I was never really into comics as a kid, at least not the superhero variety- which at the time was just about all there was. Like most in my generation I had kind of a split life. My parents were divorced and I lived with my mom in the less desirable part of town, where the only place to score comics was the grocery store. Though on the weekends my dad would come get me and we would go stay in his ridiculously expensive and sparse (his only possessions were a water bed, an incredibly complicated weight bench, and a overpriced stereo. On Saturday afternoons we would go to the comic shop run by this beatnik wanna be, for the sake of fiction lets just call him Curious George. He was a total dick who thought my dad was yuppie trash (He wasn’t a yuppie- just an asshole), and that I was yuppie spawn with a perfect little life – WRONG- Every week I would go in there and he would try to push me towards the superhero crap. For my dads sake I took a few bland subscriptions to X-men, Batman, Wolvy and others. But even in these comics where the characters were less than perfect, as in most superhero comics you had a good guy and a villain. Good guy wants order, or revenge for an injustice of some sort (as do most villains, but for some reason no one cares) and the Villain wants chaos, which seems to me nothing more than a more realistic state of existence.
Stan Lee and others of his ilk, were pretty good about getting down to the inner turmoil and complexities of life, and preferring my comics to be just as troubled and complicated as I felt my life was I felt appeased for a time with some of the more mainstream threads of the great comic blanket. It was easy to find comfort in the troubled lives of such anti heroes as Wolverine, The Hulk, and Batman but that was about all I could stand in the “superhero: genre, most everything else seemed like total bologna. I tried reading Iron Man, but that is not a comic you can read growing up poor. Wow, some rich drunk fights crime… Great… but I kept thinking
“FUCK YOU TONY STARK, why don’t you use all that money to help some under-privileged kids with fucked up dads kinda like you!”
Anyway- There were two comics that I found that completely changed my life forever. Piranha Press put out these half illustrated stories called “Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children”
They were masterpieces of dark humor that read more like a sparsely illustrated book than the 100 panel comics which were the norm. Some of the stories were retelling of old fairy tales from a much darker perspective, one of my favorites was “the truth about Satan”, a very funny satire about an angel that preferred driving around the desert to daily prayers, and practical jokes instead of somber silence. Tales perfect for a young boy growing up catholic.
Another great comic I found seemed as if it were made just for my life, it was Mike Baron’s Badger- These day’s Mike B. is a little too right wing loony for my tastes but the Badger still ranks up there with some of the best characters ever painted on a page.
“Badger” , was a comic book about a paranoid schizophrenic Norman Sikes, who has multiple personality disorders, one of which happens to be the Badger, a hero who basically just won’t take shit off anyone and talks to animals. He was accompanied on his antics by a Druid named HAmammamaabimmemamana, or Ham For short. Who while conducting a dark ritual made a slight miscalculation and appeared 1000 years later naked in a park. Ham and Badger first meet up in a mental institution where Ham reads Badgers mind through the cell wall and through him learns about modern society. What follows is 50 issues of sheer brilliance.
From Wikipedia : The series was a madcap combination of genres; something of a spoof on superheroes, with plenty of magic/fantasy and Mike Baron‘s in-depth knowledge of martial arts thrown in. The book was a black comedy, unusual for comics of its time. Some stories were light-hearted and off the wall, while others featured highly realistic crimes and acts of violence. Some objected to the series’ use of the mentally ill as subjects for comedy. Others regard The Badger as one of the funniest superhero comic series of all time.
Looking back on it now, I can still see the influence of these comics into my theatrical work from my early twenties. But that is another post entirely. As I grew older I didn’t even bother with main stream comics. I hunted down 1 shots by offsets of offset companies. Looked for new works and gritty realism. When I was in my late teens I finally discovered Love and Rockets, Adrian Tomain, Harvey Pikar, and others who told less about the fantastic and more about the mundane. I already knew that it was the mundane which was the real bitch of it. It was easy to survive an alien holocaust, or the assault of some jacked up super villain. But to survive the mundane, the routine, being poor and having few options , having to deal with life. It’s not like there are any answers as to why, shit just is and we have to deal. The occasional dark comedy was still great, but mostly because those who most often suffered were the ones that cared too much about a fleeting life, those that grasped too hard at life that was fluid and ever changing. Laughing at the more fortunate, though less intelligent (isn’t that always the way) was a great relief for a kid like me, who had already tasted the some of the worst shit-burgers life serves up on a daily basis. Mostly back then my life was filled with books, drugs and loving someone who didn’t want a damn thing to do with me- but fuck, that’s just being a teenager ain’t it.