Tag Archives: San Francisco

Review: THE BOOK OF WEIRDO, published by Last Gasp Books

The Book of Weirdo

Yes, Virginia, We Do Have Alternative Comics!

With all due respect to any comics scholars who might in the least have any problem with the term, “alternative comics,” let me direct you to a close reading of a new book that covers this very subject and then some, The Book of Weirdo, edited by Jon B. Cooke, and published by Last Gasp Books. Now, if I’d been a precocious and enterprising enough youngster, I might have very well have hopped on the Weirdo bandwagon early on and had my own comics appear within their pages but it was a little bit before my time. That said, what sprung, or solidified, from that time of production (1981 – 1993) is what has been, and continues to be and always will be, known as alternative comics. Alternative to what? Well, obviously, an alternative to the typical mainstream superhero genre just as underground comix was an alternative in the sixties and Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD magazine was an alternative in the early fifties. Today, to simply say, “alternative comics,” remains incredibly useful in navigating the vast comics landscape. Think of it as the distinction between a fine artist (indie cartoonist) and an illustrator (business-oriented/corporate). An artist can travel to both worlds but, don’t forget, that means there are two distinct worlds. Alright then, now let’s take a deep dive into the pages of The Book of Weirdo.

Peter Bagge

What first comes to mind about this book is the familiar format of a yearbook or an in depth documentary. The idea here is to collect and document and interview as much as possible. Cooke has extended interviews with all the major players including founder and editor Robert Crumb and his successor, Peter Bagge. Cooke also has profiles and interviews with just about everyone who ever contributed to the magazine with such notable figures as Dennis Eichhorn, Frank Stack, Pat Moriarity, and Michael Dougan. In fact, I am quite familiar with Mr. Cooke’s methods as I did get to contribute some comics to another of his projects, a tribute to Will Eisner for Comic Book Artist back in 2005. So, what you end up getting in one of these Jon B. Cooke tributes is a treasure trove of observations and a storehouse of information. That all proves essential as we track the journey of Weirdo from San Francisco to Seattle. Once Peter Bagge took over as editor, he took operations up to Seattle, which resulted in some extraordinary comics cross-polination that continues to reverberate to this very day. It has contributed to a hotbed of alt-comics activity in Seattle that connects everything from Fantagraphics to the Dune cartoonist gatherings to the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival.

Alternative Comics – The Seattle Connection

Ironically, given all the time and effort that Mr. Cooke has put into this tribute, he doesn’t always get the most fully cooperative interview subjects, with his main subject, Robert Crumb often proving to be the most contrarian person to interview. But that’s what everyone loves about Crumb, right? He’s not an easy person to pigeonhole. He’s not smooth as silk with slick answers. The beauty of what Cooke does is to keep asking questions and remain open to the answers. That brings me back to the notion of more fully understanding what alternative comics are about. I bring this subject up a lot and I find that, ultimately, alternative comics are alive and well and they emerged from what underground comix set in motion. This is clearly something that fascinates Cooke too and he goes about unpacking the subject as much as he can in this book. For example, he poses the question to Crumb. He asks, “Do you see Weirdo as having helped to launch the alternative comics that came after it?” To which Crumb, at first put off, ends up giving an interesting answer: “I don’t know. Again, it’s a rhetorical question. It’s hard to say whether that would have happened anyway. To me, it was going to happen one way or the other, whether I was there or not, alternative comics was an inevitable thing, y’know? It’s such a part of American culture and comics, and then, all these people who grew up with comics, they were bound to start producing some kind of…And also, as comics lost their importance as a kid’s medium, being replaced by electronic media like TV and video games and all that stuff, it became more of an art medium of self-expression. It was inevitable.”

R. Crumb

So, to be clear, I am telling you that alternative comics are a very real thing. Anyone who is tentative about it is somehow missing the big picture. And, again, I say this with all due respect. Certain folks go into comics and graphic novels these days as more of a stripped-down strategy to succeed in a corporate career. Other folks go into comics and graphic novels solely to explore the possibility of the art form. Those are two very, very, very distinct worlds. And, yes, there is overlap. Some alternative cartoonists manage to crossover to mainstream work. But that certainly doesn’t negate the fact that they come from the alt-comics world. It’s a whole way of looking at comics as art. Now, Weirdo was definitely part of that in its own particular way. At the very same time that Weirdo was active, there was also RAW magazine run by Art Spiegelman and his wife, Françoise Mouly. Here’s where it gets very interesting and sort of funny. Crumb was like Groucho Marx or Woody Allen when it came to preferring straightforward plain speaking. For Crumb, RAW took itself way too seriously. Both Weirdo and RAW were covering similar ground and, in fact, shared some of the same cartoonists. While RAW positioned itself as an art journal, Weirdo was more unabashed and irreverent. A little behind-the-scenes feud was brewing after Spiegelman made some disparaging remark about Weirdo. Crumb had hoped to bring it out into the open and even pursue a mock feud but Speigelman would have nothing to do with it. Whatever their differences, both RAW and Weirdo contributed to the alternative comics scene that continues onward in numerous anthologies, more than at any other time, including Kramers Ergot. While Crumb, himself, might shrug it off, Weirdo can be included as one of the landmarks along the way to today’s alt-comics.

Ron Turner and Last Gasp

The Book of Weirdo is a stunningly beautiful book, an essential guide to understanding the various veins connecting underground comix and today’s burgeoning alternative comics.

The Book of Weirdo: A Retrospective of R. Crumb’s Legendary Humor Comics Anthology, is a beautiful 288-page hardcover, fully illustrated, available as of May 1, 2019, published by Last Gasp Books.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Art Spiegelman, Comics, Comix, Comix Scene, Last Gasp, Robert Crumb, Underground Comics, Underground Comix, Weirdo magazine

Review: ‘Herbert Marcuse, Philosopher of Utopia: A Graphic Biography’

All too often, we are susceptible to allowing ourselves to be cogs in a machine. The ever-expanding technological age has no mercy. It is up to the individual to avoid becoming one dimensional. These are ideas that we don’t necessarily think about enough while, at the same time, we find ourselves confronting them on a daily basis. If you’ve fancied becoming more in tune with philosophical discourse, and would really appreciate a way in that is highly relevant and accessible, then turn your attention to the new graphic novel, Herbert Marcuse, Philosopher of Utopia: A Graphic Biography, by author/illustrator, Nick Thorkelson, published by City Lights.

The Swine of 117th Street

There have been a number of comics adaptations of subjects that would seem not to lend themselves to being broken down into the comics medium. However, the truth is that comics is uniquely equipped to take the complex and make it concise. In this case, Nick Thorkelson has crafted quite an engaging book based on the life and work of one of the great philosophers of the modern era, Herbert Marcuse. It is Marcuse who serves as a vehicle to hang a number of challenging and eternal questions dating back to Aristotle: What is our role in life? What are our expectations in life? What makes up a good and purposeful life? And once the questions are asked, who has the answers? Descartes? Marx? Heidegger? Marcuse?

The Reluctant Guru

We follow the young Marcuse as he goes from fighting in the First World War to finding his way among German intellectuals to developing his own philosophy with the help of mentors like Martin Heidegger. But, after Heidegger swears his allegiance to the Nazi Party, Marcuse moves on and, in 1933, finds his way to Columbia University in New York City. The Social Democratic Party, once the hope of a new Germany, had been forced aside by the Nazis Party which had made numerous false promises and had pushed its way into power. Fast forward to the present, we may ask ourselves: Are we headed into a similar abyss? Have we already entered a dark period with some parallels to Nazi Germany? In a very even-tempered way, Mr. Thorkelson is clearly suggesting that, yes, a cycle is repeating itself. But hope is not lost. A way out can be found in the soul-searching work of Herbert Marcuse. Basically, it is up to the individual to demand a better life. And, by and by, Herbert Marcuse found himself in the thick of the fight right alongside the student protests of the sixties.

History has a way of repeating itself.

Over time, Herbert Marcuse established himself as a leading voice within philosophical and activist circles. That voice can still be heard today and must be heard today. With a sense of great timing, Nick Thorkelson brings to the reader an essential and inspiring guide to one of our great thinkers. On each page, from one panel to the next, Mr. Thorkelson has condensed various bits of information into a seamless presentation that is easy on the eyes, both engaging and highly informative. The whole book is a delight as it is clearly organized and designed with a keen sense of style. Thorkelson’s cartoons are highly sophisticated and such a pleasure to behold in their own right. You can say that the artwork expresses the Marcuse joie de vivre quite fittingly.

Step by Step

Herbert Marcuse, Philosopher of Utopia is a 128-page trade paperback in duotone, available now, published by City Lights.

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Filed under City Lights Publishers, Columbia University, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Herbert Marcuse, Nick Thorkelson, philosophy, politics

Interview: Mike Capozzola and ‘Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters!’

Mike Capozzola and “Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters!”

Mike Capozzola is a unique hybrid, a cartoonist and a stand-up comedian. He’s a professional in both for over 20 years. In fact, the two passions are inextricably linked. I enjoyed his set this last Saturday at Seattle’s Comedy Underground. Mike is based out of San Francisco and maintains a busy schedule so it was a real treat to get to catch his act while he was in town. I asked him about his process, specifically about a bit where he describes weird yet appealing movie scenarios, ending each description with, “Yeah, I’d see that.” I came to find out that this movie routine originated as a drawn-out cartoon. The concept as a cartoon did not seem to work. But, when he performed the material on stage, Mike found what he was looking for.

Mike kicked off his first night at Comedy Underground with his ongoing pop culture extravaganza, Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters. This is a multimedia show featuring all the things that us geeks enjoy: sci-fi, superheroes, and monsters. As Mike said during our talk, geek culture is everywhere today but it was a hard-won identity for kids growing up in the ’70s and ’80s. It wasn’t so cool to be a geek back then. That said, we can all freely celebrate being a geek now, like we kids from yesteryear could only dream of.

Mike Capozzola at the Comedy Underground in Seattle

The last time I had one of these free-for-all chats with Mike, I offered up the topic of leaf blowers. He had no problem with them. I took the opposing view. Sure, it’s an honest job but, to my mind, the art of leaf blowing can be overdone. I contend that rakes make for a sensible and quiet alternative for much of these tasks. Anyway, I tried a different tack this time and brought to the table the intrinsic character of Seattle. Given that it’s my hometown, I felt it fair for me to say that there’s some truth to stereotypes regarding a certain coolness and reserve to the natives. Capozzola, based upon is observations, took the opposing view.

Is Seattle Sweet, Bitter, or Just Right? That’s what I’d call our lighthearted search for Seattle’s soul. Overall, I think that my friend here was picking up some strong frontier vibes. And I can’t deny him that joy. Seattle does offer the comforts of urban living in close proximity to an abundance of natural wonder. Mike wanted to take the more sunny view of things too. And it was challenging for me to pursue my case that Seattle is too prim and proper while we were chatting outside in Pioneer Square, hands down the rowdiest part of town. Ongoing hijinks near us just played into Mike’s hands.

We had time to dissect a few other things too, namely Trump. Mike had this to say: “The day after the election, so many people felt defeated. Many thought they could turn to art. For comedians, this meant war. I remember Trump for the last thirty years as being treated as a punchline by the tri-state area media. To see it come to this is wild. It’s like the local screw-up, or Ronald McDonald, or a sled has suddenly become president. He’s given voice to a fringe element in the same way that you’d unlock a mystical box and unleash an ancient curse.” That, my friends, says it all. We chatted about how those of us in the Gen X demographic feel unfairly sandwiched between the mighty Baby Boomers and the Millennials. We were misfits to begin with so it figures. And we decried the overall lowering or lack of standards we live with today. Maybe America deserves a pro wrestler or Mark Wahlberg as their next president.

Contact Mike Capozzola with any questions, such as doing commissioned work or presenting his Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters show, at his website right here.

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Filed under Comedians, Comedy, Comedy Underground, Comics, Donald Trump, Geeks, Mike Capozzola, Monsters, pop culture, Seattle, Stand-up Comedy, Superheroes

Interview: Mike Capozzola, Stand-Up Comedian and Published Cartoonist (See him at Seattle Comedy Underground June 14, 2015)

Mike-Capozzola-Spock-Star-Trek

Mike Capozzola is a San Francisco stand-up comedian and published cartoonist. He’s very funny and thoughtful and a great guy to chat with about pop culture. He’ll be in my hometown, Seattle, to perform at the Comedy Underground on Sunday, June 14th. This is a perfect time to check out one of the most distinctive and cool comedy venues in the country.

Capozzola will perform his multimedia comedy show about sci-fi films, secret agents, werewolves, and superheroes. It’s called “Emperor Ming’s Mercilessly Spicy Wings and Other Tales.” You can find more details right here.

Emperor Ming-Mike-Capozzola

Corporations that have jumped on the geek bandwagon are not your friends. Heck, corporations aren’t even actually people. And the people who run these corporations don’t care, or begin to understand, what the term “geek” means. But folks like Mike Capozzola do get it. His show revolves around a natural love for geeky stuff.

Mike-Capozzola-Stand-Up-Comedy-Cartoonist

Amid his wide spectrum of work, what shines through is a relentless pursuit of offbeat humor. We chat here about what exactly the title of his show is all about and end up discussing pop culture in a significant way. We weren’t afraid to pull back the curtain and comment upon the brazen highjacking of the idea of being authentic, or “geek,” by commercial interests.

Michael-Capozzola-Harold-Lloyd

Byway of discussing the title for his show in this interview, Capozzola shared his love for the webcomic, “The Perry Bible Fellowship” by Nicholas Gurewitch. In relation to Capozzola’s obscure reference to Emperor Ming, he cites Gurewitch’s story, “The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories,” where the good colonel appears in only a couple of panels. Now that’s some good geek street cred!

You can listen to the interview right below:

So, if you’re in Seattle, be sure to see Mike Capozzola at the Comedy Underground on Sunday, June 14. And visit Mike at his site right here.

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Filed under cartoon, Cartoon Art Museum, Cartooning, Cartoonists, Cartoons, Comedy, Comedy Underground, Comics, Humor, Mike Capozzola, Pike Place Market, Seattle, Stand-up Comedy