When you first heard about Underground Classics, what was your reaction?
I wasn’t too surprised there is a lot of retro interest in this field, which is practically extinct. I guess it’s cool to be extinct though. To me alternative comics seem like watered down underground comics so I’m glad to see your pining the right tree and not doing something that is socially acceptable.
In popular culture, but especially in comics, there is an origin story. So how did you get started in comics and then if you could talk about the transformation to comix.
I was born into it. I remember sitting on my dad’s [Vaughn Bode] lap as he drew “The Masked Lizard” around 1965, and he let me try and color parts of it. I think I ended up stabbing myself in the forehead with a pencil – I still bare the mark from that wound. I later went to comic conventions with my dad.
Jim Warren was the first person to buy my art. When I was 7 or 8 years old, I remember Frank Frazetta was the guest that year and he was displaying his new Sea Hag painting in the middle of the room – how could I forget that? When I was 15, 3 years after my father’s death in 1978, I started finishing my dad’s unfinished works for Heavy Metal magazine and I’ve been a professional ever since – never having to have a regular job. I owe that to my dad Vaughn’s exceptional legacy or (3rd legacy) he left me [laughs].
Artists are usually depicted as solitary workers but I have seen enough photos of comix being created in group situations. How did you work then? And how has that shifted over the years.
I always liked a jam – I work better when it’s made [in a fun environment]. I’ve done some great jams with the guys from Gwar and Larry Welz and Larry Todd; I am a jam player for sure. When I work by myself I work fast—but it’s not as fun. I usually hire a friend or two to help me through the process so I don’t have to spend so much time toiling over the various processes that comics demand.
Which comix artists are you closest to in terms of your appreciation for their work?
Spain and Paul Mavrides I see often and admire what ever they are working on. My favorite undergrounders are Jack Jackson and Greg Irons – both have a look and a style of storytelling that’s stuck deeply into my psyche from the time my father handed me a pile of undergrounds and said, “Here son, read but don’t show your friends.”
I was forever an underground fan from then on. Never could pick up an above-ground comic; they’re just too dull and they’ve never fucked or took a shit.
“Isn’t that what everybody does?” I would ask myself. “This super hero stuff is a pile of crap.”
In addition to the changes in style and content you describe, could you give us a sense of how you saw your audience over time?
Well, out of all the underground artists I think our (my fathers’ and my art) market has changed the most. My father rode the wave well and was shot almost to super stardom and then was cut short. So who is to say what his market would have been if there wasn’t a 10 year lapse in the material from when I started putting new stuff out. Back in the mid 70s he was a true rock star and people crowded around him to get an autograph after his cartoon concert slide show (which he performed at the Louvre in Paris) before his death. Yes, it was a time of heavy change and the end of an era and Vaughn was gone but not forgotten. Since then his work raised itself up in the new underground art form of Graffiti art, which I have embraced as another field to make my art in. The earliest Graffiti writers in NYC adorned their pieces with Bode characters and the rest became underground history. Now to do a Bode character is like a right of passage in the urban art of graffiti and it has spread world-wide. From Hippies to Hip Hop that’s your game if you’re a Bode.
Comics with a c or an x is inherently a commercial enterprise, how did you find working with publishers and being one yourself?
Publishing seemed important to me when I was younger. Now that I have an overview I see publishing as a promotional tool for licensing and not where the money is. If you are on top of the field like Crumb or Frank Miller publishing is a diamond in the rough. If you are a steady-as-she-goes artist like me you will find more money in selling art and licensing your images for toys and clothing and even movies and TV. I never had a desire to publish myself, guess it’s too much work and I already saw comics as a tedious experience.
Did you collect comics as a child? How has your collecting changed over time? What do you collect now? When did you become aware of a change in collectors in terms of institutionalizing comix in libraries and museums? Are any of your originals in a museum?
No, I didn’t collect comics. My dad gave all his undergrounds to me, and that was my collection. Whenever I am in a comics store and there is no adult section I usually walk out of the place; if they have an adult section I tend to lean towards erotica like Milo Manara type stuff.
I admire those who can draw women well, so I collect Erotica. I first noticed when I went to Mort Walkers museum in Rye New York. I heard of a castle like place where they have comics on display. I went in ‘82 when I was attending the School of Visual Arts. A few years later I met a curator of the museum and donated some of my dad’s art and mine as well. I have donated to the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco too. I believe my dad has a piece in Angouleme’ as well.
What are the connections you make between comix and the work of younger artists today?
Well it is increasingly difficult to have your own style. The derivatives are through the roof. I find myself cringing and glad I don’t have to deal with it when I think about Manga influence and pop culture influence and all the mish-mosh that has been thrown in the comic field soup. It seemed simpler in my father’s day – there was a golden cow that everyone seemed to help build and the public loved it! Now it’s spread too wide into a sea of bondage and false icons wallowing in their own influential muck.
The role of the artist in society is the kind of question that raises the hackles of many artists who see non-artists as trying to define creative individuals, but it seems a worthwhile inquiry given the social context that surrounded underground comix. So how do you see that role?
My role? I draw what I want, and dress the way I want. I find if I wear a hoodie I am scowled at and if I wear proper clothes I am smiled at. I am glad I don’t do that with my art – never have, never will. I am working on Cobalt 60 – the movie to be directed by Zack Snyder – at the moment, I guess we will see how the general public embraces the underground after a movie like that comes out. I have a feeling I’ll be able to dress the way I want and draw what I want just like I’ve always done and ill still get scowled at.