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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

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

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

 

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

I had the plea­sure of meeting 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.

 


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).

 

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“hey mr. tan­gerine man”, ha ha , i love it