by Vladimir KAZANEVSKY / Ukraine


Vladimir Kazanevsky

The purpose of the present work is not the review and analysis of modern world erotic cartoons. First of all, we are interested with the research of phenomenon of the art of modern cartoon in which the basis of witty, poetic philosophy of life lays. Certainly, it is necessary to speak about the products, which directly are connected to the sexuality, reflecting on the sexuality in cartoons. However, we shall speak about the sexuality in “not sexual” cartoons.

At first sight, many cartoons have no sexual coloring. They have or only entertaining “not erotic” characters, or they bear the satirical, critical “charge”. However, the attentive analysis shows, that there is a deep connection between the products of cartoonists and sexuality. The creativity of cartoonists was not investigated under a “sexual” corner of sight practically.

Let’s try to understand, why the sexuality is attractive to satirical artists so. First of all, the sexuality is tempting for the person initially. A myth about “erotic paradise”, the environment of “interdiction”, spicy aroma of secret in the relation to the sex drew the person always. There was a close connection between the sexuality and laughter in the folklore, ancient rituals. Such scientists, as I. Kon, V. Propp, O. Frejdenberg, M. Bahtin etc. spoke about it. The laughter acts as “life creator”, light beginning opposite to the death. As wrote V. Propp, ” A deity, laughing, creates the world “. In opinion of O. Frejdenberg, there was associative connection between a sexuality, holidays and laughter. “The humorous culture” means special sexual humor, and connection of the sexuality with holidays, game elements of public life also.

The sexuality has involved the curious persons at all times. The mankind impregnated with the spirit of sexuality – opened veils of this magic secret slightly from time to time and tightly hid it from itself again. That is, the artist can provide to some attention of the public to the creative product, maintaining secret of sexuality, already a priori.

At the same time, a sex does not become isolated on itself. Michel Fuko wrote: “A sex is historical, cultural and even political phenomenon”. Thus, the cartoonist, first, guarantees the attention of the public to creative product, second, he is not limited neither historical, nor cultural, political frameworks in the creativity, addressing to the sexuality.

Also it is necessary to pay attention that the sexuality and art of cartoon have some similar features, let formal even.

Again we will address to Michel Fuko. “In cultural system of a society the sexuality carries out the function of the mechanism of submission and supervision. The instruction to suppress the lust concentrates attention on a forbidden subject only”. Similar words can be told about the art of cartoon.

The basic functions of the authority under the attitude to the sexuality and art of cartoon both are to supervise and punish. An interdiction and censorship, not encouragement, are the concept of their mutual relation. The art of cartoon and sexuality both aspire to absolute freedom. “Freedom gives wit, and wit gives freedom”, Jean Paul told.

The sexuality and art of cartoon have one more similar attribute. The feeling of shame it is common antithesis. Leonid Karassev names the shame as return side of laughter, alongside with its main antithesis, the evil. The cartoonists aspire “to bare” the evil and to expose it on a general review in a barefaced kind resorting to the laughter. The evil “is ashamed” not of the spectators, first of all it “is ashamed” of the cartoonists.

Besides, both the sex and art of cartoon are aggressive. They are directed not inside the person, as the feeling of shame, for example, and outside. Sigmund Freud marked, that “the motives forming witticisms are connected with suppressed aggression and sexuality”. The cartoonists invite the spectators to make violence above the “baring” evil, to destroy it as though. The cartoonists are the men in overwhelming majority.

The origin and becoming of the art of modern cartoon fall to time of sexual liberation of the mankind. As marked Michel Fuko, in the beginning of the twentieth century: “mechanisms of the suppression of sexuality have started as if to weaken”. It means, that the sexuality became more “open” for a society, and for the art consequently at that time. We shall try to analyze, why the sexuality “is close” so to the art of modern cartoon.

The cartoonists address to “archetypical” for the art of cartoon images displaying author’s “super idea” as a rule. These images are mythological more often. The cartoonists try to find the most expressive graphical means to express the “subjective” philosophical ideas. For example, the cartoonists resort to the image of lonely person on a desert island trying to show the idea of loneliness of the person in around the world frequently. The hopelessness of existence of the person is symbolized by the image of falling down Pisa tower, for example.

