Love and Rockets #35 (April 1991)

Love and Rockets #35

This issue is kind of strange because both Jaime and Beto are in the middle of stories. Parts Three, Five, and Seven. There’s nothing stand alone at all about it, except maybe the sketchbook pages at the end, but even those sketches refer to the stories in progress.

Jaime’s up first with Wig Wam Bam (Part 3). It opens with Danita’s kid, Elias, discovering Ray sleeping off getting beat up in the shed behind Danita’s parents’ house. Danita’s going to take over Ray’s apartment since he can’t afford the rent. Well, actually it opens with the promise of getting to see Izzy, who’s been mentioned, but hasn’t appeared in a while. Not since her solo story, but it wasn’t in the current time period. So it’s been a while since Izzy’s been around.

Jaime doesn’t disappoint. Izzy’s been collecting the milk carton missing ads of Hopey and making a wall collage. Meanwhile Daffy and Itsuki, working at the supermarket, talk about Maggie returnin in front of Danita, sending her into some hard self-examination about Ray and her and Ray and Maggie.

Then there’s a flashback to Daffy as a teen first hanging out with Maggie and Hopey and then–big surprise–turns out Maggie isn’t actually back. The story ends–well, one of the endings, confirming no one knows where Maggie or Hopey are right now.

There’s a lot of other stuff–mostly with Danita–but Danita isn’t exactly sympathetic. Ray isn’t exactly sympathetic, try as Jaime might to make Ray sympathetic, it just never comes off. Ray’s just inert, especially in this time frame. He’s mooching off Danita. Maybe.

But the entry is far more successful than last issue’s, simply because Jaime’s not trying to throw as many characters in it as possible. Daffy’s a good character, Izzy’s a great character. Doyle being absent helps the story. Jaime’s able to take his time with scenes and conversations; nothing’s rushed. It’s a good story. Even if Ray and Danita’s romantic troubles are somewhat less interesting than drying paint.

Nice art throughout, of course.

Then comes the five pages of Love and Rockets (Part 5). Beto has gotten the party started. Everyone is there except Steve and his homies. Including Maricela and her crush, Kris, only Kris only has eyes for Sean who’s still interested Bambi because Bambi puts out even if she is clingy and has a neo-nazi boyfriend now. There’s some great pacing, a way too long conversation about Iggy Pop, some Beto trashing Hollywood, and the band getting messed up on a variety of drugs. It’s awesome how much Beto’s able to fit into the five pages. Love and Rockets kind of feels like filler–and is far less serious than it’s gotten in the past–but it’s still some very strong work.

This issue’s Poison River chapter is only three pages longer–eight–but seems like a lot more. Luba’s getting questioned because Peter’s ex is trying to set him up as a commie, leading to everyone deciding Luba’s mom is too beautiful to be her mom (the cops get her jewelry box, her only family heirloom, open). It’s awkward and kind of heartbreaking, everyone crapping on Luba, even if she hasn’t been much of a character the last couple issues. It’s her origin story, sure, but Beto’s concentrating on the things going on around her.

Including whatever hints he’s trying to make about Peter’s ex, which aren’t quite as gross as they could be but are certainly (possibly somewhat unintentionally) transphobic. All the usual character sensitivity Beto’s shown in the Palomar stories or even in the first few chapters of Poison River is gone here. Lots of caricatures, lots of exploitation. Lots of cheap exploitation. It’s callous.

It’s also full of tension and drama and terrifying and rather well-executed. Archie even shows up, in the saddest introduction ever, making his future with Luba even more heartbreaking.

Also back is the Pedro the racist comic book character detail, which Beto used in previous issues but skipped for a while. Or at least seemed to have skipped because it wasn’t memorable. Here it’s a big deal.

Poison River isn’t back on track by any means, but Beto’s narrative plotting is outstanding and it’s compelling. Even if it’s mean-spirited and cruel.

Not a great issue (comparatively), but far from a concerning one.

Love and Rockets #34 (December 1990)

Love and Rockets #34

In all… Love and Rockets #34 is the least successful issue of the comic book so far. It’s still a good comic. With great art. But as far as what Los Bros do and get done? It’s distracted and erratic.

