Comics Relief

By Ray Sawhill

Readers who have made it through the new generation of meta-comics and “graphic novels”—”Raw,” “The Dark Knight Returns,” etc.— might find some relief in “The Trouble With Girls” (Eternity), “Omaha the Cat Dancer” (Kitchen Sink), and “Dinosaurs for Hire” (Eternity). Inspired time killers, these R- or X-rated comic books have some of the freshness of good ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, or early Bugs Bunny.

trouble with girls

Lester (Les) Girls, the manly, ultra-competent hero of the adventure-serial parody “The Trouble With Girls,” simply can’t help being besieged by wealth, adventure, and beautiful women—while the life he’d like to lead would include a station wagon, a mousy wife, and some Ovaltine before bed. He’s a superhero pulled inside out. “Forget it, babe,” Les admonishes an adoring starlet. “You want a guy who can make expert love to you while gunning down ninjas. That’s not me.” “But Lester, you just finished making expert love to me while gunning down ninjas,” she reminds him. “O.K., sure. But my heart wasn’t in it,” he says, in real earnest. Mourning his fate, Lester’s as dopey and likable as Bullwinkle. The writers, Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones, have given him an amusing Native American sidekick who’s a connoisseur of regional cuisines; Les prefers more mainstream food—bologna, say, or doughnuts with sprinkles on top.

The best issues of “Girls” rival such half-cult, half-pop entertainments as “Raising Arizona,” “Buckaroo Banzai,” and the original, comic-book version of “Howard the Duck.” The illustrations, by Tim Hamilton, are a low-rent take on action comics like “Terry and the Pirates”: all hard lines, granite jaws, and graphic pow. The adolescent wit sometimes tips over into adolescent crudeness, but generally Jacobs and Jones’ memory for little-boy concerns and fantasies is bang on: Could you survive an elevator accident if you jumped at the very last moment? If you fell out of a spaceship, could you survive reentry by holding your breath and angling your body just so?


“Omaha the Cat Dancer,” a comic book that plays like a ballad, is a long-running countercultural soap opera. But the authors’ attentiveness to emotional shifts and entanglements—and the oddness of the characters’ having animal heads—can you pull you right in. The sex scenes are especially unembarrassed and expressive: what the characters do with each other always seems specific to their moods and situations.

The main cast consists of marginals who get by as hookers, nurses, photographers. One, a cartoonist, is the son of a wealthy crackpot—which brings the group of friends brushing up against politics and power, and supplies some “Mildred Pierce”-style melodrama. “Omaha” operates on a simpleminded but sweet ethic: camaraderie, playfulness, and pleasure are good; power and politics are bad. (If Kate Worley, the writer, and Reed Waller, the illustrator, are political, they probably vote Green.) Omaha herself is a nude performer who loves to dance in front of men but worries that she may have the wrong effect on them. The bad guys have a project which drives the action: a “campaign for decency” that’s primarily concerned with eradicating topless bars to make room for graft-ridden development.

Following “Omaha” is like leafing through the local underground newspaper in a small city. Even in the letters column, the authors maintain a low-key, “open” relationship with their readers, trading problems and advice. “Omaha” is touching and “natural” in a health-food-and-recycling kind of way. It finds the soft part of your head and takes up residence there.

dinosaurs for hire

Reading “Dinosaurs for Hire” can be like spinning until you can’t stand up straight anymore. It’s a parody of action-detective TV shows, the ones in which a squad of semi-vigilantes skirts the edges of what’s legal. The heroes (and actors) on these shows are often dinosaurs anyway, so there’s some fun simply in seeing that impression made literal. Archie the tyrannosaurus, Reese the stegosaurus, and Lorenzo the triceratops have arrived from outer space (in an as-yet-unexplained way), and they do occasional work for various law-enforcement agencies which hope to exploit their publicity value. The comic book is blessedly free of sanctimony. The three pals always overwhelm their handlers, and in one issue they successfully blackmail a presidential candidate who has threatened to reduce funding for the program that foots their bills.

The writing, by Tom Mason, has real pop relish. Archie, Reese, and Lorenzo are hot for women, weaponry, and wisecracks. “L-L-Lizards!” cries an alarmed drug dealer. “And they’re packin’ serious heat!” When Archie crashes through a wall, guns blazing at terrorists, he growls, “Room service. Who ordered wheat toast with butter on the side?” The “camera angles” employed by the illustrators (usually led by Bryon Carson or Chuck Wojtkiewicz) are the same shots filmmakers use to make a colossus of Clint or Arnold, and they’re infinitely more apt and satisfying here.

For the dinosaur trio, America is a trashy theme park you’d be a fool not to get high on; they’re wild about Hawaiian shirts, “Kojack,” bargain hunting, and negotiating merchandising rights with agents. The dinos are fond of trying to go undercover too: in one episode they put on facial hair and AT&T workmen’s uniforms and walk into an office, planning to do some snooping. When they’re stopped by a suspicious receptionist, who asks why it should take three of them to repair a telephone, Archie smiles hopefully and answers, “Union, ma’am.”

©1989 by Ray Sawhill. First published by Interview magazine.

“Horny Biker Slut” by John Howard


Hags on Hogs

By Ray Sawhill

If you worry that upscale comic books such as Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” have destroyed comics as an unselfconscious entertainment vehicle, then you may find the work of John Howard in the irregularly-published smut comic book “Horny Biker Slut” (Last Gasp) rejuvenating and cheering. Printed in black and white on cheap paper, it’s disposable, gratuitous and inexcusably vulgar. It’s impossible to defend in any respectable terms.

Howard writes and draws two stories per issue, and includes a couple of full page drawings too. (The stories by other writers and artists in the issues touch on the same themes.) His work mostly features a rotating cast of motorcycle mamas—members of the Road Weasels. Life for the sluts, who are built like Olympic athletes, consists of riding choppers, participating in epic gang bangs, guzzling rotgut (preferred brand: “Antelope Piss”), and brawling with members of a rival gang, the Skull Fuckers.

Heavy on the blacks, cross-hatchings and Fritz Lang-like low angles, Howard’s visual style is out of expressionist woodcuts and the men’s room. It’s essentially a tribute to the inescapable physical crudeness of sex—to puddles and slime, appendages and clefts, puckers and oozings and stink. But Howard has the fastidiousness of the true pornographer, incising every curly hair on the underside of an overweight belly, every bump and hole in a pierced nipple, and every wrinkle in a tight scrotum with fondness and humor. Protrusions, flaps and orifices are made colossal with sexual assertiveness in ways that can make you giggle and gag. It has to be said that, as an artist at least, Howard has a way with sphincters.

Part of the fascination of smut of course is that it’s largely about your subjective response. In one story, a couple of buzz-cut toughs challenge the lead slut to screw them both. When they slam their monsters into her simultaneously, she gasps, then grits her teeth and calls out: “I got the strongest pussy-muscles in the tristate area! … Nobody fucks me into submission, losers!” Why do I find this cry of indomitability and pride more moving than Rastignac’s—”He eyed [Paris] … and said with superb defiance, ‘It’s war between us now!'”—at the end of “Pere Goriot”?

Howard is as crudely male as Henry Miller, and he has Bukowski’s gusto for the gutter. His work offers similar lewd, funny pleasures, but “Horny Biker Slut” has no surprises of melancholy or feeling. Howard is frankly skulking and furtive, and behind his deadpan is the spirit of a baggy-pants variety-show entertainer. “Horny Biker Slut” is also free of the element of generational self-congratulation boomer-era underground comix often had. In fact, I can’t detect a political or aesthetic agenda behind a single panel. (The dog collars, leathers and studs are blessedly un-chic.) In five issues, Howard hasn’t wimped out once; even the exhortations to practice safe sex are sweetly gross.


Howard is so methodical and clear-headed a degenerate that he might be a family-man accountant whose ya-yas come from perpetrating the occasional anonymous outrage. In a note to his readers in his most recent issue he announced that he’d got married, but that we weren’t to worry—”she knows what I do for a living.”

The appeal of his fantasy for the (inevitably) male reader is that the sluts aren’t just huge, gorgeous and powerful—they’re also raunchier than you’ll ever be. No tender feelings here! (The sluts may be tough, frightening babes, but they’re still projections of male fantasies.) What the comic expresses (and celebrates) is the never-say-die quality of men’s ability to fantasize about sex—an ability many men enjoy equating with the life-force itself.

The best time to thumb through an issue of “Horny Biker Slut” is probably after an exhausting day at work. It hits the spot then as satisfyingly as booze; it makes you feel free to wallow in your surliness and resentment. The gentrifiers may have taken just about everything else from you, but you can still call the hostility and filth your own.

©1992 by Ray Sawhill. First appeared in The Modern Review.