Tag Archives: Counterculture

Interview with Underground Comix Artist Sharon Rudahl

From Famous Cartoonists button series, 1974

Sharon Rudahl was at the forefront of underground comix as a founder of Wimmen’s Comix, the first on-going comic drawn exclusively by women, beginning in the 1970s. Since then, she has created a range of fascinating underground comix including Crystal Night, which was reprinted in full in Dan Nadel’s Art In Time collection. Rudahl has created two graphic novels, A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman and A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson: Ballad of an American. Read my review here. It is a pleasure to get a chance to share this conversation with you.

Ballad of an American: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson

I began our talk by mentioning that Sharon marched with Martin Luther King Jr. as a teenager. I said that it appears that she has always been an activist. To that Sharon said that she’s found herself speaking out as often as possible. In fact, Sharon began her career as a cartoonist with anti-Vietnam War underground newspapers. She’s been active ever since and has participated in numerous publications and exhibitions in dozens of countries over the last 50 years. Always a fighter, she proved to be just the right person to take on a graphic biography of another social justice warrior, Emma Goldman.

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Filed under Comics, Comix, Interviews, Paul Buhle, Rutgers University Press, Sharon Rudahl

One More Look: AVENUE D and SNAKE EYES

Snake Eyes #3 cover

Snake Eyes (1990, 1992, 2001) was a comix anthology (editors: Glenn Head and Kaz) with some of the best comix talent going on at the time. It’s a great place to get a sense of what independent comics are about. It seems like we have subcultures within subcultures in the world of indie comics. Some cartoonists prefer a more soft approach while others need a harder one, and everything in between. So, with that in mind, we’ll explore the pages of Issue 3 of Snake Eyes. We will also take a look at a separate project, that ties in with what I’m talking about, Glenn Head’s Avenue D, from 1986.

Glenn Head’s Snowman in Snake Eyes

In an interview focusing on Snake Eyes, Glenn Head made the distinction between short-form comics and long-form graphic novels. For him, at the time (2001), he seemed to be saying that he found comics to be packed with energy and immediacy, while graphic novels had fallen into more of a form for a slower-paced drama to unfold. I think that is a subject for discussion than can always be added to byway of various comparisons and further refinement of articulating what it means to do comics as opposed to graphic novels. Basically, we know. But it’s always fun to discuss. And, sometimes, I wonder if we’re all on the same page! Seriously, the notion of comics is extremely broad if you include any and all possible forms, literally throwing in the kitchen sink for good measure.

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One More Look: ‘Chartwell Manor’ and ‘Chicago’ by Glenn Head

Chartwell Manor: Father and daughter moment.

Chartwell Manor. Glenn Head. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2021. 236pp, $29.99

Chicago: A Comix Memoir. Glenn Head. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2015. 168pp, $16.97

Glenn Head is part of that select group of auteur cartoonists who has steadily been building up a body of work, with its surrealist bent and underground comix influence,  that reaches the level of art. Much of his work, as creator and/or editor, has appeared in various comix anthologies: Bad News, Snake Eyes, Hotwire, and  R. Crumb’s Weirdo magazine. And so it makes sense that Head has steadily been climbing the Mt. Everest of comix, the grand ole graphic novel.

Chicago: Searching and learning.

Most aspiring cartoonists will never follow through on creating their very own full-length, full-bodied (sorry, no stick figures) autobiographical graphic novel, the pinnacle of auteur cartoonist ambition. However, where there is a will, there is a way. Glenn Head has done this particular feat twice. The most diligent of cartoonists would do well to follow closely what Head’s been up to with his last two books, observe how they oddly mirror each other, one a variation on the other. What I’m talking about is Head’s 2015 graphic novel, Chicago: A Comix Memoir, which was regarded as Head’s coming-of-age magnum opus. Well, he’s followed that up with his latest work, Chartwell Manor, which is another coming-of-age magnum opus: same protagonist and life struggles but, nearly twice as long, more refined, and pivoting off a different focal point.

Chicago: Father and daughter moment.

As I leaf through this graphic novel, I am struck by all the intricate line work, all the meticulous detail, and all the frenetic energy. There’s a marvelous dance with death (and life!) going on, almost spinning out of control, and yet very well balanced. The artist is in the lead. Death will have to wait its turn. If we try to compare both books, Chartwell Manor is perhaps more focused and detailed, not to take anything away from Chicago. While the Glen character in the first book is going through a series of dark episodes, including an interlude with a troubled woman, it is the second book that confronts what is the root cause of Glen’s instability and struggle. The significance of this root cause is underscored by the fact it is not mentioned at all in the first book. The harrowing events of being molested at a boarding school, by the headmaster no less, are not afforded even one panel in the first book. But, by astonishing contrast, the boarding school IS the second book, covering most pages.

Glen with a gun. You keep feeding the underground comix beast.

