Join Our Mailing List

Bookmark and Share

  Home > News > Additional Stories

Rebel Voices reviewed in Labor Studies Journal

by William A. Pelz
Labor Studies Journal
June 2012 37: 236-237

Born in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) at its height organized hundreds of thousands of workers to create a type of solidarity unionism that included women, minorities, and immigrants, all of whom have been too often ignored by mainstream labor. Although the IWW has yet to build the “One Big Union” of its dreams, it has nonetheless been an inspiration for generations of workers and radicals. In Daniel Gross’s preface to this new edition of the long-out-of-print 1964 edition, he claims that this is “the most important book ever written about the Industrial Workers of the World” (p. ix). Although a bold statement, there is much truth in it, because Rebel Voices is a fine collection of original source material written by IWW members themselves. Naturally, this means there is no pretense of objectivity or  detached analysis. Yet it allows the reader to feel the passion that drew so many to the organization. By including a rich collection of cartoons, posters, and other graphics, this anthology is lively, informative, and at times, inspirational.

While most chapters appear mainly of historical interest (e.g., “Patterson: 1913”), the material gives a clear sense of the ideas that motivated IWW members and supporters. Starting from the premise that the “working class and the employing class have nothing in common” (p. 12), the IWW put forth a class-struggle vision of unionism. Placing great importance on democracy and direct action, it challenged more traditional trade unionism. Believing that unions based on craft needlessly divided the working class, the IWW was a pioneer in the development of industrial unionism before the CIO was even conceived.

With seditious humor and biting satire, Rebel Voices brings alive the revolutionary syndicalist challenge to both the capitalists and mainstream trade unionists. One need not agree with the arguments made in this book to find them thought provoking. Further, the book advances the claim that the work of the IWW has helped protect civil liberties. The IWW was a leader in the fight for free speech in an early-twentieth-century America, where verbalizing opposition to the status quo was all too often a criminal offense. When the First World War struck, the IWW was clear about which side it supported. The IWW argued that it was on the side of workers being forced to kill their fellow workers for the benefit of the employing class. This was a courageous
position that opened the already persecuted group to even greater state repression.

A twenty-first-century reader may fairly question the relevance of the views of the IWW today. Despite the IWW’s recent campaigns to organize Starbucks workers and bicycle messengers, it must be admitted that the IWW lacks the social muscle it once possessed. No matter, it remains an alternative vision of unionism that deserves a hearing, and to some, it may even be considered the conscience of the labor movement. The IWW once had a skit where one of the characters pointed at a building and said, “Folks that didn’t build it own it, and the fellows who built it don’t own it, I think that’s crazy” (p. 377). Maybe the IWW has a point.

Buy this book now | Back to Staughton Lynd's Page | Back to Joyce L Kornbluh's Author Page

When Miners March reviewed in Appalachian Journal

when miners marchBy Peter Slavin
Appalachian Journal: A Regional Studies Review
VOLUME 39, NOS. 3 & 4 (SPR/SUMMER 2012)

Few significant episodes in American history have been as lost to the nation's memory as the West Virginia Mine Wars of 1920-21 and its climactic event, the Battle of Blair Mountain. The ruthless oppression of coal miners and the United Mineworkers of America by the coal industry, backed to the hilt by state and local authorities, led to a decade of violence and finally armed revolt by the Red Neck Army, some 10,000 bandana-clad miners. Their armed march to bring their union to tyrannized fellow miners and their fight on Blair Mountain against a paramilitary force defending the status quo was quelled only when thousands of federal troops intervened. The miners' leaders were charged with capital crimes and put on trial. (None were convicted.)

Front-page news across the country at the time and the subject of congressional hearings, the Battle of Blair Mountain and the trials were all but forgotten, helped by the fact that the West Virginia authorities kept any mention out of the state's textbooks for decades. After all, they had been on the wrong side of the greatest insurrection on American soil since the Civil War. But in the last few years, the Mine Wars have reemerged.

First, a group of historians and UMWA President Cecil Roberts leveled harsh criticism at the West Virginia History Museum's coal displays, including a misleading account of what led up to the Battle of Blair Mountain. Second, a fight has been raging over whether or not to place the Blair Mountain battlefield on the National Register of Historic Places, as a way to honor it and protect it from mountaintop removal mining. Preservationists, environmentalists, and labor historians have squared off against coal companies and state and federal authorities over the battlefield's fate. Finally, in June of 2011, hundreds of people, banners aloft, marched 50 miles during six days along the route the miners took to Blair Mountain in 1921, urging that the site be saved, and 800 rallied high on the mountain.

When Miners March
is the sweeping and heavily documented account of the Mine Wars from the governor's mansion to coal tipples as portrayed by the son of Bill Blizzard, the leader of the Red Neck Army-all told as the miners saw it. There is no pretense of impartiality. Coal miners, the author notes, were "the victims of exploitation, cruelty, bad working conditions, miserable pay, and murderous treatment if they dared protest." The book first appeared in the 1950s as a series of newspaper articles, and the style is old fashioned, but the writing is full-bodied and biting, with humorous jabs sprinkled throughout.

William C. Blizzard, a journalist, takes us through the long and bloody history of coal in West Virginia, with stops at the UMWA's first struggles, the fierce strike at Paint Creek and Cabin Creek, World War I's impact on coal, the shootout at Matewan and Sid Hatfield's assassination, the Armed March, Blair Mountain, the trials, and the aftermath. In one county, we find "Some 2,800 miners . . . locked out of their jobs and thrown out of their homes . . . nearly, 10,000 men, women and children were living in tents and shacks while the coal companies attempted to starve them into submission." We see the armored train known as the Bull Moose Special firing machine guns into tents holding evicted mining families. We find martial law and drumhead courts.

We observe the scheming of C.E. Lively, the company spy who plotted Hatfield's murder and helped execute him. We learn the lengths to which coal operators and government leaders were willing to go to break strikes and defeat the UMWA: employ hired thugs, court injunctions, and scabs, and call in the National Guard. We find men arrested for reading The United Mineworkers Journal. Like today, we see coal operators controlling the machinery of the state, including the courts, and using it to subdue miners who fought back.

This is the second edition of When Miners March. It is more professional in many ways than the original, containing a rare biographical sketch of Bill Blizzard, an expanded Foreword and Acknowledgments, blurbs from historians, and color photographs, as well as something as basic as a Table of Contents. Even the cover art is much improved.

When Miners March
shows us how far West Virginia has come from those brutal days. And yet, are things that much better? Today, most of the state's miners are non-union, and their families support the coal companies that give them a paycheck. Mining abuses are still common, but resistance now comes far more from a minority of residents and environmentalists than from the UMWA, whose heyday is long gone. The coal companies and the state have generally replaced violence with political power, but they still play hardball and win far more battles than they lose.

Peter Slavin
Freelance journalist Peter Slavin has been doing feature and investigative work in Appalachia since 1995. His latest article in Blue Ridge Country profiles Bill Blizzard, the miners' general at Blair Mountain.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Bill Blizzard and Wess Harris's Author Page

The Fifth Inning on

by Paul Buhle
January 28th, 2013

A distinguished African American poet and for decades a prime cultural organizer on the campus of Howard University in the glory era of Black Studies and in the largely black community of D.C., Ethelbert Miller has always been a surprisingly youthful Wise Old Man in the African sense, a senior figure, soothsayer, and a poet. Now he is not so young any more.

He is still, however, an undiminished baseball fan of note, and there is no doubt that his appreciation of the National Pastime blossomed under the warm sun of his favorite philosopher and mine, C.L.R. James. Around 1970, the aged James -- who many across the world took to be that ancient Wise Man -- took a job teaching at what was then Federal City College. A circle of activists surrounded James and provided him an avid audience as well as logistical support (he was palsied and had trouble making his own way), with Miller often at the head of the group, connecting him with ordinary African Americans of the moment, seeking wisdom in a rapidly changing racial environment. James's great love, apart from philosophy and revolution, was unquestionably cricket, of which he was undeniably the greatest historian and savant. James's cricket is Miller's baseball.

Here, Miller has chosen to wind the contradictions of life, of his own life, and all of us in middle age (or beyond) into the game that so many of us considered the very center of our lives, way back in the summers of childhood. He insists, at the outset, that he has himself reached the fifth inning, and we surely hope he will go the distance. As he says, someone is getting up in the dugout or the bullpen (I keenly appreciate the anxiety, perhaps an approaching sense of relief as well: off to life's showers).

He hears about the death of great poets -- those he knew well, sponsored, read alongside, loved, and now misses. June Jordan for starters. Like an elderly Yiddish poet I knew thirty years ago, he is scratching out the names of the deceased in his little phone book. It's the cost of surviving.

He begins another chapter with a memory or imagined memory of being on the mound. For the first three innings, he feels like he could go on forever. He has the fastball. Then the innings go by and he doesn't have it any more. Suddenly, the batters hit for extra bases and it's over. Next chapter: "So what went wrong? Do you want to talk with the sports writer, therapist or literary critic?" He feel like a former star playing out the string, traded to another team, box-office-useful for his name more than what he can do on the field.

Ethelbert Miller spent so much of his life taking care of other people, from his mother to the poets and fiction writers visiting Howard, and, naturally, also his family, that perhaps he never appreciated how much we, who saw him in action only from time to time, appreciated him for what he was doing. It looked so natural because he was obviously so good at it.

Now he's afraid -- not ashamed like the rest of us to admit being afraid -- that he's the shortstop who failed to touch second amidst a double play. Even if the umpires didn't notice. He also thinks (slipping back into the role that I remember best) that he should now contemplate his very last pitch. Fastball, curve, knuckler? What would Satchel Paige throw if he had one more pitch to throw?

