CLG READER PROFILE: BRUCE SWEENEY
CLG: How and when did you get interested in underground comix?
BS: I was hooked on undergrounds as soon as I saw my first ZAP in college in 1968. Crumb and Wilson blew a hole in the top of my head. My friends and I cracked up over DESPAIR and FRITZ THE CAT. I sat and watched a friend pulverize my FRITZ book pounding it from mint to good on his knee in peals of laughter. In those days, editions and conditions were the concerns of coin collectors, not stoned-out freaks with comix.
CLG: You were the editor for COMIX COLLECTOR 1-3 (1979-1980). What was that all about?
BS: I had done some writing about undergrounds and someone in Boston approached me about editing COMIX COLLECTOR. It was the same people that had done the ILLUSTRATED CRUMB book. As usual, he had no interest in production standards or providing any service. He just felt that u.g.'s would take off and he'd be in the vanguard. It was pure opportunism and I just didn't recognize it. When the big bucks didn't start pouring in, this publisher abandoned ship.
CLG: Most people in comix today know you for your UNDERGROUND STATION column. When and how did it start? How many publications has it appeared in?
BS: I came aboard CASCADE under Artie Romero right after issue #1, and rode that publication until the very end in 1979. UNDERGROUND STATION went with the late COMICS SCENE from 1978-1980, which enjoyed a brief magazine rack exposure. UNDERGROUND STATION has been in SCRATCHEZ, CITY LIMITS GAZETTE parts 1&2, COMICS F/X and some other one night stands. As long as some nearsighted editor will take it, UNDERGROUND STATION will be there.
CLG: How would you characterize the pure collector scene in terms of ug/Newave? Do artists outnumber collectors?
BS: The number of artists seem to outstrip the collectors. Many artists, of course, like Jerry Riddle, Jim Ryan, George Erling, etc. double as collectors. The minis were a great invention for the artists getting their material onto paper and into people's hands but the proliferation of material sent a lot of collectors reeling out the door in frustration. It went from improbable to impossible to collect the majority of product. It's there now. How do you cope with the cost of the monthly product flowing out of Fantagraphics alone?
CLG: Kennedy's GUIDE credits you with a story in COCAINE COMIX 2. What was it? Have you ever had a hand in creating any other comix?
BS: Actually, I wrote three one-page strips that were accepted in Last Gasp's COCAINE COMIX #2. I collaborated with a friend to do a spoof of the R. Crumb HEROES OF THE BLUES cards which appeared in Kitchen's BOP, and last year I did a few pages for the Rip-Off Larry Todd benefit comic, FIRE SALE. It's a real egoboost to realize that I've ended up with material in the big 3 UG houses. It's a tough one to get up for. It's a lot easier if you've been tapped by an editor or there's a specific thematic emphasis that you can aim at. I was approached years back by J. Michael Leonard to so some gags for a comic strip that he was doing for PLAYBOY, "Annie & Albert." He was connected into PLAYBOY as a regular contributor, though. To just do material and then try to hawk it around to all the publishers must take enormous personal stamina. I can't write anything for a month after getting a rejection.
CLG: Do you think Newave comix were a natural extension of the undergrounds?
BS: Certainly, the Newave is a natural extension of the sensitivities of the original undergrounds, just as they are distantly related to the Tijuana Bibles. The thirst to express, share and publish regardless of market is a common thread here. These independents attracted a lot of people with more on their minds than fuzzy animals and superheroes.
CLG: What's next in the comix world? Where will you be in it?
BS: I think that comix will continue its trend towards slow maturity and general recognition. On one hand I'm heartened by the success of products like MAUS; on the other hand its heartbreaking to see such little recognition of something like SNARF and such ballyhoo over something like CHERRY. It's a frustratingly slow awareness by the consumer.
As for me, wherever there's a hole that UNDERGROUND STATION fits into, put me in coach, I can play -- underground field. I'd love to collaborate again up ahead on projects heading for print. I'm proud to be associated with this whole phenomenon. It's like playing air guitar for an enormous wide-spread blues band.
[© Steve Willis and Bruce Sweeney, used with permission. Originally published in City Limits Gazette #Frisky and Little Mary, the doomed children of the "Grabby Elf", November 1992. Please don't republish without permission.]