Hot & Pulsating with the Life Force

Renowned potter and painter Emmanuel Cooper OBE talked about Rogue’s creator Oliver Frey. Article published in the "New" HIM magazine, issue 54, February 1983.

Hot & Pulsating with the Life Force

“Tonight my tongue will taste every part of his young body, I am close to him now, I am a vampire,” is a typical if more modest claim by Rogue, the gay hero created so successfully in images and words by illustrator Oliver Frey. Rogue combines the mystery of James Bond, the passion of Casanova, the exploits of the Marquis de Sade and the imagination of Tom of Finland to create his own powerful fantasy world of sexual conquest. It’s a combination which has made many men devoted and adoring addicts. Rogue’s well-proportioned muscular body, handsome face with its strong decisive jaw, has the sexual equipment to match. Oliver Frey’s Rogue embodies a whole mythology of gay sex.

These strip cartoons have been appearing in HIM and other gay publications for some five years and the exploits of his insatiable characters have been so well plotted that they could easily form the basis of a wonderful Channel 4 soap opera. Rogue seldom works but does take the occasional job as a scaffolding inspector (but this turns out to be an intimate inspection of scaffolders). Mostly Rogue is found in exotic places such as Bermuda Beach, the Greek Islands or even outer space. Like all idealized fantasy figures, Rogue never fails, never doubts, and is in total control even when trousers are down, and the action is at its dramatic height.

“I am a vampire hunter, ravisher, hungry, in need of a body to suck, a youth, hot and pulsating with the life force. My victim but a doll to serve my needs,” Rogue boasts, neatly and accurately summing up his attitude towards life and sex. Some identify with Rogue the master, others with Rogue’s victims: whichever, he consistently represents sex and sexual encounters as acts of great and satisfying fulfilment. To do this Rogue calls on a wide variety of attitudes to sex, the most significant of which relates to acts of violence. Here, the “victim” is always waiting, a passive innocent who has little or no knowledge of sex. Once in Rogue’s large and capable hands, mild protests fade away as he realizes that this macho masculine male is just what he wants. Soon he is willing, nay begging, to go all the way — again.

If Rogue is master, boss and governor whose will is unquestioned, his victims are equally hunky: they may be inexperienced but in their looks and build they are likely to mirror the chunkiness of Rogue — nothing “cissy” here!

When talking to Oliver Frey about his illustrations, it is not easy to imagine such a quiet and gentle artist producing such a powerful and not altogether likeable character. After realizing his gayness twelve years ago, Oliver has never been drawn to the gay scene, and for the past twelve years has earned his living as a full-time illustrator working for publishers of children’s books and more recently for the gay press. His steady, hard-working attitudes and quiet lifestyle seem to be in sharp contrast to the mythical figures he creates which are obviously based on his imagination rather than his experience. Oliver agrees that there is an underlying current of violence expressed through sex in the cartoon strips. This, he says, does turn him on. “I am fascinated by domination and being dominated,” he said.

Oliver Frey, a quiet and gentle artist. Photograph by Emmanuel Cooper

Much of the visual movement in the drawing is achieved by his carefully chosen style. All the figures are drawn from images in his mind or from photographs to hand; no pictures are specially taken and nor are models used. Oliver finds that models limit his artistic scope. By using only imagined poses he is able to cast off any inhibitions and explore a wide range of sexual activities which spring to life on the paper.

Oliver Frey’s fast-moving action, always with a brief but vivid narrative, matches his style of drawing which is done with free-flowing brush and ink rather than pen or pencil. In some ways the speed of the action reflects his own training as a film producer, and he sees the cartoon strips as a cheap way of making a film. Each frame is selected either in long shot or close up to embellish the characters and give, perhaps, an unusual view. This also emphasises the voyeuristic qualities of the strip. In some frames, the detail is so immediate that the “you are there” impression is very powerful.

His chosen characters of young, raunchy macho men, all with huge cocks, firm buns, wearing tight-fitting jeans, and floppy hair, fall easily into gay stereotypes — both using and defining homoerotic types. They behave, sexually, without hint or hindrance, moving rapidly into heavy sexual situations and achieving orgasm, if not multiple orgasm. This dream of uninhibited, effortless and totally satisfying sex can (usually) only be fulfilled in our imaginations. The suggestive drawings of bulging jeans, torn underpants or more explicit exposures, are set in unusual sexual situations (some have it on skis, some while parachuting, some in Times Square) and make the cartoons a hot and potent mixture.

Other illustrations by Oliver Frey use the same “types” but in less narrative situations. Some are carefully drawn to fit around short stories, others adorn advertisements for Heaven. All suggest a fast-moving lifestyle of endless activity and restlessness — of a “natural” gay sexuality. Rogue was created originally as a tougher, harder type to follow Bill Ward’s King. Alan Purnell, then editor of HIM (International) wanted a “more butch, less chicken” character and Rogue, the hard hero with the playful name, was the result. Now Rogue has been left and The Street has appeared. “Types”, though present, are less hard and the story-line is more important. They are about boy meeting boy, about innocence being seduced, and gayness being recognized. Now, new questions are asked. In one cartoon a dejected character casts doubts on the sexual emphasis — a thought that would never occur to Rogue, let alone be uttered.

Emmanuel Cooper proved prescient — 16 years later Russell T. Davies wrote and produced QUEER AS FOLK, citing Frey’s Rogue and The Street comic-strips as important influences.

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