By Dean Haspiel
NOTE: Please allow a minute for the gallery of comix to populate above
(which you can click thru using the left & right arrows or just click on the actual images).
Meanwhile, enjoy the historical recollections below.
“Dusting off lost lampoons” by Dean Haspiel
It was on Facebook that I discovered a SUNY Purchase alumni page that led me to reconnecting with old college classmates I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of in over two decades. It was there that a dialogue about our campus newspaper, The Load, sparked the idea of revisiting our comix and picking up where we left off so many years later. Alas, we couldn’t locate some people (I would have loved to see more new Lovely Prudence by “Maze” and bar napkin scribbles by the polarizing John Bligh, and the inimitable, Shasti O’Leary), but we didn’t get everyone to do it and, tragically, some of our favorite cartoonists have passed away (RIP Scott Russell and Greg Rail). However, with the help of former Load comics editors Dave Foster and Pat Giles, we were able to rally some of the troops to dust off their college creations and extend their stories, inject another few panels of life into otherwise lost lampoons. I got the opportunity to give my existential antihero, Tommy Rocket, a chance to express what made his misanthropic mind tick. Where his son, Billy Dogma, currently tells tales about trying to get romance right, Tommy Rocket, it turns out, is what happens when you get romance wrong. Heartbreak, I believe, we all can relate to.
Back in the late 1980s’, Tommy Rocket was aided and abetted by my old school chum/filmmaker cum nomadic archivist, Chris Cliadakis. Originally, Tommy Rocket was my parody of “Clak,” but it was his idea to spin him into an alternative version of a Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Road Runner cartoon. Where Wile E. Coyote met the same fate, every damned time, Tommy Rocket’s bleak credo would be repeated while the visual narrative would switch up; abolishing the people, places, and things that annoyed us every two weeks. What can I say? We were in our twenties. We were punks. Tommy Rocket was my spaghetti western “man with no name,” my Marvel Comics’ Punisher, my anti-Goth with a gun. Later on, I would resurrect Tommy Rocket in a Billy Dogma story called “Fear, My Dear” that revealed their father and son relationship. For Load Comix 2013, I decided to tell a story called “Legacy,” the last Tommy Rocket story…for now.
I would like to publicly thank, Pat, Dave, and Deborah Taylor, former Load editor-in-chief, for helping me cobble this event together and bringing historical context (please read their wonderful essays below) to a time and place that meant a lot to me and my growth as a cartoonist. I also want to thank all the cartoonists who contributed to this celebration. It was a real treat to see these characters again. I hope you, the reader, gets a kick out of this small sample of what SUNY Purchase was like when I attended.
Coincidentally, SUNY Purchase is holding its very first comix/music/food inspired event called Zine Feast on May 5th, organized by Olivia Fox, the daughter of the man who created The Load in 1972. Me and Pat Giles will be there doing a panel where we’ll discuss our time making comix for The Load before the digital wave changed everything.
Load Comix 2013 cover by Dean Haspiel. Photograph courtesy Shane Wilson.
“Proof of Purchase” by Pat Giles, former The Load comics editor
In 1986, I ran out of money. Well, at least enough money to keep attending The School of Visual Arts, in NYC, where an aspiring cartoonist could receive a proper education. I had already been accepted by SUNY Purchase a year earlier, so what the hell. Could be fun. They teach Fine Arts and all I really needed was an art education I figured. Just learn to draw better; the rest will sort itself out.
It turned out that the thing that would shape my career the most was not the classes, but the school newspaper, “The Load;” specifically, the comics section. I was lucky enough to be at a school in a moment where a wave of budding cartoonists and illustrators were all assembled together at a fine arts school. What an amazing grouping of talent; Dean Haspiel, Shasti O’Leary, Jonas Land, Jared Osborne, Kurt Marquart, Matt Maley, John Bligh, Ed Murr, Dave Foster, Josh Saitz, Kevinn Fung, Leo Gonzales, Ian Charao, Al Diaz and more. Most of us ended up in art careers, and speaking purely for myself, my “Load” experience was a fantastic training ground.
All of us were outcasts in a conservatory environment. All of us would struggle, on some level, with the more formal pretensions of the Visual Arts department that shunned our commercial leanings and (in the faculty’s view) juvenile preoccupations with cartooning.
Looking back now, maybe some of it was awful and juvenile, but no more so than my suitcase full of figure drawings and still life studies of old lamps and bottles from my days there. Enthusiasts of mid-century abstract expressionism ran the department, so we were bound to congeal in rebellion. Congeal and rebel we did! We all found a second home under the masthead “The Load.”
