THE BOOK OF WEIRDO: Some random thoughts

20190411_132313.jpg

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.

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

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.

20190411_132313.jpg

You can order direct from Last Gasp https://lastgasp.com/products/the-book-of-weirdo

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.

Life is a mirage

 

Over the years I’ve been involved in a lot of different subcultures.  At the time, these subcultures seemed like exciting and dynamic forces in the world.  But over the years, they would mostly all evaporate into nothingness.

This first subculture I was involved in was the Psychedelic ’60s Hippie subculture.  When I first moved to California  in 1976 as a teenager, one of the first things my older sister and her hippie boyfriend (who were members in good-standing in the subculture)  did was take me to a Hot Tuna concert at the Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco.  Ten years earlier, in 1966, the Longshoreman’s Hall had been the venue for the first Trips Festival,  one of the seminal events of the Psychedelic ’60s Hippie subculture.  And here we were ten years later, stepping into the lineage.

And of course we were tripping on LSD at the concert.  Hot Tuna was up on stage, decked out in their finest hippie finery.  And to the right of the stage there were about hundred people sitting in chairs.  The VIP section for the “Hot Tuna family.”  Their friends and associates and groupies.  It was like Hot Tuna was one of the royal families of the hippie subculture, and the people in the chairs were the royal court.  And we in the crowd were the commoners, dancing along.   And, of course, the Hot Tuna family was an offshoot of the Jefferson Airplane family, who were central to the whole lineage.  There were all these different offshoots.  Like if you liked the Grateful Dead you could join the Deadhead cult (short for “subculture”) and be part of the Grateful Dead family    It meant more than just Going To A Concert back then. It was more like going to church.  More like a way of reaffirming your membership in the cult.

KSAN was the famous San Francisco “underground radio station” of the time.  And they played a central role in connecting all the inter-connected families of the subculture.  And of course we looked at all the DJs at KSAN as part of our family.  I remember drawing a comic strip about Scoot Nisker and some of the other KSAN DJs and getting it published in the Berkeley Barb (one of the house organs of the cult).  And then some of the KSAN DJs invited me down to the legendary KSAN radio station  on Sansome Street in San Francisco, to discuss the possibility of collaborating on a comic book about KSAN.  I remember seeing Bonnie Simmons — one of the program directors and one of the unofficial Queens of the Scene — in her office.  Actually I didn’t see her, but I heard her talking, her legendary voice which you could spot a mile away. And her office was packed with flowers (I think this was around Valentine’s Day).   But that’s what it was like back then.  You could immerse yourself in the subculture as deeply as you wanted to push into it.

Then in 1978 I started getting involved in the Punk Rock subculture.  And that was exciting.  Because instead of getting in on the tail-end of the old-fart hippie subculture, I was getting into a subculture from the ground floor up, with people my own age, and making up all the rules as we went along.  People were always talking about “networking” back then. And “be more than a witness.”  And over the years, the Punk Rock subculture built up from a handful of bohemian weirdos scattered in a handful of cities in England and the USA, to this international phenomenon.

Then in 1982 I immersed myself in the San Francisco Bike Messenger subculture.  A good percentage of the bike messengers were offshoots of the Hippie and Punk subcultures.  So it was getting to be sub-subcultures within subcultures.  Within the culture at large.  The bike messengers were a true community. And we all partied together after work. And put on bike messenger shows featuring bike messenger musicians and bike messenger artists.  And we were all joined together by the common bond of the secret world we all shared that outsiders could never understand.

Then, around 1986 I immersed myself in the Underground Comics/Fanzine subculture.  The lineage in the Bay Area started with Last Gasp press (with R. Crumb as their main honcho) and Rip Off Press (with Gilbert Sheldon as their main honcho) and all the ’60s underground newspapers.  And it developed from there.  It was sort of a telepathic subculture in that we rarely saw eachother in the flesh.  But we communicated with eachother via our comics and publications and interviews and letters.

Then, around 1993, I immersed myself in the Telegraph Avenue Street subculture. The scene at the time was kind of a village-within-a-village.  And we all knew each other. It was kind of like high school, where you had the Cool Kids, the Nerds, the Hot Chicks, and everybody in between.  To this day I still think of what I call “the Class of 1994.” All the people that happened to be inter-connected during that particular time and place.

But like I said.  The odd thing about these subcultures — which seemed so real and vibrant at the time. They would all sort of peak and then fade away.  It was as if you had finally found this wonderful place to live.  This wonderful desert island full of fruit-trees and lush vegetation and topless Hula girls strumming on ukuleles and swaying in the breeze.  And then they all evaporated right before your eyes. Like they had just been a mirage all along.

Nowadays, I’m not connected to any kind of subcultures.  Or much of anything, for that matter. I mostly live an isolated and alienated lifestyle.  I’m not complaining. That’s just the cards I’ve been dealt at this point.  Sometimes, I would spot Scoop Nisker, the former KSAN DJ, on Telegraph Avenue.  He was almost always by himself, sitting alone at a coffeeshop, writing on his laptop.  And I always wondered if he felt a similar sense of loss. Or if he still felt connected to the Psychedelic ’60s Hippie subculture. Or if he had found a new subculture to be a part of.

It all reminded me a little of an episode of Cheers, this TV sit-com.  Once a year, for 50 years, the members of this World War I platoon would all get together at this bar for a reunion.  They would reminisce and re-connect with each other, and the common bond they shared as members of this unique group. And every year there would be less and less of them showing up for the reunion.  Until finally, it was just this one old man, sitting at the bar, waiting for his compadres to show up, until it finally dawned on him that he was the only one left.  Everyone else was dead.  And his group had disappeared like a mirage.

As you get older, you realize finally that there’s only one group left to join.  Its a very big group.  And we all join it eventually.

 

.