Filed under Comics, Dean Haspiel, Interviews
BLAB! Editor: Monte Beauchamp, Dark Horse Books, pp 112, $19.99
Guest Review by Paul Buhle
BLAB!, a creation of the pleasingly twisted mind of Monte Beauchamp and his artists, has been around for quite some time. In fact, the first two issues (1986–87) were published by Beauchamp’s own imprint, Monte Comix. A genius at low-brow art anthologies, Beauchamp began this venture back in the transition or ditch between underground comix and alternative (what might later be called “art”) comics. But art, for Beauchamp, of an almost inexplicable kind.
The title has bounced from his own personal operation, Monte Comix, to Kitchen Sink Press to Fantagraphics and Last Gasp to Dark Horse, where it has become, for reasons known only to Beauchamp, “Blab World!” It was always a planet by itself, and the suspiciously camp rocket-firing goddess on the cover, by Hershka, is clearly interplanetary proof.
Oh, yes, there is some truly understandable stuff here, a lot of it pages by Noah Van Sciver, at 38, the book’s youngest contributor. Louis Wain, a mad artist of cat images in Victorian Age Britain, could be a precursive Beauchamp, obsessed with images until he loses his mind. Van Sciver comes back again with a whopper, “The Death of Comics,” aka the story of the best-selling Crime Does Not Pay series. The genius money-making series created by leftwing publisher Ralph Gleason, it encompassed the noir sentiment of the later, disillusioned 1940s as the dreams of antifascist democracy melted into individualism and war-wounded minds that could not be healed.
Van Sciver focuses in on the lives of the Crime Does Not Pay artists, and in particular the genius of graphic sex-and-sadism, Charles Biro. His triumph leads him and the rest of comics into the hands of would-be censors and especially best-selling author Dr. Frederick Wertham. It’s a familiar story to comics devotees, and involves a wider plot of horror comics, MAD’s publisher William M. Gaines, and Congressional hearings that mirrored the hearings held on the purported Communist threat,with near-identical warnings of dangerous Jews poisoning the minds of young Christians. Van Sciver allows himself only a glimpse of the larger picture, because he is following Biro to his own private doom.
A considerable amount of the rest of BLAB! takes us to other strange places in the pulp past, comic book back pages of the 1940s-50s selling miracle hair-replacement liquids, pocket-size miniature monkeys, and other far-fetched hustles aimed at young (or low-capacity) minds. Or to the pulp treatments of great apes, “discovered” only in the mid-19th century, treated as fantastic King Kong types with their hands around near-nude (white) women, or as a link to the link of the “missing link” to the human race, a link that has never been found. Beauchamp is asking the unasked question, why the obsession, and answering not in prose but by throwing the question back at the reader. Another section offers pages and pages of 19th century attacks on Catholicism, the dangerous threat to everything truly American. Great flying saucer illustrations by Ryan Heshka take us back to the late 1940s and 1950s, the golden era of interplanetary visitations and expectations.
There’s more: Heshka and Beauchamp’s story on Superman’s inventors Siegel and Schuster, taken from Beauchamp’s own anthology Masterful Marks (on great comic artists) is wonderfully weird. He has created no iconic comic figures, neither prompted the empire of capital in comics or been cheated out of it, but he is so much a part of the history, one way or another, that one can hardly tell the larger story without him.
Paul Buhle’s latest comic is an adaptation of W.E.B. Du Bois’s classic Souls of Black Folk, by artist Paul Peart Smith (Rutgers University Press).
Filed under Anthologies, Blab! Magazine, Comics
COVID COP. Art & script by Dean Haspiel. Dean Haspiel Deep Cuts. 28 pp. $15.
Dean Haspiel is in fine form with this short work in comics that transforms the Covid pandemic into a surreal parody of a sci-fi/horror story. In this scenario, the virus has completely taken over to the point that the government has clamped down hard on anyone disobeying protocol. It’s a take-no-prisoners battle plan and one police officer, Lincoln Bio, is doing his best to follow orders. If you’re a fan of Dean Haspiel, then you can expect that kooky sense of humor, bathed in pathos, made famous in the Billy Dogma comics series.
