Playboy 50 Years The Cartoons, intro by Hugh Hefner, Chronicle Books, 2004
I just read it for the captions, honest.
Like science fiction, the Golden Age of PLAYBOY is, I think, thirteen. That was about the age at which I started sneaking looks at the issues in the house.
(Now where did those issues come from? Did my Dad have a subscription? I suppose he must have, but I don't remember him ever looking at them. Perhaps the Naked Women Fairy snuck into the house at night and left copies in the bathroom. The Naked Women Fairy must have been kept very busy, because back them it seemed like everyone's bathroom had an issue or several of PLAYBOY. So busy, in fact, that it was years, dammit, before he got around to leaving an actual naked woman in my bed.)
Of course I looked at the centerfolds and other photos. (And yeah, I actually read some of the articles and fiction they printed too. Ian Fleming, Jean Shepherd, Damon Knight; they published some damn good writers.) And I looked at the cartoons.
Some of the cartoons in this collection are ones I remember seeing back in the 60's. The collection reprints a selection from the 50's to the 00's.
From the perspective of forty years later, I'm struck by the similarity in reaction to the cartoons between my thirteen year-old self and my current self. And that reaction is...
...that the cartoons are curiously sexless.
When I was thirteen, with the first stirrings of sexual curiousity, it was largely a matter of not having a context to judge or react to the cartoons. I was so ignorant about sex, women, men & women, social interactions, and the whole game of people that many of the situations depicted in the cartons might as well have been in heiroglyphics. I had a curiousity, and a certainty that there was something being referred to, but it was something that, at that age, I didn't understand.
(It's difficult to communicate, today, in an age where so much information is so available at such an earlier age about sex and sexuality, just how deprived the information-environment about sex was back in the 1960's for young people. Trying to figure out what sex is about, and how it's done, from centerfolds and cartoons -- trust me on this -- is not a great learning method. One usually didn't start to get a handle on the subject until you were old enough to start actually dating and funbling around in the back seats of cars.)
("Well, that explains a lot, Bruce.") (Yes, it does.)
Forty-plus years later, with a bit of experience and some understanding of how the game of people works, I look at the cartoons and find them... innocent. Particularly from the earlier years, they're sorta... goofy, with odd underlying assumptions that it's difficult to fully accept anymore. (The sight of a naked breast will throw men into a state of fascinated paralysis, all social situations have seduction as their end goal, etc.)
I find myself amused by a number of them. Some because they're still funny, others because they've become old-fashioned and quaint. Others leave me without reaction. A few... surprisingly few... strike me as puerile and annoying.
I don't think I can recommend this purely as a cartoon collection. But as a historical document, flashes into the evolution of an important magazine and the changes in social mores and attitudes, it's pretty interesting.
(I've been referring here to the sexually-themed cartoons in the collection. There are a number of non-sexual cartoons as well, by Gahan Wilson and others, which overall stand up much better to age.) (Except for the politcal cartoons, which haven't aged all that well, I thought.)