Beartoonist of San Francisco: Sketching an Emerging Subculture

January – May 2017

Curated by Jeremy Prince

“Bear San Francisco” by Fran Frisch (1989); hand-colored print. Collection of Jeremy Prince.

“Bear San Francisco” by Fran Frisch (1989); hand-colored print. Collection of Jeremy Prince.

This exhibition featured the work of cartoonist Fran Frisch as a starting point for exploring the community of bears, a subculture that developed in the 1980s to celebrate older, larger, hairier, ruggedly masculine gay men who were largely excluded from standards of attractiveness in gay popular culture.

"Fran Frisch's bears are both cuddly and sexual, playful and laid back, yet radical and subversive; his cartoons epitomize what it means to be a Bear," says curator Jeremy Prince. "Frisch was a pioneering artist who helped define the Bear community through his designs, and his drawings brought humor into the mix as one of the vital aspects of bear masculinity."

Bears of San Francisco logo designed by Fran Frisch (1994). Courtesy of  Bears of San Francisco .

Bears of San Francisco logo designed by Fran Frisch (1994). Courtesy of Bears of San Francisco.

Covering the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, the exhibition focused on San Francisco, one of the key places where the bear community first emerged before becoming an international phenomenon. The bear identity created positive self-images and an affirming subculture beyond the narrow concepts of gay masculinity and eroticism that prevailed at the time.

Frisch's distinctive bear-centric cartoons offer a thread through which curator Prince traced the development of the bear community over the past three decades. In addition to Frisch’s original art, “Beartoonist of San Francisco” included photographs, objects and ephemera from the collection of curator Jeremy Prince and the archives of the GLBT Historical Society.

About the Artist

Cartoonist Fran Frisch (1992). Photo: Rick Gerharter. Used with permission; all rights reserved.

Cartoonist Fran Frisch (1992). Photo: Rick Gerharter. Used with permission; all rights reserved.

Fran Frisch (born 1948) is a native of Minnesota who called San Francisco home from 1990 to 2007. Since 1989, he has worked as a cartoonist for the Bay Area Reporter and for BEAR magazine and other bear-related publications. He was involved in producing the Bear Expo (1992–1994) and International Bear Rendezvous (1995–2007). In addition, he is a founding member of Bears of San Francisco and has created logos and graphics for San Francisco and other bear organizations and events.

Frisch has routinely donated his time and artistic talent to provide raffle prizes and fundraising works for local bear organizations and events, and his art has helped raised money for multiple HIV/AIDS organizations, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, PFLAG, the GLBT Historical Society, and other nonprofits. As a prostate cancer survivor, Frisch has donated to many fundraisers for prostate cancer awareness and testing. His drawings have raised over $60,000 for a variety of charities around the world.

About the Curator

Jeremy Prince grew up in Western New York; he has lived in San Francisco since 2010. Prince received an M.A. in early modern European history and museum studies from San Francisco State University in 2012. He currently serves as museum operations manager for the GLBT Historical Society. In 2013, he established an independent archives dedicated to collecting and preserving bear history and culture. Prince served on the board of Bears of San Francisco as activities coordinator from 2013 to 2016.  

“Harley and Maxx” cartoon by Fran Frisch, published in  BEAR  magazine, no. 46 (October 1997), GLBT Historical Society.

“Harley and Maxx” cartoon by Fran Frisch, published in BEAR magazine, no. 46 (October 1997), GLBT Historical Society.