The first time I saw a Tom of Finland drawing was in a downtown Spokane used book store near the bus station in the 1970. The image, buried at the back of a men’s physique magazine (this is pre-MEN’S HEALTH, but the same idea), was in a small ad for more “special” publications. It jumped out at me like a great big erection. It depicted a pair of muscular butch men with big chins & broad grins grabbing each other's bubble butts & straining packages while winking at the reader. I was startled & aroused. Tom of Finland's pornographic drawings of hunky, fuck-booted, big butted beefcakes banging the booty in charcoals, pencil, ink, & watercolors had my full attention, & reminded me that I would need to get to a gym.
Tom was born Touko Laaksonen in Kaarina, Finland, on this day-May 8, in 1920. His work is literally the masturbatory fantasies of a lonely young homosexual Finnish boy; he began drawing in his bedroom in the 1940s. Tom worked as an illustrator in the Finnish advertising business until the early 1970s, when he became a full time gay pornographer. He sold the idea of the male body as a pleased, pleasuring & pleasured thing decades before Calvin Klein thought of it.
Tom's greatest achievement was in drawing gay men who were masculine, happy & proud at a time when they were supposed to be effeminate, neurotic & shameful. This is certainly the reason why so many gay men are Tom of Finland fans. Today's gay porn is just a footnote to Tom of Finland, endless loops of a garage full of “regular guys” with huge cocks & massive pecs having spontaneous, shameless sex at the drop of the monkey wrench. His achievement was more than just making gay men feel good about themselves, or the feel of leather.
Tom had a profound influence on gay culture because, in a world that insisted gay men were sissies, Tom portrayed them as confident, macho & aggressive. Every drawing features a lumberjack, cop, construction worker, cowboy, biker, sailor or soldier. Not a florist, choreographer or dress designer in the bunch. He suggested something more than the masculinity in gay men. Tom turned it around on the straight world; you couldn't be masculine unless you were gay.
Before Tom, no one drew men like he did, unabashed sex objects & sex subjects, giving them exaggerated big chins, strong jaws, full lips, bubble butts, full bulges. His idea of masculinity & virility end up looking so... well, yummy. They seem to be seeking the attentions of the powerful Abercrombie & Fitch photographer Bruce Weber (a big Tom fan), or perhaps a Levi's commercial.
Tom's big break came in the 1950s from Physique Pictorial, semi-legal gay American magazine disguised as a straight men's bodybuilding magazine, which frequently put Tom's men on the cover. Half a century later, & 19 years after his death in 1991, the world has turned around & real men who look like Tom's drawings now appear on the cover of magazines like Men's Health. I was reading one while waiting to get my haircut at 7 Bucks A Whack (the perfect Tom of Finland business name) & the thing was full of advice on how straight men can turn themselves into something out of Tom of Finland.
The big question begs- is it art or is it porn? David Hockney, Robert Mapplethorpe & Andy Warhol were admirers & collectors of Tom's work. Not bad for a pornographer. He continues to have gallery shows & his work is in the permanent collections of 7 museums, including MOMA. While the debate goes on whether Tom's fuck machines constitute art, anyone can see that the macho men of Tom of Finland are hung… they're hung in museums.
* These were the most post-able images I could dig up.