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January 26, 2011

Craig Maynard, 1958-2010


Craig Maynard, an employee of Fantagraphics Books during that company's initial years in Seattle and a cartoonist that split time between the publisher's main and Eros Comix lines, died in September, 2010. The cause of death has not been reported.

imageMaynard was born in 1958, and came into Fantagraphics' orbit in the late 1980s upon that company's move from Los Angeles to the Pacific Northwest. His contributions on the production end -- Fantagraphics ran an active art department with a number of artists assigned to doing jobs by hand for the bulk of that decade, employing from part- to full-time a number of that region's talented local art directors and cartoonists -- were spread throughout the company. For instance, he transcribed several key Comics Journal interviews of the period and worked in production on early issues of Usagi Yojimbo. Fantagraphics' Eros Comix effort would not have been possible without the production efforts of people like Maynard -- the line was designed to generate income in part by passing through the publishers and a much greater rate of speed than their traditional alt-comics efforts. Maynard even hand-lettered many of the translated Eros comics years before this became possible for the company to do on computer.

"He was a great, voluminous, out-sized presence -- not physically, where he reminded me of the tightly-built actor William Defoe, but a whirling dervish, energetic and raucous in his enthusiasms," wrote his former employer Gary Groth to CR. "This was in contrast to his comics, which I published in two anthologies I edited in the late '80s and early '90s -- Prime Cuts and Graphic Story Monthly -- where he wrote and drew bittersweet memories of childhood, clearly autobiographical, where he portrayed his troubled relationship with his father. Craig had his demons -- and, perforce, we became close, kindred spirits -- but he never exploited those demons, his comics being searingly but gently honest without being in the least sensationalistic."

The stories he created for the Fantagraphics anthologies were run under the series title "Minor Memories And The Art Of Adolescence. The story that ran in the first issue of Graphic Story Monthly was created by Maynard in 1988 and remains one of the stronger short stories of that time period generally and the autobiographical comics specifically. In that story, reprinted by its publisher here, a young version of the artist attempted to negotiate an unhappy household first by grasping onto the moral code of the comic books he was reading to escape and then trying to actually turn himself invisible. Maynard's contributions like that one to a growing body of comics literature based on that period's white-hot fascination within cartooning circles in autobiography and memoir were more lyrically expressed and more closely resembled prose fiction than a lot of his peer's comics, which depended on an essay-like presentation, or a narrator that broke the fourth wall and addressed the audience direction. Noting that they were neither as light nor as comfortable as they might first appear, critic Jeremy Pinkham summarized their plainspoken, cumulative effect in the "Autobiographical Cartoonist Survey" in The Comics Journal #162. "They are well-written and sad."

Maynard contributed two memorable and very different comics to the Eros line as an all-in-one cartoonist and creator. His Up From Bondage was autobiographically informed and creatively inventive; it also danced across genre boundaries with a suppleness reminiscent of similar, same-period comics from Ho Che Anderson and Gilbert Hernandez. It was singled out for praise in critic Richard Gehr's survey of the dirty comics scene in 1992, "The Smut Glut."
"Craig Maynard's fact-based Up From Bondage, however, is a powerful example of politically conscious homoerotica. Radically ambivalent, Maynard depicts a hardcore S&M scene that turns fatal when a passive safe-house organizer unknowingly submits to a CIA dominant. The moral polarities, violent sex, and art are as clear as black and white (the cover depicts a pissed-off Uncle Sam rolling up his sleeve to fist the hero), while the pleasure one might conceivably derive from the leftist's torments threatens to redefine the politics of pornography."
Gary Groth related to CR a story on how that book came together.
"When Craig was drawing his Eros comic, Up From Bondage, he needed a male model so that he could accurately draw the bondage poses. He needed a model and I was cheap, available, and willing, and one of my fondest memories of time spent with Craig was the evening in my living room where he photographed me in a couple dozen carefully staged poses, most of which were used in the comic (I will always be grateful that he made me look better than I was). Sexually, we were polar opposites -- he, the proud homosexual, me, the proud heterosexual -- and we couldn't have had more fun.
Maynard's three-issue comic book series Leatherboy (1994) was a different creature altogether, although certainly elements of political commentary and satire remained. This writer's memory is that it was lighter and funnier than most of the comics the Eros line published, more gracefully plotted and filled with sympathetic characters that wouldn't have been out of place in straight-ahead alt-comics. Tightly crafted to a degree not always a priority within that line, Leatherboy was certainly a favorite Eros effort of the artists in the Fantagraphics art department where Maynard had once worked. "I really enjoyed Craig's range of creativity, from childhood stories to very edgy gay comics," cartoonist and co-worker Roberta Gregory told CR. She called Maynard "the sort of person whose work you look forward to, to see which direction it will take in the future, which, sadly, never came." Critic Dirk Deppey told CR that "finding Maynard's almost embarrassingly intimate work in an early-'90s Fantagraphics anthology comic was both a challenge and a joy -- a challenge because he was capable of discussing things that I was barely able to look at in my own life, and a joy because he did it so well."

