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.
“As learned commentators view In Homer more than Homer knew.”
from “On Poetry,” 1733
Before responding to the review in question (hence, the title of this little waste of time), I’d like to say an honest thanks to Rob Clough for actually taking some time to look at the book. No one else bothered to do so, not in any critical sense, and what he said, inasmuch as it is accurate — and, to be sure, there is plenty of truth in what he wrote — is useful for me.
Alien eyes on your work and an honest report back what was experienced and judged is worth more than gold to an artist. There is no anger or recrimination in what I’m about to say (however slightly sarcastic it may sound). In fact, I highly recommend his blog, HIGH-LOW and many others do as well. It received an award for being a top 75 comics blog and I have absolutely no argument with that: he earned it.
By all means, read it and his other reviews. I do so.
As you can see, gentle reader, I quoted Swift at the start, so one could get some notion that I don’t completely agree with the review. In fact, it is mysterious to me how it came to be reviewed by Mr. Clough at all. he reviews mini-comics; this is NOT a mini-comic. And I didn’t send it to him.
LC #2 was published in 2014 — it is now 2017 and I’ve moved far beyond the approaches in that set of works… most of which were made prior to 2014. So, who knows why anyone would send him old, (in some senses) obsolete work that doesn’t fit the category of books he reviews?
Perhaps as a favor; perhaps as a sort of insult. Who knows?
And who cares? I don’t. It’s simply odd.
But it does call for some sort of response as that is now hanging around on the internet and people read it and may have walked away with an impression that, while partially true, is partially problematic. As I am interested more than bothered, I thought I’d say a few words… with pictures to illustrate my points.
I will quote liberally from the review as this, too, is a review and I make absolutely nothing from these essays… in spite of the donate button. Internet = “free,” it seems, so, there you go.
Mr. Clough writes:
“Loser Comix #2, by Richard Van Ingram. These are underground comics in the tradition of Robert Crumb and Skip Williamson, full of heavily-rendered drawings that parody pop culture and politics. This issue was the end result of a Kickstarter campaign and it shows, with high production values and full color throughout. ”
Yes, these ARE underground comix in that tradition, especially that of Skip Williamson. Less Crumb whom I find extremely talented yet overrated. He believes his own press and feigns a sort of self-deprecating humility in his works. As for sexual weirdness, S. Clay Wilson was so bizarre as to be hilarious – Crumb is a pale imitation and, often, not hilarious but disturbing. Either way, none of my books thus far contains much sexual weirdness, not that I am opposed to such — it’s just not my shtick.
Feh. Actually, I am for more influenced by Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, Jaxxon, Dave Sheridan, and any number of others. The list is very long.
Yes, I often crosshatch. No, I didn’t learn it from Crumb – he didn’t invent the technique. I’m influenced by Hogarth and Goya’s print work; I have a degree in printmaking as an intaglio and relief printer (and an advanced degree in philosophy, but who cares?). At this point, I’m pushing 52 years of age. I learned to draw with pens as a very, very small child, not pencils. 50 odd years with pens in hand. So, there we go.
The book was printed after a Kickstarter campaign that was more successful than I could dream — so I did have good printing. As an object, the thing looks good.
[First tip – this drawing was made in 2012. One can clearly read the date – as one can on all the work in the book. Many of the things in this book were years old by the time they saw print in ’14. Welcome to poverty and indie-publishing. But keep that fact in mind as we go: It’s somewhat important.]
Mr. Clough writes:
“There’s a plague story that’s a thinly-veiled political allegory that has some genuinely funny lines and a densely inked, horrific quality to the art. Van Ingram’s visual sense is perhaps a couple of steps ahead of his ideas,….”
Well, yes, there is such a story — chapter one of “RETURN OF THE PLAGUE.” I’ve never published the rest of it, so it remains to be seen whether and what I have here is an allegory, thinly-veiled or not, and whether or not, taken all together, what one has is a deeper set of symbols with much more than a simple or simplistic political meaning. I think that’s a reductionist reading that comes from skimming, not really paying attention to the references in the piece, and not mentioning that it is one chapter, not the whole story. In fact, I’m afraid one of the drawbacks, if not the main drawback in Clough’s review is that he skimmed the comic and didn’t really read it.
Yes, this may be my fault — perhaps my writing is horrible or trite. But as comix are primarily a visual medium and the meaning comes from synthesizing any words with the images, I’d hope my visual sense is primary. Whether it’s ahead of my ideas – as the visuals are the concretization of the ideas — I find difficult to accept. We’ll see.
