FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

You Can Read It in the Funny Papers

by RON JACOBS

When I lived in Berkeley, California during the 1970s and 1980s, I probably spent more money at Comics & Comix on Berkeley’s Telegraph Ave. than at any other store except for those that sold beer and food.  At the time, underground comix were still published frequently enough so one could get something new every few weeks. Plus, there were always old publications to buy. Sometime in 1978 the first issue of Anarchy Comics was published. The red cover caught my eye immediately upon entering the store (as it was intended to do, no doubt).  I skimmed the comic, saw artwork I recognized and forked over the coins to the clerk. “You’ll like that,” he said. “Got some Spain in there, some other cool shit.” We talked for a couple minutes and I left. My friends and I got into our van and drove back to our house in East Oakland. We had some weed, beer and a handful of comix. Our eviction was still a week away. We were set for the evening.

A mélange of history, utopian speculation, social commentary and just plain fun, Anarchy Comics were the brainchild of cartoonist Jay Kinney.  Previously known for his work with the comic Young Lust and the Bijou Funnies series, Kinney decided to explore his interest in the history and philosophy of anarchism via comic books.  When the first issue came out, it sold quickly.  In part, this was because of the cartoonists it featured; Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton (of Austin’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers), the Frenchman Paul Mavrides, JR Burnham, Epistoliery and Volny on the Kronstadt uprising, Clifford Harper of Britain’s Class War Comix , Melanie Gebbies, and Kinney himself.  The publisher was none other than Ron Turner, whose dystopian Last Gasp comix foretold a grim future of ecological devastation and human despair.

Over the next ten years, three more issues of Anarchy Comics would be published.  Always entertaining and informational, they continued to include most of the aforementioned artists, while adding others along the way, including underground legend Greg Irons and Marvel artist Steven Stiles.  Spain’s contributions continued to highlight anarchist history: Durruti in the Spanish Civil War and Italy’s Roman Spring of 1977; Harper turned his pen to more contemporary social criticism; Mavrides and Kinney collaborated on both.  The highlight of this collaboration is the story titled “Kultur Dokuments” that appears in issue number two.  This story begins with a tale about a not-too-distant future where the Picto family, depicted with paper-cutouts, lives a two-dimensional life proscribed by the state whose goal is to take over everyone’s brain.  As the family members succumb, only the teenage son avoids that fate.  After being locked into his room by his parents, he finds a comic book that is the best parody of the classic Archie comic series ever published.  Titled “Anarchie,” it is the story of Anarchie and his friend Ludehead engaged in shenanigans typical of the actual characters except with a twist of rebellion.  Suffice it to say, I never looked at Archie comics the same after reading this.

Recently, PM Press published the entire collection of Anarchy Comics in one volume.  Besides the content of the individual comic books, Kinney has included his tale of their genesis, a foreword by Paul Buhle, some ephemera and short biographies of each cartoonist.  Besides being an important event in the history of comics and underground culture, PM’s republication of these comix gives an entirely new generation to read, appreciate and be inspired by the art, humor and intelligence that went into them.

Speaking of comic characters, there are very few who are older than the German Kasper.  The classic figure of the trickster, known in every human culture from Coyote to Star Trek’s Q, the Kaspers of human culture are here to point out our shortcomings and our foibles; our injustices and our selfishness.  Their sense of humor is not always that funny and their finger pointing is often taken quite poorly.  This is as it should be.  In Germany, they are known as the Kasperle and appear in Fasching parades, political protests and on television.  They are loved for what they say and hated because they blame us all for being complicit.

The Bread and Puppet Theatre has spent more than four decades doing what tricksters do.  This is why it is only right that the recently published book from Peter Schumann, the troupe’s founder and inspiration, should be about this Kasper.  A collection of cartoons drawn over the past several years, Schumann’s Planet Kasper takes on capitalist globalization, its wars and its proselytizers.  This Kasper is a clever, subversive commentary on the culture and cruelty of modern capitalism. It is drawn with primitive lines evoking not only the puppets of the Bread and Puppet theatre, but also their predecessors from old Europe.  The parables told are simple and pointed.  The solutions to the problems presented are equally so.  It is the illusions that we believe that prevent us from seeing this truth.  Kasper’s task, like all tricksters, is to destroy those illusions.  Utilizing metaphor, sarcasm, and even a little scatological humor, Peter Schumann’s trickster does his best.  The rest is up to us.

Comics and cartoons are often meant to be funny.  They can also be an effective means of relaying history and ideas.  In addition, the best comics are also subversive.  The ultimate combination of art, words and story can turn the reader’s world upside down or at least into a twist, challenging previously held notions.  If we accept these criteria to define quality comic art, then Jay Kinney’s Anarchy Comics and Peter Schumann’s Planet Kasper are both at the top of the form.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail