#TBT: The Purple Passions of Carl Corley

Sometimes readers of our arts pieces complain about the sexual content of the artwork. Many of our vintage portfolios were made before there were gay and lesbian community centers, before it was legal to embrace a person of the same sex romantically in public, and when all gay men and women considered themselves criminals — because they were. Carl Corley was a truly liberated gay man. To embrace a career in gay erotica when it was illegal to show an undraped penis was courageous.

Carl Corley 01

Carl Corley was a double threat. Born in 1921, this Mississippi native used his real name on his artwork and his gay pulp novels in the middle of the last century — an act of bravery at the time.

In the 1950s, Corley broke into the burgeoning field of male erotica by producing drawings and paintings of beefcake for the physique magazines of the time. While never using the word gay, these magazines were, for some men, their only connection with a larger gay community.
 

Carl Corley 02

In the ’60s and ’70s, Corley wrote 22 gay pulp fiction novels with some of the most turgidly campy titles ever: My Purple Winter (1966), Satin Chaps (1968), The Different and the Damned (1968), and Swamp Angel (1971), to sample a few. His illustrations for the covers were not the usual template of two oiled-up, anonymous men. He had the advantage of drawing from the same imaginative resource that created the story.

From the ’70s into the ’90s, Corley continued to write for gay men’s magazines. His career has spanned almost half a century.
 

Carl Corley 03

What makes Corley’s fiction unusual is his understanding and depiction of male-male sexual mores and behaviors in the South. Not only were his stories often autobiographical and set specifically in his hometown of Florence, Miss., but the young rural men in them often found themselves crossing racial boundaries in their personal sexual journeys.

When LGBT historian John Howard interviewed Corley in 1997 for Men Like That, A Southern Queer History, the writer and artist told him, "One of my ambitions [was] to be the greatest male physique artist of all."
 

Carl Corley 04

Corley’s papers are now part of the Duke University Library. Here is Duke's description of them:

“The Carl V. Corley Papers contains the writings, drawings, scrapbooks, notebooks, and published materials that document the career and artistic output of the novelist and illustrator. The collection includes copies of all twenty-two of Corley’s published works of gay male pulp fiction. In addition to these published items, the collection also includes typescripts and manuscripts of published and unpublished works of gay fiction, southern history, and heterosexual erotica, some of which is in the form of comic books or graphic novels. Corley’s pulp novels were set primarily in early twentieth century Mississippi and Louisiana, though several were set in the South Pacific, where Corley served during World War II, and reflect varying degrees of autobiographical content. Corley’s later works also show his interest in historical subject matter as well as utopian science fiction. Many of Corley's published and unpublished works include cover and textual illustrations produced by Corley. The collection further includes photographs of the artist and friends, works by related authors and artists, correspondence with publishers, and some work-related notes and materials.”

See more of Corley’s work on the following pages >>>

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Tags: Art, Books

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