[First, a splash page. Yes, there’s a nude. We’ll get back to that.]
OK. There’s “RETURN OF THE PLAGUE” Part One.
On the down side –
a) I experimented with fonts. Some are too small; others not easy to read once printed. There are a couple of mistakes when I typed, and I didn’t catch them, either.
b) The whole thing – this story and the entire book – was an experiment. A variety show; different styles, different approaches; different techniques. I keep the styles and techniques consistent, as you will see, within each story or vignette, but there is no overall unification in approach.
c) This was on purpose, but I’m not sure it was good judgment. I wanted to see, by feedback, what viewers wished to see more of and what they wished to less of in future work. I have no idea, myself, without asking and showing. But it does make the book a sort of 1960s-’70s variety show of comix.. by one person. This is an inherent weakness.
On the up side –
a) This story is far more subtle than the obvious surface reading. A closer reading would reveal:
b) There are three major themes at work. 1) The nature of reality as mediated through beliefs (and technology, which is a sort of reified belief system) – e.g. why is this woman viewed as an enemy because she had a cough? 2) The power of false and true stories we tell ourselves, the nature of lie and truth, the difficulty of interpretation, the necessity of doubt, dogmatic certainty as the origin of atrocity and dehumanization. 3) Death is our universal fate. How best to live in the face of it?
c) The title is a tip off. What is this “Plague” that is returning? It’s a reference to Albert Camus’ novel, THE PLAGUE. Also, the old man is the captured Heavy Metal Kid — a reference to William S. Burroughs… and his theme of “The Word Virus.” This is referenced in the newscaster’s narration at the beginning of the story.
These would be played out as the story unfolds in future chapters, but the basis is all there as hooks… if you think about what I’m doing. Which would require reading and thinking, not skimming the story. Whether I pulled that off is one thing; whether the reviewer gave it a fair shake is another. Decide for yourself.
I’m not a “conceptual artist” which, itself, is a disease in contemporary art — the substitution of a mysterious backstory to justify an impoverished presentation. In fact, such artists just need to write down the backstory as an essay and leave off the visuals as that’s really all there is.
I’m not doing that, so one sees what is there symbolically and metaphorically or one doesn’t. In this case, the failure is either in the viewer or in the artist, or both. I remain unsure after the review.
Mr. Clough writes:
“Van Ingram’s visual sense is perhaps a couple of steps ahead of his ideas, like the Loser Tarot. It’s a funny concept that’s beautifully-illustrated, but the actual ideas “The Ex-Wife”, “The Republican” are on the bland side.”
If those were the only two images in the satirical tarot, I might completely agree. Yet, they aren’t and, taken together, they are a sort of story in flashes of encounters; nor are they the entire set: it’s an ongoing project I began in 2004 (though I didn’t mention all of that nor need to do so):
A Tarot deck is many things at once; a satire of a tarot deck could be many things. In this case, it is, as is traditional, a journey; the journey of The Loser into the world and all the things The Loser passes through and is changed by, must face, in the journey of experience. That’s just basic tarot interpretation. “The Loser” is, in part, me as a symbol for my generation, Gen X, (I am on the prow of that generation). It uses some autobiography as a jumping-off point for universal and topical situations and experience… and private, absurd jokes. I was raised in the US American South so images like “The Republican,” while stereotypical, are also ubiquitous and true. Bland? Show that thing to a white trash Republican and tell me how bland the reaction is. Good luck.
Mr. Clough writes:
“The Peanuts parody Chunky Brown is tedious at best, turning Charlie Brown and Linus into loser hipster types, Lucy in [sic] a capitalist femme fatale (in one panel, her nipples poke through her shirt for no discernible reason) who sends them to work at a used bookstore. ”
First, the title of the Peanuts parody is Chunky Brownuts. Again, a sign someone skimmed and did not really read the “tedious” thing. The title has been Chunky Brownuts has been since about 1980 and is written plainly everywhere in the book. Secondly, there are four Chunky Brownuts stories in here in four styles, the latter two stories featuring the talking dog and his overgrown, anxiety-ridden rooster side-kick.
The Lucy-ish character does have nipples in one scene — she’s an adult, a femme-fatale, and this is a damn underground comic! “No discernible reason…” for nipples?! I’d love to see Clough talk about Crumb, Williamson, or nearly any other undergrounder. Plus, Lucrezia (Lucy) is an archetype of laissez-faire capitalism (and a reference to Lucrezia Borgia, the poisoner) — it’s all a swindle that draws one in by looking appealing and then spits one’s corpse out after extracting all value. As obvious as can be. Nipples, indeed. Plus, by this point in the book I’ve featured two nude women. Suddenly, this bothers the reviewer?
