Saturday, September 08, 2007

Number 186

When Rick Griffin Was In Drag

When people think of artist Rick Griffin, they think of his psychedelic dance posters, his comix work, and artwork like this, taken from the important 1972 publication, The Man From Utopia:

They might not realize the Rick Griffin they know was preceded by a Rick Griffin they don't know. I've owned this copy of Drag Cartoons #12, dated February 1965, since it was new on the stands without knowing that Rick Griffin illustrated two of the strips, for a total of five pages in the magazine. Hard to explain, but I just never noticed. I stumbled onto them while looking at an Alex Toth strip in the same issue.

Griffin started out doing cartoons for Surfing magazine. I have no idea how many issues of Drag Cartoons he appeared in. That's for the Griffin completists amongst us to tell us.

When Rick did these strips he was about 20 or 21 years old, influenced by the cartooning styles of the early 1960s, and by Mad comics, which he might have read off the newsstands as they appeared, or later encountered in the series of Mad paperbacks. Or both. In the last panel of "The Highwayman" strip he uses the word "furshluginer." A dead giveaway as to his influence.

The artwork on "The Highwayman"--writer not credited, but for the record it's by Alfred Noyes from his 1906 poem--is more detailed, using a lot of pen and ink lines. The second strip isn't as ornate, and frankly, not as good. I'm including it anyway because I just know you guys wanna see this stuff. Looking at Griffin's work during his salad days can give you a comparison of how much development he made during his career. In his case there was a huge leap of development during a very short period of time, just a couple of years.

Griffin died in 1991 in a motorcycle accident. He wasn't even 50 years old. He left a legacy of some wonderful artwork that will outlive us all. I believe that one hundred years from now the San Francisco dance posters of the 1960s will be as the Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha prints are to our era. The art lovers of a century hence will be celebrating an important art form, by then long gone, but idolized along with the work of the best fine artists of the era. A Rick Griffin Website is available.

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