Spanking in 1930s Adventure Strips
The end of the 1920s ushered in a new chapter in the development of comic strips. While slapstick comedies and pretty girls had dominated the market during the early twenties, the debut of Tarzan and Buck Rogers in 1929 unleashed a new wave of adventurers who literally overwhelmed the funny pages with their devil-may-care exploits. This was a totally new direction, requiring an entirely different approach to storytelling and illustration.
Many of the strips adopted a gritty, sometimes violent edge to meet audience expectations. Front runners for the new wave included John Terry's Scorchy Smith (1930), Chester Gould's Dick Tracy (1931) Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon (1934), Lee Falk's Mandrake the Magician (1934), and, later in the decade, Hal Foster's Prince Valiant (1937). Gender stereotypes were rapidly revised to suit the demands of a more sophisticated readership. Dim-witted college boys were replaced by two-fisted fighting men (Jungle Jim); twittering gold-diggers suddenly transformed into resourceful aviators (Flyin' Jenny), and high adventure reigned supreme.
Strips such as these were characterized by an emphasis on romance and gender conflicts (a clear parallel to recent developments in Hollywood, incidentally). For some reason, the appearance of characters such as Barney Baxter or Agent X-9 opened the floodgates on M/F spanking (and not a little sado-masochism into the bargain). Partly, it had to do with the subject matter - action and adventure stories require well-defined gender rolls, so a certain degree of sexual stereotyping was inevitable.
The image of a handsome, steely-eyed male taking his precocious young girlfriend across his lap reinforced comtemporary notions of masculinity. The action implied a certain loss of dignity for the heroine, but again, the idea was perfectly acceptable to 1930s audiences. True to their time, the women in these stories were spirited but feminine, invariably falling into a more passive role following a well-deserved spanking.
Another factor to consider is the artwork. Aimed primarily at a mature demographic, adventure strips employed a more conscientious form of representation, one emphasizing realism over caricature. This illustrative style allowed greater scope for the depiction of adult situations, some of which included mildly sexual activities. Physical contact was necessarily minimal - this was the thirties after all - but spanking was considered at least as innocent (and normal) as a chastely passionate kiss. Illustrators were quick to seize upon the climactic potential of the spanking scene, and frequently went to great lengths to portray the tension and drama of the moment. It was during this period that many of the artistic conventions for the mainstream spanking genre were established - echoes of which can still be detected today.
It may also be assumed that cartoonists took a cue from contemporary Hollywood (and a lesser extent, 'spicy' pulp literature), experiment with cheesecake and mild sexual imagery for the first time. Although outright adult nudity was extremely rare, fetish-based images were quite acceptable to the news-reading public - stiletto heels, seamed stockings and plunging necklines were common symbols of femininity throughout the thirties. Perhaps most importantly, the fetishitic elements suggested that the activity could be viewed in purely sexual terms.
In terms of narrative, spanking scenes often hinged on the female character's position in the storyline. Some common feminine archetpyes include:
- 1. The Girlfriend
- 2. The Society Girl
- 3. The Spoilt Brat
- 4. The Seductress
- 5. The Black Widow