Underground and Otherwise

"When Comics Went Underground," our underground comix exhibit at MCLA Gallery 51, got off to a lively start on Thursday the 28th with a well-attended reception. It began with a panel discussion featuring three of us veteran undergrounders swapping stories about our youthful cartooning escapades while MCLA’s Gregory Scheckler provided an overview, both from his perspective as an arts educator and as an occasional cartoonist himself.

As things worked out, our core of comix insiders got expanded. Denis Kitchen, Gary Hallgren, and I had been slated from the first to share our reflections about the hippie comix scene of the 1960s and ’70s, but through a stroke of good luck another undergrounder, Skip Williamson, was in the area and able to join the festivities at the last minute.

Serving as the panel’s moderator was North Adams author and journalist John Seven, whose own secret identity as a post-underground alt-comics creator is manifested by some sample online episodes of Very Vicky, the series John created in the 1990s with his wife and frequent collaborator Jana Christy.

Inset below: Gallery manager and artist Ven Voisey seen alongside a print of "A Short History of America," one of R. Crumb’s best known works.

Above: My own contributions to the show are "Creepy Snuff Porn," a three-page orgy of aggression against the Meese Commission on Pornography, and a lighthearted Barefootz strip about abortion among cockroaches.

Below: Our panel in progress (minus Greg Scheckler, who unfortunately was delayed by faculty responsibilities at MCLA and hadn’t arrived when this picture was taken). Panelists who are on view here are, from left to right, me, Gary Hallgren, John Seven, Denis Kitchen, and Skip Williamson.

The show will remain on view at Gallery 51 through November 28, so if you’re near North Adams but didn’t make it to the reception, you can still catch the exhibit (the gallery is open daily from 10-6). And on two of the month’s Monday evenings you can catch free screenings of important comics-related films.

First up (later today, in fact: on Monday the 8th) is the critically acclaimed and unforgettable documentary Crumb. I haven’t seen this fascinating flick for quite a while and am all jazzed to see it again.

Then a week from today (Monday, Nov. 15) comes our screening of the 1989 documentary Comic Book Confidential, which offers a broader survey of the comics scene, both mainstream and underground.

Both of these screenings begin at 7 PM and are free to all comers.

A Nostalgic Portfolio

Anyone who’s interested in having a peek at some of the color drawings I’m fondest of from the last couple of decades is welcome to click through the Facebook album I posted this week. It’s called "Thirty Favorite Illustrations."

Now that print is dying and I’m not in the New York City illustration loop anymore, art directors don’t ring me up for these kinds of gigs so often. That makes for a less stressful professional life these days, but there was something to be said for getting to occasionally roll out goofy drawings of everything from anthropomorphic potatoes to automobiles with hygiene issues.

And One For the Comics Fans

Maybe you need to be a comics aficionado to get a buzz from the mere mention of Alan Moore, that most un-mainstream of the mainstream comics writers.

In 1973 my interest in "regular" comic books (as opposed to underground ones) had seemingly been battered beyond repair by the Marvel superhero onslaught of the 1960s. At the time I was getting my intellectual nutrition pretty exclusively from the undergrounds I purchased at an Atlanta head shop and my other great passion, theatre.

An Atlanta friend and comics fanziner named Steve Fritz wouldn’t rest, though, until I gave mainstream comics a fresh look, and it was the copies of Moore’s consciousness-expanding reinvention of DC Comics’ Swamp Thing (as superbly illustrated by Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben) that he persisted in waving at me that finally did the job—at least as far as this particular title was concerned.

Why am I suddenly mentioning Alan Moore out of the blue? Well, it’s because I would have included the drawing below (which affectionately tweaks Moore’s Swamp Thing run) in my Thirty Favorite Illustrations roster if I hadn’t chosen to limit the field to color drawings this time around.

But it’s still a favorite, so I’m appending it here while I’m feeling sentimental about some of my drawings from the past.

I drew it back in 2003 as my contribution to a benefit anthology called Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman, which was both a tribute to Moore and a fundraising instrument for Alzheimer’s-related charities. According to the book’s publisher, British comics creator Gary Spencer Millidge, the anthology "raised over $36,000" to combat the disease it was targeting before going out of print in 2007.
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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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