Sordid content, twisted and unabashed, all that very messy human stuff, is only hinted at in most mainstream graphic novels. Whatever the case, great work will emerge, sometimes from a big traditional publisher. But, aside from self-published work, the really gritty stuff comes from the smaller niche publishers. Among that set, Fantagraphics is a leader in the United States. In fact, it has cultivated a particular vibe that, along with a high standard of excellence, places it in a unique position. Much angst going back to underground comix of the sixties finds a home there. This particular point of view, this grungy campy swagger, has had plenty of time to ferment into a brand. Those who are part of it find themselves deeply enmeshed in a scene: part way of life; part putting on an act. But what is an act and what is real? That’s part of the mystique. What matters in the end is the end result, a work that aspires to something bigger, a work of art.

Demons to be exorcised.

Dancing with death can tire you out so it’s good to pace yourself. The reader will see the satisfaction that comes from someone working on their craft. On one level, it’s the very act of working on a big project, whatever the content, that sustains an ambitious cartoonist. This is a graphic novel focusing on Head  experiencing abuse at Chartwell Manor, a boarding school, and the years of living with that, a lifetime of living with that. This book provides a latter day underground cartoonist like Head another chance to push his style further, to level up his connection to the past, compared to all the  great soul-baring cartoonists who have come before: Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Bill Griffith, Art Spiegelman, Jack Jackson, S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams, and so on. It’s feeding, what I call, a “persistence of style.” Like he does in Chicago, Head can evoke an extended passage about him as a young and troubled youth, walking around naked in his family home with a loaded gun, aiming it at his head and pulling the trigger, and the act of creating that into comix is not necessarily a cathartic act, as much as it’s an artistic act. That’s not to belittle at all what happened to Head at Chartwell Manor. There are definitely demons to be exorcised. That’s just to point out that Head would be a lesser artist if his main aim was to have his graphic novel simply be a therapeutic act. It’s a complicated and thoroughly fascinating journey to explore the past while navigating your way to creating art.

Chartwell Manor: A rare moment of quiet joy.

There are key moments in the book, during and after Head’s time at Chartwell Manor where he talks to his parents and tries to let them know about the horror. In an early scene, while Head is still a student there, it seems like the parents are right on the verge of knowing but don’t want to know. It’s one of those instances when you wonder if something was said between the panels. Other moments, depicted from years later, also leave the reader wondering what the parents are aware of and what they are in denial about. It’s an ambiguous thread running throughout–and done to great effect.

Where there is a will,…

All those dirty little secrets that seem to have no way of getting out! And then they do. Ways are found to vent out frustration. It’s no exaggeration to say that underground comix have a lot to do with venting out frustration! The whole autobio comics genre has weathered various cycles of backlash, unfairly labeled as heavy-handed and a way for cartoonists to use it as therapy to work out personal problems. But, at the end of the day, most readers are fine to take the risk that some work will fall short while some will rise to the highest level. Honestly, any artist worth their salt, is going to tackle some form of autobiography. And, hey, all comics of this sort, in one form or another, is a story reflecting back to its creator.

…there is a way.

It’s important to note that each book has its lighter moments. In Chartwell Manor, those moments are mostly concerned with the process of creating comics. Chicago has a more experimental vibe, even whimsical at times, as when Head stumbles upon a visit to Chicago by Muhammad Ali and nearly gets his block knocked off. The point is that Head is in a wonderful place. Like any artist at this stage of their career, Head has a treasure trove to work from, plenty to return to for future books. With Chicago and Chartwell Manor, readers can see for themselves two distinct ways of presenting similar facts and the promise of what lies ahead.

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Comic Arts Festivals: Exterminator City (Dec 10-13, 2020)

Comic arts festivals are the backbone of a lot of indie comics activity. During Covid-19, we’ve seen many of these events converting to online versions. Welcome to Exterminator City (part of Push/Pull co-operative), the 10th edition of this Seattle indie and small press festival. Beginning on Thursday, December 10th, you can enjoy programming and events during this 4-day event.

Sample video: Julia Wald chats about  her new work, Suspension of Disbelief, with special guest Vladimir Verano of Vert Volta Press and Maxx Follis-Goodkind:

At 12:00 pm on December 10th all artist tables go live. Artist tables are pages on the Exterminator City website that include artist video introductions, their products, and information about them and how to follow them online. You can purchase directly off their tables – it is the next best thing to being with them in-person!

So, check it all out at Exterminator City right here.

There will be a wide selection of video content from online tutorials to interview panels. Here is the full lineup:

December 10th, Thursday – all events are live at 6pm PST

David Lasky speaks with John Porcellino of King-Cat Comics about making the King-Cat series for 30 years, the political nature of zines, and creating in 2020.

Maxx Follis-Goodkind interviews Craig van den Bosch and Marty Gordon of Microverse Press – a conversation about collage & collaboration.

Sarah Maloney teaches you how to make a mini zine of your own!

