I managed to get access to a card reader, so let us begin the early blog padding!
First up, The Cat:
And, yes, that is a reproduction of Vermeer’s The Lacemaker behind him in the first four pictures. I bought it in a Providence junk-shop in 1993. What the hell it’s doing in the living room is a question I can’t answer.
Digging through a pile of unread books, I uncovered a copy of Charles R. Cross’s Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Curt Kobain (2001). I bought this because a review in The New Yorker made it seem like there was a lot of depth. There isn’t. Sometimes a dead rockstar is just a dead rockstar.
However! Heavier Than Heaven is marked by the best/worst first paragraph I’ve ever read. And I’ve read (the first page) of John Cowper Powys’s A Glastonbury Romance.
Here we go:
“The first time he saw heaven came exactly six hours and fifty-seven minutes after the very moment an entire generation fell in love with him. It was, remarkably, his first death, and only the earliest of many little deaths that would follow. For the generation smitten with him, it was an impassioned, powerful,and blinding devotion–the kind of love that even as it begins you know is preordained to break your heart and end like a Greek tragedy.”
Yesterday’s post reminded me that I’d read an article about Rory Hayes in The Comics Journal. This lead to digging through back issues and old books. Eventually I found it: issue 250, February 2003. I was living in a basement outside Detroit. This was much earlier than I’d thought.
The article was written by Bob Levin, author of the Air Pirates book, and has since been reprinted in another of his books. I haven’t read the latter, but I’m sure that like everything by Levin, it’s fascinating, informative, and poorly written. I wouldn’t mention the quality of writing if Levin hadn’t himself poked fun at Hayes’s supposed grammatical errors. Glass houses, kids.
Another resource for much of Hayes’s art is this site. There’s about five pages of 15 scans each, but no complete stories. Still it gives one a taste of the artwork. The cover of Hayes’s first comic, Bogeyman #1, pretty much sums up the distance between he & his contemporaries:
Is there any other early underground cover as stark?
And for the hell of it, here’s a few more images:
(The promotional flyer for Bogeyman #1.)
(The Bogeyman hisself.)
(I assume this is the front page of CUNT #1.)
I’m mystified that Fantagraphics has yet to issue a collection of Hayes’s work– from Levin’s article, it seems that the entire output totals less than 150 page. If they’ll give Victor Moscoso his own book (where the posters are great but the comics kind of boring), why not Hayes?
Thanks in advance!
(P.S. I was wrong in the last post. More than 100 copies of Cunt were sold.)
A pleasure of returning home is the revisitation of old habits & things. Of particular interest is the book collection. As I’ve roughly 5-6,000 books stored in Rhode Island, I’m unable to bring them wherever I go. When I move, typically I take those books most salient to my present state of mind. This time, the coastal transfer put the kibosh on the deal. I brought 3 books. Strange days.
Knowing that I was coming back to Rhode Island, I had thought about what books I should open while at home– one was Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries 1900-1969, published by PictureBox, and edited by Dan Nadel, the imprint’s founder. When I saw this book at last year’s MoCCA, I bought it on the spot. The concept is great: unsung heroes given the high class presentation ordinarily reserved for the acclaimed Masters of the Form. You know, like Jack Kirby!
I was interested because the book contained some work by Rory Hayes, the oddest of the underground comix oddballs. Hayes was (in the awful and irresponsible manner of the day) metaphorically adopted by the SF scene and embraced as a contemporary. Except he wasn’t– in essence, Hayes was an outsider artist with minimal formal training. He was also about 18. It shows. My favorite (and totally unobtainable) example of early Hayes is CUNT Comics #1:
And that’s only the cover, folks!
Everything here is fantastic: the image’s unbelievable crudeness matched by the execution, the shock joke illustration underscored by the bawdy subhead, and then the hilariously unsubtle parody/worship attribution to “R. Fuck”. It comes across like the epitome of the kind of comic that would be produced by an intellectually precocious, emotionally immature and painfully undersexed 18 year old boy.
The beauty of SF & its underground comix scene was thus: Hayes may have written and drawn CUNT, but someone else published it. (Of course, the print run was only about 100 issues. Which is why it’s impossible to find.)
When I finally read Art Out of Time, I was disappointed– not only had Hayes been given about 5 pages, at most, but the book’s internal categorization of different artists seemed utterly random and meaningless. We’re talking about “Exercises in Exploration,” “Slapstick,” “Acts of Drawing,” “Words in Pictures,” and “Form and Style.” None of which inform the reader of anything besides someone’s memories of foundation year courses in art history & theory.
The categories wouldn’t be a problem if they in any way were defined. They’re not. Each has a terse, one-to-two paragraph introductory blurb as vague as the names. Furthermore, after a section has been introduced, other than changing names at the top of each right page, the artists appear one after the other with no break. This might be an appropriate if new each artist was different from the last, but this is often not the case.
Far, far too many pages are given over to the early days of newspaper comics. Two problems: one, the reproductions are small and barely readable. Secondly, few of the artists reproduced are distinct from one another. Most seem typical examples of their day– distinguished either by a supposed lack of formalism, or too much formalism, or a Strangeness of Content.
Given that the artists best loved from the early period of newspaper comics– McCay, Herriman, and Segar, for example– all produced unbelievably weird work & were all masters of the form, one starts wondering about the integrity of the book’s core concept. After 13 pages of Harry J. Tuthill bleeds into 13 pages of C.W. Kahles, this impression is only reinforced. Even more baffling is that the truly distinct artists, like Hayes, or like Fletcher Hanks or George Carlson, have significantly fewer pages than the aforementioned Tuthill or Kahles.
Hanks is what had me re-reading Art Out of Time. There’s been a lot of discussion of his work lately, brought on by the forthcoming Fantagraphics book. I’d found the online scans of Hanks’s work hard to read, so I had hoped that Art Out of Time might be an alternate resource. Inevitably, I was disappointed: there’s only one story, and while great, it’s 8 pages long. By contrast, it’s followed by 17 Sundays of Garrett Price’s White Boy, the most interesting feature of which is its title.
My final complaint, and a not insignificant one, is that the last 12 pages of the book contain breezy and uninformative biographies of the artists. While I recognize that space constraints determine the length of such things, I find these entries to be particularly uselessness.
Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s quote from the Rory Hayes bio:
“He, like Fletcher Hanks, drew without reference to any known world besides the one inside his head.”
And what does the Fletcher Hanks bio read?
“All of his work is crude, but like Rory Hayes, completely self-assured.”
Both artists are part of the ACTS OF DRAWING section of the book, and their bios are separated by less than two pages. What do these two sentences even mean? I assure you, they’re not taken out of context.
With Art of Time, you ain’t gotta worry about no context.
Having been an Internet user for years and years and years, I’ve racked up a fair number of web results. Many of them embarrassing. Some are from the days before there was a web, let alone search engines. Had I been named Steve Jones or Bob Smith or something even mildly obscure, I could claim that there was someone else with the same name who was making all the trouble. But given that my name is double imaginary (last name invented during Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s westernization reforms, first name invented by my mom misremembering the credits on Gunsmoke) this is impossible. There’s only one Jarett Kobek in the world. Me.
A long available result for searches on my name has been the capture of a Usenet thread, wherein I started a flame war in alt.fan.harlan-ellison by contending that Ellison’s writing had fallen off ever since he’d met his most recent, and final, wife. This was an obnoxious claim that never should have been made. My only defense is that I was 18 or 19 years old and thus knew no better.
Remarkably, negative responses came not only from the regulars, but also Dave Gerrold, who threated to punch out of my teeth, and Harlan Ellison himself, who went on and on and on about young people and this, that and the other thing. For those of you not geeky enough: Dave Gerrold wrote the screenplay to The Trouble with Tribbles and Ellison was the screenwriter on The City on the Edge of Forever. This means that I managed to really, really upset the writers of the two most popular episodes of Star Trek. Much as I regret the whole affair, I admit that this abstractly remains a pretty funny thing to have done.