Similar images are tragical images, conformable philosophies of existentialism frequently. However, the art of cartoon assumes the “comedy” response at the spectators in this or that measure. The cartoonists resort to use the methods, which allow creating in the “tragical” products in essence “comic” effect. Such methods in the art of cartoon, which is close to the art of absurdity and surrealism, are: “Rearrangements of elements of images”, “Search of images – analogues”, “Overturning of images”, “Comparison of non-comparable images”, “Finishing of an ordinary situation to the point of irrationality” and combinations of the given methods also. In detail these receptions are described in work of the author “The Naive Analysis of the Creation of Modern Cartoonists”. Besides, the cartoonists subconsciously address to the images “close” to “humorous culture”. One of the main such images is sexuality.

Why the sexuality is such active assistant to creativity of modern cartoonists? Leonid Karassev conditionally divided the laughter on “laughter of a body” and “laughter of a mind”. Using the categories of this philosopher it is possible to speak that the cartoonists try to wake so-called “laughter of mind” at the spectators, manipulating “tragical” images. “Laughter of mind” is the response to represented evil. Intuitively the cartoonists want to strengthen comic effect. They resort to various methods of the creation of “a humorous spark” for this purpose. In particular, the cartoonists address to the sexuality, which is connected to “laughter of a body”, “laughter of a pleasure” directly and has potential “a humorous charge” already a priori. As the masters of fine arts the cartoonists address to the symbols of sexuality, which are “convenient” for the visualization.

Thus, the cartoonists create tragicomic products using “tragical” symbols in essence and symbols of sexuality bearing in potential “humorous charge”. The cartoonists want to see “laughter of a body” and “laughter of a mind” together.

One of the main symbols of sexuality is the phallus. The phallus was used as a symbolical image in ancient figures of primitive people already. So, the size of a phallus in these figures determined a social standing of the men. The image of the god of procreation Priapus it was possible to meet on the walls of houses, on trunks of trees, household goods etc. in ancient Greece and Rome. Typical image of Priapus has been old man with a head reminding a huge phallus. The phallus symbolized cosmogonic force, active beginning, instrument of work, musical tool, weapon, etc always.

Modern cartoonists do not represent a phallus directly. Intuitively they are afraid of an antithesis of laughter the shame. They are afraid “to push away” the spectators from the products. The cartoonists are afraid “to kill” laughter ” having approached ” the spectators to an antithesis of laughter. The pornography is not ridiculous. The pornography is close to an antithesis of laughter the shame, and to its main antithesis the evil also. The symbol of sexuality should be present at products of cartoonists in the veiled kind. The phallus associates with the lengthened firm subjects. So, Salvator Dali used a horn of the rhinoceros as the symbolical image of a phallus in the creations. The cartoonists are free to use the variety of the firm lengthened subjects in the creativity, just as the phallus is presents at variety of words in literary works (for example, in the English language the phallus is designated more than thousand words as approves Igor Kon). The cartoonists remind the hero Federico of playful novel by Alberto Moravia “I and he” which carries on the dialogue with his own phallus. The phallus is similar to the sea deity Proteus having ability to accept the shape of various essences for the cartoonists. And, it is necessary to notice, that the phallus pay attention to the same as “phalluscentrical” and “phalluscratical” (by Igor Kon) communities of men and women, which Sigmund Freud attributed “envy at a penis”.

One of distinctive feature of cartoons created in the XX century from a caricature of the previous centuries is the image of heroes of cartoons with the lengthened massive nose. (We speak about general tendency of the development of the art of modern cartoon, without the consideration of exceptions). In this case an artists try to pay subconscious attention of the spectators to a symbol of sexuality resorting to visual image of the hero only. The spectators “are enticed” by cartoonists into the figurative world, already, not having apprehended the basic idea incorporated in cartoons yet. The first fleeting sight of the spectators is “arrested” by the curiosity to forbidden, secret. A long phallus, symbolizing by a long nose is already ridiculous. Gogol`s running away “nose” is not a nose, it is running away phallus. As the best illustration of the given reflections the cartoon of French artist Claude Serre can serve ( Fig. 1). The patient showing to the doctor a nose on a place of a phallus is represented on it.


