Tom of Finland, the biopic of influential homoerotic artist Touko Laaksonen, is currently opening around the country, making it a grand occasion to highlight the butch distaff version of the late illustrator’s beefcake contributions to Physique Pictorial magazine.
G.B. Jones of Toronto is known as a musician and filmmaker, as well as co-creator (with Bruce LaBruce) of the queer/punk zine J.D.s (a precursor to the riot grrrl movement). At 13 years old (!) Jones came into possession of Tom of Finland artwork, which eventually inspired her to generate her own female version of rough-and-tumble sexed-up images for an art series in her zine Tom Girls.
“I was introduced to Touko’s work in rather dubious circumstances at the age of 13,” revealed Jones during an art show that featured Tom Girls work alongside that of Tom of Finland. “At the time I had no idea what BDSM was, so I thought it was creepy and scary. But of course I remembered Touko’s drawings.”
Later on, Jones came across a coffee-table book presenting Touko’s 1950s work exemplifying masculine, lumberjack-y folklore of Finland that parallels Canadian emblems like Paul Bunyon.
“I could see a connection in this language of folk traditions,” said Jones.
The development of J.D.s came at a perfect confluence of punk and all things queer, and became the umbrella for the DIY zine movement from which Tom Girls formed. Initially Jones sought other women artists for the “redo Tom of Finland’s drawings, but with women and for women. I couldn’t find anyone who would do it, so I ended up doing them myself,” ultimately manifesting with a “twist” of violent revenge.
At the time of Jones’s artistic awakening, obscenity laws in Canada were extremely strict, mirroring the circumstances from which Tom of Finland came into being.
“I always felt, with Tom Girls, that it was a way of communicating with Tom,” Jones stated. “It was meant as both a tribute and a critique, a way of exchanging ideas.
“Touko was probably more conflicted about his relationship to authority than someone of my generation. He knew he had to go against authority to live the life he really wished to live and create his drawings, and yet he’d been a part of that authority, as a member of the military (Laaksonen was a lieutenant in the Finnish army during WWII). I think that conflict is expressed in his work, and that’s what’s so interesting about it. He was living at a time when almost all visible LGBT artists had their work banned…He was willing to take the risks to create and show his drawings, and that, in itself, was a political statement.”