Unanswered questions. But beautifully proposed. This is real E. Ethelbert Miller and a little book to treasure.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to E. Ethelbert Miller's Author Page

Punk Rock in RazorCake

By Jimmy Alvarado
Monday, January 21 2013

These days it’s almost as if you can close your eyes, throw a rock in any direction and hit either a book about U.K. punk’s “golden age,” or some punter who’s writing one. Most of them follow the same template: focus your attention on the Pistols, Clash, and so on, then pontificate liberally about the impact of the whole nonsense on Western Civilization as a whole before declaring the whole thing deader than a swastika-shirted bass player by 1979. The myopia and fallaciousness of that frame of mind is screamingly obvious to anyone who’s spent more than a week paying attention to punk, but nonetheless that attitude has become a bit of a cottage industry unto itself in the punk book world.

That said, this is another book wherein the lion’s share of pages roughly cover the same span of time as all the others. It is, however, a bit different both in structure, scope, and attitude. First, as its title implies, it’s an oral history, and for the most part allows its subjects to do the talking. Second, while there is no shortage of talk about that scene’s iconic bands, it also includes a wealth of information about names the casual punk fan might not be quite as familiar with—Lurkers, Eater, Subway Sect, Flowers Of Romance, and the Spitfire Boys—and it isn’t afraid to also include lengthy discussions about second and even third wave bands.

Author John Robb—who, having done time in both ‘80s punk sensations The Membranes and, more recently, Goldblade, is no stranger to the subject matter—keeps the tone conversational, allowing his subjects to go on related tangents and even snipe back and forth on occasion (although he also isn’t afraid to call bullshit or interject when he disagrees with someone’s assessment of another’s merits) while adhering to a fairly straightforward timeline. As a result, the book provides a decidedly more holistic view of punk’s explosion in the U.K. than most, giving first-person accounts of where the scene originated and how it developed and mutated, with tons of trivia ‘n’ tidbits (who fuggin’ knew Siouxsie Sioux’s whole shtick was just as influenced by the evil queen in Disney’s Snow White as it was by the more frequently cited Weimar Republic-via-Cabaret?) to keep one’s interest piqued throughout.

Best of all, Robb is well versed enough with punk’s history to know better than to pander that same tired “punk died in ___” jazz, stopping roughly in the early ‘80s merely because it’s just as good a place to stop as any, and acknowledging punk rock has continued on and even had some, albeit largely superficial, effect on the dominant culture. I went into this book with no shortage of trepidation, but as it stands, I’d say it’s as close to a go-to tome as you’re gonna get if you’re looking for a street-level account of the origins of Europe’s wing of the punk revolution. –Jimmy Alvarado (PM Press, PO Box 23912, Oakland, CA94623)

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to John Robb's Author Page

Radiant Time: An Interview with Michael Moorcock

by Jerome Winter
Los Angeles Review of Books
January 20th, 2013

AS EDITOR OF the magazine New Worlds from 1964 to 1978, Michael Moorcock helped to revolutionize the SF field by publishing experimental work by J.G. Ballard, Brian W. Aldiss, and others. From 1965 to 1976, Moorcock also wrote the Cornelius Quartet, which follows an antiestablishment urban adventurer-rock star in a madcap race against the concept of linear time itself. Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné series staged an irreverent intervention into epic fantasy, chronicling the brooding adventures of an albino king. By the early 1970s, Moorcock had begun to unite his dauntingly proliferating work into a rich “multiverse” of interconnected speculative-fantastic fiction. One sterling example of this vast fictive palimpsest was Gloriana (1978), dedicated to the phantasmagoric Mervyn Peake. In 1988, Moorcock published the celebrated novel Mother London (shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize) in which mundane realism merges with the fantastic in an encyclopedic encapsulation of a city. And King of the City (2000) returns to a sordid London scene to unleash a savage satire that spans the globe and the entire twentieth century. In 2013, Victor Gollancz will begin publishing a collected edition of all his work.


The metamorphosis of Blitzed London became the Chaotic landscapes of Elric the Albino. As in need of his soul-drinking sword as Chet Baker was in need of his junk, he witnessed the death of his Empire, even conspired in it. The adrenaline rushes of aerial bombardment and imminent death informed Jerry Cornelius stories where London’s ruins were recreated and disaster had a celebratory face. And the Holocaust became the background for the black comedies of my Colonel Pyat books. We tried to create a new literature which expressed our own experience … all the great writers who contributed to my journal New Worlds were rejecting modernism not from any academic attempt to discover novelty but in order to find forms which actually described what they had witnessed, what they had felt.
—from “A Child’s Christmas in the Blitz”

Michael Moorcock:
As usual I find myself qualifying or quarreling with myself. Aldiss didn’t reject modernism. He was some years older than Ballard and me and wanted to bring SF in line with modernism. Ballard and I in particular argued against nostalgia as a form of sentimentality that distorts all experience. I thought all fiction of that time rotten with it! Ballard agreed. There were of course a number of reasons that brought so many individuals together at the same time. Some of those reasons would be the ones that later split us apart. Same as rock bands, really. Our common passion brought us together; our individual passions — our egos if you like — ultimately made us take pretty different paths.

So I’m disinclined to generalize too readily. Ballard and I were both bored by space fiction. Aldiss was highly literate but he loved generic SF and, like Harlan Ellison in the US, wanted to improve writing standards, characterization, and so on. Ellison wanted SF to be braver, to tackle the hard subjects. Spinrad did, too. Ballard wanted originally to emulate Ray Bradbury but his interest, like mine, was in addressing a general literary audience. The so-called “new wave” (we never called it that or anything else — I hated the idea of “movements” if not manifestos) had at least two agendas along with the personal agendas of the writers. I wanted to use some of the techniques and targets of SF to create narratives that seemed to me appropriate to our times. Peter Blake, the pop artist who did the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper sleeve, talks about the cultural optimism of those days and that inspired much of what we were doing. We had contributors to New Worlds like Eduardo Paolozzi, another prominent pop artist inspired by SF who, fundamentally, was trying to do something very similar as us and enthusiastically came aboard as our “Aeronautics Advisor.” A lot of rock musicians took inspiration from NW. In London the arts seemed to blend more — music, painting, poetry — than, say, in New York. We shared facilities with most of the underground papers like Frendz, Oz, IT, Ink, and so on, which meant we also shared contributors to some degree.


[The Blitz] was the first I fully understood how detached governments become from ordinary people…. I never went home. I worked in the East End all that time. The carnage was disgusting. Expecting London to collapse, the authorities made no real provisions for defense. The ordinary people pulled the city through. They forced the tube stations to give them shelter. Against official disapproval they set up street groups, volunteers, amateur firefighters. It wasn’t Churchill or the King of bloody England who kept up our morale. It was the men and women whose homes and families were bombed to bits discovering their own resources. But it was hard work. Frequently we had only our bare hands to dig away bricks and concrete and all kinds of filth, trying to find anyone who might be alive.
—from Mother London

In some ways Mother London could be the novel where I most successfully incorporated a touch of SF, using “telepathy” to represent the multi-ethnic voice of the city. There was no compunction to take that element literally (any more than the womb/time-machine in Behold the Man). Psychogeography would have been influenced by Guy Debord, of course. I could see the way consumerism, especially the aggressive kind embraced by Thatcherism/Reaganism, was repackaging our heritage, our memories, our traditions, the sinews of mythology by which we live, in order to maximize financial profitability. Tourism thrives on simplified, sentimentalized, sanitized stories. Within a short time every little town and hamlet, rather than profiting incidentally from any tourism, had to make its own living from tourism — a notoriously unreliable means of earning an income — rather than by its industry. Because it was cheaper to manufacture elsewhere or not manufacture at all. Thanks to monetarism most of us became whores, very often in our own eyes. Monetarism took over the public rhetoric as well as the public’s imagination.

In my mind those two (Maggie & Ron) dealt the human psyche a terrible blow. They learned the art of buying and selling souls. A rather melodramatic statement, but many who were told to see services as commodities (health, education, public safety, the arts, etc.) felt exactly as if they were being told to sell their souls. They were told to sell their most profound hopes, dreams, and fears at a profit. Of course, to do that they had to resort to the most sentimental arguments, the most distorted forms of nostalgia, atrociously maudlin, insulting to their constituents and the faith they claimed to draw upon. Such jumped-up accountants in politics have always been the enemies of art but never had a campaign been more successful. The job of the novelist became that of the revenant and the satirist, the archivist, almost. And, more than ever, the moralist. The strong moral element that attracted me to Pilgrim’s Progress, The Amazing Marriage, The Stars My Destination, or Felix Krull informed everything I did, including the supernatural adventure stories I wrote to finance myself and my own less commercial projects. Apart from early juvenile fiction, I never wrote on less than two levels. But I had to change direction somewhat in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

We had most of us assumed that, through activism and democratic discussion and persuasion, we could slowly but surely improve the world. In the 1970s we were talking about “the problem of leisure,” of wiping out disease and poverty throughout the world: zero population growth was another idea to stop us using up the world’s resources. That was our goal. Our expectations might have been unrealistic but they were positive. The 1980s turned all that optimism into the most banal forms of nostalgia and triumphalism (Falklands, for instance), and the fall of the USSR was an opportunity to gloat rather than come together to serve the world. I think that was the cleverest and most evil trick big business and its political henchmen played on all of us. To keep us from resisting them they had to corrupt individual memory as well as history. Orwell was right about 1984 but he didn’t foresee, as some of the leftwing New York SF writers of the ‘50s foresaw, the subtleties of such manipulation. Anyone could see that Communism was a loser, but I also saw growing up how democratic socialism could demonstrate the benefits of, for instance, “socialized medicine,” so that a succession of incoming right wing conservatives did not dare dismantle it.


“We’re clearing things up. Tidying the world."

"You might just as well be in the political age. You can’t bring it back, Frank."

"We will."

"Not for long."

"You’ll see."

"But you know what I’m going to do to you, don’t you?"

"Randomize. The equilibrium of anarchy."

"More or less."

"You won’t succeed. History’s against you, Jerry."

"That’s the difference between you and me, Frank. I’m against History."

—from A Cure for Cancer

I’m sort of cautious about using “alternate history” as a description of the Cornelius stories since they were not conceived as that. Jerry is meant to inhabit the world we know. I describe him as an urban adventurer, using the description Edmond Hamilton created for 'noir' thrillers -- urban adventure stories. The stories are parables but nothing else, I think. Yet it’s not wrong to use 'alternate history' I guess, since a transition was being made from using the language of SF to using my own language and narrative techniques. JC/2 was in my own view a “mandarin” book. A flashy playing with genre (for the most part) rather than a serious use of its tropes. I still find the Elric symbols of Law (a single straight arrow) and Chaos (arrows pointing in every direction) very useful. I’m suspicious of the conventional mindset that believes there’s only one good answer to a question. Simple arguments are attractive to the general public, sadly.

I’ve recently come up with the fun notion of “Radiant Time” as an image to suggest a universe of limitless possibilities — the human brain, in fact — situationalist strategies for the 21st century — a means of understanding the modern psyche and society. It’s balanced by the notion of Linear Time and its proponents. Pretty evident where my sympathies lie, of course! Space is a dimension of Time!

Linear vs. non-linear was almost the most important battle of our time. I’ve tried most of the existing methods and created some of my own. Art reflects the crises of society. We are always writing about our world, whether we’re conscious of it or not. The best way of doing it is consciously, surely? That also helps us identify how much “self” plays in the equation. As an editor I learned how much negative self-consciousness works against creativity. Unlike the modernism of 100 years ago, contemporary artists have to find ways of forgetting about the self. Give the outside world their strictest attention. Genre fiction offers techniques for writing about the world without much self-reference. In that sense I suppose it is a reaction against modernism, but I believe what we do is more positive than that, since it works to combine a variety of techniques and approaches, rejecting nothing. This is a moment in our history where we need to look reality right in the eyes.


The ideas of Byron and Shelley have probably caused more young men to lose their lives in hopeless, idiotic, romantic causes than the ideas of Karl Marx. Romanticism is the disease of the Modern Age. It is the direct result of increased leisure among a certain class. If one does not believe me, one only has to look around at the so-called hippies and ‘dropouts’ who always complain of poverty yet find time to bargain with me for coats worth twice the price I am charging, and pay in the end with money donated to them by the State!
—from Byzantium Endures

I’m also interested in “understanding the enemy” as it were. What idealism informs the reactionary? I am very superstitious. I felt I should pay back for the gifts I’ve had. I wanted to get to the roots of the Holocaust in the Pyat books. I was afraid it might happen again. I felt I had a moral duty to write those books. Everything since finishing them has seemed relative easy! 25 years of having to look reality steadily in the eyes. It's exhausting.


“Elric refuses to understand the danger, Princess Cymoril. Yyrkoon’s ambition could bring disaster to all of us. Including Yyrkoon." Cymoril sighed. "Aye, including Yyrkoon. But how can we avoid this, Cymoril, if Elric will not give orders for your brother’s arrest?"

"He believes that such as Yyrkoon should be allowed to say what they please. It is part of his philosophy. I can barely understand it, but it seems integral to his whole belief. If he destroys Yyrkoon, he destroys the basis on which his logic works. That at any rate, Dragon Master, is what he has tried to explain to me."
—from Elric of Melibone

I was astonished to find that even fantasy readers could be literal-minded. Early letters to the magazine where the stories first appeared would criticize me for not describing in more detail the geopolitical background of Melnibone. I still have to point out to readers that I don’t do “world-building”! My landscapes represent the emotional states of the characters (as in Wuthering Heights, for instance). I only recently learned, by the way, that supernatural fantasy stories were split into various sub-divisions — Sword & Sorcery, Dark Fantasy, High Fantasy, and so on. Reviewing a collection of “Epic fantasy,” one critic recently said that I am not an epic fantasy writer but a founder of the “sword and sorcery” school. The irony being that I came up with the terms “epic fantasy” or “heroic fantasy” as a suggestion to describe the genre in discussions with Fritz Leiber, L. Sprague de Camp, and others. Fritz used the term S&S (referring to Cloak and Dagger fiction) and it stuck! He included Tolkien and [Robert E.] Howard in his term for the genre.

This could be the right moment to remind people that I hated the endless discussions of what to call various divisions of supernatural or science fantasy and refused to join in. In my view books should be classified according to whether they’re fiction or nonfiction and by author. I know many readers who broadened their reading because they picked out an author in mistake for another. Harry Harrison said that he would never have read and enjoyed all of E.M. Forster if when young he hadn’t been looking for C.S. Forester and A Passage to India sounded like a rattling good sea-story to him! When Lord of the Rings and Gormenghast (as well as Elric) first appeared, mainstream critics were arguing that they were post-apocalyptic science fiction stories because they couldn’t decide what category they fitted!

She yawned. If the Lords of Entropy were to manifest themselves on Earth again as they had in the legendary past she felt she might welcome them as a relief, at least, to her boredom. Not, of course, that she believed in those terrible prehistoric fables, though sometimes she could not help wishing that they had really existed and that she had lived in them, for they must surely have been more colourful and stimulating than this present age, where dull Reason drove bright Romance away: granite scattering mercury.
—from Gloriana

I think Mervyn Peake owes a lot to the great English, French, and, to a degree, Russian and German absurdists and surrealists. He’s echoing them as much as he seems to be rejecting modernism (even though reference works often list him as a modernist!). It’s true, if you like, that he failed to reflect many of the examples of modernism, even though he knew and enjoyed modernists. Maeve, his wife, read Proust almost continuously in English and French, forwards and backwards, and he loved Joyce. They both admired Picasso. But he wasn’t exactly in any school. He was his own man. He can’t be imitated and didn’t beget a genre. He has influenced very few generic fantasts. Perhaps because there is almost nothing supernatural in the Titus sequence. I think the comparisons are to Sterne, Peacock, Carroll, Lear, Jarry, Firbank.

If you look at the books Peake chose to illustrate, there’s Alice, Snark, Book of Nonsense — and a number of other nonsense books for children. He was attracted to nineteenth-century romantics as well as Balzac, Dickens, and Stevenson, and I remember him telling me about an early “pilgrimage” to meet Walter de la Mare, author of Memoirs of a Midget and many others. That was in the days when English fantasy was recognized as a quality rather than a category and included T.H. White, Lewis, and Tolkien as being very much the same tradition. If I ever have time I’d love to write a piece about this. It’s also interesting that pretty much every English 20th century realist had a fantasy in them from Woolf to Waugh, Angus Wilson to Amis. Everyone, it seems, has at least one idea best expressed in a fantastic manner.

And that was history, too, right? What a fucking century. You start with the first concentration camps, an Imperial War, carving up Africa (or actual Africans in Leopold’s case), add a chorus of all the agonized millions crawling from the dirt of no man’s land, into the Russian Civil War, Stalin, the rise of fascism, the Holocaust, World War Two, Hiroshima, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia, Rwanda and East Timor. And Kosova, of course. What a century, pards. What a bloody century.
—from King of the City

King of the City wasn’t designed to reflect Mother London. Or really expand on it. King is, if anything, the male novel to Mother’s female novel! The voices are very different. I never really saw them as connected. The publishers chose to use the earlier book in their advertising. King is a more autobiographical book and a far angrier book, reflecting my own frustrations in the twelve years between one appearing and the other. To be betrayed by the right is one thing; to be betrayed by the left is another! I could hardly bear the distress in the world when I wrote King and it is a far more political novel than Mother London. ML was a celebration of my home city. KotC was a kind of mourning for it as I watched the family silver being sold off.

The world's first all-purpose human being strode eastward, whistling.

"A tasty world," it reflected cheerfully. "A very tasty world."

"You said it, Cornelius!"

—from  The Final Programme

I’ve just finished a large novel called The Whispering Swarm. It’s an odd thing. Part autobiography, part metaphysical, part fantasy, part historical, it even has a bit of cod philosophy thrown in! That’s sitting for a while before I do the last draft. I’m working on a short autobiographical novel called Stalking Balzac (similar to my story “Stories” in Neil Gaiman’s recent anthology) which I’m about half-way through. I’m well into a long novella, “Kabul,” in the same sequence as My Experiences in the Third World War. I’m working on a new record album with Martin Stone and Pete Pavli called Live from the Terminal Cafe. We’ve been rehearsing it in Paris and plan to record in London next Spring. I’m doing a couple of Jerry Cornelius stories and maybe one last Elric novella to celebrate the first edition of The Stealer of Souls fifty years ago. Victor Gollancz in London will begin publishing a collected edition of almost my entire work in 2013, beginning with the most recent Elric books. It will be a definitive edition, thoroughly revised and corrected, in print and electronic form, and I’m very much looking forward to that!

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michael Moorcock's Author Page

Cooperatives and Community Work Are Part of American DNA

by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

January 22nd, 2013

There is so much in US history that has been hidden or mythologized that ignorance is more common than knowledge even among the best informed. That is how we felt when we read For All the People and then interviewed the author, John Curl, on Clearing the FOG radio.

Curl's area of expertise is very important for those of us seeking transformational change to a new, more equitable economy and participatory democracy. His book methodically and authoritatively traces the hidden history of cooperatives, cooperation and communalism in US history. He shows how these models of economic democracy were intertwined with many of the transformational changes the country has made, including breaking from English empire, ending slavery, and gaining women's suffrage, worker rights and union rights, as well as civil rights. He also shows how economic democracy has been in constant battle with concentrated-wealth-based capitalism, which is threatened by a more equal distribution of wealth. This history is critical for advocates to understand; therefore, For All the People is essential reading.

Why Cooperatives, Cooperation and Communalism Matter

Creating transformational change is not only about protesting what we do not like and resisting and refusing to cooperate with the power structure; it also requires us to simultaneously build the world we want. If big-finance capitalism does not serve the people, what will? The mass of people who struggle through their daily lives need to know there is an alternative available that will meet their needs and improve their lives. People who urgently require employment, housing, food and other immediate needs can work together now to solve their problems in ways that also undermine big-finance capitalism and build democratic and sustainable systems.

