A trip to an ”alternative” comics store is fun, but perilous. If you’re not careful, the friendly, pale guy who runs the place will talk you into buying a stack of artsy ”graphic novels” at $8.95 a pop. Also avoid the almost limitless superhero stuff and those comics sealed in little plastic baggies and labeled ”Adults Only.” These can be mercilessly gross, and they’re usually dumb too. If you insist on seeing for yourself, try Melody, the relatively mild true story of a French Canadian woman who leaves the provinces to become a Montreal stripper. As of the most recent installment (No. 5), Melody is still in the sticks. Roughly once an issue she lets off steam by putting together an orgy with fellow rustics, including men with fluffy perms who say things like ”Holey moley, this is one hot kitty!” Only the heartiest will walk away without a grimace.
One of the best and funniest comic-book artists working now is Peter Bagge, a Peekskill, N.Y., native relocated to Seattle. Bagge neophytes should start by collecting his 1985-89 comic, Neat Stuff, or with one of the compilation books from that series, Studs Kirby or The Bradleys. Studs is a right-wing bully who hosts a radio call-in show. The Bradleys are a suburban family of five who are best described as the Simpsons without redeeming warmth. Bradley family adventures typically start out angry, escalate, and don’t end with hugs and forgiveness. Yes, it sounds nasty, awful, and in direct violation of the Cos’ teachings, but it’s hilarious. The central Bradley specimen is Buddy, a miserable, acne-dotted high school geek whose slouched frame contains the collected negativism of every misfit since Sal Mineo. In the final Neat Stuff (No. 15), Buddy strikes out on his own. Buddy fanatics can follow his further adventures in Bagge’s new comic, Hate, which focuses on Buddy’s terrible 20s.
Another name that should be on any comic fan’s ”hep” list is Daniel Clowes, a Chicagoan whose first comic, Lloyd Llewellyn, is now available in a collection called #$@&!. Lloyd is a 1960s-era hipster who ”just happens to be a private dick. . .and his luckless life is filled with Martians, murderers, and maniacs — and. . .the kind of wild, wild women that could eat Russ Meyer for breakfast.” That pretty much sums it up. A typical Llewellyn adventure involves surreal trouble with dames. In ”Queen of Venus,” he and his cool sidekick, Ernie, borrow a rocket ship to answer the call of an outer-space vixen who appears on Ernie’s TV screen. . .only to find that she’s got gruesomely platonic ideas. Lloyd Llewellyn is also featured regularly in Clowes’ new comic, Eightball.
For those who crave a bit more realism, there are several comics that can be loosely classified as ”soap operas.” The most famous of these is Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’ Love and Rockets. A new, more comedic look at contemporary life can be found in Terry LaBan’s Unsupervised Existence. The players here are fringe citizens who exist in the overlapping worlds of ex- hippiedom and postpunk. The most prominent comic-soaper may be Reed Waller and Kate Worley’s ”Omaha”: The Cat Dancer. Started years ago in a comic called Vootie, the ”Omaha” saga now consists of three collected volumes and 14 single issues. The story centers on Omaha, a stripper, and her friends in the fictitious town of Mipple City, Minn. Yes, this is a sexy comic. Be warned: The ”Omaha” characters, who are people-beasties, with the bodies of humans and the heads of cats, dogs, birds, etc., frequently strip and display what one critic called ”wee-wees. . .buppies and fuzzies.” Driving the plot is the small- minded effort by local moralists to clean up Mipple City. In the latest issue (No. 14), Omaha has skipped town following the mysterious murder of Senator Bonner, a right-wing hypocrite who, while leading a ”campaign for decency,” exercises his sadistic tastes with prostitutes. The story moves very slowly, and the ”satire” is directed at dirigible-size targets like Bonner and other evil rightiesition, once stripped, these characters go at it in a way that makes Melody seem lethargic. The creators have stated that their aim is to produce a feminist comic whose heroine is an empowered lady at ease with her sexuality. But after reading the ”Omaha” series, one can readily agree with the disgruntled fan who wrote, ”My God! Where did you dredge up those horrid characters?”