We’ll look first, talk later.
That was Story One.
That’s Story Two. If that title isn’t large enough for a blind person to see, I don’t know what to do.
[Actual major flaws here: I should have lettered it with a nib. The art could be much better – I was looking for a style and dropped back to how I drew in the 1980s… in high school. Out of self-serving nostalgia. Bad move.]
Story Three. Notice, I switched focus to Skip Dog and Weirdstock. Are these the “hipster losers”? Most hipsters I observe have money to waste on all manner of stylish things: Hence, “hipsters.” At best, these guys are slackers. Losers to be certain, but read the title of the comic book. I advertised nothing but.
[These are the offending nipples. I apologize on behalf of Deity for creating us as mammals with interesting body parts and shapes I see little reason in pretending don’t exist.]
[Oops. More cartoon nipples. Beware.]
Here we go: Is this just an autobiographical bit (and autobiographical comix are too, too often tedious as hell. If you aren’t a Justin Green maybe you should avoid them)?
As Clough writes, “…[They go] to work at a used bookstore. That latter development was clear [sic] Van Ingram’s way of getting back at his awful used bookstore job, which was probably cathartic for him but not especially relevant for the reader.”
It’s partially autobiographical, but it’s much more about intelligent adults working retail – or any other job – while being treated as serfs by authoritarian little Napoleons who’ve Peter Principled their way into managerial positions.
Is that relevant to any reader in the USA? Beats me. Clough doesn’t think so and is rather dismissive about it; perhaps it’s been awhile since he had to go take a shit job. Or has just forgotten the experience, or had a better one. They do exist. But pleasant experiences don’t make for drama or humor.
“Tedious”? Maybe… maybe not. Again, the reviewer didn’t get the title correct and conflated four stories. This suggests it just wasn’t his cup of tea, he skimmed along, and gave a superficial response more than a critique here.
I’m unsure. But I am sure there’s more here than he strongly suggests. It may not be any good — “good” in this medium has much to do with effectiveness. You judge.
Mr. Clough writes of this story:
“There’s an accurate but tedious bit of social commentary about a yokel voting against his own interests by supporting Republicans.”
First, I’m from the South, born and raised in Southern Appalachia. That “yokel” is a cartoon representative of the people I grew up with – and my sympathies in this comic are with him, oddly enough. He believes in his country, sacrifices his kid to war, works like a dog – because he’s taught hard work eventually “pays off”; his sick wife is exploited by a super-wealthy church, they can’t afford to live like humans… yet he has been propagandized by a party of fucking liars who’ve sold him an empty bag of promises and cliched slogans all his life. And he believes because he is a good person. He’s trusting. He doesn’t believe the flag and bible waving bastards would screw him over and use him for slave labor and could care less if he lives or dies.
Secondly, if The Stinkin’ Rich Dough Boy isn’t a prediction of the coming of Donald J. Trump & Company, I’ll give you a quarter. He’s also a commentary on the materialist direction of The USA since Reagan and the rape of average working people. His story is also a humorous primer on the 2008 economic collapse and the aftermath.
I did this in 2010 or ’11. It was previously published in another magazine and received good reviews.
But it, too, is “tedious.”
At the mention of that word in Clough’s writing for, like, the tenth time, I was ready to send him a thesaurus.
Finally, Mr. Clough writes:
” Van Ingram works best when he works briefly, like a hilarious strip about Richard Nixon seeing the future and the Partridge Family sending a message from 3013 to 1973, thanking them for their help in ousting Nixon and establishing a utopia. A serious strip about the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson wouldn’t have been out of place in World War III Illustrated, and here Van Ingram’s dense but colorful style and page design perfectly encapsulates the desperate quality of his text. Van Ingram has a great deal of talent, and it’s clear that he’s trying to find the best way to use it.”
Here, I have nothing to disagree with at all. In fact, it’s flattering.
These were, chronologically, the last pieces I did before printing the book. Factually, the Ferguson incident fired me up, to say the least. It pointed the way for most of my work since 2014.
Epilogue Why Did I Care Enough To Write This?
There is a unifying theme to this book, which is, at best, a potpourri; at worst, it is a hodgepodge. That theme is antipathy to injustice, intolerance for intolerance.