Our anti-hero Lincoln Bio is aware that he’s living in very strange times making very strange demands on him. How he comes to terms with his marching orders and how he confronts an insurgent group out to kill everyone makes up a good part of this dark comedy. Drawn in the mock heroic style that Haspiel is known for, this comic book will deliver a weird and entertaining jolt right to the jugular and then some. You probably won’t have nightmares from reading this but I can’t guarantee it. And, if there’s a sequel, all bets are off. This comic, by the way, is the first in the developing line of indie comics, Dean Haspiel Deep Cuts.
This comic will defy your expectations, especially if you don’t really know what to expect, and offers up the most recent example of a cartoonist at the top of his game. The winner of a recent Kickstarter campaign, this comic book is making its way to its backers and will make its way to you. Keep up with Dean Haspiel for more details.
Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Dean Haspiel
Hurricane Nancy honors us once again by sharing some of her art. This is #453, entitled, “When they put you down keep on dancing.” All sorts of people can try to put us down. They think they can mistreat others just for the fun of it. That’s when it takes those of us with grace and dignity to persevere, and keep on dancing.
Be sure to visit Hurricane Nancy’s website where you can purchase her art!
Filed under Art, Comics, Hurricane Nancy
Visions of Taiwan. Ray Hecht, editor. Lei Press. 2023 51pp. $4.99
I’ve been following the work of Ray Hecht for years now and it has been fascinating to see him develop as a writer, artist, and now as the leading force behind this collection of short works in comics. Hecht is a devoted and creative explorer trying to make sense of the world. The goal for this book is to make some sense of Taiwan, a country many of us know very little about other than it being forever threatened by China. The main service this book provides is to offer up some slice-of-life vignettes from a variety of artists at various stages in their careers.
Every comics anthology is a delicate ecosystem that is cared for and nurtured into existence by its editor. I’m happy to say that Ray Hecht has delivered a charming and enlightening book. This is a mellow and easygoing journey, seven stories in all, written and drawn by eight contributors. Instead of dramatic epiphanies, you’ll find more of a contemplative vibe: observations on the struggles to fit in and to simply survive. There is plenty of common ground to be found here among life and work issues. In many ways, it’s the very act of dislocation that seems most compelling and the overriding theme. And sometimes that’s really all we need: some signs of life and shared humanity.
In the case of Ray Hecht’s contribution, the theme is dealing with the tensions of isolation during lockdown. Hecht’s solution was to finally get his scooter license so that he could drive around within the allowed perimeters where he lives in Taiwan. It’s a very honest and funny story and another fine example of Hecht’s sharing of his expat experiences.
Among other contributions, Fabienne Good offers up some lively illustrations for her piece, “An Island of Inspiration,” which is just the sort of clean and idiosyncratic style that buoys the whole discussion. Well done work by all involved! Seek this book out. It can be your new travel companion and guide whether or not you might be thinking about your own visit to Taiwan.
Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Taiwan
From Apartamento comes All The Things I Know, by New York City artist Zebadiah Keneally. This is a most audacious 380-page epic of a graphic novel that explores what it means to be human, especially when the world is on the brink of collapse.
I’ll say here that this book is a big deal. It is both a whimsical and serious work which tackles profound issues while also being fun and highly accessible. As you will learn from this interview, it’s a long process that requires dedication to do right. Zebadiah Keneally is coming to it from a fine arts background which is a distinct plus since it just means more tools to work with. There are many more layers of things going on, including video and performance. In fact, Keneally’s performing as the characters in the book is a whole thing all to itself.
