Bugs Bunny US stamps first to depict images of drag

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday July 30, 2020
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Two of the new Bugs Bunny stamps feature the famous rabbit in drag. Photo: Courtesy U.S. Postal Service
Two of the new Bugs Bunny stamps feature the famous rabbit in drag. Photo: Courtesy U.S. Postal Service

In issuing a new series of stamps honoring Bugs Bunny that includes two depicting the cartoon rabbit in women's clothing, the U.S. Postal Service has for the first time featured images of drag on the country's postage.

One of the stamps shows Bugs as a female mermaid, dolled up in a blonde wig and red lipstick, sprawled on a rock looking alluring, like a siren of Greek folklore. The look is based on the 1944 animated short film "Hare Ribbin' " that was part of the Merrie Melodies series.

In the other stamp the beloved cartoon character strikes a seductive pose dressed as a mythical goddess sporting a sizeable bust, blonde braided trusses, and a gold-winged headpiece. It is inspired by the 1957 animated short "What's Opera, Doc?" where Bugs plays Brunnhilde from Richard Wagner's opera "Siegfried" and his nemesis Elmer Fudd is the heroic lead.

The commemorative Forever stamps were released Monday, July 27, on the character's 80th birthday. Bugs made his debut in the short-subject cartoon "A Wild Hare" in 1940.

It was six years ago that the U.S. Postal Service released the first stamp to honor an American for their role in the fight for LGBT rights, which featured the late gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk. San Diego resident Nicole Murray Ramirez, who chaired the national Milk stamp campaign and is the titular head of the International Imperial Court System, a philanthropic organization within the drag community, told the Bay Area Reporter that he was unaware of any other stamp featuring images of drag.

Having called on the postal service for years to also honor the late Black gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, Murray Ramirez told the B.A.R. he would also like to see the federal agency release stamps featuring real life drag icons within the LGBTQ community.

"While this is a 'cute' move by the National Stamp Commission and US Postal Dept. we look forward to stamps in honor of true drag queens/TRANS heroes like Jose Julio Sarria, Sylvia Rivera, and Marsha P. Johnson," replied Murray Ramirez, known as the Queen Mother I of the Americas and Nicole the Great within the Imperial Court System.

Sarria, who died in 2013 at the age of 90, was a legendary San Francisco-based drag queen who founded the Imperial Court in 1965. He had made history four years prior as the first out gay person to seek elective office in the U.S. with his ultimately unsuccessful bid for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Rivera, who died in 2002 at the age of 50, and Johnson, who died in 1992 at the age of 46, both were drag performers and prominent participants in the Stonewall uprising of 1969. They would go on to become revered vocal advocates for gay and transgender issues up until their deaths.

A spokesman for the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum did not immediately respond Thursday to the B.A.R.'s questions regarding the usage of drag iconography on past postage stamps. A search online did not come up with any previous stamps that featured images of drag.

In an emailed reply Friday, July 31, postal service spokeswoman Mauresa R. Pittman did not address whether drag has been depicted on past postage.

As for depicting Bugs Bunny in drag on the two stamps, Pittman wrote, "Bugs has always donned a variety of clever costumes and disguises including dresses and wigs to outwit his opponents and entertain us all. Bugs summons up any talent — and any costume — that will help him thwart his relentless foes."

She added, "USPS celebrates his gleeful gusto, quick wit and endless clever resourcefulness of this 'wascally wabbit.'"

In dedicating the Bugs Bunny stamps earlier this week, Kristin Seaver, chief information officer and executive vice president of the U.S. Postal Service, stated, "Bugs is both timeless and timely, a quick-change artist who can get out of a jam, win any battle, through his wits and clever disguises. He simply summons up whatever talent, costume or personality is needed to escape every perilous situation."

In a 2016 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, famed drag queen RuPaul credited watching the Bugs Bunny cartoons as a child for showing him his first images of someone dressing up in drag.

"Bugs Bunny was my first introduction to drag!" he told the publication. "As a kid I always dressed in everything. I would use all the tools available as a human to express myself. No sexual connotation to it. It was just stuff."

Writing about the interview on the website for World of Wonder, the production company behind RuPaul's drag queen contest TV show, Trey Speegle dubbed Bugs Bunny "perhaps Hollywood's first drag superstar. He really wasn't shy about wearing women's clothing or trying to seduce Elmer or any man, as you can see from multiple clips."

The pop culture vlogger Dave Lee Down Under last month broke down Bugs Bunny's greatest drag queen and cross dressing depictions in the classic Looney Tunes shorts and other cinematic properties. His video has been viewed more than 10,400 times.

And even earlier compilation video of the character in drag put together in 2012 by Gregory May has been viewed nearly 434,400 times.

Technology journalist Ina Turpen Fried, one of the most prominent transgender people working in the news industry, told the B.A.R. she was glad to see the postal service include the drag images of Bugs Bunny in the special set of stamps and didn't try to erase the character's gender expansive side.

"That part of Bugs was always a part of the cartoon but I remember it was super hard to find toys or other commercial representations that included that," noted Fried. "It was not unproblematic, but a rare opportunity to see gender nonconformity in kids' programming at the time."

The artwork for the pane of 20 Bugs Bunny stamps was developed by the postal service in partnership with Warner Bros. Consumer Products. It features work from Warner Bros. Animation artists, who also created the sketches on the back of the stamp pane. Greg Breeding was the designer, and William J. Gicker served as art director for the Postal Service.

Since the Bugs Bunny stamps were issued as Forever stamps, they will always be equal in value to the current First Class Mail 1-ounce price. At the moment the sheet of stamps costs $11 and can be purchased online at usps.com/bugsbunny80 .

UPDATED 7/31/2020 with a comment from the postal service's spokeswoman.

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