Sobering, eh?


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Well, Frank was certainly up early this morning. I also worshiped “The Studio” as a teenager. It was, for me, my first encounter with “art” that I took to be accessible and somehow applicable to me. Oh lord, looking back on it now it seems so silly. I’d feel much much worse about this if Gary Groth didn’t feel the same way when he was that age. Anyhow, the appeal of that stuff was to see somewhat baroque, overripe illustration in fine art trappings. It’s ironic, of course, because the illustration they were referring to was, by the 70s, eclipsed by Push Pin, Brad Holland and the like. The Studio was, if anything, thoroughly anachronistic. But charmingly so. And, in their avid production of portfolios, prints, and assorted “fine art” ephemera, unique for those days. In a way, they anticipated the Juxtapoz-ish illustrators-making-bad-fine-art gang. Another point of interest is that, with the exception of BWS, all of those guys contributed comics to Gothic Blimp Works or The East Village Other, their pages sitting next to work by Deitch, Trina, Crumb, etc. It’s funny to think of a time when those worlds (fantasy and underground) mixed. This was perhaps helped along a bit by someone like Wally Wood, who straddled both sides of the fence, albeit briefly. Then it splintered a bit, with guys like Richard Corben occupying their own niche in the underground scene, in opposition to Crumb, Griffith, et al, who disdained the EC-influenced genre material. In a way, what guys like CF and Chippendale are doing now is related to those early efforts at underground fantasy comics, except coming from a very different mentality.

Also, I think Tim is right that Crumb was the first to make fun of the dainty falling leaf-as-signifier-of-meaning.

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14 Responses to “Sobering, eh?”
  1. T Hodler says:

    I wonder what/who Crumb was parodying, exactly. Clearly, that beatknik dude on the Arcade cover wasn’t meant to be Frank King. Probably just generic Village-style poets, I guess, though maybe there were cartoonists doing that kind of thing at the time who I’ve forgotten about.

    I also wonder if King was the guy who actually established the falling-leaf convention in the first place. It seems fairly obvious in retrospect, but someone had to think it up.

  2. Dan Nadel says:

    Yeah, I dunno. I guess maybe Crumb was parodying a general sense of profundity or something. As for King…I dunno. I would imagine that might be the case, as there were few other “quiet” cartoonists before him. Jeet might know. What blog were you referring to in regards to Jeet’s thoughts on Schulz?

  3. T Hodler says:

    He participates in a group blog called “sans everything”. It’s mostly not about comics, and I’ve only been reading it for a few weeks, but it’s been good so far:

  4. Patrick says:

    The irony to me is that I don’t think the image is much of a parody at all. Look again, without the words — it’s beautifully drawn, quite evocative, and even (yes!) poetic. I’m inclined to think the beatnik is a self-mocking stand-in for Crumb himself.

  5. T Hodler says:

    Hey Patrick —

    Yes, I definitely think it works on the level you’re talking about, too. Crumb is good!

  6. Frank Santoro says:

    More Corben! Do the “kids” today even know who he is?

  7. Anonymous says:

    About the falling leaf — here is how the genealogy works: Frank King influenced Schulz (who had Linus pining over a falling leaf in some late 1950s strips); Schulz in turn influenced Feiffer (I’m pretty sure he did the falling leaf bit); and Feiffer influenced Crumb (I think that’s why the Beatnik is there: Feiffer’s cartoons in the Village Voice are the prototypical example of vernacular Beatnik culture).

    About Wrightson, Corben, etc. One thing to keep in mind is that the counterculture had a huge fantasy and science fiction element: Lord of the Rings became a best-seller because of the hippies. Stranger in a Strange Land and the works of Kurt Vonnegut were also hippy favorites. I think the appeal of Fantasy and Sci-Fi came from their utopean/satiric dimension: they allowed people to dream of an alternative world. Also the inherent psychedelic dimensions of fantasy. (It’s hard to remember this but even Art Spiegelman was a fan of Philip K. Dick in the early 1970s). It wasn’t till the early 1970s that you had a split between the more hard-edged satiric and reality based cartoonists (Crumb, Griffith, Spiegelman) and the fantasy boys (Corben, Greg Irons, etc). Even then, there were guys who had a feet in both camps: Jack Jackson, and Spain.

    The “Studio” aesthetic had a real impact in Canada as well: see the early issues of Dave Sim’s Cerebus. And The Beguiling, according to once press account got its name because the original owners “admired The Beguiling of Merlin, a depiction of an Arthurian legend by Edward Burne-Jones, the renowned pre-Raphaelite painter in 19th-century England.” They knew about Burne-Jones probably from Barry Windsor-Smith. Jeet

  8. Dan Nadel says:

    Yes, fantasy was always a big party of hippy culture. Thankfully. There was the LOR fascination, not to mention Dr. Strange, Heinlein and lots of other groovy utopian stuff. Drugs and fantasy stuff really mix nicely. The 70s, as Jeet rightly notes, is where the split happens. Griffith famously wrote a screed (which I can’t locate right now — help!) criticizing the E.C. influenced cartoonists like Corben–the pretty much solidified the split except for, as noted, Spain and Jaxon, who kinda can’t get no respect from either camp, I suspect. Arcade is a great example of the split, as it pursued literary quality but didn’t forget the fun stuff too. I learned a lot of my early illustration history from The Studio, much to my chagrin. There’s an entire (wonderful) book called the Flights of Icarus put out in the 70s by Dragons Dreams (great company name) that compiles a lot of the groovy 70s sci-fi art in all its cheesy glory. Worth a look.

  9. T Hodler says:

    Thanks, Jeet! Feiffer! That all sounds plausible/correct to me.

    And of course, Spiegelman remained a fan of Philip K. Dick, or at least he was as recently as the 1989 Lawrence Sutin biography, which he blurbed. And Crumb did “The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick” in Weirdo in ’86. Dick’s counter-cultural appeal lingered and grew more than your average science fiction writer’s did, though (certainly more than Heinlein’s anyway, whose politics grew less palatable), and your analysis of the split seems right on to me. The Griffith essay on Corben (which I have only heard about, but never read) probably plays a big role in all of this.

    From now on, I think we should include the phrase “Jeet might know” as often as possible.

    [Dan posted his comment while I was writing this, but I’ll put it up anyway.]

  10. Anonymous says:

    The Griffith essay decrying EC comics can be found either in 1) a very early issue of Blab (maybe #3 or 4) or (more likely) the issue of the Comics Journal with the big Bill Griffith’s interiew (#157).

    More on the overlap between druggy SF/Fantasy and underground comics: Jim Starlin, Jack Katz’s The First Kingdom, 1970s Heavy Metal, Elf Quest. You can even see some of these influences in the early Love and Rockets (especially Heavy Metal). I think it’s generally true that as comics matured, they left this SF/fantasy element behind. Again, the Hernadez bros. are a good example of this. Jeet

  11. Dan Nadel says:

    Well now we’re just talking to ourselves, but to continue, I just pulled out Graphic Story Magazine #9, Summer 1968. GSM was a great magazine about comics by Bill Spicer. It’s a forerunner to Comic Art, in a way, in its emphasis on long historical articles and the like. This issue’s letter column has such tasty treats as a very long letter from Charles Biro as well as letters from Archie Goodwin and Jeff Jones, not to mention a long letter from Richard Kyle about the state of Jesse Marsh’s eyesight during his last six issues of Tarzan. I live for this stuff. ANYHOW, also included is a lengthy fantasy story by George Metzger, a semi-forgotten “intellectual” fantasy cartoonist beloved at the time. It is funny how quickly the fantasy stuff was purged from “serious” comics in the 80s and onwards. I’m glad it’s returning, or at least it is in my company. More loin clothes, please.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I think the purging of fantasy in the 1980s might have been necessary because of all the cheesy connotations of that art: drugginess and elves and dungeons and dragons. I think it was Dan Clowes who said he couldn’t read Elfquest for two reasons: the elves and the word “quest.” Now that we’re far enough away from it, I think the element of fantasy can return without its embarassing aura.

    Yes, Metzger has been ignored. Part of the problem is that the triumph of the Zap/Arcade group means our whole sense of underground comics is skewed. There are a lot of itneresting artist from circa 1963 to 1978 who were part of the underground scene and are now forgotten. Perhaps a topic for another book by Dan? Jeet

  13. Jamie Salomon says:

    Although he had no truck with them artistically, Crumb didn’t share Griffith’s & Spiegelman’s disdain of the Skull/Slow Death/EC homage wing of underground comix. As late as 1975 he spoke approvingly of all that stuff, even going so far as defending Corben against an interviewer’s disparaging remarks. Not that he gave the impression that he thought they were actually good or that he enjoyed reading them, but his admiration stemmed from a pan-comix-as-diy thing where he liked seeing the whole panopoly of styles that emerged from ug comix.

    In his last giant interview with the Journal, Spiegelman reiterated his ongoing passion for PK Dick.

  14. Inkstuds says:

    Hey Guys, can I throw in a name. S. Clay Wilson work definitely has massive influence from horror comics, while still firmly entrenched in the underground scene. I would also suggest to keep in mind, the work of Vancouver’s own, Rand Holmes. His stuff is a beautiful horrific world, very influenced by Wally Wood. It would be interesting to get Patrick Rosenkranz’s take on things. He is wealth of knowledge.

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