Jun 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Raw & the Avant Garde

The Brown Wedge9 comments • 1,923 views
a Raw cover

Well, the old avant-garde anyway – I’m out of touch these days, so apologies for talking about yesterday’s pioneers. Raw was a comic magazine, published in a variety of formats, which specialised in the strange and experimental, striving towards comics with values more often applied to modern painting and literature. It wasn’t all successful by any means, but given the experimental nature, it hit the mark far more often than one could have ever expected. The mags (Penguin published some in book format) are well worth reading if you can find them, but I’ll just highlight a few people from that school.

Its biggest name was its editor, Art Spiegelman, who made a huge impact with his narrative of his father’s days in a Nazi concentration camp, interleaved with their current relationship, with all the characters depicted as animals. Maus was an international hit, garnering possibly the greatest praise a comic book ever had in the US, and its status was largely warranted. It’s an unflinchingly honest account, told with rigour and great skill. I have my doubts about the animal aspect, but it had its pluses as well as difficulties. It’s a very impressive achievement, and holds up pretty well stacked against something like Primo Levi’s autobiographical tale of similar experiences.

A favourite of mine found a kind of fame through a very different route: Gary Panter won awards for designing sets for Pee-Wee Herman. His comic work is rough and fiery and difficult, but genuinely exciting on all kinds of levels. Mark Beyer is a strange proposition: his work is flat and almost childlike, with something like a cubist sense of shallow space at times. He puts his childishly drawn characters, almost like cut-outs, through horrible experiences, with a powerful sense of despair. Mark Marek’s work has a crude look, but is hugely entertaining. I’m particularly fond of his Hercules Amongst The North Americans, which is enormously funny. I also liked many other things, including Jerry Moriarty’s odd fragments, and Ben Kachor’s oblique tales of semi-ordinary life. It also included lots of great creators from older schools (like the undergrounds), from Europe and South America and Japan, and reprinted some great ancient comics (including some Krazy Kats).

I can’t think of a single thing from this list that you are likely to be able to buy cheaply, but there is perhaps no comic more likely to be found in libraries than Maus. (You probably have a better chance there than in comics shops. Someone was trying to buy me the second volume for a gift, back when it came out. She tried two comic shops. The first was apologetic, but didn’t have it. The second hadn’t heard of it. She spelt the title and creator’s name – still no good. “What’s it about?” they asked. “The Holocaust,” she said. “The what?”)


  1. 1
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 16 Jun 2008 #

    one thing i’d like to have a better sense of — it may not be down on paper anywhere, except in people’s own collections — is the historical segue from “underground comix” in the late 60s (not just crummb, but moscoso and the chequered demon guy, all that crowd) into the RAW underground: was there crossover?

    unmoored fact i’d like to do something with one day:
    the smog monster — viz the reified eco-affect villain in my favorite godzilla movie, the one where the kids put on a rock festival to END POLLUTION and it DOESN’T WORK! — turns up as a character, along with his v.hott sister judy, in gary panter’s jimbo!

  2. 2
    Dan M. on 16 Jun 2008 #

    I don’t think there was much if any cross-over in terms of the better known Underground artists showing up in Raw. But a 1971 exhibit, “75 Years of the Comics,” at the New York Cultural Center (I have the catalogue) included a 1969 strip by Art Spiegelman, “Grain of Sand Comix,” that is clearly in the “underground” hippy-trippy mode (as well as Windsor McCay-influenced). “Maus” first appeared in the late 70s, I believe, “Raw” in the early 80s? I haven’t seen any other samples of Spiegelman’s earlier work, but clearly he himself is a link between the two eras of alternative comics, as well as the medium’s guide to “New Yorker” cover respectability.

  3. 3
    Dan M. on 16 Jun 2008 #

    Ah… 60 seconds more of internet research reveals that Spiegelman co-edited “Arcade” with Bill Griffith in the mid-70s. As I remember, Arcade” featured the work of Crumb as well as other Underground artists. It was probably one of the last major Underground publications before Maus and Raw appeared.

  4. 4
    Tracer Hand on 16 Jun 2008 #

    ben katchor (and his most famous strip, “julius knipl, real estate photographer”) is a huge favorite of mine – i had no idea he got his start in raw! it’s as though an artistically talented luc sante tried his hand at “drunken bakers”

  5. 5
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 16 Jun 2008 #

    o/t a bit but i saw the move of persepolis on sat, having never got round to readin the graf novel, and satrapi’s youth as a jaime hermandez reader LEAPS out at you (which wz nice)

    (is it there in the book or is it something the film invented?)

  6. 6
    henry s on 16 Jun 2008 #

    before Raw, before “Maus”, even before “Arcade” was this:


    Art Spiegelman’s first foray into the world of “comics”…

  7. 7
    DV on 16 Jun 2008 #

    Maus is really good. You know that already, obviously, but I did not until I read it. Beforehand I had kind of taken against it, reckoning it would be one of those “OMG the Holocaust was so terrible” books. But it is just such a great book that it really shows up the other Holocaust memoirs that succeeded it.

  8. 8
    Martin Skidmore on 17 Jun 2008 #

    Yeah, Spiegelman was a late entry into undergrounds, then he pulled in a somewhat different direction. Crumb certainly appeared in Raw, and so did a few of the other underground types, here and there. (Obviously I intend to write a piece on underground comix in this series.)

    I don’t know if Katchor started out in Raw, but that was the first place I saw his work.

  9. 9
    vollstix on 22 Jul 2015 #

    Justin Green did some great stuff for RAW.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page