There’s so much to be said about this monumental work. It was provided to me in a PDF preview and, I must say, it’s even better when you get your hands on the actual book! Keneally has tackled the great graphic novel with all he’s got as an artist and writer. It is a mashup of a quirky shaggy dog kind of story and a great epic fable. Anything is possible when you have gods and humans at odds with each other. And, at the center of it all (or at least he’d like to think so), Hamburger Vampire, a mad villain of monstrous proportions, both tragic and comical. This is a new generation’s weird comics, a new voice calling out to anyone who will listen that it’s time to wake up and live your best life.
So, yeah, I highly recommend that you get this book. Just go over to Apartamento for the details. It’s a big book but I’m working off this theory that people love a big book with big ideas. This is one of those monumental graphic novels, with lots going on, and it definitely benefits from taking the time to get to know it better. Take it with you to a cafe, or to the beach. Really, this worked for me.
Once I took the time and leisurely read this on the beach, I began to connect the dots, and felt equally enlightened and entertained. And then, to top it off, I got the chance to interview the creator. There’s a lot of things that go into a good interview: lots of prep work; and even a bit of luck as things come together during a conversation. That said, I hope you enjoy this chat, conducted on Zoom and email follow-up, and welcome a new rising star in the world of art-comics.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Thank you for joining me for this interview.
ZEBADIAH KENEALLY: It’s a honor that you’d want to talk about my book. It’s really cool.
I want to start with a question from out of left field. Tell us about Detective Lovebeard. I swear to you, I seem to have zoned out that heart-shaped beard when I first read your book as a PDF. Of course, I saw it but I didn’t read it for all its worth. If that makes sense. Can you chat about this character?
Interesting! Well, I studied printmaking as an undergraduate and I got involved with a community print studio. I was playing around with the chine collé technique and came up with this image of two heart-shaped beards with sunglasses. For some reason, that really stuck with me. I was mashing things together for my characters. Part of what propels my graphic novel is a murder committed by the character Pittsburgh Cat. Lovebeard pursues him. He becomes this symbol of logic and reason. I wanted to explore that kind of thinking being taken to the extreme and reaching a breaking point.
Imagine that you’re at the grand opening of an art show presenting pages from your book. How would you describe it to a passersby audience?
My elevator pitch goes something like this: All The Things I Know is the story of an evil villain bent on world domination and mind control who goes by the name of Hamburger Vampire. He is a snake oil salesman and capitalist par excellence. His attempts to control the world are foiled by none other than God. He gets resentful and hires Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, out of retirement in Hades, to help him kidnap God so that he can control the world.
Meanwhile, a failed artist and down-and-out drug addict, Pittsburgh Cat, bottoms out on the beach in Miami. After accidentally killing a motel proprietor, he’s pursued by Miami’s most revered detective, Lovebeard. Pittsburgh Cat meets God on the beach. God takes him through a wormhole, right in front of the detective’s eyes. His world-view begins to crumble as he pursues Pittsburgh Cat through mystic circumstances. They end up meeting Lara, the librarian. And together, they team up to save the world from Hamburger Vampire.
It sounds to me like you had more fun answering the first question!
Well, that’s marketing for you. It’s essential. You need to support your book.
I was performing a bit with that last answer.
Let’s explore the book, get lost in the pages. If a reader relaxes with it, all sorts of treats are revealed. How long does it take you to create a typical page?
About four to five hours. Especially the right page you’re on now depicting a pharmaceutical factory and that hand of a doctor writing a prescription. That was a very involved drawing. The timeline on the creation of this book is nonlinear. And these pages you’re looking at were drawn in 2016. At the time I was drawing a lot on the commute to and from work. These pages were drawn on the New York City subway.
Wow. I love knowing that! I’m trying to imagine you on the train. How big are these pages?
Not much bigger than what they look like in the book. 19 by 28 centimeters, or 7 by 10 inches.
What sort of pen do you use?
I drew these with a Micron #8.
A lot of artists will relate to that. I marvel over the busy energy to these pages, like Pittsburgh Cat rolling through the landscape. Or here’s an example that depicts an absurdly cluttered room but the actual style of drawing is very clean and precise.
