A Memory, not a Memoir

There it is.
The cover of “SUBVERT COMICS #1” 1970.

In or just before 1976, that’s the first underground comix image that captured my attention and imagination.  Never let go of me.  Spain, “Spain” Rodriguez.

I always owed him an immense thank you.  Still do.  Maybe he knows, wherever one moseys off to after this life is done.

Nine or ten years-old.  That was my age.  Lack of parental guidance — lack of real parenting — can be a really wonderful thing if turned to one’s advantage.  Freedom to look at what one damn well pleases as a young person, especially if that young person is artistic and curious, is a gift from HaShem.  It was in my case, on the whole.

To paraphrase HST in a different context, I would not recommend this way of life to anyone, but it worked for me.  Certainly, do not place your child in such a circumstance on purpose — not now.

Yeah, I was pretty fuckin’ weird for a kid in good and bad ways.

Wasn’t interested in alcohol; less interested in drugs, even dope (i.e. weed).  Just didn’t appeal to me, though I had no problem with them to whom it appealed as long as they weren’t assholes.  I really hung around, at that time, with next to no one.  No, actually, no one at all.  I was a loner at that time.

I’m unsure I preferred it that way or not; just worked out that I wasn’t looking for friends at that time. Ah, but don’t waste a moment feeling sorry for me.  Don’t need or want that.  Things could have been much, much, much worse.

What I had in my favor in the small town of my birth was a resource — a public college, ROTC college, fully funded, strong liberal arts school.  Which meant a library.  A really well-stocked library.  Not huge, but for a ten year-old, plenty.  It seemed inexhaustible to me.  The stacks were aisles and aisles of mysteries.  Not mystery novels, but genuine mysteries — books on every conceivable subject.

And there I was, every day after school, and most all days and half the nights during the summer, wandering the aisles.  I knew how to use the card catalogue, but found that just wandering and remembering the regions of the shelves and subjects covered was better.  I was on no mission.  Just looking for books, books of any sort, anything interesting.

Not “kid books.”  Lies and shit, for the most part that stuff was.  I began reading at 3, had it down by 6.  Past that, it was just using my time to read whatever came into my hands and looking up whatever I didn’t understand.  And looking stupid enough that adults couldn’t censor my activities — easily done.  If one looked up “innocent moron,” there would have been my photo.  Mistakenly categorized.  Exterior appearances did not quite line up with interior realities.

So, in the art books, I found a history of the comix; Les Daniels’ history, in fact.  Grabbed it up and flipped through to discover an entirely new world… no color plates, but who cared?  The history ranged from Golden Age to the “new” Underground Movement that was underway, complete with full issues and healthy excerpts to go with the very helpful prose.  And I had a community card — the students who ran the desk would let me check out anything I had guts to walk to the counter.  And I walked some pretty hefty stuff up there, some titillating and erotic stuff, violent US Ranger and Special Forces manuals, books on art forms I’d never seen or heard of, classics — and this history of comix.

Looking through more thoroughly, I was introduced to male and female undergrounders.  Gilbert Shelton’s Wonder Warthog was hilarious, as were The Freak Brothers.  There was Robert Crumb — I recall his story Meatball in there, Victor Moscosco, Kim Deitch, Trina Robbins.

Ah, but Spain.

That cover of Subvert: black and white (in the version I found); violent; to the point (literally); the thought of the return of the Nazi SS in a near future… and Trashman.  That was the material in the history — and too damn little of it! — that I inhaled, contemplated, kept returning to after looking at the cartoon nipples and pubes,  women, sexy stuff, psychedelia, and absurdity of the other artists.  Nope, back around to Trashman, The 6th International, the notion  capitalism breeds fascism — Marxism (of a sort) as antidote to oppression.

Shit, I was poor.  I bought what I wanted by picking up Coke bottles out of ditches: comics, magazines, paperbacks, and candy, in that order.  What the hell was this “International” bit?  Why would Nazis come back?  I mean, we fought against those sons of bitches just 20 years before I was born – now “communist” was the dirty word, “Marxist,” “socialist.”  But not so much in the world of Trashman.

Spain showed a revolutionary sort of average guy, a car mechanic (my old man ran an auto parts store and all I saw and heard about were mechanics, some of whom were pretty cool – so that was easy to see) who became a revolutionary against the fascist/capitalist takeover and exploitation of people who were just trying to live in peace… people who fought back… violently, in the face of ruthlessness.

(No, I’m not recommending actual violence — these violent acts in the comix were symbols of overt resistance to injustice, refusal to knuckle under, to give in, to crawl.  I needed that message, being encouraged by everything around me to crawl, conform, give in.  It took a long while to work out the deeper meanings.  I’m still doing so.  But I got THAT much from the images and fictional dystopian stories.)

Comic books with a message… not to beat one over the head with, but as part of the strange tales that unfolded.  I went from wanting to be Orion or Captain America to Trashman in about one day.  Later, I decided they weren’t all that damn different, in their way.  Kirby was doing Captain A and the Falcon back then; it all seemed fairly seamless — one set of stories for kids, the other for adults.  Both commentaries on freedom and justice.

Later, I started reading Marx the summer of 1979 along with Hunter S. Thompson… just to understand.  Couldn’t find any more Spain Rodriguez for a few years.  Did start turning up Gilbert Shelton books in Atlanta at comic book conventions once a year.

So I  kept checking out that history of comix at the college, mainly to glimpse Spain’s work.  I don’t think anyone else touched that book between ’76 and 1980-’81.