The cartoonists resort to the sexuality as to auxiliary tool of the creation of comic effect using the lengthened nose as a symbol of sexuality. In the figure 2 are given typical portraits of heroes of cartoons created by more than hundred modern artists from fifty countries.


It is obvious, that all these cartoonists extended, exaggerated the noses of the characters for the creation of comic effect. Why cartoonists have used the image of Pinocchio so frequently? Most likely, they are tempted with a long, firm nose of a well-known wooden doll ( Fig.3).


Here it will be pertinent to address to the art of caricature. When the juicy story connected to the former American President Bill Clinton and former White House intern Monica Levinsky became the property of world community in many newspapers and magazines all over the world were published many caricatures. The artists from the various countries as if have agreed together. The noses on the caricaturing faces of President obviously reminded penises.

The art of caricaturing is also interesting to research under a “sexual corner of sight”. It is possible to present the analogy between the caricaturing of concrete persons and creation of obscene jokes, which are addressed to the concrete woman. Sigmund Freud wrote about sexual witticisms: “There is no doubt, that initial motive of obscenity is the pleasure got from examining of the sexual in a naked kind “. And is farther: “Three persons are necessary for a tendentious witticism: except for that person who makes jokes, the second person who undertakes as the object for the hostile or sexual aggression, and the third party on which the purpose of witticism the extraction of pleasure is achieved … By obscene conversation of the first person the woman is exposed before the third party, which now is bribed as the student by the satisfaction of his own libido“. Similar “triangle” arises also in the caricaturing. At the processes of creation and exhibiting of a caricatures are present: the artist – “the person who makes jokes“, the subject of the caricaturing – “the second person who undertakes as object for hostile or sexual aggression“ and the spectator – “the third party on which the purpose of a witticism is achieved“. Really, the main purpose of caricaturing is the revealing worthy derisions of character traits of the subject of caricaturing in the comic form. Such the image of “naked” Bill Clinton has appeared. Own libido of the spectators of caricatures presented “naked” Bill Clinton it was satisfied. However from the art of caricaturing we shall return to the art of cartoon again.

It is necessary to pay special attention, that overwhelming majority of modern cartoonists exaggerated noses focusing attention to the persons of characters. Obviously, this method has strong enough “humorous effect”. The second object for the exaggerating by the cartoonists is the mouth. As Leonid Karassev said in Christian culture “the opened mouth with the tongue put out outside uniting attributes of shame man’s and female simultaneously … – the center of a sin on the person”. Hence, the represented mouth is close to humorous culture as symbolizes sexuality already a priori (Fig. 4).


At the same time, huge eyes, “a mirror of the soul”, are symbols of spirituality. Therefore, as a rule, heroes of cartoons have no big “spiritual” eyes, which are not compatible with humorous culture.

It would seem, that the ears could be the objects for the exaggeration for the creation of comic effect. The person with the big ears is ridiculous. However, the cartoonists practically never resort to the creation of characters with exaggerated or deformed ears. Why? It is possible to suppose, that ears are not represented to the artists as the symbols of sexuality or others objects, close to humorous culture. The image of ridiculous big ears “lays on a surface”, it has no the latent deep implication connected to humorous culture closely.

Certainly, the cartoonists use the amplifications of comic effect not only basing on sexual symbolism. Set of others symbols exist, close to humorous culture. For the achievement of bright expressiveness of the basic ideas of cartoons the artists sometimes use few symbols in one product, or mean not one, and two and more symbols in the same visional image. Thus, the artists achieve “a semantic resonance” using this method.

There are a lot of cartoons which main hero is the image of falling down the leaning tower of Pisa. The cartoonists “double” a symbol of sexuality and symbol of tragedy in this image. First of all, the cartoonists mean an existential tragical symbol of the hopelessness in this image ( Fig.5).


