Posts Tagged ‘Ed Piskor’

Cartoonist Kayfabe on Trashman, 60s Underground Comix Anti-Hero

November 30, 2021

Here’s another video from YouTube comics creators and YouTubers, Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor, in which the two discuss one of ‘Spain’ Rodriguez’s best-known and most notorious characters, Trashman. Rodriguez was one of the major talents in ’60s underground comics. The two state he was first published by Evo and the East Village Other, and was part of a group of underground comix artists and creators called the Berkeley Tribe. Spain was fully part of the ’60s counterculture and Trashman was an explicit expression of that decade’s political radicalism and youth revolt. The Kayfabers remark that stylistically Spain appears influenced by mainstream comic artists, like the legendary Jack Kirby and John Romita at Marvel, he’s far removed from them in politics and content. Because Trashman was an agent of the ‘6th International’, gunning down the enemies of the people. The comic, The Collected Trashman, has the date ‘1969’ on it, but this doesn’t mean it was actually published them. Even so, it deals with the decade’s topics of distrust of the government, Vietnam, drugs, free love and hippies. There’s a lot of sex in it, so be careful about watching it at work. The two also compare Trashman to later heroes like Mad Max and Judge Dredd. Trashman careers about an urban environment in a souped-up car, to which armour and a set of tank tracks have been added, rather like one of the bizarre, demented vehicles in Mad Max: Fury Road. It might also be because of the mixture of automotive mayhem, extreme violence and urban dystopia that’s behind the Kayfaber’s comparison to Judge Dredd.

Rather more problematic to contemporary readers is Spain’s highly sexualised view of women. A number of underground comix creators were accused of sexism and misogyny, such as Robert Crumb, and I think Rodriguez may have been another one. But the Kayfabers argue that Rodriguez was doing it when feminism was emerging, and so was probably trying to get more publicity through notoriety.

It’s an interesting look at one of the best-known and remembered of the decade’s underground heroes. I don’t know if such a comic would be possible now. Certainly the decades of terrorism that followed the 60s from groups like the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, the various radical terrorist groups running amok in Italy, and the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland would probably make such a character deeply unappealing to large sections of the public, quite apart from the Fall of Communism. Trashman was going to be controversial even in the 1960s, with the rise of terrorist groups like the Weathermen and the violence at the Democratic National Convention. There’s even a story in the comic in which Trashman shoots that up.

Nevertheless, there are still students sticking posters of Che Guevara on their walls and the rise of Black Lives Matter and strong initial support for former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the US shows that a sizable section of the British and American electorate want far more radical change than the right-wing cliques that have seized control of the Labour party in Britain and Democrats in the US are prepared to give them. Not that either Corbyn or Sanders ever remotely endorsed terrorism and violence, despite the vilification of the former by the British political and media establishment.

One of the complaints among some comics creators and fans is that Marvel and DC, the two main comics companies in the US, have moved too far leftward. Instead of producing good, enjoyable stories with strong plots and characters, the two are instead concentrating on explicit statements about social issues and promoting characters based solely on their gender, race or sexuality. This is putting readers off, and as a result American comics are in decline as people turn instead to Japanese manga, which eschews these issues. This is the view of Ethan van Sciver and the Comicsgaters. I can see their point of view, although the Guardian pointed out in an article a few years ago that comics have always dealt with political and social issues. That’s quite true. One episode of the Superman radio series in the 1940s was applauded by NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League as the Man of Steel had gone after the Klan. In the 1970s both Marvel and DC dealt with racism and the collapse of American self-esteem following Watergate. There were several issues of Captain America in which the Captain forswore his patriotic identity to call himself ‘Nomad’ following his own, brief loss of faith in his country. There were also a number of Hulk stories which showed a very strong critical attitude to the military, doubtless influenced by the unpopularity of the Vietnam War. However, Stan Lee, the man responsible with artists like Kirby and Ditko, for so many of Marvel’s most iconic heroes, also said in an interview that he was careful not to let the political content alienate those readers who didn’t agree with it.

The Kayfaber’s state that Trashman is a product of its times, though it can also be seen as a period piece set in that decade because of its timeless quality. Back in the 1990s the Heil went berserk at a similar radical, underground comic on sale in the shops. This was an anarchist version of Tintin, in which the boy detective was shown joining the struggle against the cops and the state. Of course, the book had absolutely no connection to anything Herge actually wrote or did. However, the rise of the internet has provided would-be comics creators with an opportunity for launching their own comics without the hindrance of the mainstream comics publishing industry. It’s therefore possible that as Thatcherite neoliberalism continues to collapse and show itself corrupt and bankrupt, underground comix heroes like Trashman may rise to stick it to oppressive capitalist authority once again. And especially if less radical ways of changing the system or expressing dissatisfaction are suppressed by Blairites and Thatcherite Labour leaders like Keir Starmer.

