A femlin. Artist: LeRoy Neiman.


Original Medium: Magazine cartoons
Published in: Playboy
First Appeared: 1955
Creator: LeRoy Neiman
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Some cartoon series in popular magazines, such as Hazel from The Saturday Evening Post or The Addams Family from The New Yorker,

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… break out and become cross-media phenomena. Others become famous without being adapted into Saturday morning cartoons, prime-time sitcoms, etc. LeRoy Neiman's Femlins, which have been seen regularly in Playboy magazine for half a century, are among the latter. Tho the publisher sells femlin ashtrays, femlin figurines and other items of femlin merchandise, they mostly stick to their original purpose — providing visual appeal for the magazine's joke page.

The word "femlin" is derived from the "fem-" particle (which entered the English language from the Old French "femelle" following the 11th century Norman Conquest of England and is found in such words as "feminine" and "female"), combined with "gremlin" (a word which, a decade after the close of World War II, had already moved away from its original meaning, a mischievous creature that infests aircraft). Femlins are playful little sprites, perhaps 4-6 inches tall, which look like attractive women wearing nothing except arm-length black gloves, thigh-high black stockings, and spike heels. Tho the word is frequently used in plural form, indicating there is a population of them, seldom if ever is more than one femlin seen at a time. Like Kewpies, also diminutive, quasi-human cartoon creatures, they don't appear to have individual names or characteristics.

Femlins came to be when Playboy editor/publisher Hugh Hefner decided the magazine's "Playboy's Party Jokes" page needed livening up. That's not hard to understand, since the page consisted (and continues to consist) of an ancient form of storytelling known as the dirty joke, most examples of which probably go back to the days of Alley Oop and Peter Piltdown. To modernize it, Hefner called on his old friend (and Playboy contributor almost since the beginning) LeRoy Neiman, who has since won considerable artistic acclaim in other areas. The first femlin appeared on the cover of the August, 1955 issue, where she held up a key to the newly-launched Playboy Club.

After that, the femlins began their regular job, appearing in little pantomime vignettes of two or three panels, scattered among the hoary old jokes. In one issue, a femlin would get mired down by playing with an aerosol can of shaving cream; in another she'd become fascinated by a tiny Walkman TV set. They went on like this issue after issue, decade after decade.

Neiman's femlins haven't become as famous to the non-Playboy-reading general public as that magazine's other notable contribution to American cartoonery, Harvey Kurtzman's Little Annie Fanny. But they've been a steadier presence in the magazine over the years, and are quite well known among those who do read it.


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Text ©2004-05 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Playboy Enterprises.