“The Load,” a terrible name for any publication, was nonetheless an award-winning and respected school paper, run by upper class men who were very serious and conscientious people, Jens Wilkinson and Deborah Taylor. During my freshman orientation weekend in September 1986, one of my new dorm-mates suggested I go to the first school newspaper meeting and try my luck. I thought, great, this could be a way to apply my cartooning skills. It was already apparent to me that the Art Department faculty had a less than positive view of cartooning.
Each section of the paper had it’s own editor, and “The Cartoon Page” was edited by a nice guy, a sophomore, Dave Foster. He published my cartoons happily, and I soon got the attention of the Co-Editor of the paper, Deborah Taylor, who asked me to do an Editorial Cartoon, that would accompany the very important and prestigious editorial page.
It was the Reagan Era, and anti-establishment, anti-government, liberal, humanitarian causes were the rage. I really enjoyed editorial cartooning. I could be serious! I could be interesting! I could crystallize the thinking of smart people on the editorial staff into one simple drawing. It would become a regular feature called “No Purchase Necessary.”
By January of 1987, I got my big chance, and was bumped up to Editor of the Cartoon Page, and I leapt at the opportunity. I felt like the page was an under-leveraged asset for an Art School. I thought it needed some consistency in design and layout. “Column” lengths needed to be applied to the strips being submitted. You couldn’t just accept anything in any dimension; this was a time of paste-ups and mechanicals, it was difficult to puzzle together a page that looked and felt consistent. Let’s get professional, people! (Looking back at the looseness of Dave’s layouts, I am impressed he was able to do what he did with such open “specs.”)
From there, dumb luck and good timing set in. I became friendly with a crowd of guys down the hall who were all comic-book geeks who went to art school for the same reason as I did. They really wanted to be cartoonists. Jared Osborn, who was already doing a strip for Dave called “From The Pulpit” about a sarcastic priest who would lecture the audience like a chiding stand-up comic. Then I met Matt Maley, who was doing really great strips called “Winston Vs. Life,” (later called “Angst”) in the spirit of Burke Breathed, (who at the time was the idol of strip-cartoon geeks.) The Belushi of their Suite, a guy named John Bligh, would eventually be recruited, and became the uncontrollable “id” of the page, more on his stuff later.
On the other side of the dorms was a guy who was in my drawing classes, Jonas Land, who had a serious graffiti style, and looked like the toughest skinhead in the world, but was actually a super nice and sensitive soul. He was my first real recruit. I knew he would do great comics and he did. Another guy, Ian Charao, who was a really good illustrator and a deadpan funny guy, started to contribute, too. My buddy Ralph DeMarco, a literature student, created some of the funnier strips about an unwelcomed “College Nerd” going to an arts and humanities school. We also needed some non-male perspective. Shasti O’Leary provided that, and with her shear talent in design and storytelling, she had us all outnumbered.
By February, we were already getting good buzz, and the recruits starting walking in to meetings with strips that fit the size specs. Scott Russell, who sadly passed away several years ago, contributed the absolutely wicked and hysterical “Fabuman” (in every sense of that word). Kurt Marquart had a strip called “Yikes!” and we all cruised along doing strips for the rest of the semester. The new freshmen had arrived, and we were making our mark.
Every “Richie Cunningham” needs his “Fonzie,” and so it came to pass, one day Dean Haspiel sauntered into the newspaper office with a stack of installments of “Tommy Rocket.” This strip was so well put together; it even had duo-tones in it. It was exactly perfect in dimension, and it was drawn and staged beautifully. Haspiel was a fully formed artist who was already working in the business and had done an internship with Howard Chaykin. And he was a rebel’s rebel. He called them “COMIX.” All our games needed to be raised now.
For the next few years, we created a sanctuary of stupid, smart, angry, obscene, sensitive, thoughtful, outrageous, pointless, happy, and sometimes funny comics that the Campus population would happily chew through every other Wednesday. We would make fun of each other in very “meta” references to one another’s story tropes, before we knew what “meta” or “tropes” even were.
We would get into trouble more than once for crossing lines into obscenity, not surprising for a college paper. John Bligh, our “id,” would regularly push the limits of what was printable. We would often trouble the consciences of the editorial staff, (Deborah Taylor can speak for herself here) and we definitely aggravated the faculty and administration, sometimes deliberately.
There was one group of students who were particularly offended by our work: “The Believers.” This was a campus organization of born-again Christians. At an art school in the eighties they were truly the rebellious outcasts. They maintained the position that their student activity fees were going towards funding “The Load,” and that they had a right to say how that money should be spent. Obviously, strips like Bligh’s “Piggies” that honored the literally shit-eating performance art of Divine, or the regular random mass murder featured in Haspiel’s “Tommy Rocket” did not comport with the belief system of Born-Again Christians, much less the average college student. We were either loved or hated. Not much in between.