Cartoonist Kayfabe Look at Punk Artist Raymond Pettibon

November 18, 2021

Cartoonist Kayfabe are a pair of comics creators, Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg, who make video talking about comics and great comics artists on YouTube. In the video below they go through a couple of collections of work by Raymond Pettibon, a radical Punk artist, who created posters, zines and fliers for a number of bands, particularly Black Flag, in which his brother played. His work has a very raw, outsider style, though the Kayfaber’s state that he’s the only outsider artist you could take in to art school and still be taken seriously by the professors. His more recent work goes off into politics, particularly savage criticism of the Gulf War and Iraq invasion since 2003.And far from being underground or marginal, Pettibon’s work now goes for exorbitant prices. They mention one of his pieces going for $820,000.

His work itself includes Christian imagery, which the Kayfaber’s feel is based on the notorious Christian comics Jack Chick was putting out in the 1980s. I remember those from College, where several friends of mine in the Christian Union were into them. I despise them. They were extremely right-wing, venomously anti-Catholic and very much in the hellfire and damnation style of preaching. In my experience, this does the very opposite of persuade people to accept Christianity. I come from an Anglican family, but my mother told me that for a time she and her mother – my gran – attended the local Baptist church. This was because the local Anglican priest was all about scaring people with the terrors of hell and my grandmother, who was certainly no religious sceptic, didn’t agree with it. Some of Pettibon’s art is also sexually explicit, so be careful where you’re viewing it. He also did an iconic page for the Hernandez’ brothers’ Love and Rockets.

I thought I’d put the video up here as I’ve talked in the past about the underground political comix of the 1960s and their successors in the left-leaning comics of the ’80s and ’90, like Crisis and its strip, ‘Third World War’, produced by the 2000 AD crowd. I thought this might be of interest to those who share a similar curiosity about the underground press, and who may also want that style of comics revived.

Cartoonist Kayfabe on the US Army’s Guide to Cartooning

September 7, 2021

Face front, true believers, as Stan ‘the Man’ Lee used to say at Marvel. Here’s a bit of fun I found on the Cartoonist Kayfabe channel on YouTube. In it, comics creators Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg look at a little curiosity from the past. Back in the middle of World War II, the US army produced a booklet intended to teach squaddies the basics of cartooning.

The booklet was part of a series of such manuals intended to teach basic craft skills to wounded and shell-shocked troopers when they were recovering in hospital. It was also to give them skills that would help them find a job when they were finally demobilised. These booklets weren’t long. They were deliberately made short enough so that a trooper could have one in a pocket or in his kit bag. Other manuals in the series included leatherwork, knot-making and carpentry.

Although short, the booklet does cover all the basics of cartooning, such as proportion, perspectives, drawing action, the need to observe the wrinkles in clothes and so on, including tips on drawing noses and ears. Unfortunately, it also contains a section on ‘racial symbols’ – basically drawing national stereotypes, which includes two racist caricatures. One of these is of a Jew, which is especially distasteful given the nature of the regimes the US and its allies were fighting at the time.

The booklet’s own artwork is very fine and is stylistically similar to many of the great comics’ artists who were emerging at the time. The two speculate whether it was done by Art Spiegelman, the creator of Maus, a metaphor about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, or Stan Lee. Although both were in the army at the time, both were actually occupied on other projects. In the case of Lee, it was working on pamphlets about the VD. The pair also note that the booklet doesn’t say anything about sequential storytelling. It’s intended to teach single panel cartooning, the type published in newspapers at the time and which was massively popular.

