Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Haircut (1987)





Here is an old strip I recently came across - I didn't realize I still had it. It's from years and years ago - during the rise of "alternative" comics in the 1980s. It was originally published in some long forgotten anthology in 1987 and then reprinted in my book HYPNOTIC TALES in 1992.

I never seemed to really fit into the "alt" scene of those days, although I wanted to. For example, I wasn't interested in doing autobiographical comics which just about every alternative cartoonist back then did at some point - it seemed to be almost expected. All I wanted to write was fiction -- fiction free of the usual genre trapping found in comics. Certainly there were other cartoonists who were serious about doing that, too -- Gilbert Hernandez in particular, comes to mind. Admittedly, my stories tended to read more like fever dreams than narratives with a beginning, middle and end. I was (and still am) inspired by writers who gleefully dive into absurd and dark places, who may suddenly make abrupt turns into delirium or senseless violence. I loved black humor. And I loved employing the first-person "unreliable narrator" technique as well (that is, in this case, what the character was telling you was happening wasn't necessarily what you, the reader, saw was happening).

I also wasn't interested in the other typical trends found in alt comics in those days. There were funny animal comics (but, like, not for kids) and "variety show" comics (you know, the kind of comics that tried to follow in the footsteps of the great Eightball). Fantasy was big in alternative comics back then, too, believe it or not. The scene was crawling with elves and trolls and "wise-cracking" fish and rodents in capes and horse-headed people in love. (I mean, young cartoonists today probably wouldn't believe what was considered "alternative" back then). I also didn't feel my forte was in the field of scatological comics or comics that "pushed" any kind of boundaries or made any overt political statements. Back then I just wanted to write these odd little short stories, admittedly based on my own neurotic preoccupations. I saw myself as an expressionist, not a naturalist. I liked symbols and subtext, and madness and delirium. I like to depict things becoming unhinged, falling apart in ways that were psychological -- as far removed from "slice of life" and sympathetic characters as possible. My stories also flirted with elements of horror -- something else you rarely saw in alternative comics back then, believe it or not.

But there was a lot of the "I don't get it" reaction (in fact, that's STILL pretty much the reaction a lot of these early stories get!) - enough to figure that maybe I wasn't communicating my intentions properly. That's a real, legitimate concern for an artist.

Anyway -- Eventually, my love of genre elements - elements from thrillers and horror in particular - began to become a more prominent factor in my work. What really pushed me in that direction ultimately was the reaction to "Invisible Hands", which was a little tongue-in-cheek story that appeared in my self-published "Night Drive" in 1984. It was different from most of my work at that time. It was an expression of my life-long love for old-time mystery movies and pulps, written in a (fake) serial format. It was purchased by MTV out of the blue and was made into a cartoon in 1989. I honestly thought people wouldn't "get" that either -- well, most people didn't -- but a surprising amount apparently did. MTV had required me to turn my fake serial into an actual one, with a real story-line and a real ending. I enjoyed doing that more than I can say. I was in heaven. Instead of "commenting" on the genre, I was in it, actually a part of it, writing the kind of (absurd, mysterious, often frankly silly) story I always loved. It finally dawned on me -- this is who I am and who I always was. I just needed room to stretch out and tell long, complex stories. Eventually I was able to do that -- and, despite the time-consuming, labor-intensive nature of writing and drawing comics, it's really what I now feel most at home doing.

For anyone who may be interested (or has read this far!), I'm also putting "Haircut" up for sale. I'm going to offer it as a set, rather than as individual pages, for now. Interested parties may contact me directly at richard@richardsala.com -- or you may go on over to The Comic Art Collective and purchase it there. Here's the link: Comic Art Collective - Art by Richard Sala - Original comic art from top artists

Even if you do that, you should still consider writing to me directly afterwards. I can always help speed the process along. (Update: It looks like the strip has been sold. Thank you!)

Thank you, loyal readers!

7 comments:

  1. Hi as always your loyal fan of Argentina muahjahajahahah..

    I like this kind of mix of hilarious and horror stories. Explaining that he is in a dream and then he really awakes is very cool. The reader never feels he has been betrayed by the author. For me to tell all the story in caption is a very intersting way of storytelling. Perhaps in this one it was so helpful that it is the key to tell the story. I dont imagine this story with dialogues insted of captions. I hate when they try to surprise you with all the story is a dream or the imagination of a guy who is crazy. I only forgive when the story is hilarious or absurd like the Robert Sheckley ones.

    -Saludos from Argentina as always!!
    -As always my english sucks!!
    -Keep up the good work Richard!!
    -For God Sake you never have to leave serial killers and secret societies, You do that very well. Please remind it to yourself that your world is very unique, scary, interesting and with a lot of stuff that it is creepy and fun!!

    PS: It would be very cool to see some day a pin up of the shadow or the spider.

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  2. To this day the "Invisible Hands" animation is one of my favorite things I've ever seen on TV. It came on at a time in life where I had no VCRs, and it never seemed to show up in reruns or on compilation DVDs. Nevertheless lines from it stuck in my memory and my friends and I quoted them to each other ("YOW! A pair of human eyes!" "The deed is done, your brother's murder is avenged -- now for financial and amorous considerations...").

    Finally many years later low quality versions appeared on Youtube and I was able to watch it all again.

    Thank you for creating that. It was my introduction to your work and has always been a fond memory.

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  3. ... I saw myself as an expressionist...

    Soo? What's wrong with that? If "they" don't get it, too bad for them!

    Personally, that style of yours is my favorite. I even found a copy of "Night Drive" on ebay!

    Anytime you want to regress to your 80's style is fine with me, though I like all your stuff!

    Yes, we live in Mass Society where only numbers count, but not for all of us.

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  4. I can only second what Ed said above. Invisible Hands was by far my favorite short on Liquid Television. It captured my imagination like nothing else I've seen before or since. Heck my first email address was Redbones named after the villainous haunted hand itself.

    I loved this "Haircut" comic as well. Your art and writing capture a certain fun and creepiness that I've never seen reproduced by any other artists.

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  5. @Paul:

    ...a certain fun and creepiness that I've never seen reproduced by any other artists.

    That's a great way to sum it up! Richard's art makes me smile and forget time in a way that nobody else does.

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