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Tom of Finland’s Story Is Finally Being Told on the Big Screen

Tom of Finland’s Story Is Finally Being Told on the Big Screen

Tom of Finland’s Story Is Finally Being Told on the Big Screen

The artist who inspired a generation of gay men is finally gets his own feature film treatment.


(Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

You’ve likely seen Tom of Finland’s work or other work inspired by it. Big, rippling-muscled men, with perfectly mustached faces and full, sometimes overflowing jeans, typically engaged in some sort of sex act. It’s artwork (and porn, to be clear) that ruled an era. In fact, in a upcoming biopic about the artist that recently debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, an American porn executive tells the artist, “You’re the hottest thing in gay porn.”

That biopic gives Touko Laaksonen, the Kaarina-born gay man behind that persona, prime silver screen time in a feature titled simply Tom of Finland. Ahead of the film’s theatrical release this fall, we dig into the man who was an icon to a generation of queer men.

Some of Tom’s work was inspired by his experiences cruising the woods as a soldier, or from day laborers from when he was a child. (Photo courtesy of Tom of Finland Foundation)

Touko Laaksonen was a WWII veteran

Born in 1920, Laaksonen fought in World War II for the Finnish army. In fact, scenes from the war open the film, eventually inspiring, in part, Laaksonen’s later sketches. As a lieutenant in the army, Laaksonen found himself cruising dark forests at night, engaging in furtive trysts with other soldiers. The experience of having anonymous sex among the trees before police raided the wood provided some inspiration for his art in addition to the experience watching male workers when he was a child.

Though it’s not a part of the film, some of his wartime work became controversial as it depicted Nazi German soldiers, though for Laaksonen, he was just drawing men he found hot. After the war Laaksonen moved in with his sister and became an art director. 

(Photo courtesy of Tom of Finland Foundation)

Laaksonen was not accepted by his country or his family at first

Up until 1999, Finland had laws targeting queer men. That last law, which specifically banned the promotion of gay-oriented material, was rescinded in  '99, but before it there had been laws that made being gay illegal or deemed it a mental illness. These laws no doubt influenced public perception including the perception of those closest to Laaksonen, like his sister.

Because of all of this, the artist began to use a pen name when he finally began to circulate his work widely. Though at first he had signed his work with initials, he changed this simply to Tom. When his work began to get printed in America, he started to be referred to as Tom of Finland.

That said, things have changed. Director Dome Karukoski says that since starting research on the film in 2011 the public knowledge and acceptance of Tom have grown tremendously in Finland, likely peaking when the artist’s work became a line of postage stamps in 2014.

The imaginative muse of a popular Tom of Finland comic strip in the upcoming biopic. (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

His sketches weren’t necessarily of people he knew 

Laaksonen’s men paint a picture of a Finland full to the brim of well-endowed, muscle men in tight, revealing clothing. It’s a heaven, a utopia for some. And it was the same for Laaksonen himself.

In the film, the men of Finland are mostly slender figures, and this would be a more accurate representation of what surrounded the creative. Though he no doubt drew inspiration from those he encountered, more so after visiting America, where men had been inspired by his work, most of the men in his artwork were Laaksonen’s idealized versions. As his career progressed, his work did become more photorealistic.

(Photo courtesy of Tom of Finland Foundation)

Tom of Finland’s art inspired a generation of gay men

Visibility can be power. With the mainstreaming of Tom of Finland’s imagery in gay culture, he helped to shape a generation of queer men. In part, we can trace the culture’s emphasis on hypermasculinity, as portrayed by one’s own physicality, to Finland’s pencil. Though he was by no means the only one creating that sort of imagery, the portrayal of musculature as a symbol of masculinity and therefore something to be desired was a hallmark of the sketches. But it was more than that.

In addition, Tom highlighted and incorporated the fetish communities, specifically the leather community into his work. In the film, as his work becomes more widespread, more men find themselves buying leather jackets, replicating what they saw. And while his characters like Kake aren’t singlehandedly responsible for the culture, they can be credited with quite a bit of its promotion.

Laaksonen was aware of his influence, especially during his later career. After the onset of the AIDS epidemic he began to incorporate safe sex into his work, doing his part to educate and inspire the horny men consuming the material.

Watch the trailer for Tom of Finland in the video below.

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Mikelle Street

Mikelle Street is the former editorial director of digital for PrideMedia, guiding digital editorial across, The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus. Catch his words on Twitter. 

Mikelle Street is the former editorial director of digital for PrideMedia, guiding digital editorial across, The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus. Catch his words on Twitter.