Hags on Hogs by Ray Sawhill
If you worry that upscale comic books such as Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” have destroyed comics as an unselfconscious entertainment vehicle, then you may find the work of John Howard in the irregularly-published smut comic book “Horny Biker Slut” (Last Gasp) rejuvenating and cheering. Printed in black and white on cheap paper, it’s disposable, gratuitous and inexcusably vulgar. It’s impossible to defend in any respectable terms.
Howard writes and draws two stories per issue, and includes a couple of full page drawings too. (The stories by other writers and artists in the issues touch on the same themes.) His work mostly features a rotating cast of motorcycle mamas—members of the Road Weasels. Life for the sluts, who are built like Olympic athletes, consists of riding choppers, participating in epic gang bangs, guzzling rotgut (preferred brand: “Antelope Piss”), and brawling with members of a rival gang, the Skull Fuckers.
Heavy on the blacks, cross-hatchings and Fritz Lang-like low angles, Howard’s visual style is out of expressionist woodcuts and the men’s room. It’s essentially a tribute to the inescapable physical crudeness of sex—to puddles and slime, appendages and clefts, puckers and oozings and stink. But Howard has the fastidiousness of the true pornographer, incising every curly hair on the underside of an overweight belly, every bump and hole in a pierced nipple, and every wrinkle in a tight scrotum with fondness and humor. Protrusions, flaps and orifices are made colossal with sexual assertiveness in ways that can make you giggle and gag. It has to be said that, as an artist at least, Howard has a way with sphincters.
Part of the fascination of smut of course is that it’s largely about your subjective response. In one story, a couple of buzz-cut toughs challenge the lead slut to screw them both. When they slam their monsters into her simultaneously, she gasps, then grits her teeth and calls out: “I got the strongest pussy-muscles in the tristate area! … Nobody fucks me into submission, losers!” Why do I find this cry of indomitability and pride more moving than Rastignac’s—”He eyed [Paris] … and said with superb defiance, ‘It’s war between us now!'”—at the end of “Pere Goriot”?
Howard is as crudely male as Henry Miller, and he has Bukowski’s gusto for the gutter. His work offers similar lewd, funny pleasures, but “Horny Biker Slut” has no surprises of melancholy or feeling. Howard is frankly skulking and furtive, and behind his deadpan is the spirit of a baggy-pants variety-show entertainer. “Horny Biker Slut” is also free of the element of generational self-congratulation boomer-era underground comix often had. In fact, I can’t detect a political or aesthetic agenda behind a single panel. (The dog collars, leathers and studs are blessedly un-chic.) In five issues, Howard hasn’t wimped out once; even the exhortations to practice safe sex are sweetly gross.
Howard is so methodical and clear-headed a degenerate that he might be a family-man accountant whose ya-yas come from perpetrating the occasional anonymous outrage. In a note to his readers in his most recent issue he announced that he’d got married, but that we weren’t to worry—”she knows what I do for a living.”
The appeal of his fantasy for the (inevitably) male reader is that the sluts aren’t just huge, gorgeous and powerful—they’re also raunchier than you’ll ever be. No tender feelings here! (The sluts may be tough, frightening babes, but they’re still projections of male fantasies.) What the comic expresses (and celebrates) is the never-say-die quality of men’s ability to fantasize about sex—an ability many men enjoy equating with the life-force itself.
The best time to thumb through an issue of “Horny Biker Slut” is probably after an exhausting day at work. It hits the spot then as satisfyingly as booze; it makes you feel free to wallow in your surliness and resentment. The gentrifiers may have taken just about everything else from you, but you can still call the hostility and filth your own.
©1992 by Ray Sawhill. First appeared in The Modern Review.