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‘Maverix and Lunatix: Icons of Underground Comix’ (review)

Written and Illustrated by Drew Friedman
Foreword by Marc Maron
Introduction by Patrick Rosenkranz
Published by Fantagraphics


I was never a hippie. In the Swingin’ Sixties, I was actually fairly conservative. Of course, the fact that I had only reached age ten here in the Midwest by the end of that tumultuous decade probably had something to do with that.

But then, early in the 1970s, my receptive little mind was utterly blown when I discovered COMIX!  Beginning in the late 1960s, underground comix as an actual movement lasted just roughly ten years, growing out of college humor, greeting cards, comic book fanzines, and hot rod mags, but that was a decade of pure unbridled creativity!

The underground cartoonists were inspired by EC Comics, by MAD, by sci-fi pulps, by psychedelic drugs, by horror films, by politics, by Vietnam, by the sexual revolution, and just by their own completely unrestrained ids and egos. Undergrounds had more than their share of garbage but even that has tended to be of some interest over time as what we now think of as outsider art.

And at their best, they were gold, with original characters like Mr. Natural, the Bunch, Projunior, Fat Freddy and his cat, Barefootz, and Cheech Wizard.

Maybe I wasn’t a hippie. Maybe I had fairly short hair and didn’t (yet) smoke dope, but the counterculture called my name!

Early underground favorites included Rich Corben, Victor Moscoso, Rand Holmes, Grass Green, and particularly Vaughn Bode! The hippies who ran the store where I bought them decided I was mature enough to buy comix. I began picking up even more as I began attending more and more conventions throughout the disco decade.

In time, I had built a longer list of underground faves also including Howard Cruse, Joel Beck, George Metzger, Gilbert Shelton, Denis Kitchen, Dave Sheridan, Jay Lynch, Skip Williamson, Trina Robbins, and, of course, R. Crumb.

And the thing is, I thought all of THEM were hippies!

Outlaw cartoonists, working outside of society with no rules or laws to hold them down, their only goal was anarchy, to show how messed up our world really was!

Some of them really were hippies, while other were short-haired, soft-spoken, maybe a little older.

Sure, some just took drugs and wanted to draw insanely pornographic sex; some wanted to better the world; some wanted to educate people; some, like “real” cartoonists, simply wanted to entertain.

The world of the underground cartoonists was in reality as diverse as everybody else’s world but, like the non-existent Marvel Bullpen, without having a clue as to what anyone looked like, I had come to see it as its own little comic strip Haight-Ashbury microcosm.

Which brings us finally to Drew Friedman, long known as one of the great modern American illustrative painters, and his new book, Maverix and Lunatix: Icons of Underground Comix, which goes a long way toward humanizing over 100 of the great underground artists of those classic comix!

Following a fun Foreword from the always on-point Marc Maron and some introductory words from Drew himself, we jump right in to the volume’s long alphabetical series of portraits. I’m not certain how to describe the artist’s work these days. Anyone familiar with Drew Friedman’s art at all knows he rose to prominence with his own uncensored, “warts and all” caricatures, all stippled in gradations of grey and black. While still recognizable, his work today had developed into an exaggerated photo-realistic painting style. On the book’s back cover, Art Spiegelman—one of the subjects herein— notes that Drew “has mellowed into a subtle portrait artist.”

Most of the portraits in the book depict the creators in their heyday, with lots of beards and long hair. Hair is really, really hard to draw, let alone paint. Apparently, no one ever told this to Drew, however, as for decades now the hair on his portraits, caricatures, and cartoons has been just amazing to look at.

In fact, all of the images in the book are amazing to look at, not just skim over. The background detail in most is worth lingering over but my favorite thing is the artist’s absolute mastery of textures and wrinkles and his continued use of a stippling effect for intense lighting and shading effects. You won’t just look at these images once. You’ll go back and admire them over and over.

Each picture is also accompanied by a succinct page of text that imparts neither too much nor too little about its subject. A few of the people I had not even heard of but most, of course, I was familiar with at least as names on those long ago comix. Seeing what they actually looked like really did change my perspective in some cases.

In others, their looks here were early. I know what Vaughn Bode and Jeffrey Catherine Jones looked like later on, for example. I became Internet friends with Jones late in life and was even quoted on their website while it was up!

Over the decades, I have actually met Justin Green, Art Spiegelman, Denis Kitchen, Dan O’Neill, and Baba Ron Turner. Online, Howard Cruse was my very first Facebook friend, and Ralph Reese, Trina, William Stout, Frank Stack, and Larry Welz followed. I’ve at least spoken online with Shary Flenniken, Jay Lynch, and Bobby London and I was actually hired by Skip Williamson once to do some PR for his two e-books. I even transcribed a couple interviews with Crumb! Heck, Drew Friedman himself has been a Facebook friend…TWICE!

This is not a puff piece on a friend’s book, though.

Maverix and Lunatix: Icons of Underground Comix transcends being “just an art book” as it gives faces to people who in their own ways made a difference. They made a difference with Marc Maron, with Drew Friedman, with me, and really with society in general—a society that never once appreciated them. But some of us did, and still do, and it’s nice to finally see so many faces for the first time and realize that they were human, too.

Booksteve recommends.


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