Bumbershoot Visual Arts Preview, Part IV

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Counterculture Comix: A 30-Year Survey of Seattle Alternative Cartoonists (Olympic Room)

We've already devoted substantial ink to this inky retrospective, but it's a different matter to stroll around the gallery (counterclockwise, please) and experience local comics history. Curator Larry Reid is cheating his conceit somewhat, as he'll gregariously tell you, by including a display covering that history pre-1980. That means a few examples from Bob Hale, who drew the weather as a TV weatherman in the 1950s and '60s, when local news was done live. "We were the only city to have a local cartooning weatherman," Reid declares. "We were surrounded by the stuff!" And there's Bob Cram, who followed suit, then became a popular commercial illustrator during the '60s and '70s. (Skiers will know his vintage cartoons from up at Crystal's new lodge.) There are cute graphics for KING 5 (designed by Disney) and the 1962 World's Fair, too.

But then come the 1970s and 1980s, when the exhibition nominally begins. Foremost among those years, of course, is Lynda Barry...

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Besides being published in Seattle Weekly with her regular comic strip Ernie Pook's Comeek (beginning in 1986), Barry created posters, artwork (check out the delicate portrait of John Kiester), and books during that prolific decade. But then she left the city in 1989. So this show, Reid frankly admits (being Barry's first art dealer), is also something of a retrospective for an artist who's been gone for two decades.

Indeed, scattered around the room are reminders, embedded in drawings by Peter Bagge (see above), Jim Woodring, Pat Moriarty, and others, of lost Seattle icons. There's the old Twin Teepees restaurant near Green Lake. And remember when Sup Pop issued cassette tape anthologies and even published its own comic-slash-catalog? And there are posters for defunct bands like Soundgarden and Skin Yard. And many covers from The Rocket (1979-2000). Grunge, too, is now distant history. Also: there are hand-painted and acetate color originals reminding us how cartooning--and publishing in general--was an entirely manual process in those days before Macs, scanners, and digital paintbrushes.

There's always a danger for comics (or comix) to get caught in old fogey-dom and endless discussions of R. Crumb, DC vs. Marvel, and so on. The show, Reid admits, would be well suited to a book (presumably by Fantagraphics) or museum exhibit that would run longer than three days. "That's been discussed," he says. "A lot of people have asked me about it." Maybe at MoHaI, if it ever secures a new facility.

 
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