Raw, weird, and politically incorrect: How underground comics are … – Washington Examiner

Underground comics are no longer underground. Maus, the masterpiece about the Holocaust by Art Spiegelman that began as an obscure strip in the 1980s in the comics anthology Raw, is now taught in colleges, and formerly underground artists such as Adrian Tomine and Daniel Clowes have their work featured on the cover of the New Yorker.
It’s wonderful that readers can get their copy of Maus at Amazon or Barnes & Noble rather than driving miles out of the way to a dusty old comic shop. In going mainstream, however, something may have been lost. That something is the kind of dazzling freedom that is on display in the new book Raw, Weirdo, and Beyond: American Alternative Comics, 1980-2000 .
The book, edited by John McCoy and Andrei Molotiu, is a product of an exhibit that recently ran at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College. It compiles an incredibly rich collection of underground comics from way back that may be considered the golden age of the medium, starting in the 1980s and leading up to the takeover of our lives by social media in the 2000s. The best names in alternative comics are all in this book: Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Peter Bagge, Jim Woodring, Trina Robins, Harvey Pekar, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Lynda Barry, Charles Burns, and Julie Doucet. The commentary and interviews in Raw, Weirdo, and Beyond are insightful, and the art reproduced is mesmerizing.
Underground comics originated in the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s. Titles such as The Freak Brothers and Zap were sold in “head shops,” stores that sold records and tools for smoking, ahem, “tobacco.” A Supreme Court case, Miller v. California, allowed decency laws to be dictated by “local community standards,” and as a result, a lot of the “head” shops were closed. There was also a newsprint shortage in 1973, and hippie readers were aging out of readership.
By 1980, “alternative” comics had a new outlet: the comic book store. In the wake of the success of Marvel Comics, which attracted entire new generations of readers, fans could now get their comics not from grimy hippie dens but from clean, well-lighted shops. In the stores I frequented in high school and college in the 1980s, the layout was simple — Spider-Man, Batman, and Captain America were on the main display racks, and off to the side, or even in a different room, was Love and Rockets, Hate!, Eightball, and other titles. There was also Raw, the anthology edited by Spiegelman, and Weirdo, which was edited by Crumb.
These alternative comics offered sex, politics, punk rock, and often the pure id of their creators. There were racial and sexual stereotypes, anti-establishment rants, leftist diatribes, satire, self-loathing, and libertarianism. Love and Rockets lets the characters age in real time. Bagge, who created the hilarious comic Hate! that both celebrated and satirized hipster culture, went on to become a libertarian who wrote strips for Reason magazine. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis told the story of growing up in Iran during the suppression of the fundamentalist revolution.
The talent and freedom of expression at the time were dizzying. It was only a matter of time before it would be poached by the corporate media . Artists such as Tomine and Clowes did several New Yorker covers, and films were made out of Clowes’s work. Maus broke through to a massive audience. Crumb’s notebooks began selling to people like Leonardo DiCaprio. Now you can find the stuff at Barnes & Noble.
This is great for American culture, as these artists deserve a wide audience. Still, something has been lost in the move to the main stage. As Bagge puts it in Raw, Weirdo, and Beyond, “You can’t fly under the radar anymore.”
Bagge also makes a telling comment — that when comics were underground, it wasn’t something that any creator “was going to lose a college professorship over.” In the age of the woke, that has changed. In the fall of 2020, for example, Phoebe Gloeckner, the author of the graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl and an associate professor at the University of Michigan, was accused of “ curriculum-based trauma ” by students partly because she showed them Crumb’s work. The art itself might not have been offensive, but Crumb and his refusal to accept woke ideology were.
Talking to the New York Times, Crumb “refers disdainfully” to “the wokies.”
“The whole identity politics and L.G.B.T.Q. stuff,” he said, “I agree with it. These people need an equal share. I can’t argue with that. But then people get kind of intolerant about anything that could be seen as triggering.”
The establishment man Crumb and others battled in the 1960s is now the arms-folded college scold.
And so, as with so many other cultural trends, the world of comics has come full circle. Underground comics, at least those willing to buck leftist cultural trends, are once again banned by the establishment. Which means, of course, that they’re right on target.
Mark Judge is an award-winning journalist and the author of the book  The Devil’s Triangle: Mark Judge vs. the New American Stasi . He is also the author of God and Man at Georgetown Prep, Damn Senators, and A Tremor of Bliss.


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