Into the Timestream is a CBU column by Patrick Ryan Bauer in which he takes us down memory lane, back to a specific point in the comics timestream. In Episode III he shares the story of first discovering a certain underground comic of his dad’s . . . at a rather tender age.
(* Parental Discretion Is Advised *)
Hey, kids! Welcome to Uncle Paddy’s House of Wholesome, Good-Time, Children’s Entertainment! Hope you kids like comic books because, WOOOOOOOOO-WEEEEEEEE, that’s what we’re getting down with, today! *chugs beer* Can I get a “Hi, Uncle Paddy!” from you kids?
Goddamn right. I love you little shitbags. Even you, faux-hawk. Anyway, my dad died. It’s okay, it was five years ago. I think. Time’s actually been pretty muddy since it happened. Whatever. The point is, today’s comic was one that belonged to that magnificent weirdo, so many years ago. (More than five.)
Our story begins in Anoka, MN. Halloween Capitol of the world and birthplace of my father and his six brothers and sisters. (Yes, Catholic. The horniest of all religions.) You see, there was this tiny house that my grandparents owned. They raised seven children there. Then, when the last of them left the nest, my dad moved back in.
Moving back home when you’re in your twenties sounds lame, I know. In my dad’s defense, he had returned from the Vietnam war, married an awesomely crazy lady who reminds me of my mom, and then married my mom. Hahaha. Oh, and he had to raise me sometimes. Poor guy. As such, I spent a ton of time at my grandparent’s house, poking around. This poking around led me to find my dad’s copy of Rip Off Comix # 10. I was five years old.
There’s something special, to me, about Gilbert Shelton. It could be that he was the first underground cartoonist I’d ever seen. It didn’t take much more than a glance to realize something very different was going on with this comic. It started my lifelong appreciation of Fat Freddy and Fat Freddy’s cat. The cat because cats are great and the strips are funny. Fat Freddy because, at one point, my dad looked exactly like him. (Though, I’m told my pop did more drugs. More drugs than a fictional character whose main function is doing drugs.)
The cover story revolves around The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, away from the present day, into the far flung future of 2003! 2003? Okay. Despite the futuristic setting, the story, much like many a Freak Brothers story, involves them trying to score weed, which they do. Panic sets in when they get pulled over and Fat Freddy eats the plant they just bought. The end. All right, that doesn’t sound great, but I honestly wish more comics had stories like this. You gonna tell me Green Arrow never had a joint on him?
Really, though. The star attraction to this comic is, surprisingly, not Gilbert Shelton. It’s the collection of underground comix from Spain. The country, not the cartoonist. I misread the cover and thought there would be Spain, but there’s not. There’s comics from Spain. I’m not doing a very good job of explaining this.
While some of the strips are more avant-garde, many of these gorgeous Spanish comics paint a picture of life in a country that witnessed a failed coup d’état that threatened to move them away from a democratically elected government. There also appears to be a heavy and invasive police presence, something a great deal of Americans could stand to read about.
What I get from these comics is a sense of humanity. At least, from the perspective of a few of these cartoonists. One character reacts angrily to news of the coup and begins to suit up for a confrontation. Eventually, anger gives way to fear, which then grants him clarity in knowing that, above all else, he loves his girlfriend and wants to be with her more than wanting to fight or to hide.
While I’d love to break down each of these comics in their own paragraph, that would make this column way too fucking long. Suffice to say, it’s great stuff. Any time you get a chance to read an anthology of comics from outside the U.S., you gotta do it. Heck, anthologies in general are a great way to find mind-blowing comics. Go buy an issue of Raw, roll it up, keep it in your back pocket, and use it to slap anyone who says comic books are stupid kid’s stuff.
Back to Shelton, his offerings in this comic are, for the most part, pretty fucking funny. The Wonder Warthog story is a continuation from the previous issue and it delights me to think that head shops might have had hold boxes for comics. One disappointing thing is that he uses one of, if not the absolute, worst tropes in fiction: The broken English-speaking Native American. In this case, an Eskimo. *sigh* How does this shit happen?
I’m not an expert on history. I’ll make that clear. I do know a few things, though, and I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version. Europeans came here (I’m currently writing this in the U.S., natch!), killed just about everyone they saw, moved on the lands they lived on like a swarm of locusts, connived the indigenous people every chance they got, oh, and did I mentioned they killed just about everybody?
So, after all that, our society decides to make it up to them by making them the butt of jokes about how stupid they are. It drives me nuts that this was such a prevalent trope in fiction while I was growing up. It drives me even more nuts when artists, who are already working outside of a system they know to be toxic, go ahead and perpetuate the worst pieces of that very same system.
It’s a tough spot to be in. I would be the world’s greatest idiot if I didn’t think Will Eisner, Osamu Tezuka, Hergé, or Carl Barks were some of the greatest cartoonists to ever live. One other thing they have in common, though, is their incredibly awful portrayals of Black people. Like, one moment you’re reading this bonkers awesome piece of fiction, the next moment, you’re reading KKK fanfic. It’s a dilemma because these guys elevated my favorite art form to unheard of levels but, at the same time, helped keep institutional racism going until . . . STILL? Holy hell.
So, while I’d love for everyone to read the classic comic books I’m writing about, I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to encounter the dehumanizing of people that takes place from time to time. As though enough of that doesn’t happen in everyday life, people don’t need that shit when they’re trying to read Uncle Scrooge. It’s a shame because, aside from the numerous problematic elements in older (and, sadly, newer) comics, they’re a blueprint for how the medium works.
This drifted miles from talking about Rip Off Comix. Suffice to say, it’s an incredible comic book, marred by a dash of casual racism from an otherwise incredibly talented artist. If you have the stomach to ignore that one page, it’s a fascinating read and a delightful break from what the general public’s perception of what comics are. Discovering this comic was a watershed moment for me and kicked off my desire to explore entertainment outside the safe confines of “legitimate” media. Going back to it for this column was special.
I’m lucky that I got to share stuff like this with my dad. Obviously, he never intended for me to read this when I was five. I’m sure he’d rather I saw it when I was seven or eight. When I was in high school, I told him about how I’d found it, so long ago, and we went to Uncle Edgar’s and Uncle Hugo’s mystery and sci-fi book store, my old man’s favorite spot, where I made him buy me The Collected Fat Freddy’s Cat. I could tell he thought it was kinda cool, but also that he was a tad disappointed his son didn’t want to read mystery novels the same way other fathers wish their sons played football.
My pops and I shared some quirky interests. Bert Blyleven, Howard the Duck, absurdly dark senses of humor, and Ben Folds, for some reason. Gilbert Shelton was our very first common interest, though, even if I had to keep it a secret for a decade.
Patrick has been a touring stand-up comic for over a decade, was the head writer for TV’s Drinking with Ian, has recorded for Stand Up Records, and has nothing to show for it.