Or just downright problematic. The first story, Beto’s Poison River installment, jumps all over the place as Peter’s boss has to have him investigated as a leftist to keep their government connections happy. Drug trade and all. Eventually it turns out to be a scheme from Peter’s former bandmates and his baby mama (principally baby mama) to get him in trouble for being a commie. Only Peter’s not going to be the one investigated, Luba and his father are going to be investigated.

Last chapter ended with Peter going to get his father. This chapter has his father around, but without any dialogue from him. Luba’s busy getting high–presumably on heroin, shooting between her toes–with a couple other bored young housewives. One of her friends wants into the locked diary Luba’s mother left her, which is pretty much the only attachment to the original Poison River. Beto’s gotten side-tracked with Peter and the club and especially scheming Blas, the former bandmate who wants into the drug business and is trying to seduce Peter’s boss to accomplish it. Luckily, Peter’s boss just thinks Blas is a boy toy, not management potential. Or not luckily, since it’ll probably mean he likes the whole framing Peter as a communist thing.

After seven pages of jumping around, location and time, Beto ends with a “reveal,” which is possibly… the most problematic thing in any of his strips so far. Peter’s club–his dancers–are all transgender. It’s the club’s theme, which Beto has been hiding until this point. Given Peter’s stomach fetish and all the other sexual hints in the last couple issues… Beto’s on some kind of icky, exploitative ground here. Or at least he stands next to that ground. The cheap “reveal” is icky enough on its own. We’ll see.

Then comes Jaime’s Hoppers–though no one calls it Hoppers–story. It’s Doyle’s birthday and he’s headed into get a breakfast from sort of girlfriend Lily. He’s not living with Lily right now, instead preferring to be homeless and in a camp with some other guys, which is a whole other thing. Lily’s forgotten because she’s teaching Danita to dance; it’s Danita’s first night stripping. Meanwhile, Itsuki and Daffy keep hearing how Maggie’s back in town, mostly from Nami, Daffy’s sister. Nami will be important later. Doyle hooks up with Ray, who’s almost evicted, and they both need showers.

Eventually the story gets to the strip club and then to Daffy’s house so Doyle can reject sixteen year-old Nami, kicking off a fight scene in the finale, and all around. Jaime jumps between Lily and Danita, Doyle, Ray, Daffy….

And Hopey. Because Hopey’s stayed out east and now she’s crashing with one of her friends (romantically) causing all sorts of trouble in the local art scene. There’s a little about why Maggie left, but really just a retread of what happened last installment. It’s all over the place. And… good for Jaime, he can do it? He can do a nineteen page story with probably twenty-five speaking parts? It’s competently executed but far from ambitious. There’s also a lot of avoidance; he’s contriving events to delay.

Some great art, of course.

Then is the Love and Rockets installment, which is five pages and the defacto greatest success. It’s too short and Beto’s trying to keep subplots going while focusing on Steve heading to the party with Junior Brooks and the other two Black guys. Presumably they’ll run into the neo-nazis who assaulted an elderly Black woman at the swank Hollywood party. This issue focuses on Steve’s homelife and his complicated history as an anti-racist skinhead punk in the early eighties versus what’s become of skinheads since.

It’s pretty intense actually. Steve’s turned out to be a far better character than expected.

But it’s still a far from wholly successful entry. It’s too short.

The issue spins its wheels and shows off Los Bros’s abilities, but without any forward momentum. It’s hard to think of a Love and Rockets being by rote but #34 is as close as the book’s ever come to this point.

And Poison River is in dangerously cringey territory.

Born Too Late: Fantagraphics’s Dave Sheridan

Dave Sheridan: Life with Dealer McDope the Leather Nun and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers

The other day I saw a news article about a young couple, looked to be in their twenties, that were planning their upcoming nuptials. The bride-to-be stated, happily, “its going to be 70’s themed wedding. My fiancé is all about the 70’s, and we just love that period.” So I thought for a second, in some disbelief, what is it about the seventies that would make someone that didn’t even exist then want to plan their wedding styled after this decade? After all, I grew up in the seventies. As best as I can remember, the biggest identifiers of the 70’s were self awareness, polyester, and disco. Not exactly what I would call factors that would make me theme what was to that point the most important day of my life around.