It’s not a book to be read at one sitting — it’s dense. It has diverse approaches. It flips from one perspective to a radically different one. It has intense sections and lighter sections, darker and more humorous ones… it is all horrific, in some sense.
And maybe that’s why Mr. Clough, with limited time, wound up skimming most of it (which is my guess): Perhaps he attempted to read it all at one sitting as one does a mini-comic. It’s not a normal comic in that sense and, obviously, NOT a mini. It demands some time and attention and consideration. Whether it deserves such is another judgment; maybe it doesn’t and, if not, that is its failure.
Since then, I’ve changed my approach. This was my first serious foray into comix since 1995 — the entire approach and market and audience has changed radically since ’95. So radically, I’m bewildered. I’m also older and isolated. So, this was an attempt to sound out an audience as much as anything. Comix is not a matter of “build it and they will come.” In some sense, one has to attract an audience, but to do that, one has to understand the audience.
Attention spans and background knowledge are not what they were, once upon a time. I thought my audience would be in its 20s; turns out, it’s largely 45 and over. Surprise. And folks in their late teens and into their 20s-30s are not the most politically/socially/philosophically interested bunch, as a group, it seems. They talk, they protest: they do not read.
The line, “Here we are now, entertain us,” was prophetic; and a pure Gen X epitaph for a new generation yet to come of age. But it has arrived. It is Gen Y, The Millennials, a generation with interests that differ from my own, a different historical mission and outlook, a generation as multitudinous as mine is minute.
My work is vaguely entertaining, but only for a niche audience. I don’t attempt to please everyone, can’t. While my work is pop culture, it won’t be popular pop culture. Making this book taught me that. It’s aptly titled. Proudly.
“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth None of them along the line know what any of it is worth”“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl
There he was. Saw his helicopters coming in to the Quicken Building because, you know, he sleeps in New York, not podunk Cleveland, Ohio. That would not sound sexy enough — that would tarnish the image, sleeping among the commoners, even of the political party he now owns, lock, stock, and two smoking barrels.
I was there on Day Zero, the new beginning, the deformation of the United States of America: Me, down in the streets drawing political cartoons and observational sketches of the goings on, trying to make sense of utter senselessness. Which, of course, is my calling as a philosopher; so I was switching back and forth among three personas — the observer, the theorist, and the satirist. Cleveland, Ohio, a beautiful place with wonderful people, interesting people, most of whom were in hiding or hustling “Hillary for Prison 2016” tee shirts on the sidewalks, not because they believed in that, but because they were going to fleece these sons of bitches for invading their town.
One of the guys I was with said he asked a vendor, a black man, why he was selling those shirts and worse.
“Leave me alone, man,” was the response, “you’ve got your hustle, I’ve got mine.”
“There’s a sucker born every minute” and those RNC conventioneers had “sucker” written all over them. Marks, every last one of them. And you, too, could see that, assuming you tuned in to any of the floor action from the convention. Suckers for believing in the man with the weird hair who helicoptered in and out of the Quicken Center so he did not have to get up close and personal with his filthy flock or run the risk of being questioned by a reporter who may have had the audacity to press him for something more substantive than an off the wall, fact-free assertion or a slogan.
If I heard “build a wall” or “ban all Muslims” or “Make America Safe Again” once that week, I heard it a bloody blue million times. What I did not hear was why those were good things, much less possible things, what they would accomplish, and, certainly, I never heard how it would get done. Those latter things are above the pay grade of the citizen and voter: Trump will just do it.
“Trust me. Trust me,” as he says often and loudly.
Law and Order — you know, like Nixon, and the return of the Silent Majority. Rip-off after rip-off, from Trump’s slogans to Melania’s plagiarized speech. And the suckers don’t care while the rest of you have given up. It doesn’t matter what the man says, truly — it punches the emotional buttons of frightened, angry white people; it keeps him the subject of every news and infotainment program 24 hours a day; it creates a shiny caucasian fantasy of a sparking, brown-free land where “foreigners” do not belong, where everyone is a certain, acceptable form of Evangelical Christian, where “our culture and heritage” are never again tainted by notions from alien sources.
Not that any of these people know any history or are cultured, in any meaningful sense. Or else they’d know the strength of Western culture at its best was always that it would borrow and absorb ideas and beliefs from anywhere, adjust itself, correct itself. That it was revitalized and saved by the Moors of Al-Andalus who preserved Greek learning for the world and a better form of mathematics and science and medicine. Those Moors, black people, Muslim, reached the heights of civilized life and rescued, made possible… a future worthy of humans.
“Ban all Muslims” indeed.
These people know nothing of The Enlightenment that once fought to rescue humanity from superstition, religious enthusiasm, monarchical absolutism and despotism. They know nothing of the hard-won Western value of “tolerance,” or the establishment of “human rights.” They know nothing of Voltaire’s 18th c. war on “being put to the question” — torture, in other words — or the real meaning of his battle cry, “Ecrasez l’Infame!”
“Torture the terrorists, even harsher this time!”
Law and Order. Make America Safe Again. Build the wall.
He’s got his hustle, too, this Donald J. Trump.
By all appearances, he is a human, an all-too-human human. But look closely and you will see what has become clearer to me over the preceding months, finally confirmed on the streets of Cleveland.
Trump is an empty space, a vacuum, a back hole. An ink blot and, so, a walking Rorschach Test. That’s the man’s interior — there is nothing meaningful in itself there at all. There never has been. He has no belief in anything of value beyond himself… whom he does not value enough to wonder at. He believes in appearances, in gaudy material things, in the trophy wives, in his brand, “TRUMP,” which, for a nominal service fee can be and has been pasted on anything. Because, in itself, it means nothing, stands for nothing, is nothingness.
The secret of Donald Trump is not that the emperor has no clothes; it’s worse: The emperor isn’t even really there. He is a nihilist. Power for the sake of power, attention for the sake of attention — that’s his activity, his function.
He is a black ink splatter and you see in him whatever you project.
For the neo-Nazi, for the Klansman, for David Duke, for the white people afraid the Age of the White People is drawing to a close, he is a neo-Nazi, a Klansman, a reflection of David Duke’s life-long fantasies; he is the savior of racist, white, Evangelical Christian America.
For the greedy, the money-hungry, or the working aspirant to the higher classes he is “financial success,” he is “the art of the deal,” he is “the rebirth of the American Dream.” No, his record bears none of this out, sketchy as it is. But reality is not the point; it’s that Trump has become all things to all men because he, in his depths, stands for nothing in particular. He is happy to seem to be whomever or whatever you wish… just as is a Rorschach Test.
For the Tea Party, he is a weird, irreconcilable mix of libertarianism and protectionism and the confusion of church with state. He is the promised reaction to LGBTQ rights, the final judgment on Socialized Medicine — both extensions of justice and human rights, long overdue. And which don’t fully exist here, but he’ll make certain they go away, nonetheless. Because you are throwing your fears into that black center and he echoes them back to you, only louder.
On the streets of Cleveland I witnessed a carnival without the fun, a carnival of incivility and anger, a celebration of laughing hatred and monstrous beliefs. Halloween minus the holiness, all tricks and precious few treats. Dueling bullhorns blaring unadulterated bullshit. Hope that hopelessness will tear this entire nation into warring groups, each thinking Trump supports them, each utterly incorrect.
Not that, given power, he won’t step back and allow each hateful, fearful group to have their orgy of violence and exclusion… all the better to ignore dear Trump as he lives it up on the public dole and commands the airwaves to say whatever will fill up the otherwise empty 24/7 news cycles.
That’s worked for him so far; until it doesn’t, he’ll keep it up.
He’ll get his attention, make his narcissist’s sociopathic pronouncements, build the financial value of his brand, “TRUMP,” and then cash it all in and leave us an ungovernable, uncooperative shambles.
Perhaps he will go live with Putin whom, today, he openly encouraged to spy on the Democratic Party. Crooked as Nixon was, he at least was ashamed enough to keep his treasonous, illegal, immoral activities hidden. Trump couldn’t and does not have the capacity to steal the microscopic shred of conscience that barely lived within Richard Nixon — because that would require him to stand for something beyond his own empty self. No, he just takes the slogans: Law and Order, Silent Majority.
Empty words. Emptiness emerging from his dark emptiness.
And you’ve missed it. The media misunderstood they were being used and played like a cheap piano.
OK. I’m comfortable making this public now:
In a week I leave for Cleveland, OH. Why? What’s there? The Republican National Convention and all attending insanity in the streets. What will I be doing there for about 7 days as I am obviously NOT a Republican? Covering the action in the streets with a team of political cartoonists, political artists, and political writers led by Joyce Brabner (Harvey Pekar’s widow — a famous political comix writer). Our work will be live-streamed on a webpage, ComixCast, and on YouTube… and various media outlets.
For me, this is an honor as well as an unbelievable opportunity to share, in art and words, what I fear America is turning into — nothing good.
