THE BOOK OF WEIRDO: Some random thoughts

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Was looking through the different artwork in THE BOOK OF WEIRDO and was struck by the rawness of a lot of it. One thing that distinguished WEIRDO from most of the other comics anthologies was that a lot of the contributors wouldn’t be considered “professional” cartoonists. Norman Dog referred to it as “outsider art” — which was his reason for disliking the magazine. And the lack of a polished sheen probably turned off a lot of comics fans. But that was also a big part of it’s appeal. The contributors were primarily concerned with expressing their unique personal visions. And it gave the magazine a dynamic, free-form quality

I was also struck by the excitement of those times. We were all young and almost feverishly trying to make lives for ourselves. THE BOOK OF WEIRDO truly shows that the lives the artists were leading was just as interesting — if not more so — as the art they were producing.

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WEIRDO #1

 
I vividly remember this image. It was the first thing you saw when you opened up the first issue of WEIRDO #1 back in 1981. R. Crumb’s opening editorial. And it was like a call-to-arms from the Cartoon Commander in Chief himself. Come join the Weirdo Army. The few. The proud. The weird.

It was like an invitation to join Crumb in his personal playhouse and play with him. The Photo Funnies set the tone right off the bat. That WEIRDO was like one of those whacky, old-time burlesque shows. Put on goofy costumes and big shoes, with one of those hand-horns that went HONK HONK when you squeezed it. And you were invited to put on your own show and send them to Crumb and join in the fun. The only limit was the human imagination. And your ability to draw the damn thing.

And R. Crumb was such a hit-or-miss genius that anything seemed possible with WEIRDO. The sky was the limit.

 

THE BOOK OF WEIRDO available from Last Gasp: https://lastgasp.com/products/the-book-of-weirdo

THE BOOK OF WEIRDO by Jon B. Cooke: A goddamn book review

The stories behind the stories behind R. Crumb’s WEIRDO magazine.

Just an incredible accomplishment by Jon B. Cooke. He must have worked like a bastard on the thing for 15 years. A true labor of love. And the loving details he labors over on every page of the thing proves that point. Even R. Crumb — who famously hates everything — has reportedly loved the damn thing.

Exquisite details are given to the individual stories of virtually all the artists, writers and crackpots who lovingly became known as part of the WEIRDO family. Proud fucking weirdos all of them. How Jon managed to track them down is a mystery. Many of whom ended up in jail or mental institutions or living in the woods feeding feral cats.

How can I sum up this incredible accomplishment by Jon B. Cooke. As well as the fantastic cover and Introduction by Drew Friedman — which perfectly captures the tone of all which will follow in the proceeding 300 or so pages. The thing must weigh at least 10 pounds. And worth every ounce.

What can I say. I’ll be reading and re-reading this thing for years to come.

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Somebody asked me why R. Crumb’s WEIRDO comic book wasn’t more commercially successful

 

WEIRDO was a somewhat obscure comic book that R. Crumb published from 1981 to 1993. 28 issues in all.

Crumb is mostly noted for doing the ZAP underground comic book — the first issue of which he published in the Summer of Love (so-called) while he was living in the Haight-Ashbury in 1967. So it’s like a historical icon of those times. And they sold zillions of copies of ZAP. It’s like the comic equivalent of Sgt Pepper.

Another thing Crumb is noted for is his iconic Janis Joplin album cover.

And another thing Crumb is known for is his “Keep On Truckin'” cartoon. Which ended up everywhere.  I once noticed that Tony Danza — the actor from the TV sitcom Taxi — had Crumb’s “Keep On Truckin'” cartoon tattooed on his arm. So it’s an iconic image

Crumb is also known for his “Fritz the Cat” cartoon. Which the schlock film maker Ralph Bakshi turned into the first X-rated animated Hollywood movie

Crumb is also noted for his famous Mr. Natural cartoon character.

But Crumb’s WEIRDO comic book mostly flew under the radar. Why was WEIRDO relatively obscure? There were probably a bunch of reasons for that. For one, what Crumb published was a reflection of his personal tastes, which could be pretty weird and eclectic (he published me, for example). Another was distribution. WEIRDO was hard to find, you really had to seek it out if you wanted to buy a copy. And another was timing. When ZAP first hit it was right when the ’60s hippie counterculture was exploding. There was no similar wave for WEIRDO to ride on.

And yet ultimately, WEIRDO might end up being one of the more interesting things in the Crumb canon.

R. Crumb and Weirdo

When you think of the classic underground comix anthologies, I guess it all starts with ZAP. And then the way under-rated ARCADE. And then WEIRDO and RAW — who will always be joined at the hip as two sides of the same coin.

RAW never appealed to me — it was too artsy and pretentious for my tastes. I much preferred the skuzzier, funkier, down-to-earth WEIRDO. If the cartoons in RAW were supposed to be appreciated like fine art hanging in a museum, WEIRDO was appreciated while sitting in an over-stuffed easy chair in your underwear while scratching yourself. If RAW was akin to Emerson, Lake and Palmer and prog rock — rock musicians wanting to be taken seriously like classical music. WEIRDO was akin to the Sex Pistols and punk rock — bratty, rebellious and a little smelly.

My friend Duncan got a big spread in WEIRDO #1 when it debuted in 1981. So I felt a part of WEIRDO right from the beginning. Duncan’s cartoons were particularly outrageous (“Duncan is the quintessential underground cartoonist,” said Crumb, and Crumb would know). Which certainly put Duncan on the map. Probably nobody but Crumb would have dared to publish those comics by Duncan. But Crumb was making a statement right from the beginning that he hadn’t lost his affinity for underground comix. And that WEIRDO would be a force to be reckoned with.

I had aspirations myself for a career as an underground cartoonist (along with about a dozen other aspirations I was dabbling in at the time). So I spent several weeks pain-stakingly crafting a batch of cartoons to submit to WEIRDO. As an afterthought I also submitted this one page doodle that I had hacked out off the top of my head in an hour. It was just stick figures, and I had given so little thought to the thing I had actually drawn it on a cheap, 8-and-a-half-by-11 piece of typing paper that had been lying around (when you look closely you can see where the ink bled into the cheap paper). And of course that was the one Crumb chose to publish.

Getting into WEIRDO gave you a certain cache. Crumb was quite possibly the greatest cartoonist of our times. So to have him accept one of your cartoons was like receiving blessings from the Pope.

I followed every issue of WEIRDO avidly as they came out, all 28 issues from 1981 to 1993. And even though I didn’t get many pages of my comics in it, I had the odd distinction of making it into all three editorial regimes — Crumb, Bagge and Kominsky.

I think one of the great geniuses of Crumb is that he has that follow-his-own-weird, completely-indulge-his-own-artistic-obsessions aspect. Combined with the ability to put out a highly entertaining and commercial product. I think this as much as anything made WEIRDO a double threat.

In typical fashion Crumb went out with a bang with the final issue of WEIRDO, publishing one of his most outrageous and infamous cartoons — “When the Goddamn Niggers and Jews Take Over America.” And I always suspected it had been inspired, in part, by a long-running debate I had been having with Crumb at the time on the pages of my TWISTED IMAGE newsletter (on the subject of the Holocaust Revisionism controversy, white racism, Jewish liberalism, political correctness, and etc.). Not that I was particularly eager to take the credit and/or blame for that one.

So from beginning to end I felt a personal connection to WEIRDO that I never felt towards other publications.