Saturday, December 1, 2012

Goodbye Spain

Robert Boyd

Manual "Spain" Rodriguez, one of the artists who drew the seminal underground comic Zap Comix, has died. He was 72. The great chronicler of underground comics, Patrick Rosenkranz, wrote an excellent obituary. Justin Green, another of the great underground cartoonists and Spain's roommate for several years, posted a powerful remembrance of the artist. The Comics Reporter has been gathering obituaries and tributes. I feel pretty inadequate to add much to that, except to suggest that if you have never read Spain's work before, I personally recommend Cruisin' with the Hound: The Life and Times of Fred Toote. Back in 1999, The Comics Journal placed Spain's autobiographical stories at 89 of the top 100 English-language comics. They are, in my opinion, his greatest achievements as a cartoonist.

Spain had done comics at the East Village Other, an underground newspaper in the mid-60s, before moving out to San Francisco. He joined the Zap crew on the fourth issue.

Prior to Spain and his peers, there were, with a few eccentric exceptions, no art comics. The term "art comics" is used nowadays to refer to comics by artists who come out of a contemporary art tradition and who often exist in both the comics world and the art world simultaneously. But I like a more expansive definition--comics that exist primarily for artistic or expressive purposes, as opposed to comics that exist primarily to make money or to entertain. This is not to say that "entertainment comics" couldn't be art--there are many brilliant works of comics art that came along before the undergrounds (Krazy Kat, Little Nemo, etc., etc.). It's just that the underground cartoonists decided that doing highly personal, idiosyncratic comics was more important than drawing another issue of Richie Rich.

I admire Spain's comics very much. And at the same time, I admire him for being part of the movement that declared decisively that comics were art and not merely low-grade entertainment for subliterates.

The page reproduced below was from "Chicago 68", a story commissioned by the East Village Other. They sent Spain out to cover the scene around the '68 Democratic Convention. Spain ended up as a participant in the riots that occurred when the Chicago police went out of control. But unfortunately for his editor, he didn't finish the story until 1982! I edited a book in 1990 called Best Comics of the Decade (long out of print but not too difficult to find) and was proud to include "Chicago 68" in it.

Manuel "Spain" Rodriguez, Chicago 68 page 2, 1982


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