So, Rene Magritte has represented falling Pisa tower which prop the huge feather of a bird serves. Practically all cartoons, on which Pisa tower is represented, reflect in themselves the attempts to stop falling of a tower by that or another way or to use this falling by a rational way. Thus cartoonists desperately think out every possible methods of creation of comic effects. But in that continually, that “the humorous charge”, “potential laughter of a body” is incorporated in an image of a falling tower already initially. Pisa tower symbolizes a phallus in full power. At the same time, the phallus symbolizes the authority, force, and man’s energy. But, Pisa tower falls. Hence, symbolical erecting phallus loses the erection, force and “falls down”. The comic effect in the given symbolism consists in the following: First, here the laughter potentially can be subconscious reaction of the spectator’s fear to approach of sexual powerlessness, second, the act of transformation of a terrible, big, firm phallus in helplessly hung pity penis can seem comic subconsciously. Thus, tragical and comic symbols incorporate in an image of a falling tower. That is subconscious tragicomic effect to which modern cartoonists aspire in the creativity.

One more popular plot among cartoonists is the lonely person on a desert island. The main idea of the cartoons using the given plot is to show loneliness of the person in world. It is tragically, hopeless loneliness. The analysis of a numbers of cartoons by various authors shows, that, first, on a tiny desert island they placed extremely lonely man, not the woman, second, strong lonely palm tree exist in the middle of island almost always ( Fig.6).


The cartoonists use the symbols of loneliness, which are the island and lonely person meaningly, and at the same time they use the symbol of sexuality, which is a palm tree (a phallus) subconsciously already. In the middle of island, washed by the damp water elements symbolizing Charles Jung’s Animus, the woman in the soul of everyone of the man, the strong phallus rise, near which the small lonely man exist. And you see many philosophers asserted, that the sex separates people. That is, the cartoonists “strengthen” the main idea of absolute loneliness of the person in this case, using symbols of the sexuality.

One of favorite heroes for the cartoonists is greedy robber Sisyphus, the son of king Eola and Enarety, pushing to the top of mountain the eternal stone which he pressed down travelers killed by him. The cartoonists replaced hundred, thousands various subjects instead of the stone in cartoons! Sisyphus symbolized vain, hopeless struggle against the predetermined destiny in the cartoons always. In this case cartoonists resort to sexuality also intuitively. Leonid Karassev connects back and forth motion “upwards – downwards” to laughter directly. “Laughter is a rhythmic movement which has erotic sense”, – he marked. Back and forth motion symbolizes the sexual act, we shall add to the statement of the philosopher. Back and forth motion of Sisyphus is represented eternal, the symbolical sexual act. This act is not productive; it does not come to the eruption of a seed. Cartoonist’s Sisyphus symbolizes eternal, empty vanity of life.

Here it will be pertinent to mention bright erotic analogy of “a myth about Sisyphus”. The hunter Legs climbs upwards on a trunk of a bottle tree for the girl sitting highly on branches in the Australian myth. Suddenly the tree starts to grow and the hunter falls downwards. He again starts to get on a trunk and again falls down from growing trunk … all this is accompanied by laughter of the attracting and inaccessible girl.

It is possible to recollect one more example when the cartoonists intuitively resort to indirect erotic symbolic. There are many amusing cartoons on which are represented the mouse and a hole. In this case the comic effect bases on erotic association “going in” –“going out”. The mouse creeps in a hole and creeps from it. Similar associations are traced in cartoons where rushing trains drive to tunnels.

Frequently, the comic effect in cartoons is achieved by using of a popular plot “unexpected impact from round of the corner on a head”. As a rule, heroes of cartoons have impacted on a head by long firm subject. Really, to impact on a head by big phallus is already ridiculously (Fig. 7).


The sexual act directly symbolize cartoons on which are represented the soldiers, trying to punch a gate of besieged fortress by a log.

Many cartoons are devoted to beggars. A beggar sitting at a wall, a hat lies near him. The beggar waits alms. He is passive. He thirsts for take pleasure, when in his “hat – vagina” something desired will fall.

Modern cartoonists like to represent husbands – cuckolds also. “Horns” are the phalluses in the wife’s life.

In all anti-war cartoons the weapons symbolize aggressive, ready to ”the eruption of bullets” phalluses.

The addicts are passive in cartoons. They allow “to force” themselves by “a syringes – phalluses”. As well the alcoholics “are forced” by a bottles.

Concerning Biblical plots, cartoonists address to the images “Noah Ark”, “Adam, Eve and the Snake – tempter”, “Moses are going on the bottom of the sea”, etc. The connection of these plots with the sexuality is obvious. So, in Noah Ark the animals are in pairs. In the hand of Moses there is a massive staff always, the water female elements parts before him.

Within given work are interesting to consider mythological characters that are used by cartoonists in connecting. Mutual relations of such connected heroes were given in myths and literary works already a priori. The examples of such connected heroes can be the King – Joker, Condemned – Executioner, Knight – Snake, Red Cap – Wolf, Don Quixote – Mill, Princess – Frog, Prometeus – Eagle, etc. The cartoonists build own self-sufficient products based on mutual relation between of these connected heroes. As a rule, one of the heroes is represented by cartoonists active, the second – passive. The pair “husband – wife” is interesting in their “not sexual” mutual relation especially. Frequently cartoonists represent coming back home late husband who is met by the terrible wife. The comic effect arises when the active man’s beginning of characters substitute in the plot cartoon. So, the wife meets the husband always with big rolling pin in a hand, which symbolizes a phallus in cartoons.

Any more the cartoonist has not represented the woman who wants to commit suicide through the hanging. However many cartoons are devoted to a suicide of men. The rope loop symbolizes a vagina, and the act of a suicide symbolizes birth and death ritually. It is possible to add still set of examples when modern cartoonists base on the symbols of sexuality in the creativity. This symbols helps the artists to achieve maximum effective expression of own author’s ideas. The creative processes of the cartoonists, as well as any other creators, have a deep erotic basis. When the cartoonists admire the own completed products, “ingenious” from the point of view of the authors they get the satisfaction.

We spoke about the sexuality in “not sexual” cartoons. The consideration of the art of cartoon from this point of view can seem a little bit tendentious to “sexuality”. Therefore it is necessary to emphasize, that such approach it is only one of the methods of the comprehension of the phenomenon of the art of modern cartoon, which, in effect, reflects witty, poetic philosophy of life.

The author does not offer to attribute to the art of cartoon a label of “total sexuality”. As has told Erich Fromm about Sigmund Freud … his interpretation of dreams and myths it is narrow, as exaggerates the value of a sexual inclination”. As and in the art of cartoon the value of symbols needs to be considered incomparably more widely, taking into account all kinds of human experience.

To speak about sexuality in cartoons, not having mentioned actually sexual cartoons is incorrectly. Within the framework of the given work we shall not carry out the deep analysis of a world erotic caricatures. We shall be limited to brief review only, easy strokes from the history of a sexual caricature.

The first caricatures, which have reached the contemporaries, were the drawings of ancient Egyptians. The art of caricatures in Egypt has not received worthy development as a matter of fact the authority suppressed the rudiments of fun. Pharaohs did not suffer the criticism on the persons. Therefore the caricatures existed in secret papyruses only. The Egyptian artists resorted to the symbolism, representing the people as a kind of animals and chimeras. It is possible to see a certain sexual underlying reason in the caricatures of ancient Egyptian artists already. For example, the lion and antelope playing game, which reminds the checkers, are represented in the figure criticizing the pharaoh Ramzes III ( Fig.8).


The aggressive lion symbolizes the pharaoh. The antelope is represented like passive subordinate. The lion holds in the paw dark lengthened subject reminding playing figure. The chairs on which players sit are characteristic. The legs of a chair on which the lion sits, are firm lengthened subjects. Do you remember this symbol? The image of the legs of a chair upon which the antelope is based, reminds bent form hollow. Such symbolical image can have sexual treatment. A direct strong leg of a chair can symbolize a phallus, a hollow reminds a vagina, the passive beginning, which is symbolized by a emptiness, vessel, hole, aperture etc. Thus, the caricaturists resorted to the symbolism in the creativity during Ancient Egypt when the system of prohibition was advanced.

The philosophy of hedonism reigned in Ancient Greece in public and private life. The caricaturists were rather free in the creativity. Basically, the characters of satirical figures of that time were mythological heroes and gods. For example, Hercules was represented as the ugly dwarf with a staff reminding a phallus, the Jove was represented as old man, which was going to rise on a ladder to desired Almen and many others. However, most of erotic caricatures were devoted to Priapus, which we mentioned already. Cheerful god expelled from the home because he had big phallus, represented on vase, columns, in frescos, “terracotta’s” etc.