Changing the economic system to one that is more democratic is fundamental to shifting political power away from concentrated wealth and to people. However, decentralized and democratic economic systems will not address all of the crises that exist sufficiently. Some, such as finance, health care, energy, climate and transportation require national approaches and coordination. When political power begins to shift, these bigger solutions can be put in place and greater transformation will be possible.

History reinforces the idea that to achieve transformational change, we must proceed on twin tracks: protesting and building. Mahatma Gandhi changed his emphasis in the mid-1930s, a dozen years before independence from the British Empire, to work focused on building economically self-reliant communities from below (sardovaya, or social uplift for all). This became an adjunct to the strategy he is most known for, satyagraha (noncooperation and civil disobedience to unjust laws). Gandhian economics meant thousands of self-sufficient small communities with self-rule and the need for economic self-sufficiency at the village level joined together in a cooperative federation of village republics. This is bookended by the Gandhian social ideal of dignity of labor, equitable distribution of wealth, communal self-sufficiency and individual freedom.

We discovered this two-path necessity when we were organizing the Occupation of Washington, DC at Freedom Plaza. We learned that change required a strategy of two parts: protesting what we oppose, and building what we want; to make the goals of the occupation clear, we called it Stop the Machine, Create a New World. The latter approach is important for many reasons and deserves more attention than the former because it builds community, solves urgent problems, builds wealth for individuals and communities, and creates the society we want.

The Early History of Cooperatives and Communalism

Curl begins before the European settlement of North America with the continent's natives. There were hundreds of tribes and nations north of Mexico which were based on community and working together to solve problems. Curl writes, "every account stresses community over individualism as their overriding core value." Indeed, the concept of individual private property in land and natural resources was unknown; tools were shared, as were the bounty of agriculture and hunts.

When it came to European colonists, "cooperation permeated the entire way of life." This was true in wave after wave of settlers, whether from Britain, France or Spain. They built houses for each other, plowed fields and shared food; they cleared land and built communities together. There were community gatherings to husk corn, quilt and sew, pare apples and launch ships.

The Spanish colonies, now the Southwest of the United States, were given community land grants by the king for groups of ten or more people. Large sections of common land (ejidos) were put aside for the entire community to share for farming, hunting, water and wood gathering. Of 295 land grants, 154 were community land grants. The common ejido could not be sold. Restoration of ejido lands was one of the central goals of the Zapatistas in the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

In New England, the battle between corporate power and individual rights existed from the very beginning. The first colony of Pilgrims threw off their investors who treated them as indentured servants (a forerunner to modern wage slavery) and instituted self-government. Their community started as a commune and evolved into a cooperative. People worked communally, the product of their work was stored in a community warehouse and needs were taken from a common store. The first major independent industry in Plymouth was a fishing cooperative.

To summarize the early colonial experience, Curl writes, "Cooperation, not competition resounded as the dominant chord across the continent." This self-government and cooperative economy was in constant conflict with the corporations empowered by the British Crown that ruled the colonies, finally leading to the American Revolution with rebellions like the Boston Tea Party, a revolt against the corporate monopoly of the British East India Company.

After the American Revolution, Cooperatives Continued, as Did the Battle With Concentrated Wealth

After the revolution, cooperation continued as a mainstream of the colonial economy. Artisans joined together in "cooperative warehouses" to buy materials at reasonable cost and distribute their products without a middleman. Benjamin Franklin organized 50 neighbors and friends to form the first subscription library, each paying 40 shillings to start the collection. The Union Fire Company, also organized by Franklin, provided for mutual aid in case of fire and was copied in many cities. These evolved into mutual insurance companies owned by a group of people together to insure each other against loss from fire, death or accident. These were copied in ten cities by 1800 and spread to farmers in the 1820s, becoming one of many forms of farmer cooperatives.

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote admiringly of mutual aid associations in the United States in Democracy in America: "Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations ... associations of a thousand kinds ... I have often admired the extreme skill with which the inhabitants of the United States succeed in proposing a common object for exertions of a great many men and inducing them voluntarily to pursue it...."

Throughout the early 1800s, there were a variety of cooperatives. As conflict between workers and owners developed, cooperatives supported workers during strikes. Workers formed cooperatives when they walked off jobs because of low pay and the requirement to work sun-up to sun-down in 75 hour work weeks. These gradually developed into the first unions, which courts often found to be illegal restraints of trade. By the 1830s, workers were winning the right to ten-hour workdays.

This was also a time when economic panics and bank failures became a pattern in the US economy. When there was economic collapse, communalism and cooperatives arose. People worked together to meet their needs. Among the most common were cooperative stores that involved barter, mutual aid and low prices for members. Often when these cooperatives grew to compete with traditional capitalism, capitalists fought back by refusing to sell them goods or transport their products and by undercutting their prices.

Mutual cooperatives formed to build homes for workers. A group of workers would pay monthly into a fund that was used to pay for building homes. The mutual co-op would hold the mortgage until the homes were paid for. These essentially became mutual savings banks, forerunners to the community banks and credit unions of today.

The issues of westward expansion, homesteading and slavery became dominant in the mid-1800s. The wage slaves of industry realized that if chattel slavery moved west, it would mean wages would stay low. This helped create a mass movement for stopping the westward expansion of slavery as well as for abolition. A number of key leaders of the abolition movement were also involved in the labor and cooperative movements, including Horace Greeley and Frederick Douglass.

Many workers put their hopes for liberation from wage slavery in the Homestead Act of 1862 signed by President Lincoln, which gave federal land grants to people (including freed slaves and women). Westward expansion and homesteading also presented a conflict with concentrated wealth, which wanted the land for its profit. In the end, homesteaders only received a quarter of the available land, with railroads and developers taking the rest.

As farming moved west, so did the cooperative movement. Farmers found themselves a small cog in a national chain, forced to buy overpriced seed, supplies and equipment and to pay excessive prices to transport their goods to market on railroads. A national grange movement developed, initially as a secret society. In 1868, the Minnesota Grange organized the first purchasing and marketing cooperative. In a few years, granges sprung up throughout the Midwest and Southwest as mutual aid societies fighting floods and bug infestations, with farmers educating each other and joining together for purchasing and marketing. Granges operated cooperative grain elevators, warehouses, shipping stations, processing plants, grist mills, bag factories, brick yards, blacksmith shops, cotton gins, rail and ship transport, and even banks. Cooperatives were the backbone of the famed farm belt of American agriculture.

The granges became political, joining the Greenback Party, which sought to put more money in circulation to break the power of banks and monopolies. The railroads were a particular impetus because they charged farmers huge freight rates. Farmers made no profits off their crops even though the prices were so high that people in urban areas starved.

There was rapid growth when the granges joined the Greenback Party; by 1875, there were 19,000 local granges with 758,000 members. Their slogans were "Down with Monopolies" and "Cooperation." In 1878, they joined with the Knights of Labor, uniting farmers and workers in the Greenback-Labor Party and adding the eight-hour workday, union rights and women's suffrage to their agenda. They elected members of Congress and state offices, "Repudiationists," who called for the cancellation of many debts. They never gained enough strength to enact their programs and when they passed laws regulating freight charges, industry fought back by refusing to carry grange goods.

Worker and farmer rights movements were on the rise and the cooperative movement was rising with them. The largest workers' organization in history up to that time, the Knights of Labor, which formed in 1869 and had more than 500,000 members, included replacement of the wage system with worker ownership as one of its central beliefs. The Knights were involved in strikes as a protest against wage slavery, building cooperatives to construct a liberated future and Greenback-Labor politics to pursue their agenda in government.

In 1877, there was a national railroad strike involving tens of thousands of workers. Knights of Labor from many trades joined in and farmers from granges provided the strikers with food. State militias supported the strikers by refusing orders to break the strike, instead fraternizing with the strikers. The strikers took control of the cities of Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Chicago.

The tides turned after the stolen election of 1878. Rutherford Hayes made a deal with Southerners to remove troops who were protecting blacks during Reconstruction in exchange for the electoral votes of three states that New York governor Samuel Tilden had actually won. Once troops were removed from the South, President Hayes turned the troops on the strikers, killing over 100 workers, injuring 500 and arresting more than 1,000. The strike was broken and the Knights of Labor wounded.

In the mid-1880s, the movement for an eight-hour day was in full force. A national general strike was called on May 1, 1886; 200,000 workers joined the strike and hundreds of thousands more joined in protests marches. The strike continued for four days, and on May 4, Chicago police shot six picketing workers in the back. A protest was held at Haymarket Square that night. Police moved in to break it up and a bomb went off. Police shot wildly into the crowd, injuring many. This triggered police violence across the country to break up the general strike. Three months later, eight "anarchists" were unjustly found guilty of the bombing, among them a leader of the Knights of Labor Eight-Hour League. This verdict led to a reaction against the Knights of Labor by the entire economic system, marking the group as a source of violence and destroying their cooperatives and movement.

The 20th Century New Deal and the 60s Revolt

Despite initial legal challenges, the cooperative movement continued and unions grew during the 20th century. Rather than breaking up monopolies, the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was used against cooperatives and unions because it declared any "combination or conspiracy" to restrain interstate commerce to be illegal. Fortunately, the number of independent farmers' cooperatives continued to grow because the government looked the other way. It would have been politically costly to enforce the law against farmers. Then the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 exempted many cooperatives from the Sherman Act and legalized collective bargaining.

During the New Deal, programs developed that helped to build cooperatives in rural areas. For example, in 1935 the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was created to promote bringing electricity to rural areas, where only 10 percent had electricity at the time. The REA made loans available to electricity cooperatives. In four years, 40 percent of rural homes had electricity. The cooperatives also forced private power corporations to lower rates and expand coverage.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, established in 1933, encouraged electrical and soil conservation and cold storage, as well as canneries, mills, dairies and craft cooperatives. The Farm Security Administration (FSA), set up in 1935 to combat rural poverty, supported a variety of mutual aid cooperatives that helped with supply purchasing and product marketing, veterinary services, insurance, water and medical care. In the South, land-leasing cooperatives were set up to resettle farmers on land that was more productive. Farmers leased large plantations together, a program opposed by the more conservative Farm Bureau. The FSA supported every form of mutual aid, helping to organize 25,000 cooperatives among 4 million low-income farmers.

The 1933 New Deal National Recovery Act created a Consumers Advisory Board to protect consumers. Mary Rumsey, appointed by FDR as chair, said, "Today, the need is not for a competitive but a cooperative economic system." Roosevelt signed executive orders protecting cooperatives when business interests tried to weaken them.

But it was not all good news from the New Deal. Support for cooperatives stopped at urban areas, where they would directly challenge concentrated economic power. The Federal Emergency Relief Act only allowed barter pay at their cooperative-funded production facilities, not much-needed cash, while the Works Progress Administration (WPA) promised a cash job at a decent wage to every unemployed person able to work. Advocates tried to convince Roosevelt to count cooperative work hours as WPA hours but were rebuffed. This one-two punch undercut the self-help movement. The New Deal was unwilling to make self-help cooperatives a permanent part of the economy. Hundreds of self-help groups around the country collapsed.

During World War II, much of the farmer cooperative infrastructure was dismantled by agribusiness, which weakened the FSA. When wages were reduced after the war, President Truman used wartime powers to seize basic industries and end strikes. The passage of Taft-Hartley started the slow decline of unions, which continues today. The cold war and the McCarthy Era purged radicals from unions and public life.

When social justice movements developed in the 1960s, collective work and cooperation reappeared. The National Farm Workers (later the United Farm Workers) set up several community mutual-aid associations, including a credit union and cooperative store. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee set up producer and marketing cooperatives. The Selma to Montgomery civil rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. resulted in the formation of the Southwest Alabama Farmers Cooperative, which had 1,800 families as members. The Black Panther Party ran a series of survival programs including a health clinic, free shoe factory, food and clothing co-ops, communally built and owned housing, transportation for elders and a breakfast program for children. In the counterculture of the 60s, people sought to build a new social system "within the shell of the old" based on cooperation and sharing. Collectives were formed as nonhierarchical groups that lived or worked together, based on equality and participatory democracy. These included free health clinics, law collectives and free schools, as well as bookstores, media and films.

Since the 1970s, cooperatives and communalism have continued. In our last article, The Foundation of a New Democratic Economy Is Worker Self-Directed Enterprises, we described the state of cooperatives today and quoting political economist Gar Alperovitz: "There are 120 million members of cooperatives in the United States; 20 percent of the American electric system is either co-op or municipal, essentially socialized." Economic democracy is gaining a foothold in the United States, and worker ownership and credit unions are only part of the progress. Today there is a strong cooperative infrastructure that can assist people in developing and managing cooperatives.

The American Personality Is Cooperative; Transformational Change Is Within Us

Understanding this history allows us to better understand ourselves and the character of the nation. We are people who work together for the common good. Cooperation is embedded in our DNA. We are not the false stereotype portrayed in the corporate media of people who "make it on their own" by not caring for others and becoming driven by greed. In fact, all people who rise to the top do so on a broad foundation of inherited and unearned commonwealth infrastructure, scientific and technological knowledge, as well as labor. As Warren Buffett has said, "society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I've earned." From the founding of the country, community - people working together to solve common problems and make a better life for all - has been central to the national personality.

Throughout history there has been a struggle between economic democracy and capitalist economics over social justice transformations. As Curl writes: "The tapestry of US history is woven with the day-to-day struggles of hundreds of millions of ordinary people for better lives. Mutual-aid organizations such as cooperatives and unions have always been near the heart of those struggles. Those struggles embody the 'pursuit of happiness' that the Declaration of Independence boldly asserts is our inalienable right."

The current rise of economic democracy comes at a time when there is an awakening to the power of protest and resistance. The concentrated wealth of a big-finance dominated economy which hoards wealth while millions starve is more fragile than it seems. Once again, social justice transformations are taking hold at the same time as economic democracy and worker-owned enterprises fill the void of collapsed economies. If we are intentional about building the economy we want while protesting what we oppose, and if we learn the lessons that past efforts provide, we will more quickly achieve the transformations we seek. Resistance and economic democracy will continue to rise because dysfunctional government cannot respond adequately to any of these urgent crises.

The rise against neoliberal economic globalization began in the late 1990s with protests against the World Trade Organization and has continued with the Arab Spring, Spain's indignados, and with the Occupy and Idle No More movements. It comes at a time of tremendous ecological challenges, the end of cheap carbon-based energy, a massive wealth divide, high levels of poverty and extraordinary communication abilities between people all over the world. We are at a critical convergence in history where, as Thomas Paine said at the conclusion of Common Sense, "We have it in our power to begin the world over again."

You can hear our interview with John Curl, author of "For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements and Communalism in America" on Clearing the FOG Radio.

This article is part of a two-part series with "The Foundation of a New Democratic Economy Is Worker Self-Directed Enterprises."

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to John Curl's Author Page

Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection

by David Mandl
Comics Journal
January 10th, 2013

In the late 1970s and early 1980s a miraculous thing happened in left-wing circles: Anarchism, which was considered a quaint historical relic at best, rose from the grave to become the West’s most vibrant political movement. This was in part a response to the slow death of the ‘60s New Left, the corporatization of rock and roll, and the gradual slide toward a Reaganite/Thatcherite culture of greed in the US and UK: The most prominent left activists were now violent, authoritarian groups like the Weathermen and the Red Army Faction; arch-Yippie Jerry Rubin was about to throw in the towel and become the world’s best-known huckster for Yuppie careerism; and bland dreck like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac dominated the radio airwaves. At the same time, the nominally anarchist punk movement was helping to spread dissatisfaction with the way things were, encouraging the young and the restless to indulge their creativity by (among other things) making their own music and art rather than consuming whatever a handful of entertainment companies decided to sell them.

San Francisco, which had become a hotbed of punk activity, also happened to be home to a handful of anarchist study groups, and some members of the latter were underground-comic artists who saw their work garnering less rack space with the demise of (or legal crackdown on) head-shop culture. The convergence of all these phenomena inspired Bay Area cartoonist Jay Kinney—who had become increasingly interested in anarchist ideas while doing work for the lefty paper In These Times, and had collaborated with a pre-Zippy Bill Griffith on the underground comic Young Lust—to pitch the idea of an anarchist comic to Last Gasp, the most political of the local alternative publishers. Last Gasp said yes, Kinney’s sometime collaborator and fellow anarchist Paul Mavrides signed on as co-editor, and Anarchy Comics was the result.

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.04.15 AMIn its nine years of existence (1978–1987) only four issues of Anarchy appeared, but it would be hard to overestimate the comic’s political and cultural importance even thirty years later. Kinney and Mavrides’s creation brought together an irreverent-bordering-on-nihilistic punk sensibility, serious (but never dry or pedantic) lessons in anarchist history, freshly illustrated texts by such infamous revolutionaries as Emma Goldman and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and that favorite anarchist sport, satirical potshots at mainstream leftists.

Anarchists have always prided themselves on their internationalism—not surprising, since being anti-government is about the only thing all anarchists agree on—and Kinney took that attitude to heart, assembling a far-flung coterie of artists for his comic and emblazoning the catchphrase “International Anarchy!” (or “International Comix!”) on the front cover of every issue for good measure. In its lifetime Anarchy Comics featured contributors from the Netherlands, Germany, England, France, and the US, including Clifford Harper, Spain Rodriguez, the team of Yves Frémion and François Dupuy (aka “Épistolier and Volny”), Gary Panter, Ruby Ray, Gilbert Shelton, Donald Rooum, Melinda Gebbie, and more than twenty others. The majority of the work appearing in the comic was original, but Kinney also commissioned translations of several pieces not previously published in English—most notably the series “Liberty Through the Ages” by Épistolier and Volny.

Anarchy Comics was a nearly perfect blend of “capital-a” anarchism—that is, overtly political critiques of capitalism, patriarchy, and consumerism—and “small-a” anarchism—a generally anti-authority or anti-“normality” stance, not explicitly political. Its aesthetic was informed in about equal measures by punk, the Situationists (the influential ultra-left group at the center of the May ’68 rebellion in France), the underground-comic classics, and longstanding anarchist tradition. The Situationists’ mark could be seen in Kinney and Navrides’s use of détournement, the practice of re-purposing images from straight comics and advertisements by replacing the original captions with new, subversive ones. Punk showed up in the comic’s swipes at hippies and the middle-American nuclear family, and in its (at the time) novel and often bizarre graphic look.

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.03.21 AMAll of the above came together in the Kinney and Mavrides’s opus “Kultur Dokuments,” in Anarchy Comics #2. The strip, drawn mostly in a cold, geometric, pictogram style, follows the Picto family as they morph from unremarkable residents of Dullsville, to members of a leftist cult handing out leaflets at the local asbestos factory, to a post-political group singing “Little Red Caboose” while toasting marshmallows on a burning Dullsville police car. Along the way they’ve altered their own graphic style (after being encouraged to “Drop your picto character-armor and go for the gusto!”) and, together with an assortment of cartoon pranksters, they’ve “hung the last bureaucrat with the guts of the last priest”—quoting a May ’68 slogan. Nested inside “Kultur Dokuments” is another entire comic, the brilliant and graphically meticulous Archie parody “Anarchie,” which the Pictos’ son reads to pass the time while locked in his room. Anarchie, resplendent in a punk hairdo and circle-A t-shirt, is thrown out of his house when he tells his hippie father, “You don’t even know you’re dead—you just keep walking around!” In response, Mr. Andrews shouts, “Meaningful dialogue in this relationship is impossible,” and, while booting Anarchie to the sidewalk, “Don’t come back till you mellow out!” Anarchie and his friends Moronica, Blondie, and Ludehead, en route to Mr. Lodge’s mansion (“Daddykins is throwing a posh ball tonight to celebrate his corporation foreclosing on some little country!”) get hassled by a bunch of passing hippies—drawn as the Furry Freak Brothers!—listening to “Uncle John’s Band” on the car stereo. The Deadheads hurl a can of beer at Anarchie’s head while chuckling “Hey punk! You look thirsty! Peace! Love! Ha Ha!” So much for “Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.03.36 AMAmong the more explicitly anarchist pieces appearing in Anarchy Comics were illustrated historical strips about Durruti and the anarchist presence in the Spanish Civil War (written and drawn by Spain), the Yippies’ disruption of business at the New York Stock Exchange in 1968 (Épistolier and Volny), and the Paris Commune of 1871 (Spain again). Épistolier and Volny also presented the story of the Kronstadt massacre, wherein the Bolsheviks, consolidating their power in the just-established Soviet Union (meet the new boss—same as the old boss), slaughtered a group of anarchists who stubbornly clung to the original libertarian ideals of the Russian Revolution. (Anarchists’ longstanding animosity toward party-line Marxist-Leninists can in large part be traced to this disaster.)

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.03.55 AMOther features that were meant to either educate anarchists on their proud history or counter common myths about what anarchism really is included Mavrides’s “Some Straight Talk About Anarchy,” Gebbie’s “Quotes from Red Emma [Goldman],” and Harper’s presentation of Proudhon’s “What Is Government?” Goldman’s illustrated quotes reveal a figure whose views on feminism and women’s rights were just as radical seventy years later: Woman’s “freedom, her independence, must come from and through herself…by asserting herself as a personality and not a sex commodity…by refusing the right to anyone over body…by refusing to bear children unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to GOD, the STATE, SOCIETY, the husband, the family, etc.” In “What Is Government,” an early document laying out the anarchist argument against centralized authority, Proudhon writes “Government is slavery. Its laws are cobwebs for the rich and chains of steel for the poor. To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied on, regulated, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, ruled…”

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.04.05 AMIn “Some Straight Talk About Anarchy,” Mavrides blasts the 1984/Brave New World hybrid that the US had become by pointing out that life in the late twentieth century meant a choice between “Apocalyptic Babylon or Planetary Disneyland.” He mocks the non-progress made by labor in the previous forty years (“these days the right to peaceably assemble means quiet factories”) and espouses the self-evident but controversial view that people have the intelligence to organize themselves (“Your mind doesn’t need a government, does it?”). In a cartoon that appears on the inside cover of issue #1, widely reproduced ever since, Gerhard Seyfried juxtaposes the “popular misconception of a typical anarchist”—a sneering, black-robed terrorist holding a lit match to a bowling-ball-sized bomb—with “actual anarchists in real life”—a wholesome, garden-variety family of four. His point is a crucial one: Anarchists view anarchy as the natural, primordial state of things, and stress that most of our regular dealings with other people are anarchistic, in that we negotiate, cooperate, and help one another out of basic human kindness, free of outside coercion.

Less explicitly political, but more anarchic in the “chaos” sense is Gary Panter’s tongue-in-cheek and very punk “Awake, Purox, Awake,” a crudely drawn and pasted-up strip depicting two low-lifes who want to blow things up more or less for kicks. One of them asks, “What should we demolish today?” and then, after breakfast the next morning, declares, “Sunny day, full belly, makes me want to blow something up.” Exhibiting anarchists’ willingness to mock everything, even their own politics, is Mavrides and Kinney’s “No Exit,” in which they tweak both anarchists and ostensibly anarchist punk-rockers. The strip has a socially concerned but nihilistic singer (“Kill the Queen and kill the Pope / Kill the hippies who smoke dope”) traveling into the future to a time when the Revolution has finally won, and finding himself unable to deal with it. “Perhaps you’ll like the free autonomous bakers’ collective?” his hosts ask. “Here! Enjoy some 9-grain bread baked by unexploited labor!!” The punk takes one bite and spits it out: “Gak! Bleah!” He responds with equal horror to a blissed-out citizen who says, “I’m getting a telepathic message from the dolphins up on their L5 space colony,” drop-kicking her into a pool of sludge.

Other digs at the left’s party faithful include the illustration adorning the back cover of issue #1, “Exclusive on-the-spot sketch of mass anarchist demonstration in Tienanmen Square in Peking,” featuring hundreds of Chinese citizens in Mao suits brandishing little round bombs beneath a big “ANARCHY” sign. (Note: This was a decade before the famous Tienanmen Square protest of 1989.) The back cover of the following issue topped that, with a blasphemous Mavrides image (a poster actually available for purchase at the time) of Chairman Mao with huge Walter Keane eyes, and a wise-ass description sure to give any devoted Maoist a coronary: “Painted in oil and black velvet, this splendid example of true Proletarian Art combines stirring aesthetic skill with a sympathetic rendering of the late Chairman Mao’s wise, yet poignant face. Surely all revolutionaries who are concerned that Art should ‘serve the people’ will draw inspiration from this wonderful masterpiece and work hard to emulate its militance in every cultural area.”

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.04.26 AMThose two images, along with the rest of Anarchy’s front and back covers, are reproduced in their original form in a full-color section at the back of the assembled Anarchy Comics. It’s also interesting to note that the inside cover of each issue contains contact information (now obsolete, obviously) for a variety of anarchist groups and publications around the world. This marked what was probably the beginning of a movement that reached full flower a few years later, with anarchist groups sprouting up everywhere, anarchist zines being exchanged via international mail, and bigger and bigger contact lists of anarchist groups being circulated throughout the scene. (Some of the Bay Area people involved in Anarchy Comics also produced the massive International Blacklist of anti-authoritarian groups that appeared in the early ‘80s.)

Anarchy Comics represents the beginning of an important historical moment, when the philosophy and culture of anarchism were resuscitated after decades of widespread uninterest. It’s of its time, arguably, but with few exceptions it doesn’t seem at all dated today. It’s still as funny, irreverent, and illuminating as its editors intended. And it contains work from some of the best underground-comic artists of the late twentieth century, given free rein to snipe at authority to their heart’s content.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Jay Kinney's Author Page

Anarchy Comics, Illustrated

by Michael Dooley
January 11th, 2013

As the Tea Party and Occupy movements fade from the political scene, anarchy is still visible . . . well, its graphics are, anyway. In England, Autonomy: The Cover Designs of Anarchy, 1961–1970 just hit the streets. And PM Press is singlehandedly keeping anarchy alive with an impressive catalog of revolutionary fare that covers everyone from Chomsky to Banksy to the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers.

Established just five years ago, PM has already produced hundreds of radical-themed publications and other merchandise. They've done several graphic novel-ish books, the most stunning of which is Peter Kuper's deluxe Diario de Oaxaca. And for richly illustrated perspectives of the '60s countercultural press scene as seen by Paul Krassner, Trina Robbins, Emory Douglas, and other insiders, you can't beat On the Ground. There's also plenty to view and read in the first two issues of Signal: A Journal of International Political Graphics & Culture.

Clifford Harper

One new release that should be of particular interest to designers is the visually venturesome Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, edited by Jay Kinney and with a foreword by Paul Buhle. It's an anthology of all four issues of the now-legendary underground comic book Kinney started in 1978, at the height of the punk revolution. Its dozens of contributors hailed from Great Britain and Europe as well as the U.S. and Canada, with artists as diverse as Gilbert Shelton and Gary Panter. Regulars included Lost Girls' Melinda Gebbie, the recently deceased Spain Rodriguez, and Kinney himself. And as you'd expect, each had his or her own take on the topic, whether educational, agitational, satirical, or all three.

Kinney was part of the original underground comix movement in the late '60s, and he cofounded, with Zippy's Bill Griffith, the romance-comic parody series Young Lust. Our discussion below touches on Kinney's friendship with Rodriguez, how anyone can now access loads of free comics online, and why political labels have become meaningless.

Anarchy's first issue started out with a bang, from Kinney's burning Boris Badenov-ian globe bomb on the cover to his anarchically assembled opening strip, "Too Real," which is where our conversation begins.

Jay Kinney

How did you put together "Too Real"?

Writing and designing “Too Real” was largely an exercise in amassing a pile of clip art and old ads from ‘40s and ‘50s magazines and letting a story line emerge as I moved the images around like chess pieces or Tarot cards.

Initially—and you can see this in the splash panel—I had the notion of tracing and re-drawing clip art, but it rapidly became clear that that added a layer of unnecessary work to the whole process. So I just went with the clippings themselves for the rest of the story.

This was at a time when I’d scored old Life and Colliers magazines for 50 cents apiece at flea markets and from the back rooms of dusty used book stores. Someone had given me a stack of old clip art and that became the unifying glue, because so many of the advertising images of happy families or dads and moms looked like they were nearly the same identical, squeaky-clean people. So it was surprisingly easy to find different clips that moved the story along with very similar-looking people.

Have you ever heard from David Rees?

I do know that it influenced Tom Tomorrow at the beginning of his career, but I have no idea whether it influenced Rees. I’ve never heard a peep from him, though obviously he’s been barking up a similar—if not the same—tree.

I can’t claim that I originated this collage mash-up technique, as the Situationists had already pioneered it. Collage was also a stock punk style, thanks in part to Jamie Reid, whose name I was unaware of. If I invented anything new, it was in combining the two veins of collage, along with a lot of smart-ass humor.

Tell me about your design training and early career.

I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn at a volatile time—’69 to ’72—with mixed results. Through happenstance and good fortune, I’d become involved with underground comix in ’68, when I was right out of high school, but my drawing teachers at Pratt definitely forced me to learn to draw. I also took illustration, design, and lettering classes, which I really benefited from. Unfortunately, the school was kind of a mess at the time—teachers wouldn’t show up on the first day of class and we’d be stuck with a substitute for the rest of the quarter. I dropped out in the middle of my junior year, as I was already making a meager living through freelance illustration and cartooning.

My real design training was from just being in New York and absorbing everything in the environment. My fellow students and I would ride the subway and for our own amusement identify the fonts used in the ads in the subway cars. Pushpin Studios was a big influence on me, but so were several professional cartoonists whom I met in New York and who shared tips about the craft of cartooning, such as Ralph Reese and Frank Mell.

Throughout the ‘70s I juggled comix work with illustration and paste-up jobs. But in the ‘80s I largely shifted into writing and editing for magazines. I was a graphics person at CoEvolution Quarterly—later Whole Earth Review—and then editor there before I founded my own magazine, Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions, which I published for 15 years. As the art directors of those magazines will testify, I always had strong opinions about the publications’ look and design.

What standards did you use when editing Anarchy, and how important was the visual factor?

Comics are a melding of the literary and the visual, so the visual element is always a big factor. One distinction of underground comix was that the editor—who was invariably a cartoonist—was in charge of delivering a fully-designed comic book to the publisher, with almost no inhibiting restrictions. This allowed great freedom in creating a comic’s design and style.

My own standards were pretty clear-cut: I only solicited artists whose work I enjoyed, who could come up with material that fit into the overall theme, and who I could count on to meet deadlines. Beyond that, I largely left them alone. There was a tradition of artistic autonomy in underground comix, so editors tended to only choose artists who they knew would turn in quality work. I was a traditionalist in that sense.

Probably the biggest chance I took on an artist was with Matt Feazell, who was relatively young and unproven. I allotted him four pages in Anarchy #3 and he came through with a wry, pointed, and well-crafted story that exceeded my expectations. Most everyone else, I had a good idea of what they’d probably do.

My concern has always been that the comic art that I create or edit communicates clearly. In my view, if you confuse the readers, you lose them and they’ll toss the book aside and move on to something else. So I tend to favor straightforward stories that read well, even if the reader is being challenged with sudden switches in art style or twists in the plotting.

Who do you consider Anarchy's most exceptional artists, graphically?

Since I consider most of Anarchy's artists to be friends, I’m reluctant to single one of them out as the most exceptional. I will note that I think the strips by Cliff Harper and by Melinda Gebbie were perhaps the most graphically striking, but every contribution had its own merits. Gary Panter probably pushed the envelope the most—no surprise there—but so did Peter Pontiac.






What was your relationship with Spain Rodriguez?

Considering that Spain was ten years my senior, he was simultaneously an older brother, a mentor, and, over time, my best friend. Still, there were periods over the last 43 years where we might only see each other twice a year, so our relationship was fluid, like many friendships.

Spain was a former biker, a visceral working-class Marxist, and an immensely talented artist. His drawing style could be called a mixture of Wally Wood and Chester Gould, but he made it utterly his own. He somehow managed to combine a penchant for drawing “hot babes” with a no-nonsense feminism that gave women their full due as autonomous, powerful beings. His instincts were always on the side of the underdog or the outcast, which I think sums up his underlying politics.

He supported the idea of Anarchy Comics from the very first time I brought it up. While he was a Marxist, he was not dogmatic about it, and we had many lively conversations about politics over the years. I think he especially appreciated the series because it allowed him to combine a certain EC war comics style with radical politics. While he would stick up for Stalin’s virtues well past the point that most of us would, it always seemed like his real heart was with the Anarchists during the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. We got along fine.

Which of the strips in your book feel most relevant today?

Paul Mavrides's and my story “Armageddon Outtahere!” could just as well have been written in 2013 as in 1987. The same could be said for Sharon Rudahl’s “The Treasure of Cabo Santiago,” which contrasts the rich and poor in a Latin American country. Matt Feazell’s “Pest Control” is pretty timeless, as is Paul’s and my “No Exit.” And I’d say the historical strips by Spain and by Épistolier and his collaborators remain solid for offering glimpses of liberatory moments in world history.

Who among the new crop of comics artists do you admire?

To be perfectly honest, I’ve not kept up with most contemporary comics. When I’ve gone to the Alternative Press Expo in the recent past, the sheer amount of hopeful indie publishers and artists was overwhelming. I’d say the newest artist to catch my eye is Laura Park, but even she’s been around for a while. I do think she is fabulous. I admire Chris Ware and Dan Clowes; I think they are dazzling stylists, though their stories tend to trigger my own depressive tendencies, so I’ve not read all their work religiously. Los Bros. Hernandez are always good, but they’ve been at it 30 years already.

If you are talking newspaper funnies, my favorites are Dan Piraro’s “Bizarro,” Stephan Pastis’s “Pearls Before Swine,” Mark Tertulli’s “Lio,” and Patrick McDonnell’s “Mutts,” when it isn’t falling into sentimentality.

But my favorite “new” artists in recent years have been all the golden-age comic book artists whom I’ve been discovering, due to the scanning of public-domain comics at fan-run sites like Digital Comic Museum and Comic Book Plus. I’ve even helped out with some scans from my own collection of old comics. There were some terrific artists working for smaller publishers whose work has been previously obscure but who are beginning to find a new audience, such as Dick Briefer, Lily Renee, Mo Gollub, John Celardo, Harold Delay, Maurice Whitman, Rudy Palais, Fran Hopper, and the list just goes on and on. Great stuff.


When you started publishing Anarchy in 1978 you had left libertarian leanings. What are your politics these days?

I’ve spent much of the last 25 years questioning whether the old designations of “left” and “right” are even useful anymore. Certainly at a time when we have pundits and Tea Party types calling Obama a “socialist,” it seems like such labels have become meaningless. Surely the label “conservative” that so many people apply to themselves has become a misnomer. They aren’t conservatives, they’re radical reactionaries.

I suppose I’d still call myself a left libertarian or libertarian leftist, in the sense that I prefer democracy over autocracy, cooperation over competition, people over corporations, and so on. But I long ago gave up on the notion that a revolution—of whatever variety—was the answer. Attempts to make over a society from top to bottom usually end up backfiring, at least when they’re done in the service of an ideology, whether its Marxist, Islamist, Zionist, or whatever. Even back when we were originally doing Anarchy Comics, much of my satire was aimed at the competing claims of different leftist sects and belief systems.

Of course, these days it’s hard to even point to a coherent left or right in American politics. We’re just living in a sci-fi future where everyone generates their own reality bubble to the point where we might as well be living in parallel universes. One could say that both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement represent two very different kinds of popularized anarchism, so it’s perhaps rather timely to have all the issues of Anarchy back in print again in the anthology.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Jay Kinney's Author Page

The Anarchist in the Comic Book Shop

by Jesse Walker
January 29th, 2012

A comic caught between the final gasps of the hippies and the opening blasts of punk.

Anarchy Comics had an anarchic publishing schedule, the magazine's four issues appearing at irregular intervals from 1978 to 1987. The first three editions were compiled by the cartoonist and journalist Jay Kinney, the fourth by his frequent collaborator Paul Mavrides. Several celebrated artists contributed to the comic book over the years, including Clifford Harper, Melinda Gebbie, and Spain Rodriguez, among others. Their efforts hit a wide range of tones, by turns realistic and fantastic, solemn and irreverent.

Now those four issues have been assembled in PM Press' Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, along with various out-takes and ephemera. The strips anthologized here include straightforward stories about anarchist history, cartoons mocking Marxist sectarians, illustrated anti-authoritarian essays, and odd little vignettes that are hard to classify. (The latter include a page by Gilbert Shelton, creator of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, proposing an alternate set of highways he calls "free zones," where all traffic laws—indeed, all laws of any kind—are suspended.) The left gets spoofed a lot, but it isn't being spoofed from afar: Just about all the artists and writers come from, or at least have a foot in, the left side of the anarchist spectrum.

Some of the material is basically filler, but there is compelling work here too. Harper, for example, contributes a stark adaptation of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's famous definition of government—the one that features the words "To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied on, regulated, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, ruled, censored by persons who have neither wisdom nor virtue."

If that were all that Anarchy Comics had to offer, I might recommend the anthology to friends with an interest in alternative comics or the radical press, but I probably wouldn't take the time to write a review. But there's something else here, too: a series of stories by Kinney and Mavrides that are among the funniest satires of the '70s and '80s, elevating the anthology from interesting to essential. These strips mock everybody, anarchists emphatically included, in a manner that resembles the comedy of the Firesign Theater, the Illuminatus! trilogy, and the Church of the SubGenius. (With the SubGenii, the similarities are more than just a resemblance. Both Kinney and Mavrides were heavily involved with the mock-church.) As an underground comic that debuted at the late date of 1978, Anarchy Comics was caught between the final gasps of the hippie era and the opening blasts of punk. The Kinney/Mavrides stories captured the moment by firing satiric vollies in both directions.

Kinney and Mavrides didn't do a strip together in the first issue, but there was a taste of things to come in Kinney's five-page feature "Too Real," a collage-comic constructed from clip art and mid-century magazine ads.

It's a strange, funny, and somewhat free-associative rant that straddles the boundary between earnestness and irony, presented sincerely held ideas in absurd and self-mocking ways. (In one panel, a cat announces: "I am Eleanor Roosevelt with a message from the Vatican! Introduce maximum autonomy into daily life. Stop. Question authority. Stop. Buy food in bulk. Stop. This has been a recording.") The story had the additional effect of allowing a comic produced by Last Gasp Press, a publisher associated with hippie humor, to lead off with almost half a dozen pages that adopt the aesthetic of a punk-rock flier.

