We are ringing in a new year and coasting along a bit during the holidays, getting our bearings as we contemplate doing it all over again. What a treat to have Hurricane Nancy with us to share more of her work. This is what Nancy says about the above artwork: “If only life was this simple. I could dress up and be whatever I want for any occasion. Not get sick or worry about our future. Just dress up and decide to make a great holiday and bright future!”
Some of the “Underground comix” artists themselves, along with older generation savants including Harvey Kurtzman, predicted that the new, stunning and challenging genre of comic art of the late 1960s-70s would likely have a limited shelf life. They had a point. The UG comic was totally rebellious against existing standards, its sales depended significantly on “head shops” selling soft drug paraphernalia, and upon publicity generated by the ephemeral “underground” newspaper circuit. Artists, a few dozen of them, leaped into the breach because they urgently wanted to express themselves without censorship or limits, and to have a copyright on their own creations. Such a phenomenon could no more likely survive a decade or so than the $75/month apartment rents or $10 nickel bags of dope.
And it didn’t. By the middle 1980s, a more modest version, “alternative comics,” seemed to mirror the pale version of the UG press, the local “alternative weeklies.” The Revolution had come and gone and left its artists largely stranded. A few made large names for themselves in new venues, Art Spiegelman by far the most famous and accomplished, along with Robert Crumb, who could be described as entering a slow fade. Others struggled to go onward. Among the artists still at it, Bill Griffith and a few others have continued to shine. In the end, the Undergrounds had sacrificed themselves, so to speak, for the birth of a large and diverse comic art.
Galleries, scholars,museums and even collectors might have tried harder to document the UG phenomenon. From the beginning of the genre until the end of the century and somewhat beyond, any serious attention remained scarce for what had been accomplished in the burst of energy, and by whom. The advance of something called “Comic Art” powered by the recognition of RAW magazine and Art Spiegelman’s Maus, seemed, perhaps not surprisingly, to leave the past behind. The handful of artists who managed in the following years to get recognition in the New York Times and elsewhere were mostly of younger generations, and if graphic novels blossomed as a genre for the under-30 reader, anything like official appreciation lagged when it did not reach the surface of recognition.
And yet . . . a dramatically fresh art for its time: millions of readers (if we count the readership of the underground press), a lot of talent, all this leaves a record, somehow. The many collections published by Fantagraphics and others, reach readers seriously interested. Actual journals (mostly on-line) help to bring forward young scholars and help situate them in academic programs. Selected library collections consolidate holdings and provide guides. Beyond all that, there is an uncertain, informal but very real record of the evolution of comic art at large, with the Underground Movement increasingly recognized as a legitimate and important art form in its time and place.
S. Clay Wilson
Drew Friedman is a self-described fan or even Fan Boy of Crumb and others in the day, drawn to them and their stories personally, and for that matter, helped along the way of his own career by Crumb among others. Best seen, Maverixand Lunatix is an homage in the best way that Friedman can provide. And what an homage it is!
Richard Grass Green
He draws over, or redraws, photos taken from some past period in an artist’s life, unpredictably from early in their careers or later on. Crucially, he has done the research to provide useful details (including birth and death dates) for nearly a hundred artists. More than a handful of them appeared with such brevity in the UG comix, remained so obscure, that Friedman’s’ work offers revelations of an unseen subculture. Other artists, who made quite a name for themselves in some brief moment before turning to other art forms, lifestyles, or simply collapsing into early deaths, find their stories helpfully here as well. Surprisingly, then, this is, in some limited but important way, a scholarly text.
Most readers will, naturally perhaps, direct their eyes to the drawings, which range from the spectacular to the plainly weird (well in keeping to the genre), then look across the page to the mini-biographies. Here, and perhaps also in the drawings, there is a lot of personal tragedy. Roger Brand among others succumbed to alcoholism, others died in road accidents in the US or abroad, some just turned up dead in apartments with no further accounting.
Others, plenty of others, simply turned from comic or comix into sturdy careers in every corner of graphic design, or painting, teaching art, or even web design. What nearly all have in common is a hole in the personal saga: their life in comics was essentially over. Perhaps that life had been too brief, too early in most of their lives, for its eclipse to remain a bitter disappointment. But I wonder.
It is slightly amazing to me that so many, with wild and carefree (not drug free) lifestyles, lived so long and are in many cases, still alive! In their seventies. Not all, even of those depicted as alive in the book: we now seem to be losing the UG artists by the month if not the week, Diane Nooman (aka Newman) and Aline Kominsky within the last six months, Justin Green passing just early enough for his death to be recorded here.
For this reviewer, at least, the faces depicted by Friedman look out at us with an aura of innocence, even for those with the kinds of personal habits that would not come close to the usual description of innocence. They were on hand at the creation, they took part in one of the great, still unacknowledged leaps of comic art, and they watched it collapse, even if it did not collapse most of them. This is something that can be appreciated only by looking at the art and reading the capsule biographies, not once but repeatedly. Thanks, Drew.
