I Read Playboy for the Comix


Arts & Culture

Art Spiegelman for Playboy, ca. 1981

In the late seventies and early eighties, I was a proud contributor to Playboy Funnies, an ongoing section in Playboy that tried to recuperate underground comix: they sanitized the movement while also acknowledging it. Hefner had once aspired to become a cartoonist and had an eye for the form. Tho as he once said in an interview—I’m paraphrasing—“I see how cartoonists live and how I live and I have no regrets.”

I first convinced my clueless refugee parents to subscribe to the magazine when I was fourteen—“so I could study the cartoons.” A couple years later my father and I had a “heart to heart” talk. He told me I’d have to take the centerfolds off my wall since my mother was too embarrassed to come in and clean my room. 

The zeitgeist has changed many times since then, and current gender and identity politics may make it hard to remember that Hefner was a force for good—consistently defending progressive causes, a champion of the First Amendment, secular values, gay rights, and women’s freedom of choice, for example, while publishing in-depth interviews with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin as well as conversations with and fiction by Vladimir Nabokov and Norman Mailer (pax, Paris Review). He was a bit thrown by feminism, but his magazine was in many ways a precondition of the counterculture. Yes, he had golden plumbing fixtures a generation before our president, but he had better words and he was a hell of a lot smarter.

Art Spiegelman for Playboy, ca. 1978.

I did an ongoing series called Ed Head. I was amused at doing a strip about a character with no body for a magazine that celebrated them…

Art Spiegelman for Playboy, circa 1979