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

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 29

« Sharon… Marilyn… Jayne… Eva… Claudia… plus bits and pieces of bit part actresses. » — Prof. Shelley recites Cadavera’s recipe

In the early 1990s, Seattle-based publisher Fantagraphics were in choppy financial waters. To save the ship, they went commercial… in their own fashion. Two speciality imprints were launched, most famously Eros Comix, but also the lesser-known Monster Comics.

My own contender for the finest of Monster releases adroitly straddled both the erotic and the monstrous (and a few other genres besides): a two-issue wonder, Cadavera, was the hallucinatory, disembodied brainchild of Memphis cartoonist auteur John Michael McCarthy. Sadly, this raunchy-in-all-the-best-ways, rollicking saga-in-the-making, fireball of jolting ideas did nothing to help its publisher climb back into the black. But hot damn, did it ever give its all. However, in the speculator-frenzied, Image Comics-happy US marketplace of ’91? Oh, just forget it.

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This is Cadavera no. 2 (Nov. 1991); artwork by John Michael McCarthy, who helpfully tells us that the « cover car is a35 model Ford Model ’48 3-window coupe, original price $570. ». And isn’t that a doozy of a catchy slogan?

I know I could pull striking samples from these skinny pamphlets all the live long day, such is their level of visual craft and quotability, but I’ve checked, and you can still get copies for a song, so why spoil your eventual pleasure?

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Meet Prof. Shelley’s hulking robot helper, Googog. From Cadavera no. 1 (March, 1991).
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Cadavera no. 2, page 4.
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Cadavera no. 2, pages 22-23. No-one could accuse Mr. McCarthy of being a slouch.

Anyway, all the gooey goods are accounted for in this « unofficial death certificate for unpopular culture »: punk rock, tabloid journalism, fascism, hot rods, hillbillies, Nazis (the original and the currently popular Neo (in)breed), mad science, robots, bunnies, Vice-Prez Chas. Manson…

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Oh, and model kits! This painting by Gary Makatura appeared on the back cover of Cadavera no. 2. « … and thanks to the Holland Company for allowing me ‘the look’ of authentic Aurora, here’s to a new world of plastic and glue! »

The amazing Mr. McCarthy, after giving comics his more-than-game try (with Eros entries Supersexxx and Bang Gang, the one-shot movie tie-in Damselvis Daughter of Helvis and one of my all-time favourite series, Kid Anarchy, written by his pal George Cole), went the Roger Corman route and became a micro-budget filmmaker. There may be zero bucks in it, but that’s still a rosier financial situation than comics could offer.

« To hell with all those near-fatal quests and celebrity body parts! »

-RG