Friday, February 24, 2012

An Excerpt from "The Tentacle as Sexual Symbol"

An Excerpt from “The Tentacle as Sexual Symbol”
Bobby Derie

The earliest artistic and literary depictions of tentacles are primarily intended to depict the octopus, squid, elephant, or other creature that possesses a natural prehensile appendage; these are common in stories of the sea and the kraken legend as exemplified by Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Kraken” (1830), most with minimal if any sexual context. In Japan, the “tradition” of sexualized tentacled entities is sometimes traced back to the period of The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (1814), an infamous erotic woodcut executed by the famed Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai; similar subject matter was used by other artists of the era, analogous to European popular erotic depictions of “Leda and the Swan” in depicting a mythical scene for prurient interests; the tentacles themselves are not a subject of sexual interest.

The most prominent appearance of images featuring tentacles in a sexual context or subtext in the West began with the lurid pulp covers of sailor/ocean fiction, science fiction and fantasy pulp magazines such as Sea Stories (1922-1930), Amazing Stories (1926-2005), and Weird Tales (1923-1954)[i]. The covers sometimes featured shapely and often nude or bare-breasted women, sometimes threatened by or enwrapped in tentacles—either by natural cephalopods and such, or more commonly in the fantasy and scientifiction pulps, the tentacles of aliens, monsters, and robots—possibly to emphasize their alien nature to humanity and the human form, possibly as a convenient source of bondage instead of rope. The bondage aspect of such covers would have been implicitly understood by and familiar to many readers, since many pulps of different genres featured nude or bare-breasted women in peril, tied up, whipped, or otherwise threatened.

From the pulps, the image of the tentacled monster, alien, mutant, or robot entered the American cultural image lexicon, and was a minor but recurring theme in science fiction/fantasy literature, horror and sci-fi comic books, and horror films like Roger Corman’s 1970 adaptation of “The Dunwich Horror.” Through translation and transmission of Mythos stories and American pop art, the implicitly sexual tentacle art and literature was introduced to Europe and Asia, where different censorship laws encouraged the growth of more explicitly sexual themes, and perhaps most importantly different sexual themes, than were common in American depictions of sexually suggestive tentacled entities. For example, tentacled monsters, aliens, and mutants continued to feature in the pages of Métal Hurlant (1974-1987) and other periodicals, often in much more explicit sex and violence than was allowed in American and British comics of the same era due to regulation of the comic book industry in the USA and UK due to moral panics in the mid-50s.

The bondage aspect of tentacle sex, at least from an artistic viewpoint, appears to have reached maturity in the 1980s with comics like Italian comics artist Paolo Serpieri’s Morbus Gravis (1985), the first in a series of graphic novels featuring Druuna, an updated pulp magazine heroine often imperiled by tentacled monsters. Jason Thompson in his article “The Long Tentacle of H. P. Lovecraft in Manga (NSFW)” traces the modern concept of penetrative tentacle sex to the anime adaptations of Toshio Maeda’s Urotsukodoji and Demon Beast Invasion manga (manga 1986, anime 1990). In an interview, Toshio Maeda elaborated on his reasons for this depiction:

TM: At that time [pre-Urotsuki Doji], it was illegal to create a sensual scene in bed. I thought I should do something to avoid drawing such a normal sensual scene. So I just created a creature. [His tentacle] is not a [penis] as a pretext. I could say, as an excuse, this is not a [penis], this is just a part of the creature. You know, the creatures, they don't have a gender. A creature is a creature. So it is not obscene - not illegal. (“Manga Artist Interview Series (Part 1),” 2002)
Both depictions of tentacle sex would be transmitted to the United States in the 1980s and 1990s with magazines like Heavy Metal (1977-present) and anime like La Blue Girl (1993). Heavy Metal is an English translation of Métal Hurlant which included serializations of Serpieri’s Druuna series, comic pastiches and adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft’s stories, and more, while La Blue Girl is another anime adaptation of a Toshio Maeda manga featuring tentacle sex, brought to the United States to cater to adults during the beginning of American popular interest in Japanese manga and anime. Few of the works cited have an explicit connection to the Cthulhu Mythos[ii].

With the awareness of the idea of penetrative sex with tentacles, the application of that idea to a genre famed for its tentacled monsters like the Cthulhu Mythos was probably a foregone conclusion. The two core concepts—the sexualization of the old pulp art and the use of tentacles as substitute penises for explicit sexual penetration—perhaps naturally converged based on their common elements (sex, tentacles), and became associated almost by proxy with a genre whose mascot was the octopus-headed Cthulhu. An example of the use of tentacles as long, prehensile sex organs in connection with the Cthulhu Mythos is a scene in Noé and Barreiro’s The Convent of Hell (1997), and in a looser sense many of the sexual images in H. R. Giger’s Necronomicon (1977) undoubtedly qualify. By comparison, the one known Tijuana bible or 8-pager featuring Cthulhu, an extremely scarce tract from 1935 and sold exclusively through mail to Weird Tales customers, depicts Great Cthulhu with a perfectly normal (if extraordinarily large) penis. (“Lovecraft”, 1935)

