In the world of gay erotic illustration, Tom of Finland looms large, his improbably muscular and well-endowed cops, sailors, and leathermen towering over the creations of his artistic peers. In his monopolizing pre-eminence, he is the Walt Disney of homoerotica. If such an analogy seems absurd, it’s only because so little attention has been paid to the work of Toby Bluth, a prolific gay artist who depicted the imagined worlds of both of these men.
Like his older brother, filmmaker Don (perhaps best known for the 1986 animated film An American Tail), Bluth made his living in cartoons. He worked in the animation and art departments on over a dozen Disney movies and television series, directed stage productions of Disney musicals like Babes in Toyland (1988) and Peter Pan (1986), and illustrated a handful of children’s book adaptations of the Disney canon. Seldom lauded in accounts of his career, however, is his portfolio of gay erotic art. This work, which he usually signed simply as “Toby,” ranged from hardcore porn to PG-rated advertisements for gay businesses and publications like the Advocate. All of it starred the same cast of angelic doe-eyed twinks, their muscles and bulges rendered with smooth, curved lines.
The cartoonish rendering and cherubic faces in Bluth’s erotic art wink at the corporate style he employed in his day job. Though Bluth’s two artistic lives never crossed paths, it’s not difficult to see the same hand in all of his work. In recent years, Disney has paid lip service to gay and trans inclusion while maintaining its squeaky-clean, socially conservative brand. But long before family-friendly gay cartoons made it to the screen, Bluth used the saccharine visual language of his primary employer to create a queer fantasy world of his own.