Okay, fast-forward. A few months ago, Ellison filed suit against Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, and their company Fantagraphics. Without going too far into the nitty-gritty, these guys have had bad blood for almost 30 years. After years of back and forth & chicanery on both sides, Ellison has decided that he’s had enough. Based on my unexpert readings of his filings, I don’t think he has a case. Am I convinced that this is the RED LETTER FIRST AMENDMENT issue that Fantagraphics wants it to be? Not entirely, but enough to think that they’re technically in the right.
The interesting part is that Ellison is wrong in a more general sense. The worst possible way to fight perceived insults is by trying to suppress them. This has always been true but is only more so in these days of the Internet, where the biggest sin is any action that is regarded as censorship. If Ellison succeeds in court– and while I hope he won’t, I certainly can’t say it’s impossible– what’s the best case scenario? What happens to Fantagraphics? And how will that result be felt? Who will be the real loser?
For reasons beyond me, a few weeks ago I decided to weigh in on all of this with an anonymous comment in a long, stupid thread on Publisher’s Weekly comics blog. This comment ended up being praised not only by Heidi MacDonald, the blog’s author, but also Eddie fucking Campbell. If you’ll excuse the burst of sycophancy: Mr. Campbell is pretty much the foremost talent in comics, both as an artist and as a writer. He’s most famous for illustrating the pictures that accompany Alan Moore’s text in From Hell. (This book, by the way, ruined my life. But that’s a story for another time.) I recommend everyone check out his Alec books, the last two of which strike me as the single smartest works in the history of comics! (I mean How to be An Artist and After the Snooter here. Sad to say, I was a bit cold on Fate of the Artist, which anyway I don’t think is classified by Campbell as an Alec book.)
So, high praise indeed. I posted anonymously because I didn’t want anyone digging up the old flame war and accusing me of having a bias in the whole deal. Which I may have. Who knows? But now that I’ve been given attention, I’ll take the credit.
Personally, I think the whole thing sums up a lot of character development: from snarky teenager to Voice of Reason. Can there be a better narrative?
Having reached either a level of freakitude or an advanced age wherein life has blown out my memory, I’ve decided that it’s in my best interest to start a blog. To put it bluntly, things have gotten so strange that I’m having trouble remembering what I’ve done and where I’ve been. Not to imply that this is some casualty/tragedy case. It isn’t.
Life have just been that weird. I wouldn’t wish the last two years on anyone. Not that it’s been entirely bad or entirely good. Just intense to an unusual degree. I had expected that getting older would mean a gradual cessation of the chaos. I was wrong.
But enough of this maudlin trash. On with the new & relevant. Forever forward, Pax Americana! Or: a bit about the blog.
First thing’s first. My name is Jarett Kobek. For those new to me, or to those old friends & lovers with whom I’ve lost contact (or summarily expelled), I live in the outskirts of Hollywood, California. I’m originally from Rhode Island. Then New York, then Boston, then Detroit, then Providence, then New York again. Now I’m in California, thousands of miles away from the vast majority of people I know. Presumably this makes stalking me a little harder than it once was.
The blog is intended to document the weird junk and events currently constituting my life. Some of this will be edifying. Other parts amusing. Very little titillating.
Once upon a time, I ran a website known in certain circles (those composed primarily of 13 year old boys) for its extremely foul-mouthed criticism of film. This was around 2000/1. A lot of funny things came out of that period (nothing useful), but probably the best was getting a shout-out by Tom Servo in his book. That site was fun but an enormous pain to update & build a readership with in those pre-blog days. So in remembrance of its spirit, the other major attraction (so-called) of this blog will be my random reviewing/criticism of films and books and comics. (Seriously, kill me for the comics.)
Next post: an hilarious trip down Memory-lane! With shocking repercussions for the world of comics!
Drudge in Hollywood
On Steve Ditko
From Sunset Blvd
Welcome to Kurdistan