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Underground Station | comic | book | column | Lollipop
by Bruce Sweeney
Probably the most hilarious item coming out this season in the world of underground comics and related items is a related item. The super-cute statuette from www.bowendesigns.com that retails for $125 is a limited-issue 11" statue of a Robert Crumb fantasy titled Catholic School Girl. Now, Robert's weird fantasies have been with us for twenty-five years... He could just as easily do a statue of Angelfood McSpade, a huge Black woman of his fantasies, or the Chinese, teenaged Communist with the huge buns, or a version of his Lenore Goldberg, militant chick... All could be caricatures.
Catholic School Girl features a 5" skirt that would never be approved by the City of New York, let alone any Diocese ever to inhabit this planet. These statues are all functions of Robert's vivid and fertile imagination. Cool. This is a limited set of statuettes that Robert Crumb has authorized from his French abode for US marketing. Fine. Dig, however, the disclaimer on the box, which is also a pain in the ass because the collector has to preserve this boxed marketing as well as the damn statue. Cowardly printed on the bottom of the box as a disclaimer is the stu-pid (two syllables, gang) statement, "The Catholic School Girl' is an imaginary character from the mind of R. Crumb. It is based on a composite of female types and is in no way meant to depict a minor." No? Cut the shit. How many 24-year-old women do you know that are still enrolled in a Catholic school? Jesus, it's no big deal! Robert still recalls lust for the teenaged schoolgirls that carried their textbooks off to private Parochial school. It's not like that lust is even current, and even so, he's drawing it, not lingering around some French schoolyard.
My vote for best new book of the year is one that you can get through Bud Plant of Grass Valley, CA. It's Odds & Ends, published in Great Britain and the USA by Bloomsbury Publishing (Bloomsbury.com) for $35. It's a hardcover, about 300 pages, and well-designed by Dutch undergrounder, Joost Swarte. There's a lot of color in it and it focuses on those obscure tidbit assignments that Crumb has worked on over the years that suffered from light or nonexistent distribution. It's chock-full of unusual tidbits like obscure magazine covers, European oddities, and lost and forgotten trading cards and record covers that Crumb has done over the years that never saw real exposure.
The hottest book so far this year is Bryan Talbot's Heart of Empire, which is bound to be carried by Dark Horse in the US. His book is an intricately developed tale of an alternative universe with huge production standards, great paper, elaborate color presentations, and a dark, plausible tale of alternative history. It's not an easy sell in the US. It's a murky, somber work of alternative history adventure that falls outside the usual American reference. This is for freaks only, not garden-variety punk rockers or middle-of-the-road rock dullards. This is twisted, bright, material for the 1%ers, the oddballs who engage in strong technique, alternate stories, and off-the-path visuals. It ain't American, it ain't smut, but it's violent in parts and provocative as hell.
Sure to be nominated this year for best comic-related kinda book is Fantagraphics' Safe Area: Goradze by Joe Sacco, which is really a journalist-comic-reportage of the war zone of former Yugoslavia. The book "focuses on the Muslin-held enclave of Goradze, besieged by the Bosnian Serbs." Joe Sacco was there for a month, cut off from help, electricity and sanity. This is one of the finest hours of comicdom in years (240 pages, full color, $28.95 hardcover). Impress the shit out of that snobby grad student that you've been hitting on...
But the beat goes on. Malicious Resplendence: The Paintings of Robert Williams is 300 pages 12 x 12 for $49.95, which is a major commitment, but this guy's art has always been unbelievably visionary. It just has to be done and indulged in full color and they certainly didn't skimp on the paper stock.
Then again, one of the favorites of the Lollipop crew is Peter Bagge, whose Hate absolutely ruled the alternative comics. His character, Buddy, nailed the youth lifestyle of the '90s. In this follow-up, Buddy is road manger for a grunge band, Leonard & the Love Gods (120 pages, b&w, $12.95). Bagge is extremely gifted at chronicling youth of the '90s and getting the attitude and dialogue down straight.
Finally, God's Bosom and Other Stories by Jack Jackson shows where comics should be taken. "Jaxon" was one of the formative early undergrounders who started to drift into telling historical stories, just as Spain and Bryan Talbot have done. He tells the tale of the Alamo with real style and meticulously researched fact. Jaxon is a Texas historian blessed with very real style and capacities as an illustrator. The book recounts a shipwreck that took place in the 1500's on the Texas coast. Another story tells the unfortunate truth of the slaughter of an American Indian tribe, while another is the tale of the development of the Colt Revolver (136 pages, b&w, $14.95). Jaxon, like Spain, shows what terrific work can be done working just in black and white.
I often find NBMpulishing.com to be as dry as yesterday's toast in their presentation. Many of their selections don't work for me, coming off as "too European" or even stodgy. No biggee. Anyway, one of their regulars who always fascinates me is Rick Geary. Rick has established a sub-niche for himself in that he chronicles and illustrates famous Victorian-era killers and sensational murders (i.e. Jack the Ripper, the assassination of President Garfield, and the Lizzie Borden murders). The latest in his string of Victorian murder stories is The Mystery of Mary Rogers. This is the tale of a more obscure Victorian figure who was mysteriously murdered in New York in the mid-19th century. With his usual painstaking research and stylized pen and ink look, Rick Geary has executed another fresh and sensational mystery reportage (6 x 9, 80 pages, b&w, $15.95 hardcover, cheaper paperback available).
As I watched the "History of the Gun" on the History Channel, I identified one of the narrators as Bob "Boze" Bell, former underground cartoonist of the Honky Tonk Sue titles. He's now editor of the magazine True West. I wonder if he does any illustrations there. Bob, we hardly knew ye..
On my last trip to Las Vegas I decided to take in the personal art exhibit of Steve Martin, which was featured at the Bellagio. Steve Martin has amassed a terrific collection of some of the most varied of art material. He has stuff by Hockney , Lichtenstein, Picasso and (you guessed it) Crumb. The Lichtenstein alone would be hip enough, because Roy Lichtenstein portrayed comic book page art as fine art and pulled America closer towards accepting so-called pop art as full art. I was floored, though, to see the Weirdo #8 cover in Martin's personal collection. He states in his catalogue that "One look at his famous Keep on Trucking' drawing, with its exaggerated profiles of three characters strutting, and I realize that some of my own exaggerated body movements on stage in the late 1970s can be traced back to Crumb." Wow. Crumb gave us Martin's "wild and crazy guy."
WordPlay publications (1 Sutter #205 San Francisco, CA 94104) has limited editions of Alice's Adventures Underground for a new low of $36. This is underground cartoonist Kim Deitch illustrating Lewis Carroll's Alice of Through the Looking Glass fame. It's a hot combination because neither Lewis Carroll nor Kim Deitch are at all ordinary or untwisted creators.
I cannot get enough of Top Shelf Productions material (PO Box 1282 Marietta, GA 30061). Their work is always edgy and off-beat. It's often not quite underground, being occasionally sweetly innovative. Like Drawn and Quarterly of Canada, they seem to make room for individual items that are quirky and that are often pre-printed as fanzine or independent items first before being noticed by Top Shelf.
Worth noting is Big Clay Pot by Scott Mills, $12.95, which is a tale of a Japanese clay Pot illustrated with a Westerner's fascination for this Japanese cultural phenomenon. The other is volume one of the book The Collected Hutch Owen by Tom Hart for $14.95. This is a character that rails against the system, occasionally on target, often out of his tree. The creator comes out of a similar sensibility as Peter Bagge, daring to thrust a character at us that is right on the edge of sanity.
This just in...
One of my favorite charities has got to be the Comic Book Defense League, committed to protecting the right to publish without reprisal. For instance, a modest-league cartoonist Kieron Dwyer did a parody of the Starbucks logo replacing their slogan with "Consumer Whore." That's more of a swipe against blind consumerism than the corporation. Starbucks, in their spirit of fairness, sued the poor bastard, his website, and an ancillary comic that he produces. I urge you to visit www.cbidf.org. Starbucks is essentially trying to suppress what is primarily a facet of political cartooning.
Jim Blanchard is a Seattle-area occasional undergrounder who has a few titles being touted by Last Gasp comics. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and he has a lot of what he calls "fine-assed art books." They're not expensive either, running from $1 for Teat Warp, eight pages of misshapen women, to Bad Meat #3 a "sleazy, old-style underground comic with 32 pages" for $3.50 postpaid. Now, c'mon, gang, you're not going to let $3-5 separate you from what's hip, are you?
One of the funniest underground self-published items to come along in a long time is Petey & Pussy which is available directly from Fontanelle Press (438 Court St. #103 Brooklyn, NY 11231). It's $3.50 postpaid and it's an outrageous hoot. You might want to explore what else that they have at email@example.com. They declare that their products are "not for the faint of heart or lame of brain." Right on both counts!