“Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow. There is no need for humor in heaven.” Mark Twain.
A roller-coaster is just a zany, surreal bridge. Art Spiegelman and Bill Griffith’s “Arcade: The Comics Revue” is that bridging roller-coaster ride, arced halfway between the ground-breaking world of Zap Comix and the mature, even aging underground of the 80s (when the whole comix ethos split into the camps represented by Art Spiegelman’s refined “Raw” and Robert Crumb’s deliberately vulgar “Weirdo.”)
Before it lets us enter funny land, “Arcade” gets all intellectual, treating us to Spiegelman’s theories about humor: humor as a surprise- as a breaking of rules societal and otherwise- as the crying out of the deformed buffoon, of the sick and the infirm, of the ones who are free to point out less visible infirmities within us all.
Things don’t get heavy because there’s plenty of jokes, often playing like meta-parodies of MAD magazine parodies. There’s Bobbo Armstrong with “Mickey Rat”; Jay Lynch with “Pat ‘N Nard”; and Willy Murphy, with “Arnold Peck, The Human Wreck”. (Murphy died an early death in 1976, while preparing to work for the “National Lampoon.”)
The theme of jocular delusion is pursued in Kim Deitch’s “Famous Frauds”- (He also get some digs at Scientology; ain’t nothing new under Xenu’s sun).
Obviously, Robert Crumb is heavily represented in “Arcade,” having progressed from “objective chronicler of the ’60s” to “objectionable crank of the ’70s.” His obsessions – thick-bodied women, self-deprecation, broad cartooning, antique record collecting, lovable anarchic snowmen – are all in full display. Also present is Aline Kominsky-Crumb, his long time wife, who outdoes Crumb when it comes to candid autobiographical admissions (although her style is less immediately accessible). Her alter-ego “Bunch,” goes place you would hardly imagine. (Must read more of her stuff.)
I don’t quite know what to make of Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead. Hugely influential at the time, Zippy may be too surreal for me, and I prefer Griffith’s short pieces here, like a poignant bio of Henri Rousseau.
Arcade also tried to honor past artists such as Harrison Cady, whose illustrations for Peter Rabbit and Life magazine deserve honoring; W. E. Hill, a cartoonist of the everyday; Milt Gross, whose hilarious “Count Screwloose of Toolose” (about a madman who persists on escaping the asylum only to find the outside world is far nuttier) unfortunately does not quite align with today’s sensitivities about mental illness; George McManus, whose “Nibsy the Newsboy” hovers somewhere between a parody and an homage to Winsor McCay’s “Little Nemo”; Billy De Beck, famous for “Barney Google”, but better at one-panel topsy-turviness; Henry Mayo Bateman, who drew great cartoons about bureaucratic plights for Punch; and the varied “Tijuana Bibles” out there.
“Arcade” also had interludes of sorts: Literary contributions from happily lost souls like Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, and George Dicaprio, (yes, Leo’s daddy).
Old “Zap” favorites Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson and Spain all contribute. Spain illustrates Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” and brief Stalin-and-Hitler related bits; Williams some full-page panels; and S. Clay Wilson bring his Chequered Demon for a visit. “Color”‘s Victor Moscoso even drew a back-cover for the first issue.
Alan Moore has been quoted as saying that “Arcade” was “the only worthwhile material published during the 70s.” The great bearded one surely exaggerates, but “Arcade” is a real fun-house, turning us to the brainier concerns of an era when there was no Internet, and a subculture wasn’t simply a weird thing for Reddit to mock, but a complex world apart from the mainstream that could only be accessed by minds that were ready to travel there. It definitely took more effort than the click of a link.
RATING: MASTERPIECE! of its time