Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s
Reviewed by R. Krauss
Edited by: Michael Dowers
Published by: Fantagraphics
Despite the upheaval in the distribution channel (head shops) for underground comix, the early 1980s were a time of burgeoning interest and participation in cartooning from another wave of newcomers. Alan Light's The Buyer's Guide (for Comics Fandom) had connected comic fans (extending the network G.B. Love had earlier created through the Rocket's Blast Comic Collector aka RBCC). The underground comix of 1970s inspired a new kind of freedom and creativity the comics medium had never seen. Low-cost offset printing and copy shops were springing up all over the country. These factors were the catalysts for the Newave era.
The leaders (in my mind at least), were Clay Geerdes in San Francisco and Artie Romero in Colorado Springs. Clay's Comix World newsletter was the glue that connected everyone in this alternate comix world. He was also the leading publisher and proponent of mini comix. Artie's Everyman Studios published Cascade Comix Monthly, a dependable, serious journal with news, editorials, and interviews all about this alternate world. It also included a few original comix. In 1979, Artie announced the Everyman Studios Mini Comiics series. It ran 21 issues and, like Cascade, featured full color covers. Color was almost unheard of in mini comix and many cartoonists of the era jumped at the chance to be included. Newave! is largely b&w itself, but there is a brief section about midway through that repeats eight covers in full color: Real Dope Thrills, Bug Infested Comics, Monsters and Mutants #8, Nutso Toons, Lordy, Lordy, Where's Mr. Morty, Es Brillig War, and White Boy Goes to Hell.
Michael's volume focuses entirely on the true mini comix of the era. Quarter page comix, created by printing or copying a single sheet of 8.5" x 11" paper, cutting it in half, folding it into two "signatures", nesting them together, and often stapling them together. By far the majority were eight pages, with only a few reaching twelve, and even fewer sixteen pages. Although there were plenty of digest-size (and other format) comix being produced around this time Newave! centers on the mini, the era's defining format.
Michael pays homage to Clay Geerdes with a bio, two of Clay's memoirs; one about the Newave Days and one about Comix World (the name of his newsletter and his publishing house), and reprints of five of his titles. Following Michael's introduction to the book, Clay's Newave Manifesto sets the tone for everything that follows. The section on Artie Romero includes an interview conducted by Bruce Chrislip and reprints of Everyman Studios Mini Comics #5 and 3; and following the interview with Bob Vojtko; issue #2.
Newave! isn't a definitive sampler of newave cartoonists. I can think of a dozen or so great ones that aren't included. There are probably many more. Some dropped out of comix and couldn't be reached; some worked mostly, or entirely, in different formats; and unfortunately there were only so many pages. Michael's task was to gather hundreds of minis and cull them down to a manageable-sized volume. This was the toughest part of his task, still producing a volume of a whopping 892 pages, far greater than I imagine he originally intended. I'm guessing, but it seems the criteria he used in selecting the comix were: freedom of expression (taboo or experimental content), unique vision, quality (the content had to appeal beyond it's historical value), and distinction (significance to the era).
On the taboo side, there's a lot of nudity, some sex, some drug-related humor, and as they say on DVD ratings, some pervasive language. The political bent is expressed through the backdrop of the stories and gags but seldom surfaces as the main attraction. The experimentation is represented by unusual, radical, or abstract storytelling and artwork. The overall quality of the material is very high. In fact, many of the contributors went on to do professional work in alternative comics and/or illustration markets.
Tracking down the original art for this book would've been impossible, the originals were the best printed copies available. The repro is surprisingly good, printed on thin, coated paper with little see-through. I understand the minor production glitches are actually an intentional decision meant to capture a the spirit of the original handmade comix. It's a beautiful volume with production values far more impressive than the original comix it reprints.
Many of the more significant contributors are featured in interviews (or memoirs). These include: Tom Hosier, Al Greenier, Roger May, Artie Romero, Bob Vojtko, Clay Geerdes, David Miller, Brad Foster, Michael Roden, Steve Willis, J.R. Williams, Bob X, George Erling, Mary Fleener, Dennis Worden, and Jeff Gaither. Their pages begin with photographs of the cartoonists reproduced with stochastic screening to lend a 1980s feel, and perhaps to recall the intense stipple technique used by several of the artists. The text pages are set in an austere sans-serif reminiscent of an 80s era typewriter. The size and style makes it a little hard to read for newave-era readers who are mostly pushing sixty these days, but fuck it, it looks cool.
Newave! is a wonderful sampler of what the mini comix of the 1980s where all about. Considering that most of the originals had print runs of less than 100 copies, it's also a sort of validation for the cartoonists who toiled away in obscurity hoping somebody might actually read what they were producing. The underground comix movement was recognized and earned it's place in comics history long ago. The newave era was always more obscure and unknown. When Jay Kennedy published The Official Underground and Newave Comix Price Guide in 1982 I recall there was some controversy about the inclusion of newave comix. As the years progressed, work from the newave era continued to fade. Even the term "mini comix" changed it's spelling and meaning. Now, at last, Michael Dowers and Fantagraphics have brought those little-known 8-pagers out into the light and given them an appropriate place in comix history.
Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s is 892 b&w pages (8 are color), hardcover book binding. The book was designed for Fantagraphics by Adam Grano. It features a gorgeous cover by XNO, colored by Jim Blanchard. The book is dedicated in memory to Michael Roden, Clay Geerdes, and R.K. Sloan. It measures 5" x 6.25", 1.5" thick and retails for $24.99. Considering you could buy only one or two originals of the 100 or so mini comix reprinted inside for that much, it's a bargain. The listing on the Fantagraphics website includes links to Michael Dower's introduction, the contents, and other previews.
Name: Richard Krauss
Been reading comics: since I started reading Marvel comics in Junior High School.
Review Bio: After several years I discovered titles like Zap and Bijou at a headshop and was seduced by the freedom and variety they offered. When the new-wave comix era sprouted from the seeds of the undergrounds, I quickly joined the ranks of other struggling cartoonists with phenomenally low print runs. After almost a decade of small press comix, I retired and made a solemn vow never to return. Several years later the Internet happened and over time many of my favorite new-wave cartoonists got online. The bug bit again and I started exploring the new crop of small press cartoonists. Today's explosion of small press comics is more exciting than any time I've ever seen.
Favorites: Papercutter, Not My Small Diary, Slam Bang, Comic Eye, stuff from Main Enterprises and Weird Muse, to name a few.
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