As fate would have it, four lengthy collections of old-school underground comics that I’d been slowly but surely working my way through all made it from my “to be read” stack to my “finished” stack (okay, my bookcase) this week, and so, while each of these probably deserves a full-length review of its own, I can’t pass up on the opportunity afforded by fate/coincidence to make a Weekly Reading Round-Up column out of ’em. Note that these are all published by Fantagraphics Books, two under the auspices of their standard imprint, hereafter referred to as FB, and two coming our way courtesy of their “micro-press” Fantagraphics Underground label, hereafter referred to as FU.
Ink & Anguish : A Jay Lynch Anthology (FB) is an exhaustive collection of the late, pioneering cartoonist’s work that showcases the more “cartoony” side of underground cartooning, although there’s still plenty on offer here that’s well out of touch with modern sensibilities when it comes to sexism and misogyny. Lynch was far from the worst offender among his ilk in that regard, though, and mostly this is pretty sharp, satirical, and reasonably thought-provoking stuff with a fairly generous dose of metaphysics and spirituality thrown in for, as it turns out, quite good measure. All of Lynch’s popular Nard n’ Pat strips from over the years are presented herein, as well as a number of stories from Bijou Funnies and, more recently, Mineshaft, as well as mind-bogglingly cool art that Lynch produced for Bazooka Joe, Wacky Packages, and Garbage Pail Kids. Some solid collaborations with the likes of Ed Piskor, Art Spiegelman, and Robert Crumb, along with superb and highly-accessible text pieces assembled by underground scholar extraordinaire Patrick Rosenkranz, round out what can only be considered a very impressive package that provides great value for its $34.99 asking price.
Warrior Women : Spain Vol. 2 (FB) continues the Rosenkranz-edited ongoing — and sure to be massive — retrospective series dedicated to the late Spain Rodriguez and, perhaps as an intentional counter-point to the near-rampant misogyny on display in the first volume, the focus this time is on his so-called “strong female protagonists,” from Nasty Elaine to the Leather Nun to Mara Mistress of the Void to Granny McGurk to Rita Velveeta to Sangrella to, of course, the legendary Big Bitch. Not all of these women are the well-rounded figures of female emancipation the collection bills them as, and slapping the title “Spain Loved The Ladies (And They Loved Him)” on the actually-quite-nuanced-and-even-touching text essay that accompanies the strips certainly wasn’t the smartest move — I’d even go so far as to call it “tone-deaf” — but on the whole this is, of course, a breathtakingly well-illustrated volume that showcases its subject at the very height of his considerable creative powers. Yeah, it still betrays some regrettable attitudes that were rampant throughout the underground, but in many ways the majority of these strips really were well ahead of their time. Spain’s body of work is a complex and contradictory one, but one that is compelling as hell and very well worth exploring (or re-exploring) — and you get more than your money’s worth for your $34.99 with this one, as well.
Dave Sheridan : Life With Dealer McDope, The Leather Nun, And The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (FU) is a handsome over-sized hardcover edited by Mark Burstein that presents not only a generous selection of the gone-too-soon cartoonist’s solo work (mostly featuring the characters referenced in the book’s title), but a number of his collaborations with Fred Schrier and Gilbert Shelton, as well. Sheridan’s illustration work for beer companies, album covers, and sex products is also well-represented, and the biographical text segments are just plain out of this world. Sheridan was one of the best pure artists the underground ever produced, and this book is both long overdue, and a fitting tribute to his life and career. At $35 it’s an absolute steal — something you can’t usually say for the small-print-run FU titles — so if you pass on this, you’re just plain crazy.
Doll (FU) by the great Guy Colwell may have originally seen print in the late-’80s and early-’90s, but Colwell himself was an underground veteran, and it first came out by way of Rip Off Press, so — this is an underground collection, in my book, as well. And it’s an essential one at that, telling a long-form story focused on the basest and sorriest instincts of man (okay, of men, specifically) that are triggered when an artist constructs a realistic animatronic sex doll for a deformed “40 Year-Old Virgin” who serves as a precursor to the pathetic “incel” demographic of today every bit as much as the titular doll accidentally predicts the infamous “Real Doll” that, I believe, is still very much a popular item among the sexually deprived. Colwell’s linework is gorgeous, his writing incisive, and frankly the narrative itself is far more subtle than one would expect given the ease with which it could have become a heavy-handed morality play in less-talented hands. An interview with Colwell conducted by feminist cartoonist Katie Skelly appends the volume and puts a nice finishing touch on what is well and truly a timeless and prescient work. Possibly the best $30 you’ll spend on comics this year.
And that, friends, is another week’s reading in the rear-view mirror — although it took me a lot longer than a week to read ’em, and I fully expect that none of these books are really anything I could truly say I’m “done” with, as they are sure to be re-visited frequently in the years to come. Nothing left to do then but remind you all that I’d sure appreciate your support on my Patreon site, where for as little as a dollar a month you can get thrice-weekly updates from yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. There’s a bunch of content up on there already, so you’re sure to get plenty in return for your pledge, and your patronage also ensures a steady supply of free stuff both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please take a moment to have a look and consider joining up by directing your attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse