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Thursday, August 11, 2022

“Underground” comic for pandemic days

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In an article published in EL PAÍS in 1988 within the collectible Comics. classic and modern, the renowned American popular culture specialist Javier Coma (1939-2017) points out that within the genre we describe the underground as “fringe publications” that have “forsworn more or less accepted aesthetic rules and above all social norms”. . The text by Coma, who directed the collection, was titled The Flowers of Saint Francisand made the California city the epicenter of the underground movement at the height of the hippie movement in the 1960s, with a leader of this provocative style in text and writing: Robert Crumb.

Published by the publisher Fulgencio Pimentel in collaboration with La Casa Encendida Dog cookies, which refers to this mix of acidic drawings and countercultural realism. Illustrator Alex Graham (Denver, 1987) places the plot, a love triangle, in a dog biscuit shop completely locked down due to the coronavirus pandemic, through three characters: Gussy, the owner old man come nearing 50th birthday, characterized as a dog; Rosie, a 20-something sales clerk open to experience after bunny-bumping through a Trumpist house; and Hissy, his roommate and activist in movements like Black Lives Matter, characterized as a frog. Responding via email, Graham comments on her approach: “I’m very influenced by Crumb’s style. Also because of all the Nickelodeon cartoons (youth TV channels) I watched as a kid. And literarily by Kurt Vonnegut, who was my first literary hero and inspired me to become a novelist.” Graham is writing from the city of Seattle, where she lives and is located Dog cookies.

Cover of ‘Dog Biscuits’.Alex GrahamFulgencio Pimentel

With a brilliant translation by Joana Carro and César Sánchez, the 400+ page comic is perceptive and provocative. The characters’ lives are laced with sexual desire, drugs, police brutality and the obligation to remain locked at home apart from essential business. “Right before I decided to start drawing, I was reading factotum, by Bukowski. I came across a paragraph where the protagonist starts working in a dog biscuit factory. That’s when I decided to start drawing, and the first panel was a dog biscuit shop. I had no idea what was coming next. The first few pages are completely improvised, I followed the events because it seemed like something new was happening every day and I wanted it to be extremely instantaneous.”

Graham posted his cartoons to Instagram when a webcomic, at a rate of three daily releases. It was reflected on the network and the flow of visits and comments came from different parts of the world at a time when many people were also in lockdown due to the pandemic. “The three main characters are facets of me. Rosie, this is me in my early 20s, Gussy, this is me, a bit older, bitter and worried about my life path, and Hissy, this is my arrogance and pride. He adds a plot of police abuse to the three main characters: “The design of the cops is based on something I invented and dug up years ago Dog cookies. I didn’t realize the cops looked like asses and balls, people started pointing it out on Instagram and I thought it was appropriate. The pig-faced officers, yes, it was intentional for obvious reasons,” he says. Underground comics with anti-authoritarian overtones have been characterized in our country by cartoonists such as Mariscal, Ceesepe, Gallardo, Max or Nazario, among others, and had publications such as the viper (1979) one of his reference titles. In the United States, the explosion was a decade earlier, but the influence of illustrators like Crumb or Gilbert Shelton was significant in creating the most irreverent comics.

Also in black and white, from the perspective that Coma called a refusal of “accepted aesthetic rules”, published by Alpha Comic-Verlag my prayer table, by American illustrator Keiler Roberts (Milwaukee, 1980), with a translation by Alberto Gª Marcos. A more intimate work that narrates the relationship between the author and her daughter during the pandemic. Clean-line vignettes unravel a glimpse into everyday life, imaginary conversations, and thoughts about parenthood and friends in times of uncertainty. Roberts uses a more In the and less punk than Graham’s and emphasizes stillness and thought. “The comic speaks about the relationship with our daughters in a time of pandemic that seems to have caught us on an inner journey with our everyday lives,” Roberts said in a back-and-forth email, adding in reference adds to his perspective: “In stories and in life, people tend to prioritize action, dialogue, change, and strong emotions. I choose to believe that moments of stillness, of inaction, even without meaning, have value.”

Cover of 'My Prayer Table'.
Cover of ‘My Prayer Table’.Boar Roberts (alpha comic)

In this atmosphere of “silence” in which Roberts poses my prayer table and in the accelerated action of Dog cookies Music is a very present transversal element. For Alex Graham, whose book features musicians like T-Rex, The Rolling Stones and Herbie Hancock, his recording is almost a declaration of intent: “I love music more than any other artistic discipline. I’m constantly fantasizing about being a musician, I have no talent but I’m obsessed Rock’n’Roll“. For Keiler Roberts, music was an existential security: “When the pandemic shutdowns began in the United States, only essential workers were allowed to go to work. No artist is an essential worker, but art has made this time bearable and even enjoyable for many people.”

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