I’ve got a feeling it was US army course on cartooning that produced the great American SF novelist, Harry Harrison. I think he trained as a cartoonist and started working in comics and from there found his way into writing SF short stories and novels. Harrison is probably best known for his comic SF novel, The Stainless Steel Rat, about a reformed criminal, ‘Slippery’ Jim diGriz, who works for a galactic detective bureau staffed with similar ex-crims to catch the villains, tyrants, murderers and general menaces to society that the ordinary police can’t. One of his other novels is Bill the Galactic Hero, which is a satire on the army and militarism, as well as spoofing Asimov and some of the other leading SF authors of the time. It was written, along with a number of other novels by various SF writers, as a reply to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and its glorification of war and the armed forces. In the book, the captains of the space navy aren’t the six-foot good-looking guys that appear in the films. Those are all actors. They’re members of the galactic aristocracy, and so are terribly inbred with low IQs. The aliens they are fighting against aren’t the aggressors as portrayed in the army’s propaganda, but are an otherwise peaceful race, the victims of human attack. When Bill finally meets one, who explains this to him shortly before it escapes, he asks it why they’re fighting them then. The alien replies that it doesn’t know, but ‘we think you like it’. When Bill is finally allowed some leave, he travels down to the nearest planet with a group of other squaddies. One of them is a man, who has had half of his face shot away and replaced with cybernetics. Another man wires himself into a saline drip that feeds him a mixture of alcohol and glucose so he can be flat out unconscious drunk for the duration. And at the end of the book Bill meets the Biblical Cain, here described as the first soldier, who gives him tips on how to be successful and survive as a squaddie.

Bill the Galactic Hero isn’t biting satire. It’s tone, like the Stainless Steel Rat, is largely light. But that doesn’t stop it making some very serious points about the lunacy of the armed forces and the hell of war amongst the jokes. I think it’s significant that Harrison had served in the war, while Heinlein was rejected as unfit for active service. It’s been said that the people who are least likely to start a war are those, who have actually fought in one.

And if Harrison did come into literature through the US’ army training on cartooning, there’s an irony in that it launched the career of one of SF’s great satirists of the military, along with just about everything else.

Cartoonist Kayfabe on Rob Zombie’s and Richard Corben’s ‘Bigfoot’ Comic

July 9, 2021

Here’s another video from the Cartoonist Kayfabe channel in which hosts Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg discuss a comic with a paranormal theme. This time it’s not ancient astronauts, but Bigfoot, created by horror director Rob Zombie and comics legend Richard Corben. Corben is one of the great comic artists, though his work I think overwhelmingly appeared in the underground, independent comics and Heavy Metal, the Canadian version of the French Metal Hurlant. The Bigfoot comic didn’t last very long. It told its story in about four or so issues. It was about a child who goes on holiday with his family to the great northern woods, where everyone except the boy, including the family’s dog, is beaten to death by a rampaging Bigfoot. The orphaned lad pleads with the local sheriff to hunt down and kill the monster, but the sheriff refuses to do so for the same reason the local authorities don’t close down the beach in Jaws – they’re afraid of creating a scare. Years later, the boy, now grown up, returns and he and the sheriff and his deputies go after Bigfoot. They manage to kill it, but it true horror style there’s a whole family of Bigfoots, who manage to survive and escape.

The two talk about how the comic’s depiction of Sasquatch as a brutal killer is a quite a departure from the creature’s normal appearance in popular culture. Quite. It isn’t like the show, Harry and the Hendersons, in which Bigfoot lived with an ordinary American family, and very definitely did not go on the rampage and try to kill them. It also differs from the various accounts of encounters with the creature. Many of the people, who claim to have met Bigfoot say they had feelings of fear or terror, and some of the encounters were genuinely terrifying. In some of them, the witnesses say that the creatures surrounded their house or cabin howling. I’ve also read and heard of cases where people say that the creatures threw rocks at their homes. In one case I read, a man was abducted by Bigfoot and taken to its lair before finally managing to escape. However, I haven’t heard of Bigfoot actually killing anyone. The comic does, however, connect with Bigfoot lore by including references to the Patterson-Gimlin film. That’s the piece of cine film, which apparently shows a Bigfoot walking through the forest. The video’s thumbnail shows the comic’s portrayal of the creature in the movie. It was shot in the 1970s by two men when they were out travelling through that part of the American wilderness, and still divides people today. One documentary discussed the movie with a primatologist and a special effects expert with the film industry. The primatologist believed the footage must be fake because the animal didn’t look like a real ape. The special effects expert, however, believed it was genuine because its fur was of different length on different parts of the body, something that isn’t achieved even on the very best Hollywood creature costumes. Zoologists have also cast doubt on the creature’s existence by pointing out that none have ever been captured and if it does exist, it’s numbers are too small for the creature’s survival.

Similar ape-men, however, have been reported all over America, such as the Florida Skunk Ape, so called because the women who encountered it said it gave off a pungent smell. Some of the Bigfoot reports are more like a paranormal encounter than one with a real, paws and pelt animal. Witnesses describe it appearing and disappearing, or suddenly noticing that it was there and there have been suggestions that it has the power to make itself invisible. I honestly don’t know what the reality is. I suspect the creature is probably paranormal rather than physical, but some of the encounters may also be the result of hoaxing and misperception.

