Release Date: October 9, 2009
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Yes, comics are the stuff of scholarly interest at the University at Buffalo, and this month UB will honor Buffalo native Spain Rodriguez, an pioneering indie comix giant, for his intriguing and politically explosive work.
Rodriguez is a brilliant artist, writer and culture worker best known for his anarchistic comic book character "Trashman," a superhero of the working classes and champion of the radical left causes whose stories are set in a dystopian near-future America, which has become a fascist police state.
He will be in town for the Buffalo Comicon, to be held Oct. 25 in the Buffalo Niagara Marriott, 1340 Millersport Hwy., Amherst, of which UB is a co-sponsor.
While here, he will be feted with "Road Vultures and Rumbles: A Career Retrospective of Buffalo's Spain Rodriguez, Underground Comix Pioneer," an exhibition and symposium presented by the UB Libraries Special Collections.
The title refers to the cartoonist's experiences on the road with the biker gang, the Road Vultures, which, along with his left-wing politics, provides much of the inspiration for his work.
The exhibition will be held Oct. 23 to Dec. 31 in the Libraries Special Collections Research Room, 420 Capen Hall, UB North (Amherst) Campus and will feature a wide range of original artwork from Rodriguez's days as a pioneering underground comic book artist and from his more recent, but no less provocative, productions.
On Oct. 23, the day the exhibit opens, UB will present an evening of free public talks about the artist and his comic books, followed by a Q&A with Rodriguez himself. Light refreshments will be served.
The evening will be moderated by UB Librarian Michael R. Lavin, an expert on the history of comics and manager of UB Libraries' Electronic Collections. Rodriguez will be introduced by Bruce Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of English and Samuel P. Capen Chair of American Culture, who knew and photographed Rodriguez in the 1960s, when the artist was riding with the Road Vultures Motorcycle Club.
The presentations will begin 4:15 p.m. with a talk by Cait Keegan, a doctoral candidate in American Studies at UB, titled, "Big Bitch and Wonder Woman Mudwrestle in Heaven: Graphic Femininity and the Rhetoric of Sexual Liberation."
The tall, leggy, often half-naked "Big Bitch" is a raunchy, explicitly sexual Rodriguez character who appears in She Comics in stories that often incorporate macho, sadomasochistic themes. This has posed a challenge for feminist writer and performer Susie Bright, who collaborates with Rodriguez on these comic strips, and says she tries to focus on the powerful, positive sexuality of the character.
The rat-skewering "Big Bitch" is her own tough, hot woman who relaxes only at the end of a caper. She is the envy of female fans in that she revels in her refusal to serve anything to anyone -- ever.
Keegan's presentation will be followed by a talk by Tim Bryant, doctoral candidate in the UB Department of English. Titled "A Tragic Overview of Underground Comix," it will focus on the social and historical significance of the underground comix movement and its roots in the counterculture and political turmoil of the 1960s and early 1970s.
In addition, a number of related events for adults and children will be co-sponsored by the UB Libraries, Queen City Book Store and the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library (BECPL). They will be held at the BECPL Central Library in Buffalo's Lafayette Square, and include talks and workshops on graphic art, cartooning, self-publishing, character drawing by Rodriguez and by indie comix writer/artists Jason Little and Jason Yungbluth (BFA '94) and artist/educator Alex Simmons.
Rodriguez, who now lives and works in San Francisco, was born in Buffalo in 1940 and went on to become a founding father of the underground comix movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. His name (he published a lot of work as "Spain") is mentioned in virtually every discussion of underground comix, along with other notable pioneers, including Robert Crumb, Gilbert Sheldon, Vaughn Bodé and S. Clay Wilson.
Pulitzer Prizewinner Art Spiegelman describes his work as "brilliant and radical" and renowned cartoonist/journalist Joe Sacco calls Rodriguez "one of the true giants of the comics' medium."
Rodriguez studied at the Silvermine Guild Art School in New York in the late 1960s and became a contributor to the East Village Other, which published his own comics tabloid, Zodiac Mindwarp, in 1968.
A founder of the United Cartoon Workers of America, he contributed to numerous underground comix and also drew the Salon.com continuing graphic story, "The Dark Hotel."
Rodriguez was strongly influenced by 1950s Entertaining Comics (EC) illustrator Wally Wood, but is said to have "pushed Woods' sharp, crisp black shadows and hard-edged black outlines into a more simplified, stylized direction and extended the eroticism of Woods' female characters."
His most recent work is an illustrated biography of Che Guevera, "Che: A Graphic Biography" (2008), which celebrates Guevara as a culture hero, while remaining critical of revolutionary excesses like the shutdown of Cuban newspapers.
Rodriguez has also been a regular contributor to the respected anthologies Zap and Blab! Early work appeared in "Gothic Blimp Works," "Yellow Dog" and was collected in "Subversive Comics."
Lavin says, "It is interesting that another major exhibit of Spain's work, titled "Rebel in Ink," is running this fall at the nationally known Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and constitutes the largest exhibition of Spain's material ever compiled.
"I find it fitting," he says, "that Spain's birthplace and his adopted home city are each sponsoring a tribute to his lengthy career, providing a much-deserved bicoastal showcase for this comic book legend."
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