“Fun City in Ba’dan” was published in Arcade, vol. 1, no. 4 in the winter of 1975. The story is an excerpt from William S. Burroughs’ then-novel-in-progress, Cities of the Red Nightand is illustrated by underground comix legend S. Clay Wilson. The front matter includes a portrait of Burroughs that doesn’t show up in the story.
When I was a kid one of the greatest small joys of my short existence was reading the comics page in the morning newspaper, an experience that seems and quite literally is of another century. I loved Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County,and The Far Side, but my favorite was Peanuts. While it’s not exactly the same as poring over the morning paper’s comics, I love to see Peanuts on this Day in my Twitter feed. So much has been written on Charles Schulz‘s genius, so I won’t wax more – I’ll just add that Charlie Brown’s strange defeated ever-reemerging optimism still brings me a weird dark hope.
I also continue to really dig Drew Lerman‘s Snake Creek series. Roy and Dav are perfect heroes for the 21st century, a new Vladimir and Estragon wandering through Weirdest Florida. Lerman publishes Snake Creek on Instagram. He collected the first few years of the strip in a volume that is now out of print. I hope he’ll reprint it and put out the latest strips in a paperback at some point soon.
Another artist I followed initially on a social media app (Tumblr) is Yvan Guillo, aka Samplerman. Samplerman’s collages initiate his audience into a new world of pop art surrealism where the Ben-Day dots of twentieth-century pulp transmute into a comic book you read in a dream when you were a kid. I picked up his 2021 book Anatomie Narrative (Ion Edition) and got lost in it again and again. The word narrative in the title asks the audience to understand story in a new way (or to take the title ironically, which I do not). The story here is pure aesthetics.
Another book I loved this year was Paul Kirchner‘sDope Rider: A Fistful of Delirium (Éditions Tanibis), which collects the Dope Rider revival published in High Times from 2015 to 2020 (Dope Rider‘s initial run was in the ’70s). Great art, great jokes, great goofy fun.
I also spent way too much of the little free time I have going through old issues of The East Village Other. The scans I pulled from JSTOR are difficult to read, but the graphics are really what interests me. Initially I was looking for comix by folks like Bernie Wrightson, Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, and Kim Deitch – but I also love all the old ads for weird albums, concerts, films, and books. A digital scan of an old, weird paper with its own weird comix isn’t exactly the same as having the paper in your hand. But it’s better than nothing.
I’ve been a fan of Drew Lerman’s strip Snake Creek for a few years now. Reviewing Lerman’s first collection (simply titled Snake Creek) in The Comics Journal, Brian Nicholson wrote that,
Looking at these strips, you’re looking at something that recalls George Herriman, Harvey Kurtzman, Robert Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Matt Groening, but also thinking: What if Stanley Elkin drew a comic strip?
What if Elkin drew a comic strip indeed?
Like Elkin, Lerman plays with a variety of voices and rhythms in his work. There’s a zaniness to the Snake Creek world, but also an almost-melancholy seriousness to it as well. His main characters are Dav and Roy. Roy is something of a would-be tortured artist; Roy his familiar/foil, a spritely interlocutor to bounce ideas off of. Like the swamp-dwellers of Walt Kelly’s seminal strip Pogo, there’s a real affection between the two characters that anchors the surreal plasticity of Lerman’s work in genuine emotion.
I got three Snake Creek comix last week and tried not to read them too quickly on Sunday afternoon. I needed to get the bad taste of a Serious Contemporary Novel out of my brain, and Detective! Double Digest did the trick. There are two stories here: Lerman’s “Cryonic Pain: A Snake Creek Mystery” and on the literal flipside, Pete Faecke’s “The Big Love Triangle” (which has a scuzzy punk noir vibe).
Lerman’s detective story is an existentialist affair—a goofing riff on the myth of Sisyphus and the burden of a consciousness constrained by mortality and time. It’s also full of verbal slapstick and surreal shenanigans.
Schtick is a mini-comic in full color compromised of five vignettes, each one a riff or routine rooted in vaudevillian humor and composed in an original vernacular. The longest of the pieces, “Herbit and Sheiler,” is an extended play on linguistic misunderstandings—good stuff.
“Head Trip” sees Dav and Roy trying to take Snake Creek’s most anguished character, Head on a Stone, on an adventure he can remember. Unable to move or communicate, but nevertheless burdened by consciousness, Head on a Stone is a tragic figure, a “pulsing node of dread,” as Dav puts it. Dav and Roy decide, in their wisely wisdom, to take the large rock seafaring. What follows is an ironic series of tragic-comic-tragic-etc. reversals of fortune (as well as some of Lerman’s most lyrical work to date with his strip). “Head Trip” is as linguistically loose and visually goofy as we might expect from anything set in the Snake Creek universe, and also achieves a level of poignancy we might not expect. Great stuff.
I am a huge fan of Paul Kirchner’s bold and witty comix. I fell in love with his cult strip The Bussome years back, and was thrilled when he revised the series with The Bus 2. Both volumes were published in handsome editions by the fine folks at Tanibis. The French publisher also released a retrospective collection of Kirchner’s work to date, the essential compendium Awaiting the Collapse. Tanibis also published the collectedHieronymus & Bosch, strip, another entry in the cartoonists explosive output in the twentyteens.
Now, Tanibis has published A Fistful of Delirium, the recent adventures of the resurrected hero Dope Rider. Kirchner’s Dope Rider is a mystical skeleton weedslinger, a philosophical wanderer prone to surreal transformation. Our cowboy rides again here via the full-page full-color strips Kirchner ran in High Times from 2015-2020. Here’s Tanibis’s blurb:
Dope Rider is back in town! After a 30-year hiatus, Paul Kirchner brought back to life the iconic bony stoner whose first adventures were a staple of the psychedelic counter-culture magazine High Times in the 1970s.
The stories collected in this book appeared in High Times between January 2015 and May 2020. Despite the years, Dope Rider has stayed essentially the same, still smoking his ever-present joint, getting high and chasing metaphysical dragons through whimsical realities in meticulously illustrated and colorful one-page adventures. Fans of the original Dope Rider comics will still find the bold graphical innovations, dubious puns and wild dreamscapes inspired by classical painting and western movies that were some of Dope Rider’s trademark.
This time though, Kirchner draws from a much larger panel of influences, including modern pop – and pot – culture (lines and characters from Star Wars as well as references to Denver as the US weed capital can be found here and there) and a wider range of artistic references, from Alice in Wonderland to 2001, A Space Odyssey to Ed Roth’s Kustom Kulture. Native American culture and mythology, only hinted at in the classic adventures, is also much more present in the form of Chief, one of Dope Rider’s new sidekicks. Kirchner’s playful, tongue-in-cheek humor binds together all these influences into stories that mock both the mundane and the nonsensical alike.
A week or so ago, Mike McCubbins offered me a review copy of Anasazi, the graphic novel that he made with Matt Bryan. He sent a link to the Anasazi’s Kickstarter page. I skimmed over the art, was impressed and immediately interested, and then read their blurb:
Anasazi is a nearly wordless 212 page, 8″ x 8.5″ full-color cloth-bound graphic novel. Its a story of war, assimilation, and cultural divisions on a colorful alien planet that combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, mythology, world history, and horror.
…16 chapters. 16 words. There is no English dialogue or exposition in Anasazi. Instead each chapter heading contains an alien language glyph along with a non-English word or phrase meaning and its literal English translation. These glyphs then appear as dialogue throughout the story.
The art, overview, and the concept of a story told in glyphs intrigued me, and I trusted my intuition not to read the brief “What’s the story?” section of Anasazi until after I’d read the novel. I read it twice; once the night it showed up, and then again the next morning. The story synopsis (three short sentences) hardly spoils the narrative, but it offers enough context for anyone wholly lost to find their footing.
The joy of Anasazi is sinking into its rich, alien world, sussing out meaning from image, color, and glyphs. The novel has its own grammar. Bryan and McCubbins conjure a world reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian novels, Charles Burns’ Last Look trilogy, Kipling’s Mowgli stories, as well as the fantasies of Jean Giraud.
The sixteen English words in Anasazi are all chapter names, and all are loan words, as the novel’s title suggests. Some (“M’Aidez,” “Sheol,” “Melaina Chole”) were more familiar to me than others (“Zinduka,” “Gweilo,” “Shuv”), and all take on a strange tone in the novel, as if the glyphs the characters speak are rough transliterations of something far more refined than our alien ears could comprehend.
I really enjoyed Anasazi, and I aim to have a full review soon. But I plan to read it a few more times first.