The emergence of physical enactments of tentacle sex, first as underground sex shows and later shortly later as pornography, can be traced to Japanese expatriates in Mexico during the late 1970s[iii], as chronicled by Johann Hans Meistermann in his epic documentary study of 8mm film production in the Baja Peninsula. Originally intended to discover the camera techniques behind certain bestiality acts and compare them to American and Swedish bestiality film techniques of the period, Meistermann eventually stumbled across something very different when he came across Mejiko Productions outside Mexicali, as he details in Riding the Squid (1979):

I had seen this sort of thing before—the insertion of live squids and octopuses in various orifices had a small but fervent following, and there was all the primitiveness of technique you might expect. Bad lighting, no script to speak of, but there was a recurring, almost ritualistic re-enactment in many of the shorts, where a creepy figure in black, wearing a squid-mask would place the octopuses on a bound victim’s face, so that the creeping feelers would enter their nostrils and appear to smother them. (Meistermann, 1981, p.67)
This re-enactment exactly mirrors the first cover to an early pulp magazine Black Ink (1943), which folded due to war-time paper shortages. The pulp tentacle fetish thus successfully transitioned, albeit in a very small way, to film.

It is perhaps unnecessary to note that the men who first got a taste for tentacle-play and tentacle-bondage as youths leering at four-color depictions of bug-eyed monsters with strange, prehensile appendages went on later in life to realize—and further sexualize—their childhood memories, turning relatively innocent artistic depictions into real and driving fetishes that fueled the market, both as creators and consumers. More interestingly, the female side of the market—which, while presumably smaller than the male, but quite important—was in part driven by the women who submitted themselves to tentacle-play for topless photoshoots and cheap 8mm pornographic movies, and found themselves pursuing their craft for sexual desire as well as money.

The most prominent of such actresses was Katy “Ursula” Miller, active from 1983 to 1997. (“Ursula”, 2008) As a teenager, Ursula was a highly talent gymnast, but suffered from a series of falls and accidents that repeatedly broke her right arm. The injuries were compounded by her continual training, until the bones refused to set properly, and a particularly severe complex fracture eventually required the amputation of her arm at the wrist. The resulting improperly-heeled limb was, essentially, a human tentacle—the highly flexible Ursula was famed for her ability to bend and wrap the limb beyond normal human limits.

Ursula’s body of work can be rightly cited as the beginning of a new and important period of live-action tentacle-play, which continues to this day thanks to mechanical props and certain supercosmetic surgeries which have gained widespread use among certain performers, notably those who have reached the limits of their fame and ability catering to amputee pornography. At the same time as live-action tentacle play was gaining traction in North America, however, it was directly competing with explicit tentacle sex from Japan and Europe. This and a crackdown certain types pornography in general in the mid-80s led to the creation “live animation” phase of tentacle pornography in Canada and Japan, available in the United States and Europe only through costly imports. Films like Under the Demon King (1987) were essentially small-budget pornographic films with the hardcore sex scenes replaced by splices of tentacle sex from Japanese anime, sometimes with rotoscoping or primitive “blue screen” techniques to allow actors and animation to share screen time. The techniques involved were expensive even for the relatively cheap Canadian animation/adult film studios that produced them, but the success of these films made innovative Hollywood films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) possible. (Maeda, 2011, pp.19-54)

Works Cited:
“Manga Artist Interview Series (Part I)” (9 December 2002).
Sake-Drenched Postcards. Retrieved from:

“Lovecraft” (1935). The Cumming of Cthulhu.
Note: While signed “Lovecraft,” like most adult comics during the day the writer/artist used a pseudonym rather than their real name.

Maeda, T. (2011). Rotoscope Now, or, A Love Letter to Ralph Bakshi. Newark, NJ: Open Book Press.

Meistermann, J. H. (1979). Riding the Squid. Blackwold, GA: University of Blackwold Press.

Thompson, J. (2010, Jan. 4). The Long Tentacle of H. P. Lovecraft in Manga (NSFW). Retrieved from:

“Ursula” (27 March 2008). Internet Adult Film Database. Retrieved from:

[i] At the time of this writing, samples of these and many more magazines of the era can be found at Poulpe Pulps ( depicting this trope in action.

[ii] There are some peripheral connections, for example Toshio Maeda would include references to the Cthulhu Mythos in Jaseiken Necromancer (1989). (“Manga Artist Interview Series (Part 1),” 2002)

[iii] As of the time of this writing, I have been unable to confirm the existence of amateur underwater fetish cinematography based on footage from the “octopus wrestling” craze in Portland, OR in the 1940s through 1960s. Veronese has claimed that the illegalization of the sport was due in part by the propagation of pornography spliced with scenes of nude divers wrestling with cephalopods, but was unable to produce tangible evidence. For more, see .

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