This One’s For the Trees & Hills Gang

Last year’s creator of unpaid content for mini-comics may well become next year’s widely lauded pro. Just ask Rick Geary, now a much admired cartooning pro with lotsa books to his credit, whose work I first spotted in some modest amateur mini-comics that were floating around an underground comix convention in Berkeley back in 1976.
What brings this topic to mind today is my discovery in an old, cluttered box of a couple of mini-comics to which I contributed cover drawings when I was getting my first shaky foothold as a "sort-of professional" cartoonist because of work of mine that had begun appearing in undergrounds.

At left and below: ancient mini-comics containing Cruse art

There was a sense of community among many of us "outsider" comix folks back then about which it’s impossible not to feel at least a little nostalgic. This spirit was fostered to a large degree by a fellow named Clay Geerdes, who took it upon himself to serve as a guru to many young undergrounders who needed support and mentoring. Clay was also the prime mover behind the Berkeley Con, a countercultural response to superhero-dominated mainstream comics cons and the first comic book convention I myself ever attended.
Wearing his writer’s hat, Geerdes was a chronicler of and commentator on ug comix both in fanzines published by others and through his long-running Comix World newsletter. In print he ran hot and cold on the merits of my own stuff, but he was never less than friendly and supportive to me when I ran into him at comics events over the years. He was also a photographer who documented the underground scene during its peak years. His evocative images of the movement’s cast of characters were posthumously collected (with Malcolm Whyte serving as editor) in a 1998 hardcover book called The Underground Comix Family Album. Not only does that book include a shot of me at my shaggiest (taken during the aforementioned Berkeley Con of ’76), but it contains what may be the earliest photograph to get national exposure of Leonardo DiCaprio, in which the future actor is shown as a toddler being held upside-down and aloft over the head of George DiCaprio, his underground-comix-creating dad.

Anyway, today’s mini-comic-creating scene is different in many ways from the one Geerdes nurtured. For one thing, there’s no cohesive community of stoned hippie readers eager to consume by the thousands whatever the present generation of outsider cartoonists produces. Still, there’s a similar sense of community among those who, albeit on a smaller scale, insist on bucking the money-grubbing tides to draw on a shoestring whatever off-beat comics they feel like drawing.

And it’s been refreshing, since I moved to New England, to meet a Vermont cartoonist named Colin Tedford, who with Daniel Barlow has founded the Trees & Hills Comic Club, through which he plays a creativity-nurturing role not unlike the one Clay Geerdes played for comix newbies like me several decades ago.

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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3 Responses to This One’s For the Trees & Hills Gang

  1. E. J. Barnes says:

    Correction: Colin lives in New Hampshire. But it’s an easy mistake to make, as he’s in cisalpine New Hampshire, in the corner ‘twixt Vermont and Massachusetts. Trees & Hills is a collective of comics artists in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Western Mass. (although I think there are now a few members in Eastern Mass.)

  2. It’s true! Trees and Hills has helped me find friends, inspiration, and rewardingly thrill-fraught work in the world of high-stakes comics creation! Thanks, Trees and Hills…

  3. Dan Barlow says:

    Wow, Howard, thanks! I’m a big fan of yours, but since I live waaaay up here in Central Vermont, I haven’t bumped into you yet at any of the western Massachusetts events.