The End of the Line

Permit me to bring the room down a moment.

What’s your endgame?

What’s your purpose in life? Are you even aware of one? Are you just running on automatic, going with the flow? Nothing wrong with that, but it all leads to the same big faceless wash-out.

What do you really want out of life?

I started to realize my purpose early, in grade school, 1984. There were these trading cards, see, and all of us kids adored them. We could not get enough of them. The administrators of Central School took notice, and banned these stickers.

Too late.

From my collection, which I began 33 years ago.

Suddenly I had a revelation. I could draw the stickers for the other kids, and the principal would be none the wiser. So I did. A lot. I imitated the careful paintwork by rubbing my fingertip in the pencil marks, creating a primitive airbrush effect that I would have to be broken of years later, in art school. The other kids went absolutely apeshit. 

“Clogged Duane” was my favorite to draw. Sometimes kids would ask for their namesake, or that of a friend/enemy. I was in business. I was taking requests for “commissioned artwork”. At 12.

At 32, I was actually acquainted with Jay Lynch, the underground cartoonist who co-created the Garbage Pail Kids, with Art (Maus) Spiegelman. I had tried to meet him at a MoCCA festival, but he was outside smoking. Later, desperate for work, I emailed him, and he congenially offered to let me ghost some comics on the backs of new Garbage Pail Kids cards.

I’d known Jay’s work since high school. Amongst the classic underground cartoonists, Jay was the toughest nut to crack. Bob Crumb’s fetishes and predilections were well-known by 1970. Spain Rodriguez was the Minister of Propaganda for an honest-to-god motorcycle club (MC). Gilbert Shelton was the liaison of the thinking hippie, and a savant of a draftsman. But Jay?

Jay was the master subversive.

Jay had a working knowledge of American 20th century pop culture. He knew everything about Chicago. R. Crumb had the 40s, Bobby London had the 30s; Jay Lynch had an undefinable, perfectly cross-hatched universe of his very own. Familiar, yet alien. Comforting, yet also disturbing. Nobody ever cross-hatched as good as Jay. No one. 

I know. I ghosted him.

He’d been bitten by the neighbor’s dog, and couldn’t draw temporarily. So the stars aligned, and I was permitted to fill in. When I got the originals, Jay suggested I use a Rapidograph I’d never even heard of before; the .18. The thinnest one I had was a .30, which slopped up Jay’s hard work like a charm. He didn’t use Liquid Paper or White-Out; he had a specially chosen white paint that he used, that he could continue inking upon. The dude was operating on a level I could only dream of at the time.

Here I was, being paid handsomely to do exactly what I’d done in grade school, out of passion. It took several tries before I got it right. It was the hardest and most rewarding art job I’ve ever done. Thanks to Jay Lynch.

Here’s the comic strip Jay saw that got me the gig:

From Mike The Pod Comix #4, 1998.

Jay was an admirer of Chester Gould, as I am, and he was impressed with the lettering I did for Stig Mata. Truthfully, the strip was as much inspired by Spiegelman’s Dead Dick as Gould’s strip. But the reason I tightened up my cross-hatching and text was to compete with the art of Jay Lynch.

My technique took a quantum leap after doing the GPK work. Jay taught me that you can always go smaller. I learned to write so tiny, the words can’t be read without a magnifying glass. That was Jay; you see an opportunity to leave a message, you take it. You plant the seeds that grow in fertile young minds, and build strong intellects for the future.

Before Garbage Pail Kids, Lynch and Spiegelman created the immortal Wacky Packages, a legendary lampoon of consumer products, largely painted by the great Norm Saunders. Jay did the roughs for about a million of them. This was where I learned subversion of advertising paradigms. One of the most important attitudes of a happy life: advertising is all ridiculous lies.

Instead of real cigarettes, I got hooked on these.

It didn’t work as brilliantly with the “All New Series”, but this isn’t the fault of the product, rather that there are naturally many others like me, eager and wide-eyed, ready to leap into the art job they’ve dreamed of since grade school. That’s the problem; the passion is misdirected. Instead of a passion to create subversive art, they’ve gained a passion to be paid for something they like to do. Very big difference.

Think about it. I got to work with the co-creator of Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids. I got to talk to him on the phone. I told him I’d seen Skip Williamson at a con, and he looked like he could kill me with his mind, and Jay replied “Skip seems to be having fun- no need to fear him.” I did the best work I knew how to do at the time, and Jay sent it back and said “do it again”. Then I did better work. 

After this. I hadn’t yet heard of an Ames guide. Mea maxima culpa.

I was on the phone with a man who was one of the original underground cartoonists of the 1960s. A man who’d hand-drawn his own version of MAD magazine in high school, just like I’d done. A guy who worked side-by-side with R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Kim Deitch, and countless more creators of great cultural influence. An artist I’d studied carefully for most of my adult life. A titanically important one, even if you don’t know his name.

This is why I say that I have seen the top of the mountain, and it is good. This is why I ask what your endgame is.

In the 1960s, when people were drinking in a bar, they were all there for the same reason: to forget their troubles. That was all. This continued into the 1980s, but soon after that, it changed. People patronize a bar for varying agendas now; to find a mate, to sing karaoke, to affect a new persona. The purpose of the bar itself is forgotten. It was a neutral bastion, an oasis from the working world.

Like comics used to be.

Why are you here? To learn? To be entertained? To kill time? Time kills itself. It needs no help from you.

New ideas, cultural subversion, irreverent humor; there’s always time for those.

Jay told me so.

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