Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

June 24, 2012

Comics I Read In Series Form In The 1980s: Hup


The first time I saw a Robert Crumb comic was in the town of Syracuse, Indiana, where my family spent its summers, on the front-room table of a couple of college guys who rented a house down the way to sail and smoke pot. I remember being impressed by its lurid weirdness. Crumb was the one underground cartoonist whose work was strong enough and distinctive enough and popular in the general culture enough that most comics fans -- hell, most kids my age -- had an idea who he was and that he was the underground guy and that at least some if not all of his comics were naughty. If you weren't familiar with the name or the comics or even "Keep On Truckin'" you'd probably heard of the Fritz The Cat movie -- it was one of those movies that got talked about constantly whether or not anyone doing the talking had ever seen it (right up there with Debbie Does Dallas, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Exorcist.)

Nowhere I shopped for comics when I lived in Indiana had any Robert Crumb, at least not to my memory. If they had underground comix, even, I didn't see them (we had a place called Stonehenge Records that would have had them if anyone did.) The overground stuff was all over the place in the Indianapolis and Chicago comic book shops, those places were like Richard Corben fan clubs, but something like Weirdo I don't think I saw until I turned 20. I bought Hup at a comics shop in Syracuse, New York, when I visited my older brother, a college student there in the post-McCloud/Busiek era. I knew enough about Crumb when I was 17 or 18 to know that I should be reading the guy even if he didn't make the kinds of comics I liked the most. People remember The Comics Journal as a place where belligerent arguments took place about what comics one should be reading, but the more effective tool they had where my taste was concerned was this kind of matter of fact, "you should probably be reading this unless you're a loser" approach -- kind of like the cover to Hup #1 up there but with more rolling of the eyes than calling out. Because comics-buying in series form was such that you actually tended to have money left over -- at least we did -- for random purchases week to week, a lot of the comics you heard about in places like the Journal or by hearing about them from other comic books could be the beneficiary of your extra dough. Hard to believe now, I know.

Memories of Hup itself aren't colossal in my mind, but I'm pretty sure this is the first place I encountered quality autobiographical comics -- one of the "My Trouble With Women" stories was in of these books, and the one where Crumb is in the baby carriage I'm pretty sure is in one of these issues. The idea that comics could be used to tell any kind of story was a perfectly reasonable one to me -- Sick, Sick, Sick and Saul Steinberg were as big a part of comics in my house as Thor and Andy Capp -- but to see a serious narrative or two done as well as Crumb could do them was an eye-opener. By the time the fourth issue of Hup came out, my reading habits had completely changed, and these comics were maybe 1/10 of the Crumb I owned. That takes us out of the 1980s, though, much like these comics took me.
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