Weirdos: Seattle’s Alternative Comics Culture in the Context of R. Crumb’s Underground

{product_snapshot:id=910,true,false,true,right}This is the cover of the catalogue by Daniel Clowes [slide]. “Misfit Lit” marked the last public appearance by Crumb in Seattle. A brief aside: Robert and Aline Crumb then lived in Northern California, but were preparing to move to a villa in France that Robert acquired in trade for a few of his sketchbooks. When I thanked them for taking time out of their busy schedule to attend, Bob and Aline explained that they were only too happy to escape what they described as an insane stalker that was following their every move with a movie camera. Based on their account, I pictured a crazed paparazzi perched in a tree across from their house with a telephoto lens. Years later, I finally saw the documentary Crumb by Terry Zwigoff, and it became abundantly clear that he had their full cooperation in the project. Having spent much time with Crumb in several cities across the country, the film captures this artist perfectly.

Crumb was joined in Seattle for “Misfit Lit” by an extraordinary array of his colleagues including Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, Roberta Gregory, Jim Woodring, Paul Mavrides and Burne Hogarth. A panel discussion with these artists, moderated by Gary Groth, was monumental. It almost defies description. At one point, just for comic relief, Crumb purposefully tipped over in his chair, falling head over heels on the stage. Given the clarity of hindsight, this event represented a symbolic passing of the torch to a new generation of underground cartoonists.

It’s worth noting that “Misfit Lit” gave rise to the term “alternative comics.” In preparing to market this exhibition, I entered into a discussion with Peter Bagge in an effort to draw a distinction between the underground comix of a previous generation and the new breed of comics being published by Fantagraphics Books. After much thought, Bagge suggested that the new form of energetic music beginning to take hold in Seattle was being labeled “alternative rock.” I’m not sure if it was myself or Peter that first uttered the phrase “alternative comics,” but that became the term I used to describe “Misfit Lit,” and that’s how the title became associated with this new genre of comics. Within a year, “alternative comics” entered the cultural lexicon and came to include everything from sword wielding anteaters to the pseudo-superhero books of DC’s Vertigo line – but it was Bagge’s invention, and Fantagraphics Books was the primary purveyor of these compelling comics.

{product_snapshot:id=173,true,false,true,left}Peter Bagge’s Hate [slide]. In my considered opinion this is the most fully conceived and executed comic book series ever published. At the risk of sounding cliché, this is essential reading. Hate chronicles the exploits of hapless Buddy Bradley and his crew of lovable losers through Seattle’s grunge era. If you were there, you’ll recognize yourself. At once hilarious and poignant, this work goes beyond satire. Bagge’s comics of this period helped define both the aesthetics and attitudes of our city’s only significant indigenous youth movement. As was the case with Crumb’s work in the 60s, Bagge was not simply a casual observer of this counterculture, but an active participant as well. A contemporary review of the comic series by Bruce Barcott in the Seattle Weekly explained, “Twenty years from now, when people want to know what it was like to young in 1990s Seattle, the only record we’ll have is Peter Bagge’s Hate.” This series became an international phenomenon, routinely outselling popular superhero comics like Spider-Man and Superman. I might add that I make several cameo appearances in Hate as “Leonard the Love God.” Yes, I was hot! The first 15 issues of Hate have recently been collected in the graphic novel Buddy Does Seattle.

{product_snapshot:id=680,true,false,true,right}Jim Woodring [slide]. Another local disciple of Robert Crumb. Jim is one of a handful of cartoonists that have gained currency in the realm of fine art, and tonight I’m initiating a movement to persuade the Frye Art Museum to mount a substantial exhibition of his work. You can assist in this endeavor by pestering curator Robin Held: That’s rheld at Thank you.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Stranger’s contributions to Seattle cartooning. Here’s a recent cover by Woodring [slide], and inside regularly you’ll find work by Ellen Forney, Tony Millionaire, and others. Unfortunately, of late, the Stranger seems to have lost interest in promoting low brow counterculture.

As we like to say in the biz… th- th- that’s all folks. Thank you.


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