I just picked up a copy of “Extra Good Stuff” at a newsstand in the Seattle ferry terminal. Odd place for it. I don’t think it has ever appeared there before or ever will again. But quite an appropriate spot for the work of Dennis Eichhorn, who reveled in the missteps and misfires of the absurdly banal people, places, and things of everyday existence.
Dennis Eichhorn passed away last week and I was at a loss as to what to say. He was the real deal. I guess that maybe part of me was waiting for a sign. It happened this weekend as I found myself at the ferry terminal. I was there to meet family. It’s a long story but I’ve ended up at the terminal quite often. I never find it to be an uplifting experience, quite the opposite. Perhaps it’s not as depressing as a bus terminal. But it’s a far cry from the sense of adventure you can get from a train terminal. So, it easily brings on a sigh when I set foot in it. And then to see that strange arrangement, an underground comic on the shelf alongside such fixtures as Men’s Fitness and Rolling Stone.
Well, I picked it up and I figured I’d share it with you and, along the way, I could say a few words about Dennis Eichhorn. He wrote about the unsavory and the weird. He retold fabulous misadventures and made brilliant/eccentric observations. For cartoonists wishing to align themselves with the bona fide underground, here was someone who could act as their Harvey Pekar. In fact, the Midwest had Harvey Pekar, and the Pacific Northwest had Dennis Eichhorn. For a cartoonist worth his or her salt, the idea is to channel the Eichhorn energy. It is best to have the artwork avoid getting too busy as to become needlessly cluttered. Ideally, however, you also want to have just the right amount of frenetic energy running throughout. Or do whatever you feel does justice to work compared to Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and Charles Bukowski.
This comics anthology I just picked up, “Extra Good Stuff,” a collection of reprints and new work, is a play off of Eichhorn’s long-running adult-oriented autobiographical comic book series “Real Stuff.” Three pieces stood out to me, among a stellarly oddball exploration of sex, drugs, and other intoxicants. These are “It’s Good to be the King,” art by Tom Van Deusen; “Gold Dust Twins,” art by Noah Van Sciver; and “The Geriatric Comic,” art by David Collier. All three of these pieces follow a seemingly disjointed path that leads to a satisfying ending. I won’t say things are ever fully resolved in an Eichhorn story, but we come close. Each one finds our main character, Dennis Eichhorn, methodically taking measure of his surroundings.
We can focus for a moment on “It’s Good to be the King” which follows Eichhorn on one of his runs as an on-call medical courier. In just three pages, Van Deusen brings to life a deadened world. Much depends upon facial expression to pull this off. In the case of Van Deusen, it helps that he seems to closely identify with Eichhorn inasmuch as the character he draws for Eichhorn bears a striking resemblance to the character Van Deusen uses for his own stand-in in his own comics. This particular comic was highlighted recently on Boing Boing to announce this anthology. In fact, Boing Boing presented many of Eichborn’s Real Stuff pieces over the years. You can find Eicchorn’s work at Boing Boing right here. And you will find a thoughtful tribute by Tom Van Deusen at The Comics Journal right here.
It bears mentioning here that, as Tom points out in his tribute, there is a story in Extra Good Stuff, “What Next?,” art by R.L. Crabb, that recounts Eichborn in hospital for a cardioversion in 2010. He remembers being overwhelmed by the television tuned in to Fox News. It was from Fox News that he learned that Harvey Pekar had passed away at age 70. Eichborn would go on to die at age 70. And to add a grace note to this, R.L. Crabb commented on Tom’s tribute to say that Dennis Eichhorn passed away on October 8th, which happens to be the birthday of Harvey Pekar. That gives me pause and makes me wonder if maybe October 8th should be designated as “Comix Day.”
Extra Good Stuff is published by Last Gasp and I highly recommend that you seek it out. For those of you interested in what latter-day underground comix are like, this is a perfect primer. And maybe you’ll happen upon it much like I did, when you least expect it and need it most.