I lost a wonderful friend to cancer today, Zap comix creator Spain Rodriguez.
Spain was the gentlest and the kindest of all the Zap guys, which might come as a surprise to many, as his work was often violent and sexually explicit in the extreme. We first met around 1969, when Jim Evans and I happened to bump into all seven of the Zap guys (for those younger readers, this amazing pool of talent consisted of Spain, Robert Crumb, Robert Williams, Rick Griffin, S. Clay Wilson, Victor Moscoso and Gilbert Shelton) as they were exiting Cherokee Books, a Hollywood bookshop that maintained a good stock of E. C. comics upstairs. I happened to have an underground comic book story under my arm that I had drawn for Jim. The other guys maintained their cool, but Spain was warm and effusive with his praise.
Spain created the first underground comix tabloid with Zodiac Mindwarp. His fertile imagination gave birth to the ultra-violent Trashman character and gave readers an insider’s view of motorcycle gang culture based upon his own true life experiences as a member of the Road Vultures.
To me, his work combined a love of the E. C. comics of Wally Wood with German Expressionism.
Spain was also a teacher. He recently combined his teaching skills with his cartooning talents (and his lefty politics) to create the superb Che: A Graphic Biography. He proudly admitted to turning on cartoonist Vaughan Bode to the pleasures of weed.
Spain also adapted one of my favorite stories, Nightmare Alley, as a graphic novel. My True Story and Cruisin’ with the Hound are both autobiographical graphic novels about growing up in Buffalo, New York and riding with the Road Vultures. In this last decade, he sported a big, shaggy thick, snow white pompadour, and Buffalo Bill facial fringe, easily the best hair of any cartoonist of my generation.
As he lived in the Bay Area and I live in southern California, we saw each other infrequently. A couple of years ago my wife and I were given a great gift by Bob Self and Robert Williams when they invited us to participate in a Baby Tattooville event at which Spain and his wife, talented filmmaker Susan Stern, were also guests.
Our wives hit it off and we all got to enjoy a couple of days basking in the pleasure of each other’s company — so much so that my wife and I were surprised and disappointed when Spain and Susan didn’t show up at the following year’s Baby Tattooville. Now we know why. We’ll be forever grateful to the Bobs for their gift of quality time spent with Spain and Susan.
Our thoughts of love go out to Spain’s wife and daughter for their loss.
I miss the big guy already. The broad, friendly smile he flashed me whenever we met lights my heart.
I guess it’s time for him to educate, elucidate and raise hell and some eyebrows on the Other Side.
Enter with that smile, My Brother.