Saturday 8 May 2010

Roger Brand and the Curse of the Green Death

Blogmeisters truth alert:

Please check this superb blog posting by Kim Deitch it renders quite a bit of what is posted here as surplus to requirements as well as deviating from what really occurred.

My first introduction to the work of Roger Brand was issue 17 of Creepy (we can't really allow a week to go by without mentioning Warren magazines now can we?). To be honest I wasn't that bowled over, it seemed a little uneven and not quite in the same league as some of the old masters - Ditko, Toth, Crandall, Morrow, Torres and Williamson that I had grown accustomed to. But nevertheless it had a certain je ne c'est quoi that did ever so insidiously embed itself into my psyche.

The more I discovered about Brand the more intriguing he became, by the time he created "The Haunted Sky" for Goodwin's Creepy script, he had worked as an assistant to both Wally Wood (add Brand to the roll call of Dan Adkins, Ralph Reese, Wayne Howard, Larry Hama, Larry Ivie, etc, etc) and also assisted Gil Kane, whose influence can be detected on some of the faces in the pages of this story. He was also an early contributor to Woody's Witzend, where in the story, "The Chase" you can easily detect the influence of one of Brand's overwhelming passions E.C. comics and in this case the work of Bernard Krigstein whose tortured renderings inform the seriously scuzzy penmanship of Brand's story.

However comics revolution was in the air and Brand who was by now in his mid twenties, married to a girl with dreamy eyes and knee length hair, left New York City and lit out for San Francisco with the lovely Michelle in tow. Or rather I should say returned to San Francisco as he had in fact grown up in the East Bay area before moving to New York.

Keen to immerse himself in the burgeoning underground comix scene he hooked up with the legendary (there is no other term really) Gary Arlington, whose devotion to comics was on a par with Brand's but whose at times barely legal schemes to turn a profit on the back of his passion was way ahead of Brand, who rather endearingly just wanted to write and draw the things and hopefully eke out some kind of living on the back of his labors.

He proceeded to churn out some seriously "other" work for comics with such memorable titles as "Tales of the Leather Nun", "Real Pulp Comics", "Young Lust", "Insect Fear" and "Tales of Sex and Death". As an additional source of income he assisted Arlington with a variety of mad cap schemes, one of which, in the wake of an aborted attempt to launch a line of photostatted E.C. reprints, continued the numbering of the long defunct series on a series of mock cover prints to which Brand enthusiastically contributed artwork. Arlington flushed with the brilliance of his scheme rashly sent copies of the prints to E.C. publisher Bill Gaines. The consequential cease and desist letter from Gaines attorney was a never ending source of pride to Arlington who, on the drop of a hat would show it to all and sundry.

Brand's passion for comics was such that he would, much to the horror of a lot of the comic book geeks he regularly hung out with, actually dismember comics to compile scrap books of creme de la creme artwork. His other overriding passion was however, to have far more deleterious effects on his prospects. Sadly Roger Brand like several other strip cartoonists including his one time mentor Wallace Wood was addicted to alcohol, and like all true can heads was a total pragmatist in his choice of cheap and efficient ways to total trolleydom favoring Rainier's Beer aka "The Green Death".

By the time his Ranier ravaged remains were being carted out of his apartment as (according to legend) Arlington was busily trying to reunite the dismembered contents of Brand's scrapbooks before the men with black bags moved in,  his life seemed plotted by Charles Bukowski, with bouts of sofa surfing and sleeping on park benches, Michelle having long moved out and remarrried Berni Wrightson as well as getting herself and her friend Louise Jones (ex wife of Jeff Jones) work at James Warren's magazines.

As they say, "What goes around, comes around".


  1. It's amazing how close to Bernard Krigstein's influence on Roger Brand's style of drawing seems to look like it came from the man (Krigstein)himself.I saw a couple of other stories that Brand drew in other comic blogs.Most recently,"The Head" from one of the underground comix he worked on.It's sad that he had to meet such an untimely end.Liam

  2. Yes Liam, I think that ignorance of Krigstein was the reason I was initially a little underwhelmed by Brand's henscratchings on "The Chase". I now look at this work with a much more educated eye and realize that it's really very tasty stuff indeed.

  3. You know, Until this blog entry I never realized how good Roger Brand really was. I used to frequent Gary's shop (in the 80's) and Roger Brand was often a topic of discussion.

  4. Yes Jack, he really was pretty amazing - he was into this genre of artwork before artists like Dan Clowes, really pushed it out there.

    I'll see if I can post some more of Roger's amazing strips up over the next few weeks.

    I'd love to hear some of your anecdotes from hanging out in Gary's shop - they'd merit a blog posting or two

  5. Peter, I'll send you an email in a few days with a few recollections about Gary's shop from 1984 to 1991.

    Thanks again for your awesome blog.

  6. Gee - dunno what to say Jack apart from a big Thank You!!!

    For your words of praise and in anticipation of those recollections.

    Can't wait!

  7. I'm sure I've seen that plane before at the beginning of an old Marvel story drawn by Dan Adkins - I guess they must have both had access to the same swipe file!

    Funnily enough I was looking at a Roger Brand strip in Witzend only last week and wondering what became of him. I must confess I'd completely forgotten about his involvement with Tales from the Leather Nun - surely one of the weirdest titles ever published, hence Paul Gravett's reference to it in his recent collection of 'Incredibly Strange Comics'. No doubt Brand's place in history will be ensured by this alone, even though his own story doesn't feature the Nun herself.

    Of course most artists begin their careers heavily influenced by the work of others before they eventually develop their own unique style: early Ditko, for instance, can at times be hard to distinguish from Robinson, Meskin and Kubert. Looking at 'The Haunted Sky' I get the impression that Brand must have drawn it with a copy of Krigstein's 'Master Race' constantly to hand in front of him; nevertheless it's to his credit he wasn't automatically imitating Wally Wood as so many of that artist's other assistants did.

    In fact I'm inclined to think that Brand must have been something of an artistic sponge, experimenting with a variety of styles: his story in 'Leather Nun' for example retains very little of the Krigstein influence, replacing this instead with an underground look that seems to owe much more to Spain Rodriguez. Bearing in mind that Krigstein himself was still around until the 1990s I can't help but feel it was a great shame that he didn't develop his own comic strip technique any further: the thought of what he would have gone on to create if he hadn't fallen out with EC in the 1950s has to be one of comics' greatest 'might-have-beens'!

    It must say something about the inherent 'loneliness of the long distance illustrator' that so many comic strip artists had their lives blighted by drink. From what I remember both Reed Crandell and Tom Sutton suffered from alcoholism, but possibly the saddest case of all was the one-time ACG mainstay (and co-creator of the brilliant Herbie) Ogden Whitney who apparently ended his life homeless and alone as a skid row derelict!

  8. Fascinating Phil, I didn't know about Ogden Whitney, but apart from the names you've listed there was also the equally terrible and lurid story of Bob Wood who I did a posting on (November 7th) under the title of "Into The Heart Of Darkness".

    But the list of alcoholic comic strip artists is a long one indeed.

  9. God, where did you get all that information? All true except the length of my hair and the fact that he was a meth-head, sniffing crystal methedrine for years, which had more to do with his crash-and-burn than alcohol, probably. I'm glad some people remember him in a good way. I had kind of put it all behind me. I'm reminded of the classic EC image of the rotted hand erupting from the grave. MW

  10. Brand_enthusiast6 November 2011 at 02:38

    This was the first Brand comic that I ever saw. It holds up well.

  11. Hi Michelle, sorry about the booboo about your hair, blame my over reliance on second hand sources, in this case an interview in the Comics Journal with Mike Kaluta. That and the fact that another of my other sources (Blab No. 6) not allowing the truth to get in the way of a good story, had completely omitted any reference to Crystal Meth, whose destructive effects make even the ravages of alcohol abuse seem fairly benign.

    Such a shame, he really was a great talent and in my humble opinion several years ahead of his time.

    Looking at his work now it seems to have worn a lot better than many of his more commercially successful contemporaries.

  12. His best work was pretty darn good, wasn't it. But he was so trippy and unboundaried, it was as if he held it together as long as he could, then just let it go. MW

  13. Yes, really fabulous work at his best Michele. With Kim Deitch's excellent posting on Roger's life and work and the incredible response it has generated amongst his friends and colleagues, I have found myself leafing back through the succession of stories he created for Witzend 3, 4 and 5. In each story he pays homage to one of his heroes by adopting their style, so we get a Krigstein styling, followed by a Williamson styling, followed by a Gil Kane styling.

    And yet the story telling skills remain all his own.

    Lovely work indeed, wish I had had the privilege of getting to know him. But Kim's posting and the warm plaudits from the people he did befriend make for a pretty good substitute.

  14. This whole business is reminding me of a viking funeral, a nice homage and send-off a few years later. I'm glad people still remember and care. Comic artists don't learn in school, they learn from each other. Who knows where an idea, or a way of doing things may end up?

  15. Anonymous MW that is...

  16. Not a comic person but knew Roger pretty well in the 70's in Berkeley as a roomate. Wish I had kept some of the stuff he gave (none of it original art) me but passed it on to an illustrator who appreciated it better than I could. Did manage to keep a copy of Banzai. My favorite is in it, "My First Bust" and my favorite is the self-portrait of Ol' Rog relaxing with a fat joint by the fireside. Roger was a sweet guy already on the way down by the time I ran into him. He moved over to SF and we lost track. I too, have a million Roger Brand memories (and some Joel Beck ones too). When I saw the Green Death title I had to break my silence and add my two cents. Shared many a can of green death and brown death (Olde English) with him. I remember he walked out of a Charles Bukowski reading because he couldn't watch the old poet guzzling away all that beer from the tub! I wonder what ever became of his faithful dog buddy CK (mon doggy), a red dobie mix that was fond of sweet wine. Glad Roger's art is still appreciated. He was quite a cat.

  17. I got to know Roger in 1982; met him on Haight Street where he was collecting donations for the free clinic. I happened to have a bag with a comic store logo on it, and he asked me if I liked comics. We got to talking, and I ended up going to his apartment on Page Strteet several times. Once I bought an original piece from him, it was a Xmas card showing Roger, Michelle, and the dog "Big Lootchie," in a windswept, drafty apartment, a beautiful piece really, which I still have. His roomate told me that I shouldn't have paid him in cash, but should have brought groceries for him, as he was just going to spend the money on beer. He loved Wally Wood and didn't care for Joe Orlando for some reason. I thought he was a great guy, and a gifted artist. Rest in Peace.

  18. To Alex. Does your surname begin with a "P" (possibly KA3AK) and are you currently a resident of P-town area? Do not mean to "diss" this thread or Ol' Rog's memory. May be an acquaintance. -exBerkeley

  19. I always saw a big Alex Toth influence in Brand's art, down to his distinctive lettering. Of course, as Peter Richardson notes, Brand could draw in a number of styles without losing his own in the homage. Love his art, from the fanzines to the undergrounds to Western! He was as "pro ready" as any of the artists in early fandom.