but Dian Hanson assures us that this volume is "all about the leather". So some of the choices are confusing or at least deserve more explanation than her essay provides. A few images do not even suggest a biker - just random bare-chested studs.
The other comics are appropriate - Sex in the Shed, The Rope, and, most fitting of all, Ringo and the Renegades - two bikers who whisk a rock singer away to safety - and sexual fulfillment - on their motorcycle. Yet once again, the choices of images to include or omit raise eyebrows: the first few panels of Sex in the Shed are missing. These show the leather clad biker picking up a blonde hitchhiker on his motorcycle. Two of the most erotically charged images of this comic, in my opinion, are the first two: the biker looking up at the hitchhiking stud from his hog, smirking at him from behind his mirrored shades; and the hitchhiker, as pillion, wrapping his arms around the biker from behind, slipping one hand under his leather jacket while the other explores the biker's prominent bulge through his leather breeches, while riding on the motorcycle. Why omit the two scenes most relevant to this volume? Is it more necessary for the viewer to see other images from the comic, such as the farmhand taking a piss outside the shed? Or two men sleeping nude in the hay? Not that those images don't have their place in Tom's oeuvre, but perhaps they would be more appropriately showcased in Tom of Finland - Vol. III: Watersports; or Tom of Finland - Volume IV: The Nude Male.
Throughout the volume, Hanson chose to include quotes from Tom of Finland himself to help the reader understand his motivations for what he drew; yet, there is only one reference to leather. The quotes are otherwise very general and could be used in any volume of Tom of Finland's art. Why not choose quotes that reflected Tom's interest in the biker and his leather gear? Surely there are plenty?
Don't get me wrong - I'm NOT returning this book. My partner and I looked at the book together and quickly became inspired ... but this is Tom's magic. You can't go wrong with his art. There are many excellent choices showing off Tom's bikers and the fun they have. The issue is adhering faithfully to the theme of this volume which ought to have been more thoughtfully considered.