“Playboy” has a long history as one of the better venues for cartoons. It’s published all sorts of cartoonists in all sorts of styles. But when people think of a “Playboy” cartoon, they’re usually thinking of a particular type of sexual cartoon. Quite often featuring a naked lady, but almost always about the satisfactions of lust, with maybe a little about the convolutions of human jealousy or dissatisfaction as comic grit, but by and large fairly positive about sex.
Many of the gay cartoons just take the typical heterosexual situations which the cartoonists riff off anyway and just play them with a gay couple. There is a small but definite body of “Playboy” cartoons about gay transvestism, but that’s because of “Playboy”’s fascination for the female form, and so there’s a little disquiet about the repercussions of having one’s natural manly lusts fooled. There are not that many which are all that sneering about gay effeminacy, unlike “Mad” magazine of the same period. Playboy had adopted a pro-gay rights attitude as part of its general policy for healthy sexual and social liberation by the mid 60s but its comic homosexuals were usually sissy caricatures. By the 1970s Playboy had loosened up around homsexuals, and its comics were able to make jokes about gay people just as people not as some other weird species.
Here are some examples where the joke is a homosexual doing exactly the very thing a heterosexual would do in the same situation. And most actually wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of “Gay News” or “Christopher Street” at the time.
“Playboy” December 1973
This is the only one where you could say the cartoonist has definitely drawn people intended to be identifiably “homosexual” – scrawny arms with clasped hands, cigarette held in less than virile manner, and the use of the name “Bruce”. The gag itself is just another one about swinging, like so many cartoons in “Playboy” about casual healthy orgies and wotnots. The gay variation: “Wife-swapping” but only with men, ho, ho.
“Playboy”, January 1975
The standard outraged, betrayed older man discovering his young lover in bed in with another. It’s not until you read the caption, and the very last word, that you realise the variation. And then you notice something slightly different about the expression of the young man.
“Playboy” June 1976
From a sequence of marriage guidance counsellor jokes, “The Honeymoon is Over”. Two fairly straight-looking men here, just casting devoted glances at each other.
“Playboy”, September 1977
Just a variation on the oft-quoted line from the “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”.
“Playboy”, May 1979 from “Class Reunion”