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.
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.
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.
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.
This came in the mail today, and the first thing I thought was: “Man, it’s too bad Duncan isn’t here. He would have absolutely LOVED this thing!” …… Duncan would have immediately gotten a big, hot cup of coffee and a fresh pack of smokes. And then curled up for hours lovingly reading and re-reading every page, every word.
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.
Gypsy Catano was a legendary Berkeley street person in the 1970s and 1980s. “Gypsy always reminded me of Charles Manson,” said my friend Vince. Gypsy was a cocky, swashbuckling little guy who walked with a swagger and the air of a charming rogue.
Gypsy was homeless back in the day when there was plenty of available housing in the Bay Area. “Gypsy was homeless because he wasn’t housebroken,” explained a girlfriend.
“I never dropped out,” said Gypsy. “I was never in.” Gypsy was born on the streets. And the street scene was his natural milieu.
One of Gypsy’s favorite panhandling routines was to have one of his friends stand on their hands while Gypsy worked the crowd like a carnival barker. “Help me get my down-and-out friend back on his feet!!”
Gypsy’s favorite thing to do was to drink and to fight. And when he was in a bad mood he could be a holy terror. And Gypsy was a natural leader who was usually surrounded by a gang of buddies. Some of whom were hulking lunatics who would crack your head open for kicks. So Gypsy could be a formidable force.
But he could also be very charming. And he often charmed normal, straight mainstream people who enjoyed Gypsy like an exotic pet. While Gypsy — ever the hustler — angled them as marks.
The first time I met Gypsy Catano in 1982 in People’s Park (his natural habitat) as he swaggered up to me I was struck by the malevolent, mischievous leer in his eye. And the home-made necklace around his neck that was made from the teeth of some wild animal. And he also had a fur stole wrapped around his neck. Gypsy suddenly grabbed the head of the fur stole and waved it in my face. It was the head of a dead dog. “I skinned the dog myself,” said Gypsy proudly. Then he did a puppet show pantimine with the dogs head for my amusement. “ARF ARF!!” he said, opening and closing the dog’s mouth.
Naturally, Gypsy Catano died a sudden and electrifying death. As befitting “as ye live so ye shall die.” If I remember right he choked on a chicken bone and had an epileptic seizure. Hundreds of people showed up for the memorial on Telegraph Avenue. A local newspaper covered the story and they were amazed that so many people, from all different walks of life, would show up to pay tribute to a guy who was basically a “homeless bum.”
Somebody posted this one on the internet the other day.
She was a somewhat mysterious woman who hung out on Shattuck for a month around 1999. Sometimes she’d be with her shopping cart. Other times I’d spot her late at night, all by herself, sitting on the sidewalk, dressed in an expensive skirt and high heels as if she was going out on the town (or possibly hooking), with a suitcase along side her.
She had a boyfriend with facial tattoos who seemed in a constant rage. Giving him the impression of an angry clown.
I asked her on a couple of occasions if I could take her photo. And I took a series of them (this one was the best). I gave her a couple of bucks and copies of the photos in exchange.
Never imagining it would later be immortalized by Crumb.