March 22nd, 1940 to November 28th, 2012
March 22nd, 1940 to November 28th, 2012
"Spain Rodriguez, Artist of Underground Comics, Dies at 72"
December 2nd 2012
The New York Times
Spain Rodriguez, a cartoonist whose radical politics and hyperbolic macho imagery, all presented with sly humor, were influential elements in the rise of underground comics, died on Wednesday at his home in San Francisco. He was 72.
The cause was cancer, his wife, Susan Stern, said.
Mr. Rodriguez was part of a wave of artists — including R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson and Bill Griffith, who created the character Zippy the Pinhead — who established the irreverent, profane, highly sexed, antiwar, anti-capitalist spirit of underground comics (often, in this context, spelled comix).
A voracious reader of comic books as a boy in Buffalo, he was highly offended by the Senate hearings that resulted in the censorship of comics in the 1950s, and his anger at the establishment never wavered.
In illustrating his tales of revolutionaries taking back the streets, often violently, from plutocratic forces of repression and corruption, Mr. Rodriguez drew motorcycles and other machinery, detailed cityscapes, futuristic and historical military scenes and hyper-sexed human figures.
His characters, who originally appeared in leading underground publications like The East Village Other and Zap, included the counterculture superhero known as Trashman, an urban guerrilla with a ruthless disregard for the lives of the rich and powerful; Manning, a corrupt cop (whose strips bore the slogan “Some call it police brutality; he calls it Justice”); and an adventuress, known as Big Bitch, who was a sexed-up counterpart to Trashman, a pornographic cross between a Charlie’s Angel and Rambo.
“Spain was one of the seminal, in probably all meanings of that word, figures of the underground comics planet,” Art Spiegelman, author of the graphic novel “Maus,” said in an interview with The Buffalo News after Mr. Rodriguez’s death. He added: "I don’t know that there’d be such a things as these nice gentrified graphic novels that I’m associated with as well if it weren’t for the energy unleashed with such vehemence by Spain, Crumb and others.”
Manuel Rodriguez — he became Spain as a boy defending his heritage in fights with schoolmates — was born in Buffalo on March 2, 1940. His father, a Spanish immigrant, was an auto body repairman. His mother, an artist of Italian descent, painted under a male pseudonym: Steve Nomi.
Young Spain was a delinquent — he fought, he stole cars — but he also had a curious mind, and he drew from a young age; on the sides of trash bags, he created comic strips that entertained the garbagemen who picked them up, his wife said. After high school, he attended the Silvermine Guild School of Art in New Canaan, Conn., where Abstract Expressionism was in vogue and his extra-realistic drawings went unappreciated. He never graduated.
“I never got over the thrill of being able to create a three-dimensional image out of a flat surface,” he said.
When he left school, he returned to Buffalo, and for five years worked in a Western Electric plant that manufactured telephone wire, an experience that he said was his real art education when he began drawing the machines and his fellow workers. He also joined a biker gang, the Road Vultures Motorcycle Club, and drew the bikes and the bikers, illustrating their conflicts and reproducing their earthy language.
“I was cool before it was cool to be cool,” he liked to say.
In the mid-1960s, he moved to New York City and found himself on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the heart of the city’s counterculture life. At the request of Walter Bowart, a founder and the first publisher of The East Village Other, a brash, often outlandish newspaper, Mr. Rodriguez created a comic book with a frankly sexual cover called Zodiac Mindwarp. He went on to do comic strips for The Other.
Mr. Rodriguez’s first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, who was his partner beginning in 1979 and whom he married in 1989, he is survived by a daughter, Nora Rodriguez, and a sister, Cynthia Rodriguez-Badendyck. .
His books include “Che: A Graphic Biography” (2008), about the revolutionary leader Che Guevara; and “Cruisin’ With the Hound: The Life and Times of Fred Tooté,” a look back at his early life in Buffalo. A retrospective of his work is now at the Burchfield Penny Art Center in Buffalo.
Part of that exhibition is a short film about him made by his wife, much of it touching on his life after he left New York in 1969 and moved to San Francisco, where Zap was being published and where the center of the underground comix movement had settled. The renegade counterculture scene hasn’t lasted with quite the same fury, and in recent years Mr. Rodriguez taught art at the Mission Cultural Center and was a driving force in the creation of the many murals that adorn the walls of the city’s Mission District.
“He struck me as an archetypal character,” Mr. Crumb says about Mr. Rodriguez in an interview in Ms. Stern’s film. “Crazy artist, crossed with left-wing radical, crossed with working class Latino hood. He had a big influence on me through his artwork. He was top of the line in that generation of underground breakaway cartoonists.”
"Spain Rodriguez Fought the Good Fight"
November 29th, 2012
The Comics Journal
Spain Rodriguez brought a unique perspective to comic art – a hard-edged outlaw’s attitude coupled with a voluptuous sensuality that also espoused class struggle and a universal quest for human dignity. His characters were die-hard individuals who ceaselessly fought the oppressor, powerful women who demanded respect – by force if necessary, and many of the real people who inhabited his life. He excelled at science fiction fantasy, gender warfare, heroic tall tales, and the dramatization of his own experiences. He also created many non-fiction works on historical figures and events, including Joseph Stalin, Che Guevara, and Lily Litvak, the Rose of Stalingrad. He was a genuine Marxist who fought fairly and with club spirit.
He had a lot of stories left to tell, he said in a recent interview for his autobiographical collection, Cruisin’ With the Hound.
“If I live long enough, I’ll do stuff about other periods, like here in San Francisco when I first got here and on the Lower East Side. They were replete with many adventures.”
Now it’s too late. Those stories went with him.
He was born and raised in Buffalo, a blue-collar city in upstate New York, where his colorful and formative upbringing provided a wealth of anecdotes and legends for his later comic stories. He picked up the nickname Spain at around 12 years old, when he heard some kids in the neighborhood bragging about their Irish ancestry. He defiantly claimed Spain was just as good as Ireland, so they began calling him that. It stuck.
“When I was a kid I wanted to be an underground cartoonist. Whatever that was. I would draw pictures of American airplanes having a dogfight with the Japs. He would say, ‘you son of a bitch.’ This was when I was about 11 or 12. That was racy stuff back then. My parents made me get rid of that one. My early forays into learning how to draw the female body came from copying Rulah of the Jungle.”
He attended Silvermine Guild School of Art for three years, punched a time clock at the Western Electric plant for five more, and rode with the Road Vultures Motorcycle Club on his own time. His artwork caught the eye of the red squad in the Buffalo police department when they discovered a mural drawn on the wall of a friend’s apartment showing cops getting run over by motorcycles and a naked Lady Bird Johnson.
He created one of the first major comic works in the nascent underground press in 1967 with the 24-page, tabloid-sized Zodiac Mindwarp, and became a staff cartoonist for the East Village Other, where he introduced Trashman, Agent of the Sixth International, an urban guerilla warrior, and designed many covers and editorial illustrations for the weekly paper.
He moved to San Francisco in 1969, ground zero for the underground comix movement when he was invited into the Zap Comix Collective by Robert Crumb. He continued the saga of his best-known character, Trashman in three issues of Subvert Comics, edited three issues of Insect Fear Comics and contributed to many other underground titles during the peak years of that era, including Skull, Mean Bitch Thrills, Sleazy Scandals of the Silver Screen, Thrilling Murder, San Francisco Comic Book, and Young Lust.
"Spain Rodriguez: Zap Comix artist dies"
November 28th, 2012
The San Francisco Chronicle
Loving family man.
That was Spain Rodriguez.
From his role as one of the original Zap Comix artists with Robert Crumb, to his work as a founder of the Mission District murals movement in San Francisco, Rodriguez influenced generations of cartoonists and illustrators with a gritty, in-your-face approach to urban life.
He continued to do so until his death Wednesday at his San Francisco home - inking a poster printed this week for a concert honoring the labor movement and Woody Guthrie.
Mr. Rodriguez was 72, and had battled cancer for six years.
"He was an archetypal character, somewhere between crazy artist crossed with left-wing radical crossed with working-class Latino hood," Crumb, who lives in France, said in a documentary made this year by Mr. Rodriguez's wife, journalist and filmmaker Susan Stern. "He had a big influence on me through his artwork.
"He was top-of-the-line in that generation of underground, breakaway cartoonists," Crumb said.
Engagingly witty, Mr. Rodriguez met Crumb, Art Spiegelman and other seminally lefty artists in the late 1960s in New York, where they were all creating the new cartoon art form that became known as underground comics.
Mr. Rodriguez had recently dropped out of the Silvermine Guild School of Art in Connecticut and created Zodiac Mindwarp, the first underground comics tabloid, when Spiegelman got his first dose of the man in 1967.
"I met him in some sort of street demonstration, and he sort of scared me because he looked like the kind of person who would beat me up instead of showing me how to draw a hand better," Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the graphic novel "Maus," said with a chuckle. "But over the years he mellowed out more and more.
"It was kind of astounding to see this street guy come into his own - everything from a family man and a community artist to a well-grounded revolutionary. He's the real thing, a great artist."
Born Manuel Rodriguez in Buffalo, N.Y., to a Spanish immigrant father and an Italian artist mother, Mr. Rodriguez permanently dropped his first name in favor of "Spain" as a youth. In his most recent book, "Cruisin' With the Hound," he recounts how as a young man he rode with the outlaw Road Vultures Motorcycle Club, worked in a telephone wire plant and cultivated a love of rock 'n' roll.
"When I was a kid I kinda didn't like rich people ... I just kinda had a bad attitude," Mr. Rodriguez said in his wife's documentary: "Trashman: The Art of Spain Rodriguez."
"My hopes are that mankind will build a more just society," he said.
Stern met Mr. Rodriguez in 1977 when she interviewed him for a magazine story about underground comics. She recalled that right away, "I thought he was hot." They have been together for 33 years, marrying 23 years ago.
"Spain was so his own person," said Stern, whose film is running with her husband's current exhibition at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo. "He was completely, authentically, humbly himself.
"He could be humble and a bad-ass because he was an artist. He was always observing the world."
Among the nationally published cartoon characters Mr. Rodriguez created were Trashman, a street fighter against oppression of the wealthy class, and Big Bitch, a sort of sexually charged female counterpart.
In addition to Zap Comix, he contributed work to the New York Times, Mother Jones and Hustler. His books include "Che: A Graphic Biography," and "Dark Hotel," one of the first online graphic novels. At the time of his death, Mr. Rodriguez was working on a graphic history of the 2004 San Francisco hotel workers strike.
Passionate about his Latino heritage, he helped found the movement that created murals with Crumb and others throughout the Mission District in the late 1960s and '70s. Mr. Rodriguez also created props and sets for Ralph Bakshi's movie "Cool World," staring Kim Basinger, as well as posters for the San Francisco Mime Troupe and work for Frank Zappa and Charles Bukowski.
Museums that exhibited his work include San Francisco's M.H. de Young and Museum of Modern Art as well as the Whitney in New York.
Spain Rodriguez [Wikipedia]
The term "underground comix" describes the art form which originated in the US in the 1960s. Usually sold in what were known as "head shops," underground comix generally reflected the rebellious mood of the 1960s counterculture movement: down with the establishment; make love - not war; drugs; rock n’ roll; women’s liberation, and eventually save the whales and most of the other social issues of the day.
Although there were a few earlier books (the term underground comix hadn’t even been invented yet), Robert Crumb’s Zap Comix # 1 is generally considered the one which started the whole underground comix movement. It was first published in February, 1968. Soon after, many different titles appeared with most selling as fast as they could be produced. Underground comix reached their pinnacle just a few short years later in the early 70s.
Although still being produced, 1973 saw the beginning of the end for underground comix. The counterculture which gave rise to this new medium was changing: the revolutionary and rebellious years were over, the war in Vietnam was winding down, the market had become flooded with new (and many would say often inferior) titles, a newspaper shortage forced production costs up, and probably the biggest factor - the Supreme Court ruling which allowed local communities to set their own standards as to what was obscene or pornographic. This caused what had been the largest means of distribution for underground comix - the heads shops - to stop carrying them. They could not afford to be shut down or the possible court fights which would ensue for carrying such items.
Underground comix continued to be produced throughout the 70s and later but the lofty sales figures they had reached in the early 70s was clearly over. They did, however, give rise to a new form of comix - the so-called "newave" or "alternative" comics.
Underground comix [Wikipedia]
A History of Underground Comics