The Anarchist in the Comic Book Shop

d382governmentproudhon The Anarchist in the Comic Book Shop

Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, edited by Jay Kinney,
223 pages, PM Press, $20.Anarchy Comics had an anarchic publishing schedule, the
magazine’s four issues appearing at irregular intervals from 1978
to 1987. The first three editions were compiled by the cartoonist
and journalist Jay Kinney,
the fourth by his frequent collaborator Paul Mavrides.
Several celebrated artists contributed to the comic book over the
years, including Clifford Harper, Melinda Gebbie,
and Spain
Rodriguez, among others. Their efforts hit a wide range of
tones, by turns realistic and fantastic, solemn and
irreverent.Now those four issues have been assembled in PM Press’
Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, along with
various out-takes and ephemera. The strips anthologized here
include straightforward stories about anarchist history, cartoons
mocking Marxist sectarians, illustrated anti-authoritarian essays,
and odd little vignettes that are hard to classify. (The latter
include a page by Gilbert Shelton, creator of The Fabulous
Furry Freak Brothers, proposing an alternate set of
highways he calls “free zones,” where all traffic laws—indeed, all
laws of any kind—are suspended.) The left gets spoofed a lot, but
it isn’t being spoofed from afar: Just about all the artists and
writers come from, or at least have a foot in, the left side of the
anarchist spectrum.Some of the material is basically filler, but there is
compelling work here too. Harper, for example, contributes a stark
adaptation of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s famous
definition of government—the one that features the words “To be
governed is to be watched, inspected, spied on, regulated,
indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, ruled, censored by persons
who have neither wisdom nor virtue.”If that were all that Anarchy Comics had to offer, I
might recommend the anthology to friends with an interest in
alternative comics or the radical press, but I probably wouldn’t
take the time to write a review. But there’s something else here,
too: a series of stories by Kinney and Mavrides that are among the
funniest satires of the ’70s and ’80s, elevating the anthology from
interesting to essential. These strips mock
everybody, anarchists emphatically included, in a manner
that resembles the comedy of the Firesign
Theater, the
Illuminatus! trilogy, and the Church of the SubGenius. (With the
SubGenii, the similarities are more than just a resemblance. Both
Kinney and Mavrides were heavily involved with the mock-church.) As
an underground comic that debuted at the late date of 1978,
Anarchy Comics was caught between the final gasps of the
hippie era and the opening blasts of punk. The Kinney/Mavrides
stories captured the moment by firing satiric vollies in both
directions.Kinney and Mavrides didn’t do a strip together in the first
issue, but there was a taste of things to come in Kinney’s
five-page feature “Too Real,” a collage-comic constructed from clip
art and mid-century magazine ads.It’s a strange, funny, and somewhat free-associative rant that
straddles the boundary between earnestness and irony, presented
sincerely held ideas in absurd and self-mocking ways. (In one
panel, a cat announces: “I am Eleanor Roosevelt with a message from
the Vatican! Introduce maximum autonomy into daily life. Stop.
Question authority. Stop. Buy food in bulk. Stop. This has been a
recording.”) The story had the additional effect of allowing a
comic produced by Last Gasp Press, a publisher associated with
hippie humor, to lead off with almost half a dozen pages that adopt
the aesthetic of a punk-rock flier.That was a nice setup for the
magazine’s first Kinney/Mavrides collaboration. “Kultur Dokuments,”
published in issue two, is really two tales in one. The framing
story involves a generic town whose people are rendered as
almost-identical pictograms—except for the local LaRouchies and
Leninists, who are rendered in the style of the Bizarro World
characters in an old Superman comic. The picto people
ignore the Bizarros picketing their workplace and instead start
their own revolt by “seiz[ing] control of our graphic style,”
morphing themselves into individualized drawings that range from
Tintin to a talking dog. The metaphor here isn’t hard to
decipher.The Bizarros are funny, but they aren’t what makes “Kultur
Dokuments” so memorable. In the middle of the strip, drawn in
an entirely different style, there’s a sizable story within the
story: an Archie
Comics parody in which Archie and Jughead are transformed into
Anarchie and Ludehead, a couple of obnoxious punks rebelling
against the even-more-obnoxious mellow California
counterculture.At one point, the cartoonists reenact the ’60s cliché of a car
full of rednecks hurling beer cans at some hippies. Only this time
the beer is thrown at the punk rock kids, and the people throwing
the brew are, well…For those of you who haven’t been exposed to many underground
comics, those three hairy dudes in the car are the Fabulous Furry
Freak Brothers, some of the best-known characters to come out of
the hippie comic-book world. When I originally read this story in
the ’80s, I took their appearance here as a jab at the older
feature, but in fact it’s practically a licensed cross-over:
Mavrides had just joined the Fabulous Furry Freak
Brothers production team.


The Anarchist in the Comic Book Shop

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