As best as I can recall, me and my fellow seventies raised brethren wanted one thing when wistfully wishing what we wanted the most: to be of age in the sixties. Now of course, nostalgic trends revolve around the sixties, but we actually lived during the sixties. I was born in the solemn year of 1961. When the sixties were over, I was barely into double digits, but even at that young age, certain aspects of 60’s characteristics stuck with me enough to carry them into my teenage years.

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers #4.

Mostly I have my mother to thank for this. She gave birth to me later in life, in her late thirties, and loved the atmosphere of the sixties, their youth, and the types of counterculture that displayed itself at every opportunity. She loved going into hippie run businesses, particularly those along book store lines, as she loved to read, as well as the scented oils, incense, macrame, and all the trappings that younger people wore and espoused. For me, being a young lad, drug into these dens of escapist freakdom, my recollections consisted of just a couple of strong attractions. One, the young ladies that worked and shopped in those stores, wearing their loose interpretations of what passed for clothing (or lack of thereof), two, the magnificent smell of patchouli oil, and three, the inevitable rack of underground comics I was placed at when she knew would be the best space to allow me to actually enjoy these excursions.

Meef Comix #1.

Leaving a kid next to a rack of underground comics, you ask? Well, let’s just say my parents were pretty liberal types that figured they raised me well enough to know the difference about what to take seriously and what not to. I suppose at the age of nine or ten, I wholeheartedly agreed with this philosophy. Underground comics, were an independent source of the art form, uninhibited by censorship and the more plebeian concerns of middle class decency. And that brings us to the subject of this diatribe, a biography of one of the second generation underground cartoonists, Dave Sheridan. Now Dave, while born in 1948, really matured as an artist in the seventies, although his life and experiences actually were grounded in the sixties. Artists take time to mature and finely hone their skills, and by the time Sheridan hit his stride, the seventies were in full force, the underground comix scene he grew his talents in, was for all intents and purposes, gone.

Dave Sheridan: Life with Dealer McDope, the Leather Nun, and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a hardcover edited by Mark Burnstein, published by Fantagraphics, 260 plus pages, $35 retail, is a great and wonderful tome that covers his childhood, education, travels, artistic collaborations, and much more in the all too short volume. Too short, you question? Well, sadly, Dave contracted cancer and his life ended at a mere 37 years on this earth. But what years those were. This book delineates, through first hand accounts from those that grew up with and existed with him, the contributions that his talents gave to those of us lucky enough to have experienced them.

Dave Sheridan.

Born in Cleveland, these memories relate his life as a parochial student in through high school, his difficult attempt at normal art type education, and his eventual pilgrimage to the west coast, home of much of the United States countercultural base. From his teaming up with fellow artist and partner in crime Fred Schrier, his first encounter with eventual wife Dava (who was Stanley Mouse’s 19 year old live-in girlfriend (ah, the sixties)), to his life long journeys in artistic heaven, most notably well known as co-author of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers for a time with Gilbert Shelton. His run-ins with famous figures such as Father Guido Sarduci and Hugh Hefner, and his design work that gave Rip Off Press its visual identity. The first sixty pages of this book are jam packed with just about everyone he came into contact with and worked with, and all flow seamlessly somehow into a proper narrative and appreciation of his accomplishments.

The latter 200 pages of the book are an excellently reproduced, chronological reprinting of his comix work, his commercial work, including posters, record labels, graphic design packages, and album covers, with my fave being the complete reprint of The Whiteline Cannonball Express Freak Brothers story he did with Shelton that appeared originally in an issue of “High Times” magazine from 1977. It finishes with a lovely selection from his sketchbooks, to give you an idea of how his complicated ideas would start and bear fruit.

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers #11.

While it could be said that Dave’s strong suit wasn’t his writing, you’d be missing the point. The underground comix movement wasn’t about the perfected series of words and pictures, as much as it was the experience of being into and relating the environment he was living, much the same of most comix artists. Dave’s strengths were in his meticulous illustrative technique, patiently using his design sensibility and luscious ink line work to create a visual world few could compete with. Sheridan constantly set up challenges within his visuals not just to bust his own chops depicting them, but to bring the reader into the world he was existing in, whether it be a drug influenced visual masterpiece, or a sexually influenced dream sequence that would captivate the hormones within my tender loins. His sense of humor put him at the top of the class as well, making you laugh, but also marveling at the wit and verve he conveyed it with.

Dealer McDope. 1984 Volksverlag collection.

Dave’s most well known character, Dealer McDope, is well presented, as are many others, in such greatly titled comix as Meef, Mother’s Oats, and my fave, Tales From the Leather Nun, no doubt inspired by his duration in Catholic schools. This tome presents them all in a loving, mannerly fashion that oozes with creativity as well as ultimate respect for the creator.

While I came to this earth a little too late to grow up in the sixties, their impression on me as a young comix reader cannot be underestimated. My mother, one day, finishing her shopping spree, casually asked me if I found a comic to add to her pile of purchases.

“Yeah, this one”, I said, pushing up a copy of Mean Bitch Thrills by Spain Rodriguez.

“50 cents? Kind of an expensive comic”, she asked. Most mainstream comics at this time retailed for 15 cents.

“It’s a special one”, I replied, giving Mom the look all kids give when they really want something.

from The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers #5.

No questions asked, she put it in the pile, and bought it that day. I suppose I was grateful she didn’t look at its contents, or even her liberal attitudes might have been tested. But to this day, I still have that comic, and the impression it left upon me that gave me a whole new way to look at comic books and what they could achieve, in a way, that the mere Batman and Robin couldn’t.

Thank you Mom, and thank you, Dave Sheridan, for the wonderful memories.

Love and Rockets #33 (August 1990)

Love and Rockets #33

Both Jaime and Beto get a lot done this issue, but Jaime’s is a little more subtle. In his Locas, he addresses something more directly than usual– Maggie and Hopey as a couple–as well as introducing racism (against Hispanic Maggie) for the first time? For what seems to be the first time. Not only her getting insulted, but also some friction–with history–between her and Hopey over Hopey’s ability to “turn off [her] ‘ethnic’ half.” It’s a lot.

And it comes after a mostly fun story where Maggie and Hopey are at a party, hoping to bounce over to Penny’s. Penny, it turns out, is at the same party (though she doesn’t have any lines and it’s only implied Hopey talks to her). There’s a lot of character interplay as Maggie and Hopey make themselves unwelcome, sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally. They’re now the “California girls,” something their new arty friends don’t much appreciate.

It’s good stuff, with a flashback–where Jaime gets in a really funny reveal–to the early days. Lots of personality in the art–Jaime draws literal dozens of characters–and some excellent walking around exteriors in the city at night. It’s going to be a multi-part story too, which may or may not address Hopey’s disinterest in returning home in the future.

Roy Cowboy makes an appearance on the title panel too.

Then it’s time for Poison River, which has Ofelia returning home–only for a page–an interlude before getting to Luba’s already crumbling marriage to Peter. Turns out his fetish for women’s stomachs is going to be his undoing, helped along by his former bandmate and friend, who wants into the drug trade.

It’s mostly Peter’s story, with Luba suffering through the bad marriage and odd situations the rest of time. She’s kind of got a subplot going as she’s worrying about Peter’s dad, who showed up last issue but doesn’t really figure in except to lay some groundwork. Poison River is a strange story–Beto has changed the course of said river quite a bit; it’s impossible to tell where he’s going to take it. The whole Luba origin story thing isn’t even important right now.

And then comes the… Love and Rockets installment. It’s a lot less serious than last time, as the cast works toward getting in place for the party next issue (presumably). There’s some intrigue and some drama–the skinheads are getting worse (or at least not going away), Maricela is fantasizing about the American high school girl with the eating disorder instead of Riri. It’s only six pages but somehow it’s a lot; Beto’s taken this weird, not fitting story and all of a sudden gotten a lot of mileage out of it.

So while all three installments are promising more to come–especially Beto’s–it’s a nice complete issue. Los Bros are generating momentum.

In some ways, the first and third stories–the Locas with arty farts and the Love and Rockets with teenage misfits–are the most impressive, just because Jaime and Beto are juggling so much at once. The Luba story has a bunch of characters, but they’re mostly disposable. In the first and third stories, you’ve got to keep track of all these (mostly new) characters.

