Lynch and Whitney’s Phoebe and the Pigeon People

« How do I despise thee? Let me count the ways. Society, you corpulent swine! » – Bix

Today, January 7, marks the seventy-fifth birthday of storied undergrounder Jay Lynch (1945-2017), creator of Nard n’ Pat, Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids and MAD Magazine contributor… to name but a very few.

Today, we’ll shine a light upon his epochal comic strip Phoebe and the Pigeon People. Here’s how it was hatched:

« In April 1978, Lynch teamed up with cartoonist Gary Whitney to produce weekly Phoebe and the Pigeon People strips. Lynch wrote them and Whitney drew them. “It was very easy and it got us invited to cocktail parties”, said Lynch. “We wanted to do a strip that would appeal to secretaries, rather than a strip that would appeal to the comic fan type person.”

« Lynch and Whitney launched a stage show based on the characters, called When Cultures Collide, with an improvisational theater troupe, The Practical Theater. The performance included a battle of the bands between rock and new wave musicians. » (quoted from Ink & Anguish, a Jay Lynch Anthology, 2018, Fantagraphics)

P&TPP was another one of those captivatingly freewheeling features that popped up during the heady heyday of alternative weeklies. A while back, we devoted a post to Tom Hachtman‘s Gertrude’s Follies, which bloomed in a similarly unlikely fertile milieu. In Phoebe’s case, The Chicago Reader was the publication it called home during its impressive 1978-1996 run.

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A 1982 poster for the event in question. Art by Gary Whitney.

For a few years now, they’ve (in this case, a shadowy outfit vaguely named “Alternative Comics“) been promising us a Phoebe collected edition. We’re still waiting. Hey, if the publisher needs more time to do the job right, so be it… but expectations are accordingly high.

Amazon’s blurb is an ominous portent: « The under-achieving Phoebe and friends hang out with beatnik people-headed jazz-loving beat-philosophy cooing pigeons in a park in Chicago. »

Uh, not even close. Here are a few highlight from the strip’s first four years, pulled from the pages of Kitchen Sink’s valiant three-issue run (1979-81); read these selections and you’ll know more about the strip than whoever wrote that blurb. You’re welcome!

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Phoebe & The Pigeon People no. 2 (May 1980, Kitchen Sink).

PhoebeFrenchLessonsAPhoebeDebatingAPhoebeSignChangeA

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Clearly, these strips are so rooted in their time period that they retain no relevance whatsoever to today’s world and its social and political mores.

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Ah, politicians: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. I’d love to see some of our finer young minds take a crack at such an opportunity. One can still dream, right?
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In Phoebe’s world, there was always plenty of room for the meta-contextual.

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Bix gets to trot out his pet poetic phrase. Catchy!

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This is the magazine-size Phoebe & The Pigeon People no. 3 (July 1981, Kitchen Sink). Until the omnibus arrives, this is your best bet. Read the run right here, friends!
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Our loveable auteurs and some of their cast, enjoying the Chicago winter. That’s Mr. Lynch on the left, Whitney on the right.

I particularly love the strip’s anything-for-a-joke ethos: as was Lynch’s wont, he ran the gamut from lowbrow to highbrow, from squeaky-clean to salacious, from sunny side up to scrambled. Let’s face it, that bizarre premise would have challenged and defeated most would-be humourists within a few weeks, let alone a decade-and-a-half.

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Jay Lynch, dapper elder, as he appears in the short film There’s Something Weird About Jay Lynch (2014, filmed and edited by John Kinhart). Watch it here!

-RG