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Edward Ficklin

John Carter, but make it gay

Published 11 months ago • 2 min read

Hello, Darlings!

Today's beefcake bonanza all started with a twitter thread of appreciation for the particular skill with which Frank Frazetta presented a wide array of fantastical derrieres. This one, which I’ve written about before caught my eye, especially.

There’s a lot packed into this one painting and I’ve spent some time unpacking its compositional and anatomical delights. It finally occurred to me to look up what book this was the cover for: Swords of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

While Burroughs may be best known for Tarzan, he spent just as much time and purple prose on another hero: John Carter (our nearly nude swordsman above). And, just like the nearly nude vine swinger, there’s been a number of artists who tried their hand at depicting his exploits. Not to mention a forgettable film or two.

nearly naked john carter suspended from a rope and being chased by airships
male hero holding female heroine in abandoned alien city
nearly naked swordsman with helmet standing heroically, with voluptuous woman in his arms against alien lanscape
actor anotion sabato jr playing the role of john carter

So, I read the first of the 13 John Carter books penned by the indefatigable Burroughs: A Princess of Mars. The intro by Junot Díaz to the Library of America edition is was what made the book for me—don’t skip it. He beautifully frames the cultural context of the story—both then and now—which is important to keep in mind as we decide how to deal with the ugly past that even casual entertainments like this embody.

One was enough for me, your mileage may vary. However, I couldn’t resist taking a crack at painting the guy. Like Tarzan, he’s just soooo “masculine” that he’s absolutely, totally, 100% gay. The playful (or should I say cheeky 🍑) recontextualization of masculine imagery is my jam, after all. Funny how the gay vs. macho continuum is actually a snake swallowing its own…ahem, tail. (lol)

Near the beginning of the book, Carter, a Civil War veteran prospecting for gold in the Arizona desert, is attacked by Apaches and left for dead in a cave. He’s not actually dead, but is mysteriously transported, buck naked, to Mars. Why Burroughs chose to have his hero lose his clothes in the process is beyond me. But it just so happens that clothes are not a thing on Mars. I didn’t do a close reading of the book, but near as I can tell, they’re all naked the whole time. Except for armor and ornaments that denote rank, of course. Too bad all the various adaptations and depictions don’t follow suit and just let it all hang out.

I am, of course, depicting the astral Carter in his birthday suit as befits the text. I also chose to suggest, more than depict, the setting as this is not an illustration of the book but rather my own personal response to it.

As I was working I had an inspiration. Originally, as you can see in the sketch here, it was just the two figures and moody background, but an addition suggested itself. A playful bit of surrealism of shotgun shells streaming forth from a bandolier amidst some sensuous and glowing passion flowers. It adds a fun twist, with a bit of mystery and interest, to what could otherwise have been something darker and angstier than I was going for.

And the title? Well, all that’s occurred to me so far is “John Carter, but make it gay”. I love quirky titles, and this has grabbed my attention and just won’t let go. The rest of the particulars: 20 in. x 16 in., oil on linen to be mounted on panel. To be continued…

If you think this is something you might like to collect, keep an eye out of invites to shows this fall when it’ll be ready for prime time—or smash that reply button and let’s talk.

Meanwhile, I’ve added some new gems to my regular offering of figure drawings and to my newest collection of paintings, Watches of the Night.

Until next time, flame on! 🔥


This has been the Queer Quantum Dispatch, brought to you by artist Edward Ficklin. If you enjoyed it, smash the forward button and share the love. 💖 If you got this from a friend (and what a friend!) subscribe for more!

Edward Ficklin

Edward Ficklin (he/him), the maverick artist not afraid to say gay, is a self-taught painter, writer, publisher and sometimes technologist. He creates sensuous and erotically-tinged queer surrealist art, publishes queer-centered sci-fi comix, and pontificates regularly on a range of topics in his Queer Quantum Dispatch newsletter.

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