Yep.  I didn’t become a Marxist — but I did come to appreciate the truth and insight in some of Marx’s analysis of capital (e.g. the surplus labor theory of value).  The more I went into the world to do less than appreciated work, the more I saw how the economic system actually functioned in practice.

A visit from Trashman would have been appreciated more than once, but Trashman is a symbol, not an actual human.

Years passed.  I got degrees, I studied and study more.  I teach philosophy when I can find a job.  I write and draw satirical comix, most political, all liberal to (non-Marxist) “left-ish” leaning, all with a creeping element of horror… as that’s how best for me to represent the world symbolically.

If it hadn’t been for Spain, I might have just aimed at making silly-assed comix or even attempted to go utterly commercial, industrial, never allowing a serious thought to pass my mind in the meantime.

Nope.  Not how it happened.  For better or worse, or, as is the usual case, both, that cover by Spain awoke my imagination, my curiosity, changed my approach to comic books entirely.

Go read some Spain.  You could do much worse here as night genuinely falls and the monstrosities of the Amerikkkan Reich stir in the mansions of the powerful and in the greedy, hate-filled streets and forests and dry, half-alive deserts.

28 July 2017
Richard Van Ingram

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I’ll Miss Your Voice

Everyone comes from somewhere.

That’s one of those things about human life we get no choice about whatsoever, though we do get to interpret what it meant or didn’t and, eventually, to tell our own story. Some of us write it down; some talk it out; yet others, a bit of both. What isn’t said is as important as what is… and our interpretation tends to change as we do.

There is what happened, who was involved; what it did to us, for us, and what we did with it — are we victim? victimizer? vengeful? insightful? Do we merely survive at all costs or come to see others as integral to our being who we must become? Do we drift, moved around on the current of events and others’ interpretations of who you seem to be to them, play a role in their drama, or do you create your own life — which is always dramatic, theatrical, roles thrust upon us or chosen or created?

Patterns, patterns, patterns — they repeat in all of us more than most notice, a needle stuck in a scratched groove on the record that becomes part of our approach to life. Some never jump the scratch or learn to incorporate it as a pop and crackle in the tune: imperfection rejected, not owned, embraced, even loved.

This, because perfection is not possible for a human being or desirable; a perfect imperfection, yes: becoming good enough, struggling with what one was handed to make the artistic achievement that becomes… each of us. Interesting or not; creative or stereotypical; repetitious in self-destruction, the use and destruction of others, or in slow, relentless spiraling, upwards, outwards, downwards, inwards… becoming more and more oneself a bare hair’s-width at a time.

Or just stuck in that scratch on the groove, repeating the pattern, repeating the pattern, repeating the pattern… refusing to choose and struggle a way out, or deal with it at all.

Addiction, complexes, bipolar disorder — all words, clinical and cold, for a certain way of life bearing deep scars and scratches. Carrie Fisher’s life had these. Oh, God, but so much more, eventually. She made great art and fantastic written and spoken autobiography from all this. A famous, talented self-destructive father and a famous , talented actress mother; a close brother; a daughter whom she loved. And many lovers… all passing through and passing by, or bypassed.

Drugs — copious, self-medicating; bouts of mania and depression, mood storms terrible enough to drive her from self-loathing to fantastically destructive plans.

She’s one of the few people I know of who volunteered for ECT to stop the depressions at the cost of her memory. So, in part, she wrote to remember, to interpret and re-interpret, to revivify what the darkness swallowed. One does not enter ECT lightly, not at all. Some never quite return from it… but that’s not the mission, to return to repeat what keeps happening, but to return and overcome, to jump the scratch in the record and keep going, keep spiraling.

Over the past six months, I worked my way through Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” and “Shockaholic” as read/told by her in recorded book form. Watched a performance of “Wishful Drinking” onstage on cable a couple of months back late one night. Bought her new book, “The Princess Diarist” two weeks ago and began that, reading on my own this time, an early Hanukkah gift to myself from the woman who was half in love with being “Princess Leia” and half despairing that role would forever overshadow her novels, her own work, and autobiographical explorations.

Since age 11, Carrie Fisher has wandered in and out of my life disguised as Princess, now General Leia Organa — the princess who did not need saving but was doing the saving — and as a novelist, scriptwriter, and spelunker into the depths of her own psyche and history… all with wit, irony, self-deprecation, yet… strength. Power, the real thing. Dignity.

And as one plagued with Bipolar I Disorder. Me, too. There’s quite a bit in her writing I “get” — the inside joke on all people suffering mental illness who learn to make the illness suffer from us. Yes, I’m classified Bipolar I, too, in case anyone forgot, and we were diagnosed around the same time, or the same ages. What she doesn’t say, the space between the lines, is as important for me as what she does, what she implies. So it is with all genuine people, I reckon.

There she was today, nine years older than me, done here. Gone on, work finished, heart literally broken flying between heaven and earth. The Baal Shem Tov taught that HaShem grants us only so many words in this world: when you’ve said your say, you are finished. The point: Be willing to speak in such a way that what is said is worth dying for once you’ve spoken. Make it count for something.

That Carrie Fisher did. She did so for many; and I am one who listened in on her conversation, who appreciated and valued her work and so, her. No, I never met her, but I met something of her, what she wished to share, no malice involved. Her story is now a part of mine, a great gift to me… so I’ve a burden to pass on what I received through her.

Ms. Fisher, I won’t say goodbye. You’re not gone — you’re just not here except in the form of those words and images that mean much to me, and in the example of riding the illness, making it sing as part of her own wild chorus, scratches, pops, and all.

But I will miss your voice.

27 December 2016
Richard Van Ingram
#CarrieFisher

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail