With Zap Comix finally getting collected,I have that end of an era feeling. The mainstream hasn’t really produced any comics you could buy and enjoy individually for some time. The same is almost true for alternative comics, as more creators like Chris Ware and Seth opt for the hardback art book approach. The last two issues of Zap averaged once a decade, but at least it was something to look forward to. Maybe not so much anymore.
(Can you imagine what would happen if they published issue #15 of Zap a year after the collection came out? Completest collectors of alternative comics can hold a bigger grudge than those who have multiple bagged copies of Civil War in their mom’s attic.)
So what’s left as far as even irregular alternative titles? Peter Bagge’s Hate still comes out every so often, and Jordan Crane’s new title Uptight is an enjoyable, diverse package, and if you’re willing to look a little harder, the small press is offering some consistent work while trying to adapt to the fact that comics as single issue “floppies” are possible (likely?) dying out.
For nearly a decade, I’ve been following John Linton Roberson’s work online (disclaimer: I’ve also been published by him in Working For The Man). This Sickness is his most recent self-published series of comics featuring adult content with heavy doses of observations on the politics of sex. One of my recent favorites is the self-contained story “Martha,” which blends gratuitous sex with a true life story that’s relatively upbeat (so that’s how you get people interested in autobio comics again). In issue #6, Roberson started his latest long-term work, “Lulu,” an adaptation of playwright Frank Wedekind’s work, which was also often sexually charged and political. It’s an interesting combination, modernized by Roberson and continuing in Issue #7. The work has been serialized online, but it’s nice to see the full pages as he intended them.
Roberson’s work has had troubles in the past regarding its very printing (This Sickness has been dropped by print-on-demand services on account of its sexual nature). Perhaps due in part to this, he now goes for strength in numbers and for issue #7 has invited other noted alternative creators into the mix, giving the latest issue a little feel of the old undergrounds with its diversity of style.
Aside from Roberson, issue #7 includes the reliable sophomoric surrealism of Sam Henderson and a rare printed selection of Ashley Holt’s dream diary comic “Bedbugs,” which I’ve been following on and off since it appeared in the letter columns of Rare Bit Fiends. We’re also treated to a text story from John Roberson, “Jesus Meets Fred,” a story that’s a little too obvious with it’s political leanings but has very raw, visceral violent moments that evokes the angry politics of other earlyunderground work like Jaxon’s satire and the classic collaborations of Tom Veitch and Greg Irons.
This is truly an eclectic and intriguing mix, but I feel that if Roberson’s comic is going to continue in this vein, he should bring in another, more linear storytelling artist to bookend the less conventional Henderson and Holt, making This Sickness an even more viable title than it is now, maybe even catch a publisher’s attention, which would lighten the burden of censorship off of Roberson’s back and get his work out to the wider audience he likely hopes for.