Graphic Novel Reading Group discussion

Non-superhero Graphic Novels > Underground Comix from the 60s/70s

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message 1: by Sérgio (last edited Sep 04, 2012 04:09AM) (new)

Sérgio | 459 comments Underground comix is a very interesting period of comics history. A taboo-breaking era that redefined what stories could be told through sequential art. Let's discuss them!

I really like the esperimental comix that Art Spiegelman did. Robert Crumb was also incredibly talented, his art is just beautiful although I wish there wasn't so much mysoginy in his work.

I also really like Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary. A really good autobiographic portrait of one's neurosis.

The works by Gilbert Shelton or S. Clay Wilson leave me cold though.

message 2: by Dominick (last edited Sep 05, 2012 07:54AM) (new)

Dominick (DominickGrace) | 160 comments Crumb's arguably (actually, no, he's inagruably) one of the great genuises of the comics medium. That doesn't mean you have to like his work (and plenty don't), but it does mean that if you're serious about comics you have to pay attention to him and recognize his importance. Anyone who hasn't should check out his adaptation of Genesis--not perfect, but a fascinating blend of an overtly straight and faithful account (every word) with subtle (and sometimes not so subtle--e.g. how the women are depicted) inflections of Crumb's characteristic obsessions in the art. And it's not just an adaptation; it's also a subtle critique, at least at points.

I find Wilson fascinating simply for the sheer outrageousness of his imagery, and the frequent density/complexity of his image design--you can pore over some of those detailed pirate orgy panels, finding all kinds of little things. However, as a narrative artist, he's fairly weak; his stories are generally pretty rambling and formless. Consequently, he's . . . what would I call him? Second-tier? Nevertheless, to get fully how the undergrounds liberated artists to go anywhere (even arguably places nobody should want or need to do) Wilson's essential. The collection of his Checkered Demon stories gives you a good sampling of his best work.

Shelton ... I've read all the Freak Brothers stuff (and Fat Freddie's Cat, which is of course linked) and find it generally enjoyable, sometimes gut-bustingly funny, but there is a certain sameness to it, and you do have to have a sort of affinity for stoner humour to fully appreciate it, I think. I actually prefer Wonder Wart-Hog, but it's far less known, and relatively hard to get hold of; I don't think there's a collection currently in print.

Spain's stuff can be interesting--more overtly political than most of the other underground stuff, generally, and, I'd say, generally less well-rendered (whether the roughness of Spain's work is deliberate or a reflection of his limitations I wouldn't try to say). Narratively, again, his stories are often ... underdeveloped? OTOH, he's capable of some amazingly loopy and creative stuff (e.g. Trashman's super-power ability to transform himself into last week's issue of The East Village Other, and Big Bitch is a fascinating combination of the porno/exploitative aspects of the underground movement with the creation of a genuinely empowered heroine. At least one Spain book should be on any serious comics fan's shelves.

Rarely mentioned, I find, is Moscoso, but I love a lot of his Zap stuff, not only the earlier almost abstract comix he did (which he does better than Crumb did) but also some of his later, more cartoony work. Zap is always worth a look; I wish someone would do a collected edition of it--though of course you can get all of Crumb'ss tuff from it in the Fantagraphics complete Crumb series, and other stuff collected here and there elsewhere.

For a good taste of some of the more extreme underground stuff, at a reasonable price, I'd recommend The Snatch Treasury:

Interesting point for debate: some would describe many of the "alternate" guys who emerged in the 1980s as underground (Clowes describes himself that way in some of his early work, where Crumb's influence is especially evident, for instance, and some of Chester Brown's stuff is as extreme as most of the most extreme undergounders' work), but is this a fair designation? Is "underground" limited to the guys from the 1960s/1970s from Zap, Rip Off, Death's Head, Kitchen Sink, Arcade etc., or can it extend beyond? Is Weirdo still "underground"? What about Raw?

message 3: by Antaeus (new)

Antaeus | 50 comments In Denmark we got great stuff from Claus Deleuran, but I think it only comes in Danish.
Here you can see some of his drawings (google)

Here you can read something about him and his work. Saga

message 4: by Sérgio (new)

Sérgio | 459 comments Hi Dominick. Thanks for that well thought out answer.

About Wilson, it's funny I have the same opinion. I was really impressed by some of his paintings but as a sequential artist he's not that good.

Talking about Zap Comix, I was also really impressed by the work of Robert Williams. Visually his work is stunning. But he didn't seem to be a great storyteller in sequential form (just like Wilson). I think Robert Crumb was the one of that bunch that really mastered how to tell stories in comic-form, that's why he was a stand-out.

About your last questions, in my mind the underground is pretty much connected with the hippy movement. Even if some of them where outsiders of that scene (like Robert Crumb) they still commented on it and it was their main audience.

The alternatives feel like they are from a completely different scene, which is the punk/post-punk movement. Even if Crumb is still a big influence, they are coming from a different place.

RAW feels definitely post-underground for me, it's way more high-brow than Zap Comix. Weirdo is a lot more difficult to classify since it's a lot closer in content to the underground anthologies.

message 5: by Sérgio (new)

Sérgio | 459 comments Antaeus wrote: "In Denmark we got great stuff from Claus Deleuran, but I think it only comes in Danish.
Here you can see some of his drawings (google)"

Yep, that looks like underground comix to me.

Here in Portugal, the "underground" works were more similar to french comics like Druillet, Moebius and Barbarella than american comix.

message 6: by Dominick (last edited Sep 07, 2012 07:08AM) (new)

Dominick (DominickGrace) | 160 comments Sérgio wrote: "Hi Dominick. Thanks for that well thought out answer.

About Wilson, it's funny I have the same opinion. I was really impressed by some of his paintings but as a sequential artist he's not that goo..."

Ah yes, Williams. I have a book of some of his stuff and would agree. Cook to look at, not so great narratively. Love his paintings, though!

I personally would differentiate between the undergrounders and the alternative crowd, but I do see haw it might be hard to draw that line--especially with Weirdo and the DIY ethos of at least some of the alternative stuff, early on anyway--mini-comics, self-publishing etc, owe a fairly direct debt to the DIY ethos of many of the underground guys. But, no, I wouldn't call Brown, or Bagge, or even Clowes (despite his own self-identification early on) as underground.

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