art spiegelman’s very strange comic strip for witzend 3

THE ADS FOR WITZEND first appeared in late 1966 or early ’67, probably in the Rocket’s Blast Comics Collector. RBCC was a fanzine that featured articles on comics and ads from dealers and collectors offering stuff for sale. I sent my dollar bill off to some strange address in New York and eagerly awaited an entire publication by my fave artist, Wally Wood. 1

Art Spiegelman was the first comic artist that I saw that referenced current rock music.

I waited for months and what I finally received was Witzend 2 with a note of apology from Woody in the mailing envelope. The first issue had sold out and he hoped that I would enjoy the second issue.

I did.

And sent off a dollar for the third edition—I would be one of the first buyers there, not one of the last!

Sometime in 1967, I received Witzend 3. I don’t recall my initial response—aside from the pleasure of knowing Woody hadn’t given up. I believe that I found each successive issue less than satisfying than the previous edition, with a deep plunge after Wood sold the whole shebang after the fourth issue.

But first, some background . . .

 

Very Strange Comic Strip: advertisement of WITZEND #1 in 1967.

Wood has done it!

Wood launched Witzend in the summer of 1966 to give his artist friends in the comics field a creative outlet freed from the formulas and restraints of the Comics Code dominated mainstream comic book publishers. Wood proclaimed an editorial policy of “No policy.” 2

Wood also gave page space to several young artists, both those working within the constraints of the New York comic book industry (Marvel, DC, Disney, Archie, etc.), and those on the borders of that industry (underground newspapers, fanzines, men’s magazines, even Jim Warren’s publications). 3

As the San Francisco comics scene was just getting under way in 1967, few of us teenage comic book fans and collectors were exposed to the work of R. Crumb and his Zap Comix crew. Witzend gave me my first look-see at what some of the artists were trying to with the genre.

 

Very Strange Comic Strip: front cover for WITZEND #3 in 1967.

The third issue of Wally Wood’s Witzend from 1967 was a glimpse at the shape of things to come. As is often the case with groundbreakers, few of the veteran artists that Woody featured ever benefited from the changes that would happen in the comics industry in the next twenty years.

Hey Mr. Tangerine Man

One such glimpse was three pages titled “A Very Strange Comic Strip” given to Art Spiegelman in Witzend 3. The work appeared to be almost samples from an artist’s folio: there were five individual strips that resembled Dan O’Neil’s Odd Bodkins strip for The San Francisco Chronicle (which I had never seen then). There was also what appeared to be a self-contained story about playing with your cells.

These were important to me for two reasons: first, they were more or less my introduction to the look and feel of what would shortly be called underground comics (or comix). And second, Spiegelman was the first comic artist that I saw that referenced the current rock music: in the Harold Sunshine strips, he included caricatures of Dylan (“Hey Mr. Tangerine Man”) and Ringo (“We all lived in a yellow tangerine”). 4


Art Spiegelman’s Very Strange Comic Strip was my introduction to what would shortly be called underground comix.


As the Byrds were my faveravest group and Dylan my faveravest single artist of the ’60s, this strip has always been on the periphery of my memory. (Although I had forgotten the Beatles reference.)

Here are the two strips removed from their original surroundings: the first was intended as a daily, as witnessed by the “continued” or “con’d” at the end of the final panel on each line. The second seems to be a one-page standalone. The former takes place in a fantastical world where Hugh and Fred would be comfortable, whereas the latter takes place in what Aldous Huxley called the “antipodes of the mind,” usually reached with chemical assistance . . .

 

Part 1 of Art Spiegelman's VERY STRANGE COMIC STRIP from 1967.

Part 2 of Art Spiegelman's VERY STRANGE COMIC STRIP from 1967.

Part 3 of Art Spiegelman's VERY STRANGE COMIC STRIP from 1967.

Part 4 of Art Spiegelman's VERY STRANGE COMIC STRIP from 1967.

Woody has done with it all!

After the fourth issue, Woody was at wit’s end with Witzend and sold it to Bill Pearson for one dollar. Wood remained as Founder and Editor Emeritus; he was also a regular contributor and the primary reason at least one person in Pennsylvania kept sending dollar bills to New York.

A critical survey of Wood’s work as editor and publisher, ‘Wood at His witzend‘ by Rick Spanier, analyzed Witzend in the context of alternative publishing of the period, Spanier concluded that Wood’s argument that comic creators were entitled to more control and ownership of their work “would eventually be recognized by the publishers of comic books, but it is hard to argue that Witzend itself was a key factor in that development. Like so many other visionary endeavors, it may simply have been ahead of its time.” 5

 


 

FOOTNOTES:

1   All New York addresses were strange to the rest of the country back then, but Woody’s was a box at Ansonia Station. What the hell was that—a bloody train station?

2   Wood intended the title of the publication to be et cetera and witzend, all in lower-case letters. While that is graphically okay on the cover of a magazine (both are quite legible), I have opted for capitalizing the title as I guess I’m just old-fashioned (and the cap makes Witzend more readable in the text) . . .

3   Established artists included former EC mates Reed Crandall, Frank Frazetta, Roy G. Krenkel, Gray Morrow, Angelo Torres, Bill Elder, and Al Williamson; guys he knew from Marvel, including Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, science-fiction and fantasy illustrator Jack Gaughan, and the grand old dad of comics Will Eisner. Rookies included Vaughn Bode, Roger Brand, Jeff Jones, Ralph Reese, and Bernie Wrightson.

4   This bit of memory was brought back home by a comment made by Jerry Richards on this site to the effect that he had been too old for the Byrds “but I do remember my 5-6 year old daughter happily singing ‘Hey Mr Tangerine Man’ in the mid 1960s.”

5   Spanier’s piece can be found in Bhob Stewart’s biographical anthology Against the Grain – Mad Artist Wallace Wood (TwoMorrows, 2003).

 

Very Strange Comic Strip: photo of Art Spiegelman from 1969.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Spiegelman at a comic book convention in New York in the early ’70s. I recall little of our conversation except that we had one and he was easy to chat with. This photo of Art was taken in 1969, a few years after he drew the comics on this page. He went on to publish RAW magazine and won the Pulitzer Prize for his graphic novel Maus in 1992.

 

 

 

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