December 11th, Friday: 

7:30pm– Catch special events over at VeraTVveratv.org Friday only.

Featured events include:

Abridged interviews with Julia Wald and Jose Alaniz about their 2020 book releases.

A panel of zine experts – Maxx FGAnne Bean, and Sarah Maloney  will be giving you their best tips for zine newbies

Plus a tutorial from Maxx FG explaining what is saddle stitch and showing you two ways to do it

December 12th, Saturday – all events are live at 6pm PST

Sarah Maloney interviews Nicole Georges of Invincible Summer about changes and creating during the covid-19 pandemic

Plus! a full interview with Julia Wald about her latest release Suspension of Disbelief, with special guest Vladimir Verano of Vert Volta Press

And zine experts – Maxx FGAnne Bean (Emerald Comics Distro), and Sarah Maloney – are back with their full list of things you should know before making your first zine.

December 13th, Sunday – all events are live at 6pm PST

A full interview with Jose Alaniz about his latest release, The Phantom Zone, a collection of works from the 90s through recent creations.

Seth Goodkind gets a lesson on the history of Seattle’s underground comics with artist Pat Moriarity and discusses what Pat is up to now.

Cheryl Chudyk invites you to participate in her surrealist poetry zine. And T. Pratt teaches you the secrets behind his pop-up zines.

Exterminator City is about connecting our community to people self-publishing zines and comics. When we realized that the current pandemic meant all of the in-person shows for the year would be cancelled we felt it was our responsibility to step in. Our hope is that you learn about people creating, connect with someone new, and get some inside information from our panels and interviews. And of course enjoy yourself!”

Maxx FG

Visit the festival and explore December 10th – 13th at exterminatorcity.com

And visit Push/Pull, in Seattle, throughout the year.

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Review: THE COMPLETE HATE BOX SET, published by Fantagraphics

The Complete HATE!

The Complete Hate Box Set. by Peter Bagge. Fantagraphics, Seattle. 938 pp, $119.99.

A great way to savor or discover the work of cartoonist Peter Bagge is the new collection, The Complete Hate Box Set, published by Fantagraphics Books. Peter Bagge is indeed a significant cartoonist, and one of the bright lights that led me to Seattle back in the early ’90s. Like so many, for me, a copy of Hate comics was a perfect companion while sipping a latte at Caffe Vita, downing a beer at the Comet Tavern, or anticipating a show at the Re-bar. It was a time to see and be seen and, no doubt, to mock your fellow hipster. And few, if any, did it quite as well as Peter Bagge in his ultra-satirical comic book series featuring the ultimate malcontent, Buddy Bradley.

HateBall tour poster by Peter Bagge and Daniel Clowes, 1993.

With hindsight, Hate seems like the perfect comic to encompass this whole grungy era. The title alone sounds like a timeless tribute to callow youth. But as Bagge explains in the introduction to this collection, nothing was so smoothly planned in advance, including the title, which only came about sort of by accident. It wasn’t as if Bagge had set out, without a care in the world, to be a successful satirist. First, Bagge slowly but surely developed Neat Stuff, a comic based upon his own family growing up. His main character, Buddy Bradley, was loosely based upon himself. And, as luck would have it, a somewhat older Buddy was right in step with a whole new zietgeist and would go on to take a prominent spot in the new wave of alternative comics of the 1990s.

HATE #1, 1990.

Hate has its own loopy specificity, a zany quality built from Archie Comics, MAD Magazine, and all manner of underground comix. It was to be Bagge’s answer to the hegemony of the ’60s counterculture. And it was to be more than just a comic from the halcyon days of Generation X. It has moved past that and entered a new phase where it can take a rightful place among the best in comics. It does this by simply being something exceptional in terms of style, consistency, and inventiveness.

The unreal meets the real in a run-down Seattle apartment.

You can say that Hate is a prime example of an excellent comic willed into existence by a very determined cartoonist. And the best test of that is how it grabs the reader. As I progress from one panel to the next, I am struck by the energy and vision on display. These are very loopy characters, out of reality in an uncanny way and yet what they say rings true and sounds like the sort of kooky youthful insights and outbursts going on in very real taverns, night clubs, and shanty apartments. In other words, Hate shares all the characteristics of some of the very best that comics have to offer. Hate lampooned Seattle hipsterdom while also being a part of it. Not an easy thing to do unless you’re focused and persistent. And, perhaps most important of all, don’t take any of it too seriously to begin with.

The Complete Hate Box Set is available as of December 1, 2020. For more details, visit Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Wisconsin Funnies | Underground Comics | Alternative Press

The Bugle alternative weekly, circa 1975.

Interview with Denis Kitchen and James P. Danky

Get your own copy of the Wisconsin Funnies: Fifty Years of Comics exhibition catalogue. This fully illustrated 244-page catalogue features more than 150 comic illustrations by thirty-one renowned comic artists. Available at the MOWA Shop in West Bend, MOWA | DTN inside Saint Kate—The Arts Hotel or online right here.

