Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Author's Voice And The Artists: Dennis Eichhorn's Extra Good Stuff

Dennis Eichhorn has always very much been the mirror image of Harvey Pekar. He's a writer who has worked with a panopoly of artists to illustrate his real-life anecdotes. Unlike Pekar, however, who focused on the beauty of the mundane to an extreme degree, Eichhorn prefers to use the wilder episodes from his life as fodder for his stories. If it involved sex, drugs, violence, crime, and/or the weirdoes that he'd met and the unusual jobs he'd had, then Eichhorn wrote about it. Eichhorn has begun writing comics again after a long hiatus, with 2013's Real Good Stuff a welcome return to form. His newest comic is Extra Good Stuff, published by Last Gasp. It reprints a few of his 90s stories published in various anthologies and also has a number of new stories by younger artists who nonetheless fit into his aesthetic model like a grungy glove.

What's interesting about this issue is that Eichhorn, now seventy years old, is starting to confront the issue of morality.The key piece in the comic was "What Next?", drawn by R.L. Crabb. It's a story about Eichhorn checking into the hospital a few years back for an angioplasty. Crabb really manages to get at the chaotic dissonance one can hear on a hospital ward--especially one that was playing Fox News non-stop. The extensive use of negative space, even in the figure design, contributed to the strangeness of the story's surroundings. While in bed, he learned that Pekar had passed away, and there was a fantastic sequence where the Grim Reaper strolls into his room and isn't sure whether to pick Eichhorn or the man in the next bed--so he just picks the other man. For a man who has always depicted himself as being pretty close to indestructible, it's a fascinating admission of mortality, albeit one packed with a punchline at the end.

Of the other new stories, it's just obvious that cartoonists like Noah Van Sciver, Max Clotfelter and Tom Van Deusen were essentially born to collaborate with Eichhorn. All three have that ragged, labored-but-cartoony quality to their line that adds a touch of the grotesque and the ridiculous to their stories. Van Deusen's art on "It's Good To See The King" sets up an elder care center as a sort of zombieland and then gets truly strange when he encounters an Elvis impersonator. It's the ne plus ultra of weirdo Eichhorn encounters/crazy job stories, and Van Deusen makes it count. Van Sciver's "Gold Dust Twins" plays to his strengths in depicting sad, desperate and slightly pathetic people, as the story depicts Eichhorn getting mixed up in an insane gold-mining scheme that naturally goes horribly awry. One detail I love about Van Sciver's art is that he's great at drawing people with bad teeth. Clotfelter's heavily cross-hatched art creates a slightly manic vibe in "Taxi Driver", as Eichhorn once again encounters a sleazy and seedy scene in a motel as a cab driver, yet not only gets paid but also gets a tip! Creating an atmosphere where something horrible could happen at any moment but then doesn't is a punchline of its own, especially in Clotfelter's hands.

My favorite collaboration in the book is the most unlikely one: a strip with the eccentric style of Gerald Jablonski, a cult cartoonist if there ever was one. The story of Eichhorn's tenure as a "Spud Scout" is perfect fodder for the kind of kid-adult patter Jablonski's so adept at. David Lasky's one-pager about an unwelcome late-night phone call is typical of Lasky's formal cleverness. I imagine that while Eichhorn picks his artists carefully depending on the story's tone, it seems obvious that he gives them a tremendous amount of leeway in how they draw and design it.

The reprints and stories by Eichhorn regulars here are also excellent, as we get to see an older version of Ivan Brunetti's figure drawing (circa Schizo #3) in a story about Eichhorn working at the weirdo publisher Loompanics Unlimited. JR Williams has a crazy anecdote about Eichhorn trying to find a toilet in San Francisco and winding up in a urination fetish club. The Pat Moriarity/David Collier duo is incredible in Eichhorn's story about an inspiration for grunge, as one gets to see the playfulness of Moriarity and the detail of Collier combine in a series of memorable images. Dame Darcy draws against type in a story about luring Mormons over to a friend's father's house, who wound up shooting at them. Finally, Stan W. Shaw's wispy, Alex Toth-inspired story about observing Lawrence Ferlinghetti at his City Lights bookstore accept an unsolicited manuscript with great solemnity, only to throw it on a pile when the writer left, sums up Eichhorn's work in a single gag. Eichhorn simultaneously builds up his own mythology while satirizing it and taking the piss out of the baby boomer generation in general.

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