Kid Anarchy: Don’t go back to Yamston

« It is the beginning of wisdom when you recognize that the best you can do is choose which rules you want to live by, and it’s persistent and aggravated imbecility to pretend you can live without any. » — Wallace Stegner

It’s funny how, closing in on 300 posts, I’m only getting around to discussing some of my very favourite series. As my co-conspirator ds points out, these are far harder to do justice to.

Many of these were abject commercial failures, but providential glimpses into fully-formed universes we must leave forever unexplored save in our dreams. In the eighties and nineties, Fantagraphics were particularly courageous in following up on their principles (explicitly elaborated upon in the pages of The Comics Journal) and publishing material for which there wasn’t much of an obvious market. For instance, the four issues of Jim Woodring‘s pre-Frank anthology, Jim. Still my favourite work of his… but a definite commercial non-starter.

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Meet Tommy Delaney, alias Kid Anarchy. This is Kid Anarchy no. 1 (Mar. 1991, Fantagraphics). Colours by Roberta Gregory.

He’s not really an anarchist, you know. This amusingly led an overly literal-minded, self-styled hardcore aficionado (from the nerve centre of American Punk, Monroe, LA) to testily complain to the authors: « Where do you get off calling your lame comic ‘Kid Anarchy’?!! Yup, I thought for sure this might have something to do with Anarchy, hardcore, social and political matters and so on, but what does it turn out to be? A deadbeat story about a bunch of rednecks sitting around a house. You guys suck! Why don’t you get your shit together and do something you understand, like a story about two posers wanking each other! Get a life! »

Ah, but Kid Anarchy could have been utter offal… had it conformed to that (mis)reader’s expectations. Anyway, see for yourself.

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In full, the sequence that introduces our players. From Kid Anarchy no. 1.
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Trading tales of youthful escapades until the wee hours, also from the first issue. Worth noting is the complementarity of the narrative and the dialogue, always a plus for this reader.
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Let’s head over to Sears and sit for a group portrait, from the back cover of the inaugural issue.

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Two non-consecutive pages from a favourite sequence about the joys of grease. I no longer indulge in cheap-o burgers these days, but I get the same thrill from a paper bag full of samosas. One of the Kid’s wiser moments. The “goodness within”, indeed! Too bad he ends up accidentally leaving his “greasy-ass bag” behind in Sam’s van.
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Nina gets her cover spotlight, showing us a glimpse of Pandemonium’s tatty arrière-boutique. This is Kid Anarchy no. 3 (Nov. 1992, Fantagraphics)
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It’s not all quiet and introspection! Moonchow goes wild in the local Salvation Army dressing room! From Kid Anarchy no. 3.

To me, the deeply poignant charm of KA rests in its character study of a band of outsiders, drawn together by virtue of greater difference from the rest of the populace than from one another. While each of them outwardly appears to represent a ‘type’, this facile pigeonholing is defeated and contradicted at every turn. Not one of them fits the tidy category that convention and circumstance seek to wedge them into. Also notable is the tonal choice undergirding the narrative: let’s face it, young Tommy is generally a sullen, immature prick, while the authorial voice of his older self is honestly rueful and brimming with hard-earned insight. I would have loved to see where the story was bound: would the gang dissolve? Would we follow Tommy with a new entourage? What’s the sinister secret behind Pop’s low prices?

As it was, the third issue, appearing over a year after the second, made it clear that it was an indulgent boon from the publisher.

Artist John Michael ‘Jim’ McCarthy would go on to briefly (and often brilliantly) produce monster erotica for Fantagraphics’ company-rescuing Eros and Monster brands in the ’90s. Then the dusky lights of independent, impenitent, low-budget cinema beckoned! As for his old pal, writer George Cole… I just don’t know. Anyone?

-RG

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