The content of alternative comics anthologies in the last ten years seems to be veering away from their (potentially offensive) underground roots. Instead, these collections seem to be reaching more towards the art gallery-centric world of the Pop Surrealism movement. For example, Blab! once regularly spotlighted cartoonists like Kaz, Daniel Clowes and Richard Sala. But now it reserves the most space for top names in the alternative art world like Gary Baseman, Mark Ryden and Camille Rose Garcia. All of these creators are equally amazing, but without the often humor driven, obscenely funny stories of someone like Glenn Head, an alternative comic anthology just isn’t as much, well, fun.
Thankfully, those who miss long gone titles like Snarf, Buzz and Snake Eyes will not only get their fix with Hotwire Comics, they’ll have an overdose of sequential anarchy mainlined straight into their brains.
Hotwire Comics (the newly released third volume of which is available here from Fantagraphics) is bursting with so much chaotic cartoon madness that it’s hard to believe it can even be contained under a single cover.
The book opens appropriately with Meet McArf! by humor comics genius Michael Kupperman. Here, McGruff the Crime Dog is re-imagined as a paranoid and homicidal canine who views the world around him as being filled with “scumbags.” The first of two stories by Hotwire editor Glenn Head is Candyland Clinic in which a menagerie of mentally damaged cartoon animals reside in an countryside institution, their maladies placated by a never-ending feast of sugary treats. All is well until the day one of the patients decides to stop taking his meds in an effort to see the world as it really is.
This is a good point to stop and make mention of how rich and beautiful the coloring is throughout this book. I could not say enough about the incredibly high production quality of Hotwire Comics, something that will be immediately noticeable to anyone who opens this oversized book. Mack White delivers a healthy slice of his signature Texas style weirdness with the story Roadside Hell. In it a man, sent by his superiors to check on the progress of a meth lab set up in an abandoned drive-in theatre, finds instead a cult transfixed by exploitation films and worshipping a being called the “Galactic Overmind.”
White can always be depended upon to deliver the mind-bending goods and Roadside Hell stands as one of the very best pieces in a book overflowing with absolutely top of the line alternative creators. Tim Lane, creator of the recent, highly acclaimed graphic novel Abandoned Cars offers up a unsettling tale of a young drifter and his run in with an old (and possibly deranged) hobo in Spike.
Lane’s heavily detailed and richly inked story offers no resolutions for our young protagonist and gives a brief glimpse into the unstable and occasionally violent lives of those who would call the rails home. In true underground form there is also plenty of vibrant psychedelia found in Hotwire Comics including The Magnificent Pigtail Shadow by Steven Cerio. This mostly wordless piece is a brain melting masterpiece of shapes and colors, the centerpiece of which is a multi-page gatefold that has to be seen to be believed. On a similar note, Mark Dean Veca gives us his take on the cast of that all time classic strip Popeye in which the iconic characters are made up of bodily organs, nightmarish creatures, and god knows what else.
A more narrative tale is offered by Karl Wills involving his likeably violent character Connie Radar. I really love his clean, Herge-esque illustration style. Mary Fleener has always been one of the very best autobiographical cartoonists in the field and her Hotwire contribution, The Judge, is a great example why. Here it is detailed how she, a person with no attraction to firearms whatsoever, becomes the willing owner of a handgun.
The parody of established comic strip characters is always a hoot and leave it to potty humor king Johnny Ryan to give his take on the eternally squabbling husband and wife duo The Lockhorns, here renamed The Cockhorns. In all seriousness, The Lockhorns is really not suitable as a newspaper strip because the “humor” of it comes from the obvious fact that this married couple just hates each other to the core. Let’s take a look at some comparisons between the real strip and Ryan’s take on it. You’ll notice that what Ryan shows is probably just what the actual characters really think of each other anyway. Let’s start with an actual Lockhorns strip:
On a similar note, comics parody genius R. Sikoryak, creator of last year’s brilliant collection Masterpiece Comics, re-envisions that little scamp Dennis the Menace as the lead in the gloom and doom literature classic Hamlet. Closing out Hotwire Comics is Glenn Head’s re-imaging of the life of artist Hans Bellmer in Vulvina, The Ventriloquist’s Daughter! and appropriately so as it is the best story in the book. In 1931 Berlin, Hans, a ventriloquist, is gripped by his obsession with his dummy that is in the form of a pubescent young girl. Enraged at her “flirting” with audience members, he often deconstructs her and takes photographs of the results as a form of punishment. Eventually these photos (used as racy postcard images) make their way to the Surrealists of Paris to whom Hans has to flee, sans dummy, with the onset of WWII. Mixing bits of fact in a overall fictional tale, Head’s incredible attention to detail also makes room for injecting numerous background characters pulled directly from the work of German Expressionist artists like Otto Dix and George Grosz.
Not for the easily offended, Hotwire Comics is a heady brew of high art and low humor, and also doubles as the absolute peak of possibility for what an alternative comics anthology can and should be. Do not miss the chance to reward yourself by greatly expanding your mind while also melting it to little, tiny, gooey bits. I highly encourage you to spend some quality time with Hotwire Comics. Your rational self will feel a little bit dirty, but your artistic soul will be spic-and-span clean.