As forewarned months ago, though I had no idea anyone would be seeing or listening, eventually I would have something to say about this election. Well, the time has arrived with a vengeance.
I’ll post a link to ComixCast and show work when the time is here. I hope you enjoy what you see, if “enjoy” is the correct term.
7 July 2016
Richard Van Ingram
Donate to ComixCast to protest Trump and his party’s bigotry:
Spain Rodriguez — Agent of Something Better That Never Happened
Once upon a time, 40 years ago now, in a world long gone, I was 10 years old.
Being unsupervised by adults, something I now thank G-d for, this ten year-old kid wandered the streets of a very small and small-minded Appalachian town. His mind, relatively uncontaminated by the surrounding ideo-sphere, wondered as much as he wandered: where did this come from, why are things as they are and not some other way, how did I get here, how can I get out, who should I be?
It was that wondering and questioning that made the ten year-old kid a weirdo, a stranger in a strange land, even in his hometown. And, like Steve Earle taught us, nothing will bring you down like your hometown. And that boy’s hometown was in overdrive to bring him down and keep him there — well, not so much him specifically (he was not that special and the world is not arranged around him, positively or negatively), but people akin to him. People who question, people who look for answers to uncomfortable questions… and all genuine questions are right uncomfortable for them that well fit in.
People who make other people uncomfortable, especially when very young and alone, tend to get the shit kicked out of them literally and metaphorically. So they go looking for refuge and allies and that child-on-the-verge-of-having-to-grow-up-really-quickly used to hang out at the saving grace of that town: the college.
Lo, and the college had a library well-stocked with classics, which he’d get into later, art books, which he began to explore, and some pretty hip titles — one of which turned out to be Les Daniels’ Comix: A History of Comic Books in America. Long story short, it was in those pages that our disaffected anti-hero discovered Underground Comix and their historical context… and the concept of “historical context.”
Where it would have been easy to fall for Robert Crumb’s art and humor — it isn’t as if the kid didn’t — the artist that really held his imagination and got his attention was Spain Rodriguez and his character Tashman, Agent of the Sixth International. Well, there was Trash — the kid wished he looked half as cool as that and understood what all this talk of revolution was about — and Trashman was there putting a knife through the neck of some futuristic Neo-Nazi SS son of a bitch.
“Wait! Didn’t we kill the Nazis?” the kid wondered.
At age 50, I now know we did not kill fascism or Nazism. We just barely managed to stomp the shit out of the vermin who espoused those beliefs the first go ’round and the beliefs still floated around even in that world the child was sent to live within — that was part of the problem with the closed-minded town he was in; he just didn’t understand at the time.
Yes, obviously I get it now. Thanks, in part, to Spain and his comix as I managed to discover more of them as I grew older and had opportunity to lay hands on them. I sit here now watching cops shoot black people, round up latinos, the for-profit slave prisons bulging with the incarcerated poor while Donald Trump does his best Mussolini impersonation and Ted Cruz whines his paranoid right-wing theocratic Nazi tunes for enthusiastic audiences who just don’t know any fucking better. And the RNC is starting to demand loyalty oaths from the voters who wish to participate in “their” primaries.
Seig heil, motherfuckers.
Where’s Trashman now that the future arrived?
Well, Marxism isn’t going to cut it — but Spain’s not here to disagree because he died. Marx had many damn fine ideas and his critique of the labor theory of value strikes me as having a great deal of truth. But Marx-ISM, like every other form of ISM is as dead as Spain — worse, ISMs ruin nearly everyone that gets sucked into them. But that’s a bete noir for a different day, gentle readers.
But the symbolic idea of resistance to evil that Trashman represents… there’s the crux of the biscuit. Spain’s generation, not Spain himself, but that generation, sold out back in the ’80s. And so, here we are. The only “revolution” that happened was the Reagan Revolution and that flushed the rest of us down the toilet, down, down into the sewers to scrape a living doing the muck work for low pay that the Boomers suck up in the form of stock investments and rent and lending. “I got mine. Fuck you!”
Spain remains one of my heroes artistically and intellectually because he genuinely hoped and worked for something far better and stood the test of time and the temptations of sheer ambition. Go look him up; this isn’t Wikipedia. Or better, just read his work and look at that powerful, expressionistic art. He died like he lived: with his motorcycle boots on. You can’t ask for much better than that.
And he influenced and fascinated a nobody kid in a nowhere town who grew up to be a philosopher, an artist, an essayist, and a damn troublemaker. Thank G-d and thank Spain Rodriguez for being there when I needed to find him.