“Clusterfux Comix” Proves The Underground Ain’t Dead Yet

Violence! Depravity! Sacrilege! Perversion! All played for prurient and juvenile laughs! Par for the course in, say, 1969, sure — but in 2021? Not really so much.

By and large comics are either classy, formulaic, or both now — on the one hand we’ve got the high-brow releases from respected, dare I say institutional, independent publishers, while on the other we’ve got both the staid, editorially-managed offerings of the “Big Two,” which primarily seek to protect the brand identity of their so-called “IP,” and the creator-driven wares of your Images and your Dark Horses that aspire to become the next profitable “IP.” In between, well — there’s a whole lot, actually, but not a lot of that “whole lot” openly takes its cues from the spirit, if not the actual aesthetic, of the late 1960s/early 1970s underground. Maybe the medium has simply grown up, or maybe the backlash against cartoonists such as Johnny Ryan who have picked up that gauntlet has become so severe that other artists who might aspire to do work in at least a tonally similar vein have decided to do something else (say, something that might actually pay the bills) instead. Whatever the case may be, while there’s a shitload of variety in comics these days — perhaps more than there ever has been — there’s not a ton of stuff coming out that I wouldn’t feel comfortable showing to just about anybody.

Enter editor/publisher Cameron Hatheway, whose Clusterfux Comix seeks to redress the balance, at least to the extent that a relatively obscure (and I mean that as a compliment) “neo-underground” anthology can. This, friends, is indeed stuff I wouldn’t feel comfortable showing to just about anybody, and while I’d be lying if I said I found the contents of its first three issues to be uniformly impressive, that’s okay, because these magazine-sized comics aren’t uniformly anything — and that’s what makes them exciting.

Monstrosities of the real and decidedly unreal nature populate these pages, and while much of the cartooning fits somewhere along a broadly-delineated spectrum of amateurishness, there’s no mistaking the energy and vitality that goes into most of these strips, be they by reasonably-established names in the small press community such as Isaac Roller and Adam Yeater, or relative newcomers to the so-called “scene” such as Miguel Elias Aguilar or Hannah FitzGerald (which I take to be a sort of “okay, yeah, I get it” nom de plume). No one here is fucking around, which is good, but no one gives a fuck, either, which is even better.

I should, however, be specific in terms of what I mean by that : it’s not that no one gives a fuck about their craft, it’s more that no one gives a fuck about who they might offend. And yet, as a general rule of thumb, the cartoonists who seem to be coalescing into Hatheway’s stable of de facto “regulars” aren’t out to get cheap shocks and even cheaper thrills — there’s none of the racism or misogyny of the old-school undergrounds, for instance, on offer in this comic. Rather, there is a very deliberate eschewing of delicacy here, of refined sensibility — these are comics designed to have an impact, to make a mark, to leave you wondering what it was you just read and whether or not you liked it. If you need a comparison to other contemporary anthologies (and you don’t, but let’s go with it anyway), this one hews closer to a Reptile House than it does to, say, a Now, but it’s worth noting that just three issues in it seems to have staked out a ground entirely its own, even if it’s still not entirely clear what that ground is composed of.

Again, though, rather than taking this to mean that this is an unfocused or scattershot publication, I think it’s more accurate to view it as one still in the process of carving out its own territory, and deciding along the way how expansive it wants that territory to be. Certainly most of the cartoonists whose work Hatheway has presented to date are concerned with narrative to one degree or another, but that doesn’t mean they all are, nor that the ones who are have much interest in being slavishly beholden to conventional definitions of it — indeed, if you like comics where everyone is “doing their own thing,” including discovering what “their own thing” even is in the first place? You’ve come to the right place.

Yes, that means there are going to be out-and-out misfires — although there seem to be fewer with each successive issue — and yes, that means there will be strips where one can clearly discern the artist’s intent despite said intent not necessarily being achieved. And hey, yeah, there will also be strips that just plain don’t register with individual readers for equally-individual reasons. This is an anthology, after all, and that’s how they tend to roll. Taking full stock of it as I am here though, rather than doing individual reviews for each issue, leaves me with the distinct impression that things are coming together, and the wonderfully inventive long-form strip by Dylan Henty — whose work echoes both Gary Panter and Rory Hayes at the margins while at the same time establishing a unique voice and point of view unto itself — that rounds out issue three probably stands as the strongest piece to appear in this series so far. If Hatheway continues to attract talent of this caliber, then who knows? A year or two from now we might be talking about this as one of the very best anthologies out there.

For now, what I can say with certainty is that it has the potential to be, and that it would appear to be determined to live up to that potential. If you don’t offend easily, you’ll find plenty to like here — and if you don’t impress easily, you’ll still find plenty to like here.


Issues 1-3 of Clusterfux Comix are available directly from the publisher at https://clusterfuxcomix.bigcartel.com/products

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative indeed if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

2 thoughts on ““Clusterfux Comix” Proves The Underground Ain’t Dead Yet

  1. Pingback: Benefits Of A Classical Education – This Week’s Links – ColorMag

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