Even though I went to art school, in a lot of ways, I taught myself to draw. I threw out a lot of the rules for figure/ground relationship. Everything is in focus. I don’t draw in a way that will lower the contrast in the middleground or background. Everything is crystal clear. When I imagine one of these scenes, I imagine every single little detail, which can make my drawings feel a little overwhelming to surrender to. But it feels honest in how this stuff exists within me.
I wanted to add something about Pittsburgh Cat that you’d mentioned about him rolling. There’s that intervention he has with God on that cliff that begins this rolling process. This scene came to me in a dream. It was a technicolor cartoon dream. One of the only ones I’ve ever had. I woke up in the middle of the night kind of stunned. This was how Pittsburgh Cat was introduced to me. These panels happened. This is the recording of my dream. And, at the end of the dream, when he lands on the beach in Miami, this logo screen came up and it said, “Pittsburgh Cat,” and it showed his face, in these pulsating bubble letters. I asked myself, Who is this? What’s happening here? And I actively began to imagine where the story went from there.
That’s wonderful, so genuine. There’s patterns running throughout the book, whether it’s eyeballs or other repeated imagery, like here, with a hand pointing. You’ve got Hamburger Vampire in the forefront. His right hand is pointing at Corporate Woman. And his left hand is agitated, pointing with a hand repeated three times at the elevator button. Can you tell us something about composing a panel like this?
I grew up watching Looney Toons and Tom & Jerry, those kind of classic cartoons. There are emphasized moments when, for example, a character’s eyes will jump out of their head or they’ll take off running and their first few steps will be moving in place before they move through space. I always loved that effect. Honestly, I don’t think I’m good enough a draftsman to render that stuff the way other artists have done but I still wanted to try to capture that essence. The page you’re referring to, it was an essential plot point but visually it was missing some motion and energy. So, I’ll often employ that technique of repeated imagery.
Of course, I love all the things you do with the dope vape motif. It’s not just the hipsters, even the mayor is hooked on dope vape!
And it just keeps building. Finally, you’ve got a mob of people, dancing in step, like a scene from Thriller, all hooked on dope vape.
Some years ago, in Brooklyn, this street drug, Bath Salts, got really popular. There’s this notoriously hectic subway transfer point, Myrtle/Broadway. At the peak of the Bath Salts epidemic, there were addict zombies lining the streets. Bath Salts had the effect of paralyzing people, similar to heroin. It was a pretty horrific sight. It’s one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moments. It captured my imagination and pointed out to me the kind of desperation that is prevalent in the culture, the need to escape from all the pressures that exist at this moment in time. That subtext was a way to underscore conceptually what I wanted Dope Vape to represent in the story.
What I’ve observed from a lot of comics critics, is that they embrace a certain kind of weird. Everyone will bow down to Gary Panter, for example. But for the new kids on the block, they’ll be harder on them. How are you handling this as your book goes out into the world?
That’s a tough question for me to answer. I immediately thought about your comment (in your review in The Comics Journal) about the scatological God. That particular scene had been inspired by a portion of Carl Jung’s autobiography where he relays this, hardly offensive, dream of God defecating on a cathedral, and how that began his trajectory as an eminent psychologist. His thinking has influenced me a lot so it was important for me to make a nod there. In that sense, I believe I’ve experienced more of that tougher eye.
On the other hand, I feel very much like an outsider in the comics world because I’ve come into it from a fine arts background. When I took on this graphic novel project, it challenged me as to who I was for a bit. Aside from your review in The Comics Journal, I feel that it hasn’t been noticed at all in the comics community at large. I don’t feel like I’m a part of that community at this point.
I’m happy to be taken to task on my review. I think I might be on to something when I say that it can be hard for people to accept the new weird, not that your work is only “weird,” but it’s something new, the new kid on the block.
I’m grateful for getting a chance to see your work in the first place. Of course, a PDF is a completely legitimate way to read something but not ideal in many ways. Not to overstate this, but I’m so happy to have gotten to experience your book in print. Reading an actual book helped me catch all the details and truly appreciate what you’ve accomplished.