I remember, vividly, a “Believers” meeting I attended in order to be diplomatic and courteous, and to try and convince them that we had as much right to free speech as they did. Of course since we were all in a Humanities college, everyone was an amateur Plato, and the students at that meeting had long, complex, tortured reasons as to why it was not fair for their dollars to be spent supporting speech they found morally offensive. This was also at the height of the national debate over arts funding, driven by controversial artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and especially the “Piss Christ” photograph by Andre Serrano. We had ground we needed to protect.
The meeting became even more important when Matilda Cuomo, yes the First Lady of New York State at the time, saw one of Bligh’s “Piggies” comics that, well, let’s just say it was very offensive and involved clergy members. And since I was the editor who printed it, I needed to defend it.
I brought my friend Ralph DeMarco, (“The College Nerd”) to the meeting with me as a backup, because I needed another liberal who could argue the value of free speech in an era of increasingly conservative pressure on the arts. But they were truly offended by some of our work. Halfway through he meeting Ralph whispered to me, “You know, they have a point.” (Never bring an open-minded liberal to a Bible fight. I think I muttered “Jesus Christ, Ralph.”) But you know what, he was right. They did have a point. We had offended them. We had offended their beliefs. Free speech was their right, too, and they were pissed.
Fun and games had now become a tense situation.
The group of artists was emboldened by this tension, as well they should be. We formed “Va-Va Comics” with the help of Henry Bar-Lewaw, that was funded differently than the paper (I don’t remember how) and we created one issue of “Va-Va Comics,” which I guess these days would be considered a mini-comic. We used the campus copy machine (Thank you Maryanne Lutomski, who had a key to the copy shop) to create a comic we sold at the Student Union office. We had enough for a second issue but I think we did not have enough mental bandwidth to finish it, you know from the drinking and the painting that had to be done to graduate.
But we never missed a deadline on “The Load.” We never had a shortage of submissions. We even expanded from one to two pages and never went back. Each semester our roster grew. Every other Sunday night I would roam the campus in my long overcoat (which was in fashion those days, ugh) knocking on apartment and dorm doors to pick up procrastinator’s strips to layout and send to press the next morning. Sometimes I would have to stop and drink with folks, and I always knew that I had to make John Bligh, Ed Murr (the talented yet irregular contributor) and Matt Maley’s apartment the last stop, since some moderate to heavy drinking would have to happen in order for me to get out of there with enough strips to fill my page slots.
For me, the experience helped me to understand how to work with other artists in a professional way. I’d go on to organize and be part of other anthologies in my adult life, supervise teams of animators and designers, and I’d always felt like my true foundation was in that early experience of trying to herd cool cats into one cohesive reading experience. I never gave anyone advice (I think), or tried to push one style over another (I think). I tried as hard as I could to keep up with my ink jockey classmates. I always tried to respect the craft and dedication of my colleagues. And after all of these years have gone by, I am happy to be able to raise a metaphorical (and hopefully soon an actual) glass and say, “Cheers.”
After graduating from Purchase in 1990, Giles kept drawing “The Big Problem With Marshall,” which became a very early web comic in 1994, then appeared in the Load-Alum-led anthology “Kansas Thunder” and in the “Monkeysuit” series of anthologies. “Marshall” was collected as a TPB in 2001 by Monkeysuit Press. Giles has had a successful career in animation, working as a designer or art director on seven different TV series, including MTV’s “Daria” and Disney’s “Stanley.” For the better part of the last decade, Giles has used his animation skills in advertising as a Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi. He recently formed his own creative shop with Manny Galán, Pat-Man Studios. Giles also worked on the award winning “Captain Cornelius Cartoon’s Cartoon Lagoon” and just completed a new comic, “Dober-Man and Pigeon” debuting at Chicago’s Comic and Entertainment Expo in April 2013. Pat Giles lives in Long Island with his wife and two beautiful daughters. He has never gone back to his old school.
“Apathy Versus Activism” by Deborah Taylor, former The Load editor-in-chief
When I started as a 19 year old freshman at SUNY Purchase in September 1985, the student newspaper, The Load, was struggling with technical and organizational difficulties. The staff had not been able to publish their opening issue for the academic year despite working hard to prepare it. Not only was it a time of personal transition into adulthood, but it was also a time of transition socially, politically and technologically.
In the Fall of 1985, The Load was produced using a Verityper 766 typesetter into which text was entered, formatted and then printed out on chemically soaked photographic paper. It was then trimmed and pasted onto the layout pages. Photos were manually sized and headlines printed and added. The bulky pages were taken to a printer in the meat district of Manhattan in the wee hours of the night. It was a caustic process in more ways than one. (See: http://bogotadc.quebarato.com.co/bogota-d-c/fotocomponedoras-artes-graficas__3375E2.html) The typesetter repeatedly broke and was expensive to fix and the funding stream was dry. Needless to say, the staff was demoralized.
I was privileged to have a leadership role at The Load starting almost from the first day I walked into the Campus Center South basement offices. My first issue was as Assistant News Editor starting with the October 7, 1985 issue– the first of the semester. Issues that were capturing attention included student voting rights, the legal drinking age being raised to 21, and the budget woes plaguing the SUNY system, and the rest of the county as a result of Reagan era fiscal policies. Education was becoming more unaffordable for more people at a time when paychecks were shrinking. Nothing new there! The Load was staffed with bright, energetic and dedicated students working to create a paper, but stumped by not having the resources to create a consistent and timely newspaper. The Load was a newspaper that had been led previously by brothers Adam and Eric Nagourney and Timothy McDarrah who were working in the field of journalism at the time. Attention to Arts was a priority at an institution renowned for for its multiple arts programs. The Load extensively covered visual and performing arts and included a creative writing page (Argot) and the Cartoon page. Photography was a valued part of the paper.
Change happened fast in the 1985-1986 academic year. I was News Editor in January and Co-Editor-In-Chief with Jens Wilkinson by the February 19, 1986 issue. We buried the Verityper 766 in early 1986 and typed several issues on IBM Selectrics. By April 1986 we entered the computer age. We obtained funding to purchase two Macintosh computers and a laser printer. While the technological issues were not completely solved, having reliable equipment made it easier for all to produce the newspaper and expand its coverage.
My first close inspection of the Cartoon page, and the headaches that it brought to the editorial staff, was spurred by a Letter to the Editor that was published in our first issue as co-editors-in-chief. The letter refers to a cartoon entitled Clarence N’ Adolf that had been published on January 29, 1986. I do not know who created it. The letter writer was concerned that the cartoon stereotyped “black inner-city youth” by having the character Clarence join forces with Hitler to break-dance, solicit drugs, and harass women in Port Authority resulting in the duo being jailed so that Hitler can write Mein Kampt II. The letter writer wondered what the editorial policy was and why something so offensive was published. This letter started a dialogue among the editors about what would be published, how it would be decided, and what our responsibility was to the students who paid for the publication of the newspaper through the student activity fee and the wider community. My part in that discussion continued until I left The Load in the Spring of 1989 for life with a BA.
How did a group of young, idealistic, creative and opinionated Loadies make editorial determinations? One of the overriding themes expressed in Load content during this period is the tension between apathy and activism. The articles, cartoons, editorial columns and letters consistently refer to an apathetic and uninvolved student body. There are constant pleas for participation in student government, organizations, action activities and college leadership. In juxtaposition, the Student Senate was replaced by The Student Union in September 1986. The student governing body changed from being a representative body to a participatory democracy. All students could now vote on all issues brought before the Student Union, including budget issues that affected how the student activity fee was spent. Students were protesting apartheid and advocating for divetiture. Students protested cuts to the SUNY system and education. The Load staff during this period tended to make decisions based on consensus. And, those who made up the consensus were the people who contributed long hours over multiple weekends. Many times I did not agree with the consensus, but I remember having to defend our decisions many times to advertisers, administrators, angry students, friends and family. The Load was a newspaper written by students and for students. The comix page(s) tended to bring in the most complaints– not unexpected with depictions of bestiality, violence, and commentary on sensitive subjects offered in a profane manner.
With the consistency of staff and funding during this time period, The Load was able to expand. The Cartoon page, edited by Dave Foster, was able to draw more regular contributors since the work was getting published regularly. When Pat Giles came on staff we started publishing editorial cartoons that tied in with the news that was being reported. In November 1987, we were able to add two packed pages of comix. Comic art began to fill in white space left on other pages and reflected the content of those pages. Consistency of staff and regular editorial staff meetings led to the integration of the different elements that made up the paper to create a consistent look and feel. Comix artists also started creating consistent and regular strips that had a great following. As the paper continued to develop, the comix artists often played off of one another. Woe to those who fell under mass attack by comix! The pages were discussed regularly by many people with both admiration and disgust. Readers were led to think. Readers, as well as the editorial staff, were forced to articulate their opinions and critically assess the material before them.
Several years ago I was thrust into another technological adaptation. My kids got Facebook, so I had to get an account as well. Again, I am led into fulfilling creative relationships and collaborations. It’s been great to see Pat as the Lucky Charms leprechaun and Dave sing with Bubbles and raise his kids. I spent one Christmas break crying over Sonya’s story set to Dean’s art in Cuba: My Revolution. Now, thanks to Dean and Pat, we can revisit the work of many of the talented artists who helped create a thought-provoking student newspaper during the late 1980s. Thanks!