Love and Rockets #32 (May 1990)

Love and Rockets #32

The issue opens with Beto and Poison River. It’s set in 1970, during Luba and Peter’s honeymoon. In four pages, Beto develops Luba from a scared teenager to a domineering trophy bride (sort of trophy bride). She learns to have fun, she learns to demand. At the same time, Peter’s getting into club management and drug dealing, though the drug dealing isn’t really a factor. It’s a factor in so much as Peter’s doing it (and he’s got a former bandmate kind of threatening him about it), but it’s not really part of the story.

Simultaneously, there’s the stuff with Peter’s other wife (maybe, not clear) and daughter. The family he’s abandoned for Luba. It’s a quick chapter–eight pages–and most of the action happens in the first four pages. The Luba character development is crazy effective, with Beto really excelling at the summary panels. And it’s got a great cliffhanger. Duel cliffhanger. Luba’s getting more personality but somehow she’s even farther now from the established Luba. Excellent stuff.

Then it’s Jaime’s turn. He’s got three stories. The first and third are parts one and two of “Below My Window Lurks My Head,” or, what has Ray been up to since Maggie reunited with Hopey. Mostly Ray’s been up to Danita. But it takes a while for that reveal. First Jaime brings back Doyle, who’s down on his luck and dangerously miserable–very different angle on the character from last issue, when he got his own story. But Doyle’s only there to get Ray into the bar and they’re only in the bar to meet up with Danita and for Ray to have to tell Doyle he’s been hooking up with her and it’s serious.

The next story is Maggie, Hopey, and Penny (Penny’s in the background, in a hilarious mom mode). Maggie just found out Ray dumped her for Danita, which pisses Penny off. So Maggie decides she’s going to show Ray by hooking up with Hopey–while they’re at Ray’s ex-girlfriend Maya’s place. Only Maya wants to make it a threesome and Maggie doesn’t, which brings back the “not lesbian, Hopey only” sexuality Maggie talked about a dozen issues ago (or more) with… well, Danita. The issue ends with some friction between Maggie and Hopey, mostly because Hopey’s avoiding talking to Maggie about it.

Great art on this story. Simple, great art. Jaime does wonders in seven panels, specifically the visual mood of this unnamed city (or, as Ray calls it, “that big old metropolis”).

Then it’s back to Ray and Danita. Ray’s more serious about the relationship than Danita. They’re arguing because Danita’s son’s father is out of jail and he’s looking for them. He’s murderously dangerous. All these people start showing up at Ray’s apartment; every time the doorbell rings, they think it’s the dad. Only it’s everyone else but the dad–including Penny, who’s mad–and ’Litos (from Hoppers) who hasn’t been in the book for ages.

It turns into a nice party, with some great panels and a lot of texture from Jaime. It’s got a kind of funny ending, but also a sad one. At this point in Love and Rockets, in Locas, it’s impossible to tell what Jaime’s doing with Ray. He’s almost entirely different than when he started but still exactly the same. He’s older, tireder, in a way no one else in the book has aged or exhausted. It’s interesting, particularly since Jaime focused on him so strongly for five or six issues a while ago.

Then Beto closes it off with the second chapter of… Love and Rockets. Seems some skinheads have attacked an old Black lady. A teenage girl might know who did it and she used to date one of the guys in the Love and Rockets band and then there’s surfer dude Steve and Riri and Maricela (worrying about Palomar being attacked by the fascist government). There’s a bunch of new characters, or fleshed out minor characters from last chapter, and a bunch of echoes to Poison River. Maricela has acne, like young Luba does in River. The South American governments–in Rockets–are sending out death squads, just like they’re doing in River.

But Beto’s also, apparently, going to look at punk rock and racism. He does the whole story in three rows of three panels pages, lots of dialogue, lots of characters, lots of jumps between those characters. Not much in the way of establishing shots. It’s something kind of new from Beto because it’s not lyrical, but it’s also not particularly sympathetic to anyone. There are likable characters, sure, but he’s not invested in anyone yet.

As usual, great issue. Very different issue. Los Bros are changing up the comic.

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