That ’90s Comic Book

No, not Peter Bagge’s HATE. I mean that ’90s comic book you’ve never heard of.

A short-lived little funnybook called DROP DEAD, which any fool could see was inspired by Bagge’s neat stuff. Some kid who called himself Matty Boy Anderson was barely out of high school when he started cranking out copies, and timidly mailing them to review periodicals like Factsheet Five, and cartoonists he admired, such as Bagge, Roy (Trailer Trash) Tompkins, and Evan Dorkin.

It began in 1993, when self-publishing meant a trip to Kinko’s. The black & white interior was cheap to print (and fun to huff), but full-color covers were expensive. So typically an office color-copier was secretly abused for free, someplace prior. With a book stapler, you were all set to collate and fold your comix. This is the way it was done. Plus, not sinking your life savings into a print run left you more open to trading, which is also the way it was done. When you submitted your publication to Factsheet Five, you indicated whether trades were welcome. If you did, you found yourself with quite a “zine” collection, very rapidly.

It was actually pretty grand.

I caught the bug in 1991, with Mike The Pod Comix. Two of my early writing partners on that magazine went on to pen the legendary Doom comic in 1996. You can’t even imagine the pride I feel about that. It brings tears to my eyes, like a beaming papa. Those guys created part of interweb DNA, plain and simple.

I did a comic strip called Lemmings for a local Georgia newspaper from 1991 to 1996. It starred thinly-veiled versions of myself and my current friends, and hewed very close to Sam Hurt’s Eyebeam at first. The editor liked it because it had no talking animals whatsoever; it was all-humans, which at the time was a novelty. (Eventually I included aliens, however, which I find more believable than talking animals, done to extinction even by ’93.)

Lemmings featured a character named Strutter McCann (I was in a “goofy names” phase), a slacker who lived in a cardboard box and was later abducted by the aforementioned aliens. The newspaper’s publishers were ludicrously Puritan; I was once forced to change the words “chicken poop”, any depiction of smoking was forbidden, and “damn” and “hell” were unwelcome as well. Needless to say I was starting to chafe under this, especially after reading what Pete Bagge and Ivan Brunetti were doing. So I made Strutter the “star” of my “underground comic”.

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Pre-Photoshop, and yes, that’s colored pencil.

Griff Des Moines was the co-star, and the embodiment of my worst emotional and physical excesses. Together with Strutter, they would reinterpret incidents from my life and others’, to humorous effect. Since I was barely legal, this meant binge drinking, fistfights, live shows and strip clubs.

For three years, Lemmings and Drop Dead were concurrent, and there were occasional connections. Donna, the mayor’s daughter, turned up as Valerie Russo Strutter’s ex, adding at least some morality to the proceedings.  I don’t reprint this stuff for a lot of reasons, but a big one is that I’m as guilty as anyone of creating stock Ideal Straight Women, and I cringe when I read that shit.

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From the supplemental comic “Resisting The Urge” (featuring no characters described in article)

It would deflate the mystery to tell you which tales are true, and which ones aren’t- I didn’t write an autobiography, after all. The series was originally titled Smegma, but after unanimous negative reaction from friends and relatives, I settled on Drop Dead. As in, “Fine, I’m changing the name. You can all drop dead.”

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DropDead2bStrutter was kicked out by Griff at the end of the first issue, and appeared later in ex-girlfriend Donna’s swimming pool. Thus begins an epic adventure of street lunatics, ghosts, and hermaphroditic punk rockers (inspired by the real-life Tragic Mulatto and Spo-It’s). Donna kicks Strutter in the balls, because that was the kind of sophisticated capper I liked to craft in those days.

The third issue is probably the closest it got to notorious.

It wasn't because of the flip-over cover (watercolor and colored pencil on Xerox with origami paper)

It wasn’t because of the flip-over cover (watercolor and colored pencil on Xerox with origami paper)

Griff takes center stage for this one, a 21-page (!) story about his efforts to bang Desiree, the new girl at his mall job. Things go back and forth, until finally he seems to utterly alienate her. Griff takes in a movie with friends, including the “sexually and racially unidentifiable” Non-Human, when a possibly drunken Desiree accosts him. After Griff pours his heart out to her, Desiree blows him, kisses him tenderly, and snowballs right into his mouth.

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The movie was “Leghumper”.

Hey, if it was directed by Kevin Smith, you’d buy it. When did that come out? Weird.

Drained from that massive story, I filled out the back pages with reprints of Lemmings strips that featured Strutter McCann, and Donna’s father, the mayor of Lemmings. This made it easier to put some here for curiosity’s sake. (The originals are syndication-sized and hard to scan.)

It is what it is. Note the dates of publication.

It is what it is. Note the dates of publication.

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First printed appearance of Bwur-Hurg.

First printed appearance of Bwur-Hurg.

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Strutter’s method of preparing Jiffy Pop is based on my experience. It didn’t explode, it was more like a nuclear meltdown kind of thing. (It also obviously didn’t kill me.) Strutter annoyed everyone in heaven so much that St. Peter literally kicked him out, and he landed in a tree above the Playboy mansion.

I don’t know, man, it was 1993. I used to sign my name with a rebus.

The fourth issue, the first without a color cover, focused largely on a party Strutter crashes with Griff and another ex-girlfriend in tow. This ex got bigger boobs after the breakup, which is a cause of great obsession for Strutter over the series. Finally his confusion leads to nausea during a reconciliatory make-out session in a dirty bedroom. Meanwhile, Griff settles a score with a former workmate.

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The girl that Griff arrived with goes down on another girl in the bathroom, and so we wrap up another exciting issue.

The fifth issue sees the return of Melancholy Schlemiel (I told you about the cutesy names), the violent girl from the first issue, and her gross stepbrother Carmen Mesozoic(heh).

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Griff overdoses on the pesticide pooled around the house by a careless landlady, and Strutter and Melancholy’s fates are left unclear after a vengeful ghost lets their vehicle roll into traffic.

Next issue, things got even worse.

DropDead6With “#6.66”, Drop Dead became One Hundred Percent American, taken from a rant by new co-star Nigel Platypus(yeah) about hyphenated nationalities. Nigel drags Griff to a clinic where his girlfriend is getting an abortion, which protesters have turned into a war zone.

DropDead6bConsumed by guilt, Stephanie later pulls a gun on Nigel in the parking lot, and mysteriously, she is shot dead out of the darkness. This scares Griff and Nigel enough to skip town, along with the deposit from their dead-end mall job.

The seventh issue would be the last; circumstances in my life kept me from properly concluding the three-issue arc I’d plotted out. It dawned on me that the series had become too dark, even for my tastes. Maybe this was not only reflective of my life, but of the second half of the 1990s overall.  In any case, I certainly pushed things as far as I knew how, pre-9/11.

It is revealed that a militia exists, secretly within the country, that executes anyone they see engaged in an act of violence, no questions asked. They could be anyone. They could be anywhere. They killed Nigel’s pregnant girlfriend, and they are a constant unseen presence for the remainder of the series.

On the road, the boys pick up a wild hitchhiker who ends up saving their lives when they nearly suffocate from carbon monoxide poisoning (the muffler is missing and they’re driving in the rain). He directs them to his exit and suburb, where he conks out, leaving them to wander in the night. The earlier episode foreshadows a suicide that Griff foils, saving a teenager from dying in his car.

DropDead7The kid’s older sister mixes drinks for Griff out of gratitude, and after sharing embarrassing/traumatic stories, they bang while Griff thinks of the words to the theme from The Jeffersons to keep from ejaculating prematurely. This backfires when Griff realizes a latent attraction to Weezy Jefferson.

Meanwhile, Nigel complains to hitchhiker Rod that his town is boring. Rod promises to show him something amazing, which turns out to be a bag in a tree. Rod claims it contains a human hand and was chucked there by the Mafia. Nigel knocks it down with a stick and looks inside, discovering an entire box of used condoms. Suddenly Rod’s older brother and his friends arrive, and brutalize them. A kid is shot dead in the darkness. Everyone scatters.

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Griff and Nigel hit the road again… into oblivion. The fourth issue of Mike The Pod Comix contains a short wrap-up, told from the point of view of Melancholy’s little sister Sienna. It covers the final standoff between Griff and Nigel, and was meant to lead into Melancholy Baby, the third incarnation of Drop Dead. But alas, Babylon. Twas not to be.

from Melancholy Baby (unpublished)

from Melancholy Baby (unpublished)

Melancholy Baby was planned as a step up in style, over the breezier (read:Baggey) look of Drop Dead. But I felt I’d covered all the ground I’d cared to with the franchise, and moved on. So it goes. I still keep pages from Melancholy Baby in my portfolio, however.

There you have it; a slice of the ’90s you never knew. Copy stores, toner fumes, and traders of homemade magazines.

It was actually pretty grand.

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