Sophisticated Bondage: The Art Of John Willie (1946-1961)

December 6, 2020
Sophisticated Bondage: The Art Of John Willie (1946-1961)

Text: French, English, ItalianJohn Alexander Scott Coutts (1902–1962), better known by thepseudonym John Willie, was an artist, fetish photographer, editorand the publisher of the first 20 issues of the fetish magazineBizarre, featuring his characters Sweet Gwendoline and Sir Dysticd'Arcy. Though distributed underground, Bizarre magazine had afar-reaching impact on later fetish-themed publications andexperienced a resurgence in popularity, along with fetish modelBettie Page, starting in the 1970's.After moving to Brisbane, Australia, in 1926, Coutts joined a localHigh Heel Club, where he was probably introduced to the print mediaof a community of "shoe lovers" and other fetishists. He met hisfuture second wife, Holly Anna Faram, c. 1936 and the couplemarried in 1942. She became his muse and modelled for him often.Because of his access to the High Heel Club's mailing list, Williewas able to begin producing and selling his own illustrations andphotography. He worked at a variety of jobs as well as pursuing hishobby and eventually established a company to produce exoticfootwear called "Achilles". In 1945, Willie moved to North America,while Holly chose to remain in Australia, where she died in 1983 atthe age of 70. Willie wished to settle in New York but was forcedto remain in Montreal, Canada, for a year or so because ofimmigration issues.Bizarre magazine began in late 1945, while Coutts was living inCanada. He published the magazine under the pseudonym of "JohnWillie", a name he kept for the duration of his career. Willie wasintroduced to the American fetish underground by Charles Guyetteand later worked with Irving Klaw, the infamous BDSM merchandiserlater charged with obscenity, but he is best known for his fetishcartoon character Sweet Gwendoline, which he drew in a style thatinfluenced later artists such as Gene Bilbrew and Eric Stanton.Other characters include U69 (censored to U89 in some editions),the raven-haired dominatrix who ties up Gwendoline and Sir Dysticd'Arcy, the only prominent male character and probably a parody ofWillie himself. Sweet Gwendoline was published as a serial inRobert Harrison's mainstream girlie magazine Wink from June 1947 toFebruary 1950 and later in several other magazines over theyears.Bizarre was published, at irregular intervals, from 1946 to 1959.The magazine included many photographs, often of Willie's wife, anddrawings of costume designs, some based on ideas from readers.There were also many letters from readers: he was accused ofinventing these but insisted that they were genuine. These letterscovered topics such as high heels, bondage, amputee fetishism,sadomasochism, transvestism, corsets and body modification. Themagazine was suspended completely from 1947 to 1951. By 1956 Couttswas ready to give up the magazine and that year he sold it tosomeone described only as R.E.B., who published six more issuesbefore Bizarre finally folded in 1959. There was no mention withinthe magazine that it had changed hands, but in issue no. 23 MahlonBlaine was introduced by the editor as the artist who was toreplace Willie as the primary illustrator. After publishing thefirst 23 issues of Bizarre, Coutts moved to Hollywood, California,where in 1961 he developed a brain tumor and was forced to stop hismail-order business. He destroyed his archives and returned home toEngland, where he died in his sleep in August 1962.Despite the nature of the magazine, Coutts was able to circumventcensorship and orders to cease publication because he was carefulto avoid "nudity, homosexuality, overt violence, or obviousdepictions of things that might be read as perverse or immoral andthat might rankle those parties who were capable of banning,censoring, or blocking circulation."