Paul Buhle, publisher of Radical America Komiks (1969), has been an essayist in several of the volumes exploring the history of the undergrounds including Underground Classics, the exhibit book for a traveling exhibit of the art.
This is a comic that is most unusual and noteworthy. It provides food for thought on the theme of overcoming obstacles. Cartoonist Desmond Reed was thrown a curve ball earlier this year when an accident kept him from using his drawing hand. Reed found a positive outcome to this by resorting to using his left hand for his next comics project. Lefty is an experiment that ended up opening up the creative process in very interesting ways.
Draw with your left hand and see what happens.
Mini-comics are already creative experimental labs to begin with. So, yeah, using your left hand to draw with when you’re right-handed sounds like a classic way to get out of your comfort zone. As you can see, Reed made the most of it.
Exploring family connections.
Untethered by the familiar can provide the freedom to be more organic and open to new ideas. For Reed, it set him on course to explore family issues as well as focus on himself and his own issues.
Problem-solving during the creative process.
Ultimately, this exercise with the unfamiliar led Reed down a serious soul-searching path. Fortunately for Reed, his drawing hand was only temporarily impaired so now he’s back to his regular drawing routine, although that much wiser. So, now you can take advantage of his journey, without suffering any accident, and learn from his progress.
Not only that, you can check out an assortment of other work, as well as the upcoming full-length graphic novel, The Cola Pop Creemees (April, 2023), at Bird Cage Bottom Books.
Follow the link and you can see all the nominees for this year’s Small Press Expo, along with links to purchase. I believe this is the first time that links have been provided for direct purchase! Scroll below for a list of this year’s winners.
– Outstanding Comic: “I See A Knight” by Xulia Vicente (Shortbox). Since childhood, Olivia has been able to see a headless knight invisible to everyone else- is it an omen, a ghost, or something much more real?
Good Boy! magazine
– Outstanding Anthology: “Good Boy Magazine” #1, edited by Michael Sweater and Benji Nate (Silver Sprocket). This 112-page collection features the tagline “Read comics or go to hell.” That says it all!
– Outstanding Artist:Reimena Yee for “Alexander, The Servant, & The Water of Life,” a retelling of the life/legend of Alexander the Great. Yee is also the creator of numerous other comics, including the Eisner & McDuffie-nominated “The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya,” “Séance Tea Party,” and the upcoming “My Aunt is a Monster.”
– Outstanding Collection: “Mr. Boop” by Alec Robbins (Silver Sprocket). This is the complete collection of the absurdist and romantic tale of author Alec Robbins being in love with his wife Betty Boop, the 1930s cartoon superstar, presented in a beautiful, deluxe package.
No One Else
– Outstanding Graphic Novel: “No One Else” by R. Kikuo Johnson (Fantagraphics). Johnson’s long-awaited second graphic novel follows Charlene, Brandon, and Robbie as they learn to navigate life day to day with their plans, fears, and desires after a death throws their life into turmoil.
Pee Pee Poo Poo #69
– Outstanding Minicomic: “Pee Pee Poo Poo” #69 by Caroline Cash (self-published). A throwback to ’60s underground comics with a zesty title to boot.
Ride or Die
– Outstanding Online Comic: “Ride or Die” by Mars Heyward features demon cars, street racing, fumbling romance and revenge, and is described as “Christine meets Ghost Rider meets Fast and Furious but gayer!”
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr
– Outstanding Series:“The Many Deaths of Laila Starr” by Ram V & Filipe Andrade with Inês Amaro and AndWorld Design (BOOM! Studios), a five-issue mini-series exploring the fine line between living and dying through the lens of magical realism.
The Lover of Everyone in the World
– Outstanding Story: ‘The Lover of Everyone in the World’ by Beatrix Urkowitz (Parsifal Press). Originally drawn for Popula, ‘The Lover’ joins three other stories about being loved by everyone, and no one, in Urkowitz’s first graphic novella of the same name. The collection was possible thanks to a generous grant from Koyama Provides.
Djeliya by Juni Ba
– Promising New Talent:Juni Ba. A cartoonist from Senegal and France, Ba’s recent work includes the anthology series “Monkey Meat” (Image Comics) and “Djeliya” (TKO Studios), which tells the tale of Prince Mansour and his royal storyteller Awa, as they journey to reach the mysterious Wizard Soumaoro, who guards a fearsome power that he once used to destroy the world.
Krazy Kat’s Ignatz, namesake for the SPX Ignatz Award
Small Press Expo returns next year during the weekend of September 9 and 10, 2023.
ANGELS by Hurricane Nancy. Color by Henry Chamberlain.
Hurricane Nancy offers us a meditation on the angels in our lives. I asked Nancy what she meant and she said: “There are wonderful people in life who help and encourage, when one is down. They love to see one creating and expanding their ideas and viewpoints. I call these dear people ANGELS.”