imageOne of his editors at Eros, Carol Gnojewski, told CR she "respected his pioneering spirit as a gay artist writing about gay themes, and especially gay erotic themes, which aren't well represented in any medium and ought to be. When I was editing Eros there weren't that many gay comics in the line. The ones that did have gay scenarios were either written for the benefit of a heterosexual audience or were inaccessible to straight readers." She noted that Maynard's comics had more going on than merely depicting a string of sex scenes. "There was something more enduring than mere camp to his work. He was clearly having fun with Leatherboy, for instance, but I thought his work had a broader appeal."

Most of those contacted by CR remember the person at least as much if not more than the cartoonist. Former Fantagraphics editor Robert Boyd remembers Maynard as a co-worker who was a source of much humor in a then-active Seattle cartoonists social scene. "He kind of had a rough-hewn, working-class appearance, but he liked to dress up on occasion," Boyd told CR. I remember at a Halloween party, he came as Jesse Helms. His costume was basically a loud suit and tie and a deflated pale balloon hanging out of his fly representing Helm's flacid, dessicated penis -- and Helms' attitude towards sexuality of any kind. He bowed his body forward to give himself more of a chubby Helms-like appearance and to be able to swing his balloon... We liked to throw a lot of parties back then, and Craig was always the life of the party."

Maynard's most productive period as a cartoonist was short-lived, and he left Fantagraphics' employ entirely by the middle 1990s. According to Kim Thompson's tribute at the Fantagraphics web site, various maladies suffered by the cartoonist over the years eventually left Maynard physically unable to make art. "I am so sorry to hear his health declined so severely," said Gregory. "In the Fantagraphics days, he was very active and an avid bicyclist, sometimes riding out to Kenmore for Fantagraphics events, after loudly criticizing my poison-spewing death-mobile truck.... but would gratefully accept a ride back if the weather deteriorated. Just a real, real guy."

Thompson wrote that Maynard's passing wasn't exactly a shock to his friends and former co-workers, although it seems many had to varying degrees fallen out of touch: he noted that the death had been revealed to him only when he followed up on a returned Christmas card and heard the news from the late cartoonist's parents. Thompson expressed sorrow of his own but also on behalf of the creators and other young people that were Maynard's co-workers and scene starters twenty years earlier. "Craig deserved far, far better from life than he got, and those of us who knew and loved him were and are humbled by his fortitude and perseverance in the face of adversity."

"Craig was a minor cartoonist," noted Gary Groth in a letter to CR, "his 'career' (he wouldn't have thought of it as a career) cut short by recurring health problems and life circumstances -- but he was part of the post-underground generation who saw cartooning as a way of expressing the truth about his life and all his comics uncompromisingly reflected this commitment."

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