That was a nice setup for the magazine's first Kinney/Mavrides collaboration. "Kultur Dokuments," published in the second issue, is really two tales in one. The framing story involves a generic town whose people are rendered as almost-identical pictograms—except for the local LaRouchies and Leninists, who are rendered in the style of the Bizarro World characters in an old Superman comic. The picto people ignore the Bizarros picketing their workplace and instead start their own revolt by "seiz[ing] control of our graphic style," morphing themselves into individualized drawings that range from Tintin to a talking dog. The metaphor here isn't hard to decipher.

The Pictos and Bizarros are funny, but they aren't what makes "Kultur Dokuments" so memorable. In the middle of the strip, drawn in an entirely different style, there's a sizable story within the story: an Archie Comics parody in which Archie and Jughead are transformed into Anarchie and Ludehead, a couple of obnoxious punks rebelling against the even-more-obnoxious mellow California counterculture.

At one point, the cartoonists reenact the '60s cliché of a car full of rednecks hurling beer cans at some longhairs. Only this time the beer gets thrown at the punk rock kids, and the people throwing the brew are, well...

For those of you who haven't been exposed to many underground comics, those three hairy dudes in the car are the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, some of the best-known characters to come out of the hippie comic-book world. When I originally read this story in the '80s, I took their appearance here as a jab at the older feature, but in fact it's practically a licensed cross-over: Mavrides had just joined the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers production team.

The hippie/punk split moves to center stage in the third issue, with a Kinney/Mavrides story called "No Exit." The protagonist of this piece, published in 1981, is a punk singer and self-proclaimed anarchist called J-P who gets murdered by his own fans when they take his lyrics too literally ("Kill the land and kill the sea!/Kill yourselves or kill me!"). He is cryonically preserved, and when he is reanimated 3,000 years later he learns that the anarchist revolution has finally won. But while J-P's anarchism is nothing more than punk nihilism, the anarchotopia of the future is about as far from punk as you can get, combining New Age fantasies ("I'm getting a telepathic message from the dolphins up on their L5 space colony!"), political correctness ("There's no more ageism! There's no more shapeism! There's no more sizeism!"), and the dreariest direct democracy imaginable:

Not surprisingly, J-P doesn't fit in well:

The story is merciless towards both J-P, who can barely put a thought together that doesn't involve smashing things, and the people of the utopian future, a society so cloying it would drive Gandhi to start hurling bricks. By this point, unsurprisingly, Kinney was getting disillusioned with conventional radical politics, moving toward more spiritual concerns (he would soon launch the mystical magazine Gnosis) and absorbing new political influences, not all of them on the left. As he puts it in the introduction to this collection, he grew interested in finding a "new political space beyond the old 'left vs. right' dichotomy." He still thought an anarchist society sounded appealing, but it also seemed like a lost cause—"in part," he writes, because of all the "revolutionary posturing by its proponents."

He handed the editor's reins over to Mavrides, and for the final issue they wrote and drew one more long story together. "Armageddon Outtahere" starred Bud Tuttle, a John Birch–esque character who had earlier appeared in a couple of '70s comics, Kinney's Occult Laff Parade and the Kinney/Mavrides collaboration Cover-Up Lowdown. His new adventure featured a gang of anti-food terrorists who launch refrigerators at freeways, a gang of pro-food terrorists who launch cows at freeways, and a gun-toting Jesus who teams up with the Antichrist and Mary Magdalene; it concludes with all the armageddons of the world's faiths happening at once. It may not be as inspired as the duo's earlier strips, but it's still pretty entertaining.

There's a lot of engaging material in this book's pages, from a cartoon biography of Victoria Woodhull to a page where Lenin does a Borscht Belt standup routine at an AFL-CIO convention in Disneyworld. But the Kinney/Mavrides stories—especially "Kulture Dokuments" and "No Exit"—are the high points. It's good finally to have them all between a book's covers.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Jay Kinney's Author Page

Remembering Spain Rodriquez (1940-2012)

by Paul Buhle
Dissent: A Quarterly of Politics and Culture
December 3, 2012

We are now so far from the 1960s and ’70s that the crucial locations, personalities, and moments of one very popular art form’s transformation have been largely forgotten. Spain Rodriguez, with a handful of others (the best remembered are happily still with us: Gilbert Shelton, Robert Crumb, Bill Griffith, Kim Deitch, Art Spiegelman, Trina Robbins, and Sharon Rudahl, to name a few), pushed the comics agenda so far forward that no return to the limitations of superheroes and banal daily newspaper strips would ever be possible. Comic art, belatedly recognized in the New York Times (and assorted museums) as a real art and not a corrupting children’s literature, owes much to them.

Spain (his birth name was Manuel, his father a Spanish immigrant, his mother an Italian-American artist) grew up in Buffalo, New York, a rebellious working-class kid who wore long sideburns and was impressed by the civil rights movement. He dropped out of art school in Connecticut and, after returning to Buffalo and working a factory job with a motorcycle gang engagement, landed in New York in time for the efflorescence of Underground Comix (styled with an “x” to distinguish itself) in a comic tabloid offshoot of the East Village Other. His colleagues were a strangely mixed crew, all of them old enough to have been influenced by EC Comics, the most politically liberal and artistically accomplished of the old comics industry, and the one hardest hit by the congressional hearings of the McCarthy era. (As with attacks on the Left, every charge of subversion and perversion hid Middle-American outrage: these were Jews corrupting innocent American youth.) In a sense, every “underground” artist of these early days sought revenge in the name of comic art, and realized it through the depiction of sex, violence, and anti-war and anti-racist sentiment unthinkable in what remained of the mainstream. Sex and violence, lamentably, became chief attractions to many readers, recalling the “headlights” (aka “sweater girl”) crime and horror comics of the late 1940s, albeit with a left-wing or libertarian ambience.

The whole comix artistic crowd moved to San Francisco around 1970, joining Robert Crumb and a few others already there, part of the acid-rock, post–Summer of Love setting. Underground comix, replicating the old kids-comics format but now in black and white, grew up alongside the underground press, whose reprinting of comix created the market for the books. Crumb was the artist whose work sold the best, in the hundreds of thousands, but Spain was widely regarded as the most political. He was heavily influenced by the most bohemian of the EC comics world, wild man Wallace Wood, whose sci-fi adventures depicted civilizations recovering from atomic war and whose Mad Comics stories assaulted the 1950s commercialization of popular culture. Wood’s dames were also extremely sexy, too overtly sexy for the diluted satire of the later Mad Magazine.

Trashman: Agent of the Sixth International
was Rodriguez’s signature saga in these early years, serialized in underground papers, comix anthologies, and eventually collected in comic book form as Subvert Comics. These revolutionaries took revenge on a truly evil American ruling class in assorted ways, many of them violent, but they also had fun and sex, and were subject to many self-satirizing gags, in the process. By the middle 1970s, his work had broadened into more social and historical themes, often with class, sex, and violence highlighting his points. Histories of revolutions and anti-fascist actions (and all their complexities) inspired some of his closest reading of real events, but he had no fixed point on the left-wing scale. He admired and drew about anti-Bolshevist anarchist leader Nestor Makhno also anti-Stalinist Spanish anarchist Durruti, but he also drew about Red Army members facing death fighting the Germans, and so on. (Several of these pieces are now reprinted in Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, an anthology from that 1980s series, just published by PM Press.)

In recollections of the internal conflicts among comix artists, sometimes pitting feminists against male-dominated circles, Rodriguez is remembered as having been unusually helpful and egalitarian, a memory that contrasts curiously with his sometimes sado-masochistic plot lines but not so curiously with the gender-equality of the sybarites (“Big Bitch” was Trashman’s female counterpart, the tough working-class broad with sex cravings for weaker men). He poked and prodded San Francisco’s self-image as a haven of liberated sex, sometimes making his younger self a player on the scene. He also helped set in motion the vital murals movement in San Francisco’s Mission District, but was likely best known on the West Coast for his many posters of San Francisco Mime Troupe openings.

The validation of comic art from near the end of the century onward—Spiegelman’s Maus and left-wing lesbian Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home high among the evidence of artistic achievement—found Rodriguez with a Salon series, “The Dark Hotel,” and several books of his own. Devil Dog, a biography of disillusioned Marine Corps general Smedley Butler, and Nightmare Alley, an adaptation of the classic noir novel, are easily among the best. Che, his graphic biography of Che Guevara, reached the furthest, with editions published everywhere from Latin America to Europe, Japan, and Malaysia. At the time of his death, Rodriguez was amid “Yiddish Bohemians,” a strip about Jewish-American puppeteers during the 1920s and ’30s, in what would be the last in a stunning series of collaborations with playwright-professor Joel Schechter. Rodriguez had started a Woody Guthrie poster for an upcoming Bay Area concert and, had he lived, would have drawn a history of the 2003 San Francisco hotel strike.

After more than forty years (and the disappearance of well over 90 percent of many little-remembered artists’ work in yellowing pulp), the impact of the Underground Comix world remains more a matter of style than substance, daring more than narrative and artistic content. This is unfortunate, because so many artists had particular contributions worthy of note, worthy of reprinting for the sake of comic art alone. Spain Rodriquez lasted long enough to see his work in square covers (if not often hard covers), his unique and quasi-realistic modernism preserved for generations ahead. That he never lost his political vision or his sense of humor should go without saying, but those of us lucky enough to see him teach or to be taught by him felt the deep impact of his humanism as well.

Rodriguez died at home in San Francisco, with his wife, Susan Stern, a documentary filmmaker, and his daughter, Nora Rodriguez, by his side. A retrospect of his work, including a short documentary film made by his wife, is now in place at the Burchfield Penny Art Center in Buffalo, the second exhibit in Buffalo to honor this improbable local hero.
(Paul Buhle was the editor of Che and is co-editor of the anthology Bohemians, to appear in 2013, with two strips by Rodriguez.)

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Jay Kinney's Author Page


Quick Access to:



New Releases

Featured Releases

The Man Who Killed Durruti

Visions of Peace & Justice Volume 1: San Francisco Bay Area 1974-2007, Over 30 Years of Political Posters from the Archives of Inkworks Press