July 24, 2019
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels.
witzend is, maybe, my favorite comics that, I admit, I don’t really like. Don’t get me wrong: I love it. Wood, Williamson, Frazetta, Krenkel, Ditko, Wrightson, Jones (before she was Jeffrey Catherine Jones), a very young Art Spiegelman. It’s worth the price of admission to see Spiegelman’s ‘flower child’ juvenilia cheek by jowl with Ditko’s hectoring, lecturing, libertarian-authoritarian “Mr. A”. Come for the slightly corny, nudy old John Carter, harness-and-tharks stuff! Stay for incipient trippiness of mid-’60s design sense. #9 is all W.C. Fields, with a truly great Jones cover.
witzend was Wally Wood’s zine-like, creator-controlled, underground/proto-Comix last-gasp attempt to achieve escape velocity from the constraints — financial and creative — of commercial comics.
Wood? One of the all-time greats. Absolute tower of the 1950’s EC-MAD Magazine era. Some of these other contributors likewise hail from that era, giving the production a time-out-of-joint vibe. Old-fashioned yet not-yet-fashioned.
witzend launched on an editorial ‘no policy’ wing and a prayer, in 1966. Boasting good print production, it ran 13 eccentric, intermittent issues before dying in 2004, in a housefire that consumed #14 and the archives. Wood sold his share for a princely $1 after #4, handing over to Bill Pearson, but continuing to contribute. (Hard to lay hands on a complete run of witzend until Fantagraphics fixed that in 2014. I can’t say I grew up on this stuff.)
But why don’t I like it, then?
To answer a question with a question: adult values? Mere shrapnel scatter-patterns — afterthoughts and aftereffects of blown tiny minds, reading comics. (Read the rest of the entries in this series if you don’t believe me about where adult values come from!) A corollary is that great comics, like the kids whose minds they blow up, are under pressure to ‘grow up’ — often awkwardly — in an attempt to measure up to their power. Comics is vast. These days, you can say, and draw, what you like. But, concerning those early decades, can’t help wondering: What would the early greats have done, if they had had freedom?
witzend is a tremendous clue — that’s why I love it — but it’s dismaying how it points to the conclusion: honestly, they hadn’t a clue. The Fantagraphics edition contains a lot of great interview material. For example, Spiegelman’s recollections of where Woods’ head seemed to be at: guy wanted to draw boobs, noodle around with second-hand Tolkien-isms and half-baked Freudian notions. That’s… alright.
Spiegelman’s mature Maus is what most people think when they hear ‘serious comics’. Graphic novels: I’m not here today to draw up a reading list of great, ‘indy’ comics creators of the past several decades. Too many! But if you want a sense of how hard it was for comics to ‘grow up’, becoming independent in great ways that are now familiar, I do have this pick: witzend. Never has failure of imagination been so imaginative. Visually lush, intermittently unsavory swirls of creative juices that — despite being rather genius — don’t know where to go.
SERIOCOMIC: Mimi Lipson on LITTLE LULU | Sara Ryan on AMPHIGOREY | Gary Panter on THE NUT BROS./THE SQUIRREL CAGE | Gordon Dahlquist on POGO | Robert Wringham on VIZ | Matthew De Abaitua on CAPTAIN BRITAIN | Jessamyn West on FUN HOME | Bradley Peterson on HELLBOY | Stephanie Burt on KITTY PRYDE RETURNS | Jenny Davidson on OOR WULLIE | Luc Sante on MARSUPILAMI | Susan Roe on BLOOM COUNTY | Marilyn Berlin Snell on CHARLES ADDAMS | Deb Chachra on ARKHAM ASYLUM | Judith Zissman on ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | Alexandra Lange on BETTY (ARCHIE) | Catherine Newman on VERONICA (ARCHIE) | Josh Glenn on SPIRE CHRISTIAN COMICS | Adam McGovern on THE CREW | William Nericcio on ERRATA STIGMATA | Chelsey Johnson on DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR | Sherri Wasserman on TANK GIRL | Tom Nealon on MEGATON MAN | Erin M. Routson on THE WEDDING OF SCOTT SUMMERS & JEAN GREY | Douglas Wolk on FRANK IN THE RIVER | Annie Nocenti on DICK TRACY | James Parker on 2000 AD | Adrienne Crew on NUTS | Vanessa Berry on MEAT CAKE | John Holbo on WITZEND | Michael Campochiaro on SPIDER-WOMAN | Miranda Mellis on RED SONJA & BÊLIT | Michael Grasso on THE NEW MUTANTS | Ty Burr on BINKY BROWN | Bishakh Som on AMAR CHITRA KATHA | Mark Kingwell on CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED | Brian Berger on JIMBO | Kenya (Robinson) on AGENT 355 | Seth on THE ETERNALS ANNUAL | Susannah Breslin on SLASHER | Lisa Kahlden on JACK CHICK TRACTS | Mandy Keifetz on KRAZY KAT | Tom Devlin on DUM-DUM POSSE READER | Eric Reynolds on ACTION COMICS #460 | Rick Pinchera on EIGHTBALL #16 | Juan Recondo on DAYTRIPPER | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on ROZ CHAST | J.E. Anckorn on HALO JONES | Deborah Wassertzug on GREAT POP THINGS | Peggy Nelson on MAD MOVIE SATIRES | Holly Interlandi on ANGEL SANCTUARY | Karen Green on THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS.
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