Thursday, April 9, 2015

When We Were RAW

RAW Volume 2, Issue 1 (1989): edited by Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman, containing comics by Art Spiegelman, Richard McGuire, Charles Burns, Justin Green, Mark Beyer, Kim Deitch, Basil Wolverton, and others.

Penguin Books seems to have published so many copies of the three issues of RAW Volume 2 that they're still available at reasonable prices more than a quarter of a century after their release. And they're well worth having, especially if you yearn to read comics that involve neither funny animals nor super-heroes.

Created and co-edited by Art Spiegelman and his partner Francoise Mouly, RAW started life in the early 1980's as a tabloid-sized alternate comix anthology. Serialized therein were the first six chapters of Spiegelman's Maus, an astonishing and towering piece of comix work that eventually got book publication in 1986, leading to great sales and awards. The commercial and critical success of Maus seems to have fueled the re-birth of RAW as a glossy trade paperback in 1989, sold primarily in bookstores and not comics shops.

RAW is steadfastly avant-garde in many of its selections, though that doesn't mean an abandonment of plot or characterization for many of the creators within. In this smart, engaging issue, stand-outs include a new chapter of Maus (the remaining chapters would be collected into Maus II in 1991, though most new editions of Spiegelman's great work now include all the chapters of the story).

Richard McGuire's "Here" seems in many ways to be the most influential piece collected, um, here. It plays with time in a manner specific and peculiar to the comic format, and has garnered praise from a number of cartoonists (including Chris Ware) who claim its influence changed their cartooning. 

On the lighter side, RAW reprints a decades-old "Powerhouse Pepper" story by Basil Wolverton, a terrific comics artist and writer of the 1940's and 1950's and an engagingly, anomalously oddball talent for his time. Kim Deitch's "Karla in Kommieland" also delights with its weird take on the Red Scare.

On the weird horror end of things, Mark Beyer's "The Glass Thief" is crudely and disturbingly drawn and written. It's as if Grandma Moses illustrated a comic by Thomas Ligotti. An entry from the terrific Charles Burns, "Teen Plague," offers a grotesque tale of body horror and mental disturbance, all drawn by Burns in his just-slightly-off-'realistic' mode of cartooning.

Other stories aren't quite as memorable, but the overall effect is hard to critique, as even the experiments I found unsuccessful still have the capacity to disturb and to challenge one's normative ideas of comic narration and subject. In all, highly recommended.

RAW Volume 2, Issue 2 (1990): edited by Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman, containing comics by Art Spiegelman, Charles Burns, Justin Green, Mark Beyer, Kim Deitch, Boody Rogers, Lynda Barry, Jacques Tardi, Winsor McKay, Henry Darger, Chris Ware, and others.

RAW magazine's second Penguin/Pantheon release offers another eclectic mix of comix, art, and the occasional article. The show-stopper is a piece on Henry Darger, a Chicago janitor who wrote an absolutely massive piece of illustrated fantasy generally referred to as "The Child Slave Rebellion." 

His work wasn't made public until his landlord cleaned out his room after his death in the early 1970's. Among other things, a documentary on Sarger called In the Realms of the Unreal resulted. Art and story are both surpassingly, naively weird and startling.

Other stand-outs in this issue include another chapter of Art Spiegelman's Maus, another disturbingly weird offering from writer-artist Mark Beyer, an early piece from an up-and-coming Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan, Acme Novelty Library), and a beautifully drawn bit of Kafkaesque horror from Jacques Tardi. 

A marvelous bit of personal history from Lynda Barry and a weird reprint of an incredibly odd 'mainstream' 1949 comic-book story from Boody Rogers also delight and confound. Highly recommended.

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