Well, I’m happy to hear that, Henry.
I wanted to say something about how you handle the human figure. It’s all very artfully done, very beautifully done, gorgeously clean work. Were you ever at a crossroads when you had to confront drawing the gods nude?
Honestly, it really wasn’t a question for me.
There you go.
(Laughter) I wrote a script for this first and it’s more pages than the graphic novel and the gods figured large into that script. At one point, before I started drawing, I thought, I’m going to have to draw these guys naked a lot. I’ve always been taken by the human form and loved figure drawing when I was in my twenties and obsessed over rendering bodies and strong lines. There’s something primal and unabashed about how the gods behave and conduct themselves that their full frontal nudity corroborates.
Yes! I wholeheartedly agree. I think more cartoonists should embrace the human form. I think you just draw so well. It reminds me at times of Mary Fleener. You could say you’re a new generation’s Mary Fleener. Well, you’re doing your own thing and so well. I can’t emphasize that enough.
We’ll go through some more pages. Here’s one with Lovebeard in the library. It’s so gorgeous. You’ve drawn every single book there.
It’s so nice to hear you point that out. I look at the work of other artists and admire the way they edit and leave out details. I’ve tried to embrace the less-is-more approach but it never feels right to me. At heart, I’m a maximalist!
You’re not overthinking it. That’s just your natural way of tackling things. Did you ever worry if it was all going to come together, through the years of work, or did a certain rhythm sustain you?
Sometimes I wondered if it would all come together. I began working on the first draft around 2009-2010 and it was a slow process and I didn’t get very far. By 2012, I really started working on this story. I drew in a much looser and gestural way, about 450 pages. I was trying to tell the whole story only through drawings. But it seemed like I’d weaved something together that wasn’t working.
I began drawing another version in 2016. I was doing these very detailed time-consuming drawings, without a script. I found that the pace I was at was preventing me from telling my story. I set it aside but it wouldn’t leave me alone. When the pandemic hit and lock down began, I knew this was the time to write the script and that would guide the drawings. I began that process. I had enough drawings from the 2016 version to make a pitch to Apartamento and they, to my surprise, picked it up.
This provided the opportunity to work from the script and translate it into drawings. That was a total task. At many points, I was uncertain about getting everything into the drawings based on the groundwork I’d created in words. I had to do a lot of editing and get rid of a lot of favorite plot lines. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it and stunned when I’d completed it!
Is there something you could tell us about Hamburger Vampire, since the character goes so far back into work?
I moved to New York City in 2009 and I got a job delivering mail to Goldman Sachs. I’d graduated college just before the recession had hit. Work was hard to come by. And suddenly I’d found myself working for this bank that had a huge role in this financial crisis. I felt like I was working in the gates of hell to some extent.
I would hide out in a janitor’s closet on the 26th floor and draw when it was slow in the mail room. And, all of a sudden, as I was reassociating, there before me was a hamburger with a lettuce mustache and vampire fangs. I looked at it and said, “Oh, that’s Hamburger Vampire.” He immediately became an evil entrepreneur: just that kind of greed; that self-serving desire to the max. I really wanted to look at what that would look like for an individual who had no compunction about running roughshod over anyone to get their way. That must have been around 2009-2010 that he was served up to me on a platter. His characteristics, I imagined, were always related to Donald Trump: so that kind of gregarious/mafioso con man–with a lot of power.
Can you describe your relationship with Apartamento. They hadn’t done a graphic novel before your book. How did that come about?
It came about quite naturally. I had made a zine with a publisher out of Zurich, called Nieves Books. And through that I got introduced to the executive editor at Apartamento, Robbie Whitehead. Robbie asked me to illustrate their annual cookbook which they do as fundraiser for a cancer foundation in Barcelona. I was so excited about that opportunity and brought everything I had to that project. We did a Zoom interview to discuss that cookbook and they had seen all the things I’d been doing and wanted to know more about me as an artist. There was no way to talk about that without talking about Hamburger Vampire, who is a character that I’ve done a number of videos and performances as over the years. I discussed my graphic novel and Robbie was interested. It took a while to get everyone on board but it all worked out.
