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Underground Station | Bruce Sweeney | comic | book | column | Lollipop

Underground Station

by Bruce Sweeney

I've written my last article for anybody without the worldwide web. In "the olde days," I'd write, telephone, or otherwise badger the major and minor publishers for advance news and samples of underground or alternative comics. "Those days are gone forever, over a long time ago" --Steelye Dan. It's clear that I'm hitching a ride on the information highway just in time. All the publications, publishers, record producers, independent films, magazines and e-zine publishers exist within their own webpages. I've had a helluva time catching up, but I'm just about there.

One of the more interesting items that has come along is the French Qui a Puer de Robert Crumb? (Who's afraid of Robert Crumb?). I've heard that it's limited to 2000 copies, but maybe that's just the U.S. distribution. It's a 10"x10" combination of interviews with Crumb and his artwork. There are some dandy color reprints of Crumb's work and a few unpublished items as well. Further, the interview works rather well because it's recent and provides insights into Robert's current mindset. A tad specialized, but $24 pp from Jerry Prosser (PO Box 87952 Vancouver, WA 98687)

Every year in every genre something will surface in as large a country as this that will explode with talent and genius. It's no different in alternative comics. Major titles of the recent past include Speigelman's holocaust tale, Maus, Cruse's coming of gay age Stuck Rubber Baby, and Talbot's child abuse homage, One Bad Rat. Beyond superb execution and chops, these books push the boundaries by engaging in topics far beyond the humdrum.

This year, one title hard to beat will be Fantagraphic's (7563 Lake City Way NE Seattle, WA 98115) Once Upon a Town (Safe Area Gorazde) by Joe Sacco. This is a 240-page hardcover of Joe Sacco's impressions of the Serb-Croatian conflict of Bosnia. I haven't actually seen more than excerpts from the web page (www.fantagraphics.com), but it promises to be one of the most industrious applications of journalism applied to graphics in the last ten years. Jaxon, Talbot, Spain, and Rick Geary are the only people I know of who are currently hanging in this neighborhood, and Sacco's book has the potential for being the Big Book of 2000. Sacco's stark, grey reality brought to contemporary graphics is all the more rich in realism without a four-color presentation. As a general tip, this is priced around $24 pp if you chase it out through BN.com.

Certainly hot also is Word Play Productions' (1 Sutter St. S.F., CA 94104 www.word-play.com) Alice's Adventures in Underground, which is a predecessor to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. It's illustrated by Kim Deitch, but I'm not sure how much. The paperback will be $17.95. This follows an earlier project by Word Play where S. Clay Wilson illustrated Hans Christian Andersen and also the Grimm Bros. Further, Maxon Crumb (you guessed it...) illustrates Edgar Allan Poe. These are truly handsome books in the hardcover versions.

NBM (555 8th Ave. #1202 New York, NY 10018) has the fourth Rick Geary historical graphic available, the Fatal Bullet, which focuses on the assassination of President Garfield. Rick's Jack the Ripper was a highly acclaimed book two years ago. In the main, NBM focuses on European graphic artists, many of whom are indeed talented, but it's a flavor that I could never quite develop a taste for. Rick Geary is one of their few stateside representatives, and his historical graphic work continues to flourish.

...The April 2000 Gentlemen's Quarterly (now there's a competitor magazine!) referred to Jay Kennedy as "one of the most powerful men in comics." Jay assembled the famous Underground Price Guide in 1979. We knew ye when, Mr. Kennedy...

...Collector Eric Morey claims to have scored two CDs from France sporting handsome Robert Crumb covers, World Mussette and Blues Story, for $35. (Alain Toupin at la Seranne, info@seranne.com). Allegedly, these are great Crumb covers, but definitely the music-ethnic and folksy is an acquired taste.

Firebrand Books (141 The Commons, Ithaca, NY 14850) has the latest in their comical Lesbian series, Past Dykes to Watch Out For for $11.95. This is truly a very funny series.