Excerpt from Lynda Barry

The comics discussion continues. This time around I interview Denis Kitchen and James P. Danky, co-curators of the comics art show, Wisconsin Funnies: 50 Years of Comics, at the Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA), on view through January 10, 2021.  Of course, comics is an art form but we’re arguably still moving beyond old prejudice and misunderstanding. A show like Wisconsin Funnies helps to provide context and history in the study of comics. For example, while an underground comics are often associated with San Francisco, popularized by such leading figures as R. Crumb, a rich history of independent comics activity can be found in the midwest, specifically Wisconsin. Today, that hub of comics energy continues to percolate, led by such notable figures as Lynda Barry, winner of the the prestigious MacArthur Genius Foundation fellowship and an an associate professor of interdisciplinary creativity in the art department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Kings in Disguise, a graphic novel published by Kitchen Sink Press, by Dan Burr and James Vance.

During the course of our conversation, we touched on the unique difficulties that may arise in mounting a comics art show in a museum. I specifically suggested that Wisconsin Funnies could become a traveling show. That is actually an idea that has a history behind it. Both Danky and Kitchen, while certainly happy to indulge such an idea for this show, tend to think the focus is too regional. What would stop a curator in another state from favoring their own state over a showcase of Wisconsin comics? That said, Wisconsin natives Danky and Kitchen have led the way in putting together a most compelling show and set the bar high. You also have to factor in that a lot of the power and strength about this show is due to the fact it is made possible in large part by Denis Kitchen, a huge figure in comics. I factor in all the contributions that Denis Kitchen has made: his own comics, writing, journalism, publishing and promotion, his founding Kitchen Sink Press, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; and his work with so many leading figures in the business, including Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Scott McCloud, Stan Lee, and Alan Moore. It all adds up. Right alongside Kitchen is James P. Danky, a respected historian and authority on the alternative press. It was a pleasure to talk with both of these men. I also want to add to the credits for this show: associate curator J. Tyler Friedman and guest curator Paul Buhle.

Group Self-Portrait of the core group of midwestern cartoonists, circa 1971: Denis Kitchen, Don Glassford, Jay Lynch, Jim Mitchell, Wendel Pugh, Bruce Walthers, Skip Williamson.

Any worthwhile endeavor like a major art show is made up of many unique individuals. The story of this art show is the story of numerous high-spirited and hard-working artists. One of the highlights to this interview was getting a chance to explore the inner lives of these cartoonists by using a group self-portrait as a starting point. I am referring to the above work. Here you find the core group of cartoonists who Denis worked with: Don Glassford, Jay Lynch, Jim Mitchell, Wendel Pugh, Bruce Walthers, Skip Williamson. Some went on to professional careers while others moved in other directions. But, in that special moment in time, they were all making a little bit of history. Maybe they were too busy to ever acknowledge it at the time. That’s okay. The art is now on the walls and can speak for itself.

MOWA can be proud to have a show that celebrates Wisconsin’s rich and varied comics tradition. You will find a broad spectrum of content here, including underground comics, editorial cartoons, graphic novels, and even the state’s own superhero comic, Badger, by Jeff Butler!

Denis Kitchen, Henry Chamberlain, James P. Danky in conversation.

Get your own copy of the Wisconsin Funnies: Fifty Years of Comics exhibition catalogue. This fully illustrated 244-page catalogue features more than 150 comic illustrations by thirty-one renowned comic artists. Available at the MOWA Shop in West Bend, MOWA | DTN inside Saint Kate—The Arts Hotel or online right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comics Scholarship, Counterculture, Interviews, Museums

Comics Studies: WISCONSIN FUNNIES at Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA)

WISCONSIN FUNNIES at Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA)

Wisconsin Funnies. Catalogue edited by Terry Ann R. Neff. Exhibit co-curated by James P. Danky, J Tyler Friedman, and Denis Kitchen with contributions by Paul Buhle. Museum of Wisconsin Art. 2020, 248pp.

Get your own copy of the Wisconsin Funnies: Fifty Years of Comics exhibition catalogue. This fully illustrated 244-page catalogue features more than 150 comic illustrations by thirty-one renowned comic artists. Available at the MOWA Shop in West Bend, MOWA | DTN inside Saint Kate—The Arts Hotel or online right here.

The Real vs. The Ideal, ink on bristol, by Lynda Barry, 1989.

I have nursed a habit, that became a way of life, that became a saving grace. Specifically, for the purposes of this post, I am referring to my own lifelong work in the comics medium. Being a cartoonist really is something very special. It is something so special that all sorts of interested parties want to be part of the magic and that includes all sorts of academic types, galleries and museums. That is all to the good. Comics is still a relatively young medium in some respects so anything that spreads the word can’t be all that bad, right? Comics is an art form, owing so much to countless American contributions and around as far back as there’s been a United States, only now getting the sort of recognition it deserved all along. We can’t, nor should we, include every single shred of work ever made but we have a great bounty of examples to hold up as bona fide works of significance and value. The art show currently on view at MOWA (extended to January 9, 2021) is another step forward. Let’s take a close look at the museum catalogue.

Frank O. King’s Gasoline Alley, page from 1922.

It takes a historian’s perspective to look at Wisconsin and explain all the comics activity there as having a lot to do with Chicago. Well, it’s true. A hundred years ago, Chicago was a home for newspaper empires with a high demand for cartoonists. This is made abundantly clear in Paul Buhle’s essay to this catalog. If a young cartoonist wanted to make it big, a very good place to hone their talent would be in nearby Wisconsin. Keeping to a historian’s long view, we come to understand that comics got baked into Wisconsin bohemian culture. By the 1960s, it was so much a part of the local art scene’s DNA to make you think you were sipping wine and munching on croissants in Paris, where they embraced comics, the Ninth Art, with great fervor as opposed to your average American, especially a corn-fed citizen right in the heart of farms and honest working folk. All sorts of factors simply added up over time. For one thing, never underestimate a cartoonist’s need for peace and quiet. A more methodical pace can lead to a more cerebral and productive life. Wisconsin native Frank O. King, who made the big move to Chicago, showed the way with his deceptively simple comic strip honoring Americana, a comic strip which was also amazingly innovative, Gasoline Alley, which debuted in the Chicago Tribune in 1918. Take a look at the example above and you might see how this highly stylized format would have influenced another master of comics, Chris Ware. Along with King’s trailblazing work, add Sidney Smith (The Gumps), Claire Briggs (Casper Milquetoast), and Carl Anderson (Henry). For an in depth look, read Paul Buhle’s Comics in Wisconsin.

From Denis Kitchen, Star Reporter, 1972.

When you consider what gives a certain place its character, you must think about its guiding forces. One such consequential force of nature in Wisconsin is Denis Kitchen. This is the story of an enterprising young cartoonist who bought some farmland in Wisconsin and converted the barn into a comics studio. From here emerged Kitchen Sink Press, the legendary comics publisher. In 1973, Kitchen joined the back-to-the-land movement and converted a barn in Princeton, Wisconsin and all sorts of comics emerged, underground and mainstream alike. Kitchen was in a position to continue to grow as an artist himself as well as publish the work of other artists and help them out when he could.

From Buddha Crackers by Michael Newhall, 1977.

Michael Newhall, one of the indie cartoonists in the area, rented a space at the Kitchen barn for $50 a month or, given that he was perpetually cash-poor, would pay Kitchen with a work of art each month. While Kitchen would be the first to joke around about whether there truly existed an underground movement or if it was all just a bunch of hype, there was no doubt that numerous like-minded souls gravitated towards each other. For example, Kitchen includes in the MOWA show a portrait of some of the leading cohorts of that era: Denis Kitchen, Don Glassford, Jay Lynch, Jim Mitchell, Wendel Pugh, Bruce Walthers, and Skip Williamson. Of course, that is just one snapshot of some of the creative folk at the time. Other cartoonists that were part of the scene in one way or another included Peter Loft, Mark Morrison, Peter Poplaski, Trina Robbins, John Porcellino, Lynda Barry, and even R. Crumb. Plus many others. Since Denis Kitchen is also an art dealer and collector, he also includes in his collection the work of some of the all-time greats of past eras like Al Capp, Will Eisner, Will Elder, Ernie Bushmiller and Milton Caniff. All these names are part of this amazing show at MOWA.

A Short History of America, serigraph by R. Crumb, 1993.

The catalog for the show does a great job of presenting the subject of comics in both an insightful and irreverent way. One thing all of us art lovers can’t help but address is what is it that we really want to see. What will it be that compels the viewer to seek out the museum in the first place? While this or that movement will come and go, at the end of the day, the actual human being who is investing time and energy to view an art show will have a significant say in what works advance and, over time, are bestowed with greater legitimacy. It may not always be a work invested in identity. It may not always be a work of raw and simple quality. Or a work of realism.

From Kings in Disguise, script by James Vance, art by Dan Burr, 1988.

From Alice in Watergateland by Bill Sanders, 1974.

From Dreams by Leilani Hickerson, 2011.

From Wildcat Bill From Grizzle Hill by Marty Two Bulls Sr., 2013.

What it will be, one hopes and expects, is work that best represents the comics medium. That, of course, needs to be carefully considered by those in a position to keep the ball rolling. That said, by presenting as wide a variety of thoughtfully selected work, MOWA does a great service to comics. Now, getting back to the catalog, if you want not only a taste of some of the best comics from the last fifty years, but also a fascinating look at the counterculture over the years, then this is the book for you. For an exploration of a particularly notable zeitgeist, running from the late 1960s to early 1970s, turn to a  wonderful profile in the catalong of Denis Kitchen by James P. Danky. If there ever really was an underground comix scene, Denis Kitchen would certainly know.