Can you give us a little taste of your experience working with art galleries?
What is essential is getting involved with communities of artists. For example, when I was younger, it was being part of a group of artists at the Robert Blackburn printmaking workshop in Manhattan. From there, I met artists working on independent risograph publishing and I got to collaborate with them. They would put on exhibitions and I would perform at a bunch of those. I would go to a lot of gallery openings of people that I knew from the print shop, from college or who I had met a party.
So, I’d just meet people, make friends, invite them to my studio. You build connections with people who are doing creative things. The opportunities to show in galleries grow from those friendships and connections. Jacqueline, who runs Good Naked, is really wonderful. She saw my work on Instagram. She had made a decision to start a gallery at that point and she DM’d me and asked if she could come visit the studio. I showed her some drawings that ended up in this book, among other things. We had a conversation and discovered we had similar values in things in regards to art: being genuine and playful with a certain entertainment bent to it. She invite me to paint a mural in her gallery. That gave me an opportunity to scale up; most of my drawings are pretty intimate, you know, 8.5 by 11 or 10 by 7. It was really exciting to go big–and have a wall!
As we wrap up, let me ask you about the title of the book, All The Things I Know. That begs the question as to what this book means to you. What does the title mean and what are “all the things” that you know now, after all these years, from having created this book?
It’s a funny title, All The Things I Know. It gives the impression of being a memoir which this book isn’t in any practical sense. Around the time I started working on this story, I had had an idea about a performance that went like this: I lock myself in a studio for an unspecified period of time, cover the walls with paper and endeavor to write all the things I know, not leaving until I had completed my task. I didn’t have the gall to actually do that, and I got obsessed with the characters in the story so I threw myself into that. I had no idea what to call this book I found myself working on, so I decided to call it All The Things I Know, after this zany performance art idea I thought I wanted to do. Fast forward a year into working on the first draft and I realized that all the characters were me – or aspects of my psyche. I did the long division and saw that they represented my desires: for the material, for the intellectual, for the spiritual (Hamburger Vampire, Lovebeard and Pittsburg Cat respectively). With them, I was imagining what the collision of these drives might look like; I began to understand the book as a psychic memoir. When it came time to finalize the title 10 years later, I’d been calling the book All The Things I Know for so long that I could not imagine titling it anything else, despite my worries about misleading readers. Wanting to ground the title in the story, I wrote it into a scene where Pittsburgh Cat bemoans the rapidly shifting tides of his life, saying to God, “Listen dude, I don’t know what I know anymore. All the things I know … or thought I knew have been eviscerated–” That’s more or less how I feel, after all these years, having created this book.
Thank you so much, Zebadiah.
Thank you, Henry.
All The Things I Know is published by Apartamento. And you can also find it at various other outlets, including Amazon.
You can find Zebadiah Keneally here. And make sure to see the zany promo video at Apartamento!
Filed under Comics, Comix, graphic novels, Interviews, New York City
Hurricane Nancy presents a beautiful work of art on the subject of love. In her own words: “I was taught as a child only to love and kiss those in my body type and social group, then in the ’60s I became a hippie and could kiss anybody, then later realized I am a spirit, not the body, so kissing and love is unlimited.”
I will sometimes add a splash of color to Nany’s black & white art and this one gets a tint of pink!
Be sure to visit Hurricane Nancy’s website where you can purchase her art!
Filed under Comics, Hurricane Nancy
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!”
Filed under Art, Comics, Hurricane Nancy
Maverix and Lunatix: Icons of the Underground Comix. By Drew Friedman. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2022. $34.95.
Guest Review by Paul Buhle
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.
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, Maverix and Lunatix is an homage in the best way that Friedman can provide. And what an homage it is!
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.
Filed under Book Reviews, Comics
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.
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.
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.
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.
Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews