The Discorilla Years

Long before Rock Opera was picked up by Ted White at Heavy Metal, I'd abandoned it in the Unicorn Times for "topical" single page strips. Here's an example, from 1979: "Discorilla". This was the most popular of my non-RO strips and spawned 2 sequels, the second one drawn so hurriedly for an early Xmas deadline that it looked like something scribbled on a napkin. Mercifully, it's long-lost, along with a bunch of other much better strips of mine.

Ted was my second editor--and incredibly kind and supportive. But I've always been very lucky with my chief editors: Richard Harrington here in DC, Julie Simmons-Lynch, who took over from Ted in New York, the inimitable Fershid Bharucha at Editions Albin Michel in Paris, much later, Jack Schaefer at City Paper, and my dear personal friend Lou Stathis at DC/Vertigo. All pretty much gave me the freedom to do anything I wanted. I was probably the most spoiled and pampered cartoonist who ever lived--and my lazy and self-indulgent output, I think, reflects it.

John Collier by way of Viv Stanshall. Note the inclusion of OJ Simpson as the butler. Was my subconscious trying to prophetically tell me that "he did it"?

My friends and family have teased me over the years about the prophecies in my old strips that have come true. Occasionally this has been eerie, like when Boy George got arrested a few months after my story came out featuring him in a jail cell. Sometimes it's more subtle, like in this next strip I did a few months (or maybe a year after "Discorilla"). Each of these strips, which by then were by then like a series of little paintings, took days or even a week of hard work to create, during which I spent long, late-night hours hunched over them. I suspect they became like Rohrschach tests or maybe Ouija Boards to my subconscious at times. Here from 1979--long before I turned into the old man herein depicted or Arnold Schwarzenegger became the girl-groping governor of California--is my version of "ALIEN":

2 years later, I was channeling Eliot Spitzer...
This one was printed first in National Lampoon.

By the time I did "Love Doll", my soft, painterly style had evolved about as far as it ever would in black and white. I continued to do these one-offs for another half-year or so--I still have one or two surviving examples--but after that, all my work was in color. The problem with the painterly style (not my term for it) was that it was extremely time-consuming. Back in the late '70s, I went through a period of using ink line-work instead in order to meet my deadlines more efficiently. I was heavily influenced by European artists like Moebius and Milo Manara, and though my work never came within a light-year of theirs in talent, the spare existential style suited a lot of my writing in that period. The following was written after a traumatic move and a new day job. I was feeling pressured and lousy all the time and for the first time was on a constant medication that left me feeling disconnected from reality. From June 1979, my miniature, low-budget percursor to the film "American Beauty":

By 1981, my wife was doing more and more work on the strip. She'd been helping me all along with black inking of large areas, balloons, and so on, but while we were living in New York she started doing more and more of the actual art on backgrounds and clothes. our thinking was that with two of us doing the artwork, we'd turn out twice as many strips in the same amount of time. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. She turned out, much to my chagrin, to be a better artist than I was! Her style was so photo-real and meticulous that, more and more, I had to work extra hours to match it. Eventually, instead of cutting our time in half,  it started taking nearly twice as long to finish a strip...

During that period in New York, we often had to pull overnighters to meet deadlines, sometimes for several days running. We always knew we would make it if we were doing dialogue balloons by 11 in the morning, when "The Love Boat" reruns came on. These would be followed at noon by "Fantasy Island", and at 1 we would set off, either to catch a train to deliver our work downtown, or to Fedex if it was headed out of town. "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" episodes merged psychedelically in our minds and took on hallucinogenic properties. I once even wrote a short opera merging them with "Gilligan's Island".

In honor of this, I wrote the following strip, one of the very last I was ever to do for the Unicorn Times. We had by then moved to one of the Florida Keys a few miles from Key West, where we lived four meters from the ocean. Drug smugglers puttered past our windows all night. Our main source of news was supermarket checkout-line tabloids. Note the ship, which my wife painted. From 1982, "The Wreck of the Love Boat".

The following--I think--may be the last strip I ever did for the Unicorn Times. The date on it might not matter much, because sometimes I actually did them in advance or they were held by an editor. My memory is this one was held for a month or two because it was "controversial"--mocking public comments that Nancy Reagan made about electrocuting gays. However, given the lack of media accountability that existed in those days, it may very well be that what she was reported as saying was false--or that, in fact, she was being sarcastic, since many of her personal friends, it turns out, were gay. And according to Diana McClellan's excellent book, "The Girls", Mrs Reagan herself was bisexual when young. So, who knows? In any case, this was one of the very few political strips I ever did: