Inspired by the underground comix of the 1960’s and ‘70s, fanzines and Tijuana Bibles, an explosion of DIY cartoonists began to express themselves by self publishing their own works. Because the most popular format was an 8 ½ x 11” sheet, folded twice and printed on letter-sized paper, the name “mini comix” was an apt one. By the time the 1980’s rolled around, they were often known as “Newave Comix” (a term taken from England’s newave rock n’ roll movement). Regardless of what you want to call them, the result is the same: creative freedom unhampered and unrestrained by commercial boundaries or editorial edicts. It’s art for the sake of art, comics (or comix) for the sake of comics. It’s self-expression in its purest form, completely homemade and unconcerned with profit margins or appealing to focus groups.
With Newave! The Underground Comix of the 1980’s Fantagraphics has put together an astonishingly large collection of these tiny books. At nearly 900 pages and featuring what seems to be around a billion different comix and artists, it would seem that this book represents a fairly decent cross-section of styles and genres. Of course, since this stuff is all handmade and for the most part was given away for free, who knows? There are probably millions of other creators and comix that were overlooked when this book was put together. As enormous as this tiny tome is, it’s probably safe to say that it doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Equally (if not more) important than the actual comics themselves are the many interviews contained within. Included is Clay Geerdes’ Newave Manifesto, which outlines the “guidelines” of creation. Here’s an excerpt that is printed on the back of the book:
“Newave is not about artsploitaion. Newave is about ideas. Nothing is taboo. Nothing is censored. No one is told what or what not to draw… Newave is social, political, rebellious, humorous, irreverent, libelous, inane, argumentative, blasé, blatant, belligerent, blasphemous, insane, kinky, ridiculous, absurd, loving, sleazy and topical. Newave is back talk… Newave is the child of instant printing. Anyone can learn it. Anyone can participate. There are no aristocrats of newave. No comix stars. Newave is communication returned to people. It is out of the control of the mind manipulators…”
Right? It’s kind of inspirational stuff. All of these interviews are. Reminiscing and ruminations from disgruntled artists and folks who just enjoy the act of creation… it kind of kicks you in the pants and makes you want to create your own comic or write a play or even just go take some pictures or something. A quick perusal of this collection will show you that the folks producing these comix definitely took Geerdes’ words to heart: the styles and quality levels run the gamut from breathtakingly beautiful to astonishingly amateurish.
There are plenty of Robert Crumb wanna-be’s and drug humor that would make Cheech and Chong proud. There are spoofs of popular mainstream comics and satire that seems quite Simpsons-esque. There are fantastic portraits, bizarre abstract images and fascinating surrealism as well as lots of stuff that’s pretty juvenile and downright shitty-looking. Actually, there’s a surprisingly large amount of poop and fart jokes contained within, something that kind of surprised me. But I guess everybody loves a good poop and fart joke now and again, right? Again, the point is creation and self-expression. Hey, you wanna make a comic about a female version of Plastic Man with stretchy boobs? Go right ahead. Actually, don’t - somebody already beat you to it and it’s in this book.
If you are a student of the history of sequential art, Newave! feels like a must-have for your collection. It seems to be as perfect of a collection of mini-comix as you could ever find and it is informative as well as entertaining. It’s also the type of book that challenges your artistic side as well so that’s another bonus. It’s a tough book to grade: as perfect as this collection is and as much as it seems like an obvious A, there’s plenty of stuff in it that just didn’t appeal to me. In some cases, it was more like the idea of it was better than the actual work. Then again, there’s some pretty amazingly kick-ass work in this book too. I’ll split the difference and give it a B+ and recommend that you check it out if anything I’ve said in this review appeals to you.