Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cruisin' with the Hound: The Life and Times of Fred Toote'

Spain Rodriguez was an underground comix artist who created one of the first undergrounds, Zodiac Mindwarp, and also contributed many works to other anthologies like Zap and Weirdo. He was a prolific artist, known for his strong lines as well as his radical political views that came through in works like the ultra-violent Trashman and an illustrated biography of Che Guevara. He died late last year.

Cruisin' with the Hound contains a series of autobiographical comics that appeared in various publications over the years. These stories follow the "North Fillmore Intelligentsia" as they gallivanted in Buffalo, NY, getting into fights, trying to get laid, buying old EC comic books, and rolling with motorcycle gangs. These stories are an excellent time capsule that reveals many details about life and a growing counterculture movement in the 1950s, but there is also a timelessness to them. These are people striving to find their ways in the world, and it is very easy to empathize with them as they posture, philosophize, and carouse. This book does not sanitize events or get overly nostalgic either; it shows us a gritty and physical version of American life.

A central figure in all of this is Fred Toote', one of Spain's friends whose dark demise is mentioned but not shown here. Fred is a character, driving a car without breaks and without regard to traffic laws, showing off to impress girls, and often making a spectacle of himself. There is something tragic and amazing about him that very much impresses me every time I read these stories. I should mention these tales are frequently hilarious as well.

A collection of a lifetime's worth of stories executed by a comics virtuoso, this book has been well reviewed. The Comic Journal's Jeet Heer called it "a splendid book." The reviewer at Publishers Weekly wrote that it "has energy and rot and sex and fury to spare." Paul Gravett proclaimed that it "comes highly recommended" and provided a link to a podcast of a panel review of the book.

Cruisin' with the Hound contains some of my favorite comics ever, and it is capped off by a substantive interview with Spain. It also contains adult situations, nudity, coarse language, sex, and is definitely not meant for children.

Its publisher Fantagraphics provides previews and much more here.

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