Need a signed Police guitar for $2000? An original Bob Dylan Backstage Pass for $50? A Led Zeppelin Hall of Fame Poster for $15? I didn't think so, but Artrock (1155 Mission St. S.F., CA 94105 www.artrock.com) specializes in rock collectibles including books, posters, and instruments from the golden ages of '60s and '70s rock. This is a helluva catalogue. Tell me some of you wouldn't want a limited Sonic Youth poster for $65 or an Everclear poster signed by the artist for $35...

Top Shelf (PO Box 1282 Marietta, GA 30061) is a publisher in no need of a new name. Some new titles this year are Dear Julia by Brian Biggs and Under the Big Top. The former ($12.95) is a black and white fantasy about a man who believes he can fly, while the latter is a collection of independent artists with a broad span of talent and intent in their work. Further, Top Shelf has new titles such as Goodbye, Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson ($14.95) which is an inspiringly soft story about a mouse and a bug adrift at sea. It really uses that adventure as a metaphor for friendship, loss and courage. It's one of the finer Top Shelf productions.

I guess that Top Shelf is going to have Brit Eddie Campbell represent them this year at the San Diego Comic convention, and I hope to see them there, because I'm going for the first time in about 20 years. They deserve to receive broader recognition because they're getting a lot of raw, energetic, emerging artists out there and that's what its all about.

Less established but no less worthy is Joe Chiapetta's Silly Daddy #20 (2209 Northgate Ave N. Riverside, Il 60546) for $2.75. This guy keeps on coming. Lately, his comics have taken a more religious turn. If that's not your thing, OK, but it's Joe's and it's kind of interesting to see this independent artist move into a more deeply spiritual telling of his story.

Down the other end of the spectrum is Stripburger (Westhampton House, PMB 414, 167 Cherry St. Milford, CT 06460, $13.95). Originally edited in Slovenia (!), this is 160 pages of sex cartooning by 46 cartoonists from 13 countries. The only one that I recognize is Julie Doucet from Canada. OK, lotsa sex here, but I'm a tough critic. I find most porn to be too explicit and blatant to be suggestive, and suggestion is far more titillating than a drawing of someone's tits or ass. A woman who used to edit comics for Screw and was a devoted underground comics fan does the introduction.

Much of the artwork is pretty primitive, as if someone wanted to finish the strip before they came or something, but it doesn't touch me like that. Some of the material actually is executed in an interesting style (much isn't) and some of the material is provocative, imaginative or funny. This surprised me as being hip porn, if there is such a thing.

Well, stay tuned, troops. As I said, I'm heading out to the San Diego con this summer and I should be coming back refreshed, and up to speed as to what's around the corner.

. . .

It seldom fails... I no sooner get up to date with an article then something hot comes slipping into my mailbox. I'll indeed push to get this included because the item is really very good. Bughouse is by Steve Lafler and published by Top Shelf Productions (PO Box 1282 Marietta, GA 30061) for $14.95.

Steve Lafler has been around for twenty years on the fringes of successful comic production. He started out, like so many, self-publishing his own work about the time the second generation of alternative cartoonists got going. Since there wasn't the opportunity for them with the usual underground publishers, many of them either banded together in some amateur 'zines or cranked out their own comic product with little hope of selling a break-even amount.

Steve Lafler somehow caught on with enough to churn out seventeen copies of his highly-regarded Dogboy and then move on to his funky Buzzard. You have my permission to by-pass all that and go directly to Bughouse. This title is about bugs in the Be-bop '50s who're struggling through Music College and trying to break into jazz as players. Identical to our reality, Slim Watkins and Jimmy Watts have the same hurdles. Drugs are all too easy to obtain and sound judgement seems to be a rare collector's item. Sex and a wayward lifestyle are also real temptations. Sound familiar? That's because this "comic book" is rooted in reality with real issues facing, um, real bugs. This is a really sophisticated coming-of-age story that shows Steve Lafler at the top of his game giving us an animated story of how it certainly was -- and probably still is -- trying to cope with life's hurdles.

 


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