Four years ago, I was asked to write for a new handsome, hardbound, oversize, quality ($25) quarterly, FULL BLEED. My contribution to its inaugural issue was to be “The Five Most Important Underground Cartoonists (Not Including Robert Crumb).” The idea was to familiarize FB’s readership, an anticipated younger demographic with the UG.
But though I ‘d been paid, my article was bumped, supposedly for the second issue, but by then I’d submitted a second article which FB ran instead. (That article had been sitting somewhere else, where I hadn’t been paid, with an editor who couldn’t tell me when or if he’d ever run it, so I’d pulled it and gave it to FB — who paid much better anyway.
Meanwhile, things had slowed at FB. The editor who’s recruited me left. Funding dried up. Time between issues grew. (Issue 3 appeared without me.) But Vol. 4 “The End” is out — and here I am.
When I tell people I write about underground cartoonists, the best response I get is, “You mean like that guy in the movie with that weird family?”
But if even the fellows in the locker room have only a hazy knowledge of Crumb, he may have had enough ink already. How about, I thought, the others?
Remember, “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.”
Of course, with the fun the UG gang had, this warning may not scare anyone into the library. Still, let’s fill some of knowledge’s holes. And this can’t omit Crumb entirely.
“It wasn’t what I was planning to have inscribed on my tombstone,” I said, “but I may have to go with what the universe has dealt me.”
“So how does it feel to be called ‘the underground-comics aficianado Bob Levin’?” my friend Marty had asked, referencing my designation in the NYT that morning, quoting me in its obit of the great cartoonist/artist S. Clay Wilson. “Note,” Marty’d gone on, “they said the, not an.”
Marty was not the first to have noted my celebrity. I had already heard from more people than usually acknowledge my blogs. The most surprising was a young fellow – well, not so young any more – I had not heard from in 45 years when a dog had bitten off a piece of his nose.
The Times’s pigeonhole coincided with me already stepping away from the path of my “own” books. I had accepted an invitation from the editor of the on-line Comics Journal to review Drawn and Quarterly’s publication of the collected King-Cat Comics, by John Porcelino, about which and whom I knew virtually nothing, and I had asked the same editor if I could review New York Review Classics publication of the collected “Trots and Bonnie,” by Shary Flenniken, about which and whom I knew somewhat more.
In responding, the editor let slip that I might hear from NYRC about its republishing my book about the Air Pirates, of which Flenniken had been a founding member. Now, this would be a kick – but I had heard the same thing several years ago – and not a word more – about NYRC republishing The Best Ride to New York after the Daily News had called that baby a “lost classic.” (“It’s not ‘lost,’” I’d said, “I have boxes in my basement.”)
Maybe they’ll go for a two-fer, I thought. Slip-cased. Or printed together, like those old sci-fi paperbacks. Read one; turn it over and upside-down; read the other. You can’t say I haven’t had an eclectic run.
For those who might be interested the Journal has posted my career-spanning (his) interview of Wilson here: http://www.tcj.com/the-s-clay-wilson-interview/
We were talking about Red Panda. The NBA’s greatest halftime act.
“When I see something like this,” I said, “I always wonder what her parents said when she told them she wasn’t going to med school but balance bowls she kicked onto her head while riding a giant unicycle.”
“That’s an excellent question,” Eric said, “but you have to appreciate that she is the best in the world at what she does. When I ask myself what I am best in the world at, all I can come up with is that, after years of going to Washington Bullets games, I could get out of the Capitol Centre parking lot, onto the Beltway Parkway, faster than any other person.”
I let that sink in. “S. Clay Wilson once told me that I had written the best article anyone ever had about him – and invited me up to a hotel room to get stoned.”
“But how many could there have been?” Inner Daphne asked. “Six? Eight? A dozen?”
“It’s possible Bob is the best unsung writer in America,” Budd said, springing to my defense.
“I want him out of the ‘unsung’ category,” the other Bob said, “so I can be a contenda.”
“The problem is,” Large Victor said, “ at the annual convention, no one shows up for the awards ceremony because accepting one means being disqualified from membership.”
S. Clay Wilson, the legendary and highly influential underground cartoonist, who created Cap’n Pissgums, Star-Eyed Stella, Ruby the Dyke, and — shilling for this very web site — the Checkered Demon, remains disabled from a traumatic brain injury suffered 12-years-ago. He and his wife are dependent on SSI and contributions to the S. Clay Wilson Special Needs Trust, 3434-16 St., SF, CA 94114. Why not send one?
My latest piece is up at http://www.tcj.com/reviews/belgian-lace-from-hell-the-mythology-of-s-clay-wilson-vol-3/
“Belgian Lace From Hell,” the third and final volume of Patrick Rosenkranz’s “The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson,” has landed.
Rosenkranz is our leading historian of underground comics. His “Pirates in the Heartland”(Fantagraphics. 2014), took Wilson from his birth in 1941, through his ground-breaking, taboo-shattering work in the glory years of the UG. His second, “Devils and Angels,” (2015) carried the narrative from 1977 into 1989. Now “Lace” brings readers to Wilson’s diminished present, in which a traumatic brain injury has left the once charismatic, Hell-rattling artist unable to care for himself.
The book is generous in its display of Wilson’s art. It is rich with quotes from past interviews of Wilson, who was among the most engaging interviewees known to man. It is replete with anecdotes from his friends, fellow cartoonists, and women that capture his color and complexity, his genius and his impossibilities. It features a tender, brilliant, heart-breaking introduction from his wife, the unsinkable Lorraine Chamberlain, and extracts from a journal (or diary) she kept that honestly, bravely, painfully details the quality of their post-injury life. “Lace” is, at once, rewarding, both in the comic and the tragic sense.
And it left me often feeling like a crabby shit.
…is up at http://broadstreetreview.com/books-movies/s.-clay-wilsons-abc
(Again I apologize for not being able to post a link that can be directly clicked on.)
Anyway, it begins…
The perfect gift for the man who has everything, provided his possessions include an X-rated sense of humor, has arrived: Wilson’s ABC, “an audacious, illustrated alphabet,” from Wordplay, edited and annotated by Malcolm Whyte.
S. Clay Wilson, along with Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin, was one of the original cartoonists invited by Robert Crumb to join him in ZAP. ZAP, which is generally credited with transforming comics into a vehicle for adult artistic expression, and thereby liberating all of graphic art, was one of the most influential publications of the second half of the 20th century; and Wilson, whose uncensored id-to-ink renderings of laugh-out-loud sex-and-violence blew what restraints remained upon his already freewheeling colleagues, was among its most influential artists.
Fantagraphics has just published The Zap Interviews, a collection of conversations with the contributing artists to that culture-changing comic. I conducted one of those, with the incomparable S. Clay Wilson. (Well, he would concede that maybe Breughel compares.) I was also asked to write the Introduction, a request which made me proud. It begins:
Draw, Write, Talk
In his book “Writers’ Fighters,” the celebrated sportswriter John Schulian explains his – and other authors – attraction to practitioners of The Sweet Science. “Boxers,” Schulian writes, “not only lead more interesting lives than any other athletes, they are more willing to talk about them too.” I feel similarly about underground cartoonists. I have found them to be bright, witty, uninhibited conversationalists; and since they came of age in the 1960s, a time when, it seemed, all apples presented were to be bitten, the only commandment was to break commandments, and the golden rule was to do to yourself what you wished others would do with you, preferably in a hot tub while slugging Red Mountain wine, their conversations had much to draw from.