In Roman Empire the artists inclined to the satire, derided a dissolute way of life of the emperors and rich people. For example, erotic games of reach people are presented on well-known Pompeii’s graffitis.

The repressive to the sexuality morals of medieval Christianity identified sexuality with the sin. Therefore the erotic caricatures did not exist in the Middle Ages practically. The Christian doctrine preached, that all worldly pleasures symbolize Devil. Practically all fine arts were subordinated to churches. Therefore the caricatures, was presented irrepressible spirit of “humorous culture”, appeared on church capitals, benches, faculties, balustrades, in bibles and other hand-written books. First of all, they were directed against demons and devils. For example, on the caricatures in which it is possible to look for erotic features, were represented such plots as “the devil carries away guilty nun”; “the devils go on naked women”; “there is the head of old man with the language put out outside instead of a phallus of the prince of darkness”; “the dissolute monks have a good time with women”; “the monk hiding the girl under the cassock” etc.

In Renaissance time the erotic caricatures, as well as a caricatures as a whole, have risen on a high art level. The characters of erotic caricatures of that time can be felt by the names of the drawings already. For example, the caricatures named “Unequal lovers”, “The trap of men”, “The love makes everyone the fool”, “The young man and thief woman”, “The death and the widow; death and the bride”, etc. Is necessary to mention brilliant series of engravings by English artist William Hogarth named “Career of the courtesan” and “Career of the profligate”.

In the eighteenth century the political caricatures were prevailing, therefore the erotic caricatures have not received wide development.

During Napoleon political and erotic caricatures also was officially forbidden in France. The sex for Napoleon has been the helper of the woman to give the birth of the sons – soldiers to him only. The sex prospered in the caricatures secretly. The erotic caricatures of those times played a role of some kind of a drug, it helped mothers to forget that their sons can be killed on the fields of battles any minute. For anyone insignificant events of public life served as the plots for erotic caricatures even. There was created set of the caricatures on Marie – Antoinette, column d`Artois, duke of Orleans and many other well known persons.

The erotic caricatures have reached the blossoming in the middle and second half of nineteenth century in France. The caricaturists Albert Robida, Abel Faivre, Jean-Francois Millet, Ferdinand Bac, Adolfe Willette, Chrles Leandre, Jules Grun and others represented uncountable adventures of the prostitutes, actresses, incorrect wives. A fine erotic pictures have created by Belgian artist Felicien Ropps. Erotic caricatures brightly displayed public customs of that time.

As it was marked already, in the twentieth century have appeared the tendencies of sexual liberation of mankind. Therefore the sex became more accessible to artistic realization in all genres of art including caricatures. To analyze an infinite stream of the sexual pictures, which have appeared in the twentieth century all over the world it is not meaningful. All of these pictures have or easy entertaining character, or the sex serves as an auxiliary element in social and political cartoons.

Summing up, it is possible to tell, that the sexuality have been close to the art of cartoon and caricature at all times. It is possible to speak with the confidence also, that modern cartoonists, creating philosophical, social, political or only entertaining products, address to the symbols of sexuality frequently. Such symbols help artists to display the main tragicomic ideas of cartoons more deeply.


(author is top Ukrainian cartoonist, theorist of Cartoon Art and renowned lecturer, giving lectures around the world)


The literature:

  • Kon I.S.: Taste of a forbidden fruit. Sexology for all. Moscow, Family and school, 1997.
  • Lakan: Instance of the letter in unconscious, or the destiny of conscious after Freud. Moscow,1997.
  • Jung K.G.: About the archetype of collective unconscious. Moscow, 1991.
  • Freud S.: Wit and its relation to unconscious. Saint Petersburg – Moscow, 1997.
  • Fuko M.: A history of sexuality – III. Moscow, 1998.
  • Karassev L.V.: The philosophy of laughter. Moscow, 1996.
  • Propp V.J.: Morphology of a fairy tale. Moscow, 1928.
  • Frejdenberg O.V.: The poetics of the plot and genre. Moscow, 1997.
  • Shvirov A.V.: History of a caricature from ancient times up to now. Saint Petersburg, 1903.
  • Fromm E.: Psycho-analysis and religion. Moscow, 1990

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