Bigfoot and the Yeti interest me, and I find it interesting how the creatures have entered popular culture, of which this comic is an example. Piskor and Rugg debate whether there were any other Bigfoot comics. One believes there weren’t, while the other says that there were any number in the ’80s and ’90, but they were all produced by comics fans and so were home-produced. They appeared in mimeographed copies with the pages stapled together at fan conventions. This isn’t a comic I’d ever read, but I do find it interesting as a cultural curiosity.

Cartoonist Kayfabe Review’s Jack Kirby’s ‘Eternals’ #1

July 7, 2021

This might interest those of my readers, who are into UFOs and the theories about ancient astronauts. Cartoonist Kayfabe is a channel on YouTube hosted by two independent comics creators, Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg, which reviews and talks about comics. In the video below, which they put up yesterday, the pair review the first issue of comics legend Jack Kirby’s book, The Eternals.

Published in the 1970s, this was based on the theories of Erich von Daniken, that humanity had been visited in antiquity by aliens, who had been worshipped as gods. In Kirby’s strip, the aliens were the Celestials or Space Gods, immense giant humanoids wearing weird armour or spacesuits, rather like the world-devouring Galactus of Marvel’s Fantastic Four comic. In the strip the Space Gods had come to Earth in the distant past, genetically engineering humanity’s pre-human ape ancestors. The result was three species of humanoids, the Eternals, humanity and the Deviants. The Eternals possessed immortality and superpowers, and were taken by humans as gods. One of the Eternals is called Ikaris, which is clearly a version of Icarus, the character from Greek myth. While the Eternals were generally benign and largely aloof from human affairs, the Deviants were actively hostile. Their genome was unstable, with a result that they were monstrous in form and envied and hated Eternals and humans for possessing a stable body plan and good looks. One of the Deviant characters was a man, who looked human, and so was hated by the rest of the Deviants and forced to compete in lethal gladiatorial contests for their amusement.

I first came across the Eternals as a back-up strip in the British version of Marvel’s Star Wars comic. From what I remember, the first tale had Ikaris, in disguise as Ike Harris, leading a party of human explorers into an ancient South American temple. The temple is, in reality, a monument to the Space Gods, who then return to Earth. The temple becomes their landing site, with one Space God standing sentinel over it. This then becomes a forbidden zone to the three other species. The Celestials have come to judge their experiments, taking fifty years to make their observations and gather information. If humanity or the other races fail the test, the Space Gods will exterminate them.

Kirby was a master of cosmic art, and this strip shows how skilled he was at drawing beings from outer space of immense power. The various ancient astronauts depicted in the temple’s carvings and statuary are clearly influenced by the art of the ancient South American Indian civilisations such as the Aztecs and Maya. This very much follows the views of von Daniken and similar authors, who interpreted a carving of an ancient Mayan king from the temple of Palenque as portraying an ancient astronaut piloting a space capsule.

There have been a multitude of comics about flying saucers since Kenneth Arnold made his sighting of a group of mysterious objects over the Rockies in 1947, which launched the modern UFO phenomenon. The Eternals is an example of how a similar, related theory – ancient astronauts – also entered popular culture in comic form. I don’t think the strip actually lasted very long. Either I stopped reading it, or the strip disappeared from Star Wars comic after a few issues. Despite this, the characters have remained part of the MCU and a film based on the strip, which I’ve blogged about previously, is currently being filmed, trailers for which have been released. Kirby’s art is awesome, and the strip marked Jolly Jack’s return to Marvel after a period with DC. I think Kirby had left because of his dispute with Marvel and Stan Lee over who had created many of the most iconic Marvel characters. Although he had returned, there still seems to have been considerable resentment against Kirby at Marvel. Piskor and Rugg comment on the overwhelmingly hostile tone of the letters Kirby’s editors at Marvel chose to publish in the comic.

I really enjoyed the first Eternals story and its premise, though I think I got bored with it as the tale went on. I shall be very interested indeed when the film finally comes out, as I’m currently in two minds whether I want to see it. It could be very good, and it’ll be great to see Kirby’s designs for the Space Gods appear on the silver screen. It’ll also be interesting to see what effect, if any, it has on the paranormal milieu. Will it lead to a revival of von Daniken and the ancient astronaut theory?