The Bugle, cover art, ink on bristol by Dan Burr, 1975.

Danky follows the history of American underground newspapers, beginning in 1964, with a parallel narrative to Kitchen’s own career, starting with his leap into publishing in 1969 at the age of 23. Over the years, Kitchen became part of undergound comix history. In 1970, for example, R. Crumb invited Kitchen to publish his next comic, Home Grown Funnies. That title proved to be Kitchen’s all-time best-selling comic book, eventually totaling 160,000 copies. Among the landmark work that Kitchen published was some of the best graphic novel work by Will Eisner, including securing the rights to Eisner’s seminal work, A Contract with God. Kitchen would go on to develop The Bugle, his own contribution to underground newspapers. He would go on to other notable ventures, like his partnering with Stan Lee for Comix Book. The rest, as they say, is history–with much to share. For instance, much of the artwork for this art show comes from the collection of Denis Kitchen.

From Will Elder’s Goodman Beaver Meet S*perm*n, 1962.

So, with all the amazing achievements accomplished by cartoonists, why would any serious cartoonist who, by all rights, has created art, ever question whether they have truly created art? Because there are countless people who get in the way for countless reasons. Maybe their mother didn’t love them enough. For example, you have people from various other disciplines who suddenly lurch their way into the comics bandwagon. You have critics and academics who do it, not from sincere interest, but because it can seem like an easier way to gain attention and prestige. This results in more and more blathering from a pretentious echo chamber. No art form deserves this. Then there’s the more straightforward elitist prejudice against an art form from those in the establishment. The best example of this is the ongoing war between fine art painters and the artists who work in the comics medium, part of the larger highbrow vs. lowbrow war. Of course, hip painters are hip to hip comix, but I digress.

A typical comics blowhard. Excerpt from Chicago Sun-Times Sunday Magazine, by Jay Lynch, 1976.

And, by the way, if you think for a second that my referring to pseudo-intellectual blathering is just something I’m pulling out of thin air, I have news for you. It goes on all the time. Your typical review at The Comics Journal, for example, has perfected this posturing tone, a mix of hyperbole and odd use of language. And I’m really not sure for what purpose. It seems that many who aspire to something great get caught up in their own web of stilted expression. It brings to mind a scene in one of the comics on view at MOWA. It is an illustration by Jay Lynch for the Chicago Sun-Times Sunday Magazine, 1976. In one corner you see a pudgy middle-aged man wearing a cartoon wig. He is trying to impress a sexy woman in a Playboy bunny outfit. He drones on about his doctoral thesis on Ernie Bushmiller’s comic strip, Nancy. He states: “the basic tenets of Bushmiller’s cosmology are to 20th century man essentially what Manichaeism must have been to your typical Albigensian.” I can see that a work of profound beauty, like Nancy, can inspire someone to overreach with the most curious of prose. But does it help advance the cause of comics? I only drag The Comics Journal into this because I know these folks can take it. In fact, one might argue that the quirky attitude at The Comics Journal can be traced back to the subversive humor of cartoonist and editor Harvey Kurtzman, who is included in the MOWA show.

From You Had to Be There: George Mosse Finds Himself in History, art and text by Nick Thorkelson, 2014.

Getting back to the hi-lo wars, Photography had to run the gauntlet and prove itself a legitimate art form up against Painting. And, today, a lot of painters are intimidated and in awe of photography as well as video. For comics, it seems like there’s still a bit of a problem about making proper room for it at the great Art table. This is a problem that doesn’t have to exist if common sense were allowed to rear its ugly commoner’s head.

From One Flower Child’s Search for Love by Trina Robbins, 1972.

That brings us to this show currently on view at MOWA. I sincerely believe that the biggest obstacle to understanding comics in the United States (because I don’t believe this dysfunction really exists elsewhere) is a disingenuous notion that comics need to be on some “separate but equal” plane outside of other art forms; or comics require experts to explain how to properly read and appreciate it. No doubt, thoughtful discourse is welcome but a lot of it comes down to common sense too. Some work meets the highest of standards and some doesn’t even come close and has not earned a place of honor. Some comics are so simple it seems like any child could have made them. And some comics are highly sophisticated and unquestionably demonstrate the work of a master.

From King-Cat Comics and Stories #75 by John Porcellino, 2015.

At the end of the day, a comic can tell you a lot if you’re willing to simply share some time with it. The MOWA show is an excellent opportunity to spend some quality time with some exceptional comics.

Get your own copy of the Wisconsin Funnies: Fifty Years of Comics exhibition catalogue. This fully illustrated 244-page catalogue features more than 150 comic illustrations by thirty-one renowned comic artists. Available at the MOWA Shop in West Bend, MOWA | DTN inside Saint Kate—The Arts Hotel or online right here.

Kitchen Sink Press Headquarters, Princeton, Wisconsin, ink on bristol by R. Crumb, 1985.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Comics, Comix, Counterculture, Culture, Museums

Review: ‘California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas’ by Pénélope Bagieu

CALFORNIA DREAMIN' by Pénélope Bagieu

CALFORNIA DREAMIN’ by Pénélope Bagieu

NOTE: If you are heading out to Emerald City Comicon (March 2-5), be sure to stop by the First Second Books booth #1602 on the exhibit floor. There you can meet such fabulous talent as Pénélope Bagieu, the author of the book I am reviewing here:

What a truly delightful book I have to share with you: “California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas,” written and drawn by Pénélope Bagieu, published by First Second Books. This is quite a smooth read. It sort of feels like a film shot in one continuous take. The story seamlessly moves along at a quick and steady pace. I could not put down reading this unique life journey and read the 272-page graphic novel in one sitting. Cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu has channelled the one-of-a-kind Cass Elliot!

Page excerpt from CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

Page excerpt from CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

Part of what makes this book a page-turner is the highly engaging art. Bagieu has fun with brining Cass Elliot to life, from an insecure but highly precocious little girl to a defiant young woman and, finally, to a confident artist. It all began with a quirky family that adored music. Before there was a Mama Cass, and the legendary band of the Sixties, The Mamas & the Papas, there was little Ellen Cohen being tucked into bed while her dad recited the story of the eccentric singer, Florence Foster Jenkins.

Page excerpt from CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'

Page excerpt from CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

There is clearly a passion here for the subject that makes the narrative dance on the page. By the time we reach the point where Cass and her bandmates are crafting their first breakout hit, not yet even aware of the band they were destined to be, we feel that we really know everyone involved.

Page excerpt from CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'

Page excerpt from CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

I’ve often said that the right biography can make the best subject, and is most suitable, for a graphic novel. There is a wonderful opportunity to speak to everything under the sun, guided by a specific purpose, and allowing for at least a hint, maybe more, about the author. This is a book that will appeal to many a music lover and student of the counterculture. It is essentially an all-ages book but just keep in mind there are some discrete drug references more suitable for older readers. This is rock ‘n’ roll, after all. That said, it is highly recommended and will prove an engaging read on many levels: coming-of-age, rock history, and just a plain fun read.

When we think back to the Sixties, we inevitably associate the powerful music that grew from that tumultuous era. Folk music, springing forth from the 1950s and the Beat Generation, would give way to the Sixties and bolder and more audacious pop and rock. It was Cass Elliot, with her sublime singing, and overall exceptional musical talent, who would ride this new wave of music with a style all her own. Pénélope Bagieu’s graphic novel gives us a compelling look at the rise of this singular talent.

“California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas” is a 272-page hardcover, black & white with gray tone graphic novel, available as of March 7, 2017. For more details, and how to purchase, visit MacMillan Publishers right here.

Emerald City Comicon celebrating its 15th year!

Emerald City Comicon celebrating its 15th year!

And, if you are heading out to Emerald City Comicon (March 2-5), be sure to stop by at the First Second Books booth #1602 on the exhibit floor. This will be the place to meet authors, attend free signings and find giveaways of books, advance reader copies, and exclusive print posters.

Some of the authors First Second will be hosting include:

Gene Luen Yang (Reading Without Walls Program)
Penelope Bagieu (California Dreamin’)
Scott Westerfeld (Uglies, Leviathan, Spill Zone)
Nidhi Chanani (Pashmina)
Falynn Koch (Science Comics)
Mike Lawrence (Star Scouts)
Jessixa Bagley (Before I Leave, Boats for Papa, and Laundry Day)

First Second will also be hosting a number of panels, including one offsite at the Seattle Public Library:

Off-site event @ Seattle Public Library on (3/3) featuring Gene Yang, Scott Westerfeld, Box Brown, Penelope Bagieu, and Matt Loux, 7:00–8:30 pm, Microsoft Auditorium

Departing Neverland: In-Conversation with Five Fantastic YA Creators (3/3) featuring Scott Westerfeld, Nidhi Chanani, Natalie Riess, and Ashley Poston, 2:45-3:45 pm, WSCC 603

From the Screen to the Page… and Beyond (3/4) featuring Box Brown, Holly Conrad, Matt Loux, and Ben Blacker, 2:45-3:45 pm, WSCC 603

Mirrors & Windows: Reflecting Diversity (3/5) featuring Nidhi Chanani, Gene Luen Yang, Mike Lawrence, Ngozi Ukazu, and Jessixa Bagley, 12:00-1:00 pm, WSCC 603

Drawn That Way (3/5) featuring Penelope Bagieu, MK Reed, Nidhi Chanani, G. Willow Wilson, and Thi Bui, 3:45-4:45 pm, WSCC 603

If you’re into books and graphic novels, then First Second has something for you!

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Filed under Comics, Counterculture, Emerald City Comicon, First Second, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Seattle, The Sixties

Review: THE COMPLETE WIMMEN’S COMIX

The Complete Wimmen's Comix

The Complete Wimmen’s Comix

The sexual revolution. The war between the sexes. Just plain sex. It can get complicated, confusing, messy. In 1968, Robert Crumb and his merry men staked their claim to uninhibited expression in underground comix. Yeah, these guys had a few things to say. From their point of view, the establishment was totally out of whack and they had the antidote. Crumb would show us all, in his opinion, just how wild the id could run, no matter how offensive. A couple of years later, along comes Trina Robbins with another view, the view of the opposite sex, which proved a great counterbalance and reality check. For the first time, this groundbreaking work, from 1972 to 1992, is collected in “The Complete Wimmen’s Comix,” published by Fantagraphics Books.

The Complete Wimmen's Comix, published by Fantagraphics Books

The Complete Wimmen’s Comix, published by Fantagraphics Books

The topic of sex is endlessly fascinating, to be sure. What men like Robert Crumb seemed to envision was a “telling it like it is” approach. In similar fashion, Trina Robbins and her female compatriots were showing sex and related themes from a very different point of view, that of the opposite sex. Yes, there was more than one point of view! Who knew, right? Issues of abortion, male performance, and abandonment, had a voice within the pages of Wimmen’s Comix. While the groovy hippie guys may have thought they had it figured out, cartoonists like Lee Marrs demonstrated with great humor and insight that the groovy guys were just as likely to be ugly pigs as their buttoned-down mainstream male counterparts.

"All in a Day's Work" by Lee Marrs, 1972

“All in a Day’s Work” by Lee Marrs, 1972

From the first issue of Wimmen’s Comix, in 1972, there is “All in a Day’s Work” by Lee Marrs. A young woman enters the work force to find herself fending off abusive male co-workers and bosses. When she quits and starts a job at a co-op, the men turn out to be just as abusive. A few more twists and turns and the main character, an alter ego for Marrs, stands naked pleading, “What Can I Do?” In a piece nearly twenty years later, entitled, “Men & Women,” by Roberta Gregory, she sees a systemic problem. Gregory sees leading policy makers, both male and female, pollute the air with their own misinformation about men and women.

Roberta Gregory

“Men & Women” by Roberta Gregory, 1990

As Trina Robbins states in her introduction, the level of quality of comix from women steadily increased with the years. At first, there were only a few women cartoonists. Then, after the hiatus and subsequent return of the magazine in the ’80s, there were plenty of women cartoonists. And, now, it is a whole new world with more women cartoonists that ever before.

"Evolution" by Caryn Leschen, 1989

“Evolution” by Caryn Leschen, 1989

The roster of talent is breathtaking: Phoebe Gloeckner, Lynda Barry, Julie Doucet, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Caryn Leschen, Joyce Farmer, Alison Bechdel, Carol Tyler, Mary Fleener, and many more. In the end, these are great comics but they are also presenting a distinctive feminine viewpoint which makes all the difference. This collection is a must-read for students of the counterculture, women’s studies, and fans of great comix. It is a time capsule as well as a tribute to vital comics that retain their punch and relevance today.

"Mom Gets Sick" by Trina Robbins, 1991

“Mom Gets Sick” by Trina Robbins, 1991

The Complete Wimmen’s Comix is a two volume hardcover set, totaling 728 pages, black & white with some full color pages. For details, and how to purchase, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comix, Counterculture, Fantagraphics Books, Sex, trina robbins, Women

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery Celebrates 9th Anniversary: Cheech Wizard Show, Mark Bodé, Laura Knetzger, and More! Dec 12-13, 2015

Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery

Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, in Seattle, celebrates its 9th anniversary in wild style with the Cheech Wizard Show, Mark Bodé, Laura Knetzger, and more! A festive holiday gala takes place Saturday, December 12, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM marking the debut of Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me featuring a fabulous show of tributes to the alluring art of the late Vaughn Bodé and a rare reunion of his extended family.

Big-Book-of-Me-Vaughn-Bode

The very first comic strip of Cheech the Wizard was drawn by Vaughn Bodé on a series of notebook pages in 1957. As the legend goes, the famous underground character came to Bodé as he contemplated a can of chee-chee nuts. Cheech the Wizard would go on to become a big player in underground comix celebrating sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. He was a Pogo for a mature audience with a similar whimsical quality masking a subversive humor. Which leads us to Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me which collects the best work of Vaughn Bodé along with a cavalcade of extras. The forward is by his son, Mark, who has carried on the tradition with his own take on Cheech and his pals.

Laura Knetzger

And if the holiday gala weren’t enough on Saturday, you are welcome to return on Sunday for a book release party for Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys Volume I. That takes place from 1:00 to 3:00 PM.

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery is located in Georgetown at 1201 S. Vale St. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comix, Counterculture, Fantagraphics Books, Laura Knetzger, The Sixties, Underground Comics, Vaughn Bodē