Wednesday, August 1, 2007

1967 - the first Colt picture set...

A piece of history, currently on eBay -- the first 6-photo set issued by Colt. Before Jim French became famous for his musclemen photos in the 70s and up to the 90s, he was partnered (in business) with Lou Thomas when they formed Colt Studio. Based out of New York at the time, Lou took most (if not all) of the photos and French used those shots to make his drawings -- first as Luger and then as Rip Colt. French was a fine draftsman (I have one or two of his art prints in my physical collection), a fact overlooked, forgotten, or even unknown by a lot of his collectors today. I'm not sure when he stopped drawing -- maybe when he and Lou split up? -- but it was a sad day for the history of gay illustration.

Here's a great rundown of the early years of Colt, as found on another eBay listing from the Leather Archives and Museum --


Jim French, (aka, Luger), began his career in commercial art in the 1950s after having gone through four years of art school and two years in the military. At the suggestion of an old Army buddy who had seen some of his early, mostly unpublished homoerotic art done under the name Arion, he and Jim formed a partnership to start a company Jim named "Luger" (with an uncharacteristic umlaut over the U). This name was chosen because of the strong suggestions of masculinity associated with this German pistol.

While the Arion drawings had been rather romantic and glamourized cartoons of Fire Island life and similar scenes (certainly hinting at the cartoons and drawings of two of his favorite artists, Petty and Varga), the drawings he began to produce for Luger made a considered transition to decidedly more masculine subjects like bikers, cowboys, wrestlers and other iconic figures. The appeal of the new company’s product was immediate but the challenge was to find enough advertising outlets. Ads began to appear in the small-format physique magazines of the mid-1960s, and the art was featured on the cover and inside several issues of the Kris Studio/Chuck Renslow publication "Mars," including the September 1966 issue which had a dark and dramatic 3/4 length portrait of a motorcyclist in cap, dark glasses and leather jodhpurs.

His drawings, done with a realism and expertise unlike any seen before in gay publications, were the beginning of a forty year career for Jim French. These earliest works offered did not feature frontal nudity but were nonetheless highly erotic and humorously creative in their suggestiveness. He also began offering prints of photographs he had taken mainly as reference for his drawings, and these too sold well. Eventually, however, due to problems running the business end of Luger, Jim’s partner bought out his share of the firm freeing Jim and a new partner, Lou Thomas, to establish another business called Colt Studio (again, a reference to a firearm, although before long this association was scrapped in favor of an image of a horse). Having worked for nearly a year to produce the first drawings to be offered by the new company, Colt was begun in late 1967. Again, photographs and drawings were offered in sets of prints by mail and the company quickly became successful. But after only a couple of years, often traveling to California to take advantage of the weather and the abundance of available models, Jim French decided to make a permanent move.

He bought out his partner’s share of the business in an amicable transaction, leaving Lou Thomas to start his own company, Target Studio, and Jim made the move to Los Angeles where he continued to run perhaps the most successful physique photography company since Bob Mizer’s Athletic Model Guild. For thirty-six years Colt Studio offered the iconic, erotic and highly influential photographs of Jim French. In 2004 he sold the company and retired, leaving a legacy of art and photography unequaled in his field.

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