November 29th, 2012 at 7:26 am

Goodbye, Spain, Damn It

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That’s the way I always think of Spain Rodriguez’s work, images like that one above – Trashman armed to the teeth and bringing down The Man with extreme and utter prejudice. Whether taking on corrupt cops or jackbooted fascisti, silently slitting their throats or blasting them into juicy globules of right-winger confetti, Spain’s Trashman was arguably the most violently proactive political figure of the underground comix.

His work in those days was occasionally surpassed by others in terms of sheer outrage (see, for instance, Veitch and Irons’ The Legion of Charlies), but nothing matched the sense of authenticity that Spain brought to the art table. His brutal fantasies had the feel of having been drawn by hands scarred from brawls back in the day; his anarcho-Marxist hero’s politics were grounded in radical leftist thought that extended past the counterculture of the day and took root deep in the territory of WWI-era Wobblies and other old-school social revolutionaries. Trashman may have been the Punisher for pot-smoking red-diaper babies, but he was also the genuine article.

Of course, there was more to his underground work than Trashman. In the early ‘70s I discovered the comics racks at the local head shops and was galvanized by all the ways you could get your mind blown for fifty cents. Skull, Insect Fear, Zap – none of those featured Trashman, but there was no mistaking the hand behind the stories Rodriguez contributed to their pages. His liberal use of zipatone, the fluid heavy blacks that merged beautifully and against reason with linework so precise that it often resembled drybrush, were inspired by the work of Wally Wood. But those influences had already been absorbed into a distinctive personal style that was unmistakably Spain.

I managed to lose track of him around the time he was doing work for Arcade, and didn’t encounter any of his stuff until it started appearing in Monte Beauchamp’s Blab! in the late ‘90s. Those semi-autobiographical stories about Fred Toote’ and his buddies charmed and electrified me. The art was more assured than ever, and his writing had become far deeper. Those stories, recently collected by Fantagraphics under the title Cruisin’ with the Hound, were filled with vivid little gems of shorthand characterization and permeated by an air of rueful nostalgia. They were the work of a master who’d never stopped evolving, never stopped learning his craft. I was impressed all over again.

I’ve met or spoken to a number of the artists whose work used to draw me to the head shops, but I never met Spain. And yet I feel as though he’s been a part of my inner life for decades; his ink was that indelible. It’s good to know that there’s work the man has done which I have yet to read…but hearing about his death today was a surprisingly sharp blow, the kind of moment of unexpected sadness that you get from hearing that you’ve lost a friend you haven’t seen in years.

I’ll say goodbye, Spain, but only because I have no choice. And I’m already hating it like hell.

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