I've written at length on this blog about the effect Viz had on me when I saw it for the first time back in 1988, so I thought it was time I wrote about another comic - or, more precisely, a cover - that had an equally profound effect on me when I spotted it back in 2002.
Above is a detail from the cover of R.Crumb's 1987 comic Hup, the first of four issues. As you can see, it's custom-designed to piss fanboys off, which is absolutely fine by me. See, when my home town got its very first comic shop, I remember being absolutely in my element. A shop selling nothing but comics? That's a teenager's dream come true! To make it even better, the owner had something that is sadly lacking in the majority of comics fans and creators - a sense of humour. So alongside all the "superhero crap", you could find Weirdo, Neat Stuff, Hate, Freak Brothers, Fat Freddy's Cat, various R.Crumb compilations, Matt Groening's Hell series (Work Is Hell is particularly highly recommended), Hunt Emerson compilations, Knockabout comics, Viz, Firkin, and if you were lucky, the occasional stack of IPC humour title back numbers. It was a great shop to spend a lazy afternoon browsing. To me, it was exactly what a comic shop should be - something for everyone, all bases touched and all tastes catered to.
Nowadays, when I walk into any comic shop anywhere, I feel like an unwelcome intruder, an alien presence. This is largely my own fault, of course, because my tastes expand no further than British humour publications and funny underground comics, and the average dyed-in-the-wool fanboy tends to be the sombre, serious type who won't look twice at anything with 'cartoony' artwork. Graham Kibble-White wrote in his history of British comics that most people of my vintage (38 years and counting) followed a predictable trajectory when it came to comics, starting off with the nursery end of the market, graduating up to the Beano, then probably Oink!, then 2000AD or war / science fiction comics, before finally settling with the endless, virtually identical range of po-faced 'serious' titles. This, dear reader, is where I differ from the average comics buff. I could never get into war, sci-fi, horror or superhero titles. They just didn't hold any appeal to me. The artwork was undoubtedly impressive, but I wanted laughs, not endless close-ups of glowering heroes in half-shadow muttering clichés. There's nothing wrong per se with people who like the adolescent fantasy end of the market, but they really don't do themselves any favours by being so bloody serious and humourless about the whole business. They tend to like that sort of comic and nothing else.
It was genuinely refreshing to see someone like Robert Crumb ("Big deal, he ain't no Jim Steranko" / "There's Vaughn Bodé and there's everybody else" - true quotes from one of Drew Friedman's college friends) taking such a fearless and confrontational pop at fanboys. And, true to form, some of them complained. Crumb's response in Hup #2 was a succinct "Fuck you". Way to go, Crumb!
Worse, they tend to be outrageously snobby and dismissive of people - especially adults - who want nothing more from a comic than a few healthy laughs. Worse still, their blanket dismissal of funny stuff has had a tragic effect on the industry as a whole. Comic shop owners are now loath to stock anything that even looks remotely 'cartoony' (i.e. funny), preferring to go with the fail-safe options of stack after stack of expensive collectable gift items and film posters, usually for films which the fanboys absolutely hate because they're, like, way inferior to the original comic book, but they have to have the bloody poster anyway because "even diluted Alan Moore is better than no Alan Moore at all".