a Wiz to a Far-Out OZ
By ANGELA FRUCCI
May 31, 2004
FRANCISCO When Vaughn Bode, the maverick cartoonist and graffiti
guru, died in 1975 at 33, he left behind a son and some of the most
original and influential cartoon art done in the 1960's and 70's.
Bode, son of Vaughn Bode, maverick cartoonist of the 60's and
70's, is completing "The Lizard of Oz," for which his
father produced only this cover illustration.
Bode (pronounced BO-dee), also a cartoonist, recently completed his
father's interrupted work "The Lizard of Oz," a raunchy departure
on the "Wizard of Oz" that features the older Bode's premier
creation, Cheech Wizard. Fantagraphics Books of Seattle will publish
the book next month.
a colorful comics T-shirt, Mr. Bode, standing on a beach outside San
Francisco, peered over his Ray-Bans toward the California coast, near
Point Reyes, and spoke about his father and the forthcoming book. "That's
about where we dropped Dad's ashes from the Cessna," he recalled
with a laugh. "I ripped the bag open at exactly 2:22 p.m., just
like he wanted." But when 12-year-old Mark looked down, he saw
a big yacht passing below, filled with half-naked women sunbathing on
the deck. "I figured it was Vaughn's last joke."
41, Mark Bode has kept the Bode dynasty up and running for 29 years.
"When he died, I knew I was going to have to take over because
I didn't want the worlds to die with him," he added, pulling his
foot from the salty Pacific. Mr. Bode decided to start the "Oz"
project in 2000, with a $1,000 commitment from Fantagraphics and a concept
cover illustration by his father. "It's the last thing my father
planned," said Mr. Bode, who wrote the story.
the elder Bode reinterpreted the legendary story theme, he added several
twists to Dorothy's tornadic dream, which he related to his son. Judy
Garland's juvenile character becomes Poppy, a not-so-nice, beer-drinking,
thieving, 4-year-old orphan thief. She romps with Cheech (the Wizard);
a hemp-stuffed scarecrow; a mangy, homosexual lion; and a tin man obsessed
with an oil drum.
never thought I'd revive Cheech Wizard because he was too personal to
my father," Mr. Bode said. The 70's creature, seen frontally, is
a flaccid yellow hat with cartoony red legs and questionable underquarters.
"Cheech was my father's alter ego," he added, "a bad-mouth
hat with no respect for anyone, completely the opposite of Vaughn, who
was charismatic but shy." At first, the son said, he felt intimidated
reviving his father's best-known character. The Cheech strip was enormously
popular when it ran in National Lampoon magazine in the early 1970's.
Vaughn Bode is now glamorized as one of the titans of underground comics,
his beginnings were anything but auspicious. He began drawing as a way
to help escape a miserable childhood, mostly spent in the streets of
Syracuse, where he developed a penchant for stealing food, vandalizing,
and wearing women's clothing.
to Manhattan in 1969, he joined the underground paper The East Village
Other, where he met Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez and other cartoonist
luminaries. He was editor of the first two issues of Gothic Blimp Works,
the East Village Other's comic tabloid insert that he named himself.
By 1972 he had also become a performance artist, staging his multimedia
"Cartoon Concert" at comics and sci-fi conventions. A year
later he published the autobiographical strip "Schizophrenia,"
describing himself as "autosexual, heterosexual, homosexual, masosexual,
sadosexual, transsexual, unisexual, omnisexual."
Thompson, vice president of Fantagraphics, said, "We told Mark,
`When you complete it, we'll publish it.' " Over the course of
15 years, he added, the company has published 15 volumes of Vaughn Bode's
work, and the books have been very popular among graffiti and tattoo
artists. "It's a natural," Mr. Thompson said, "because
of the bright colors and the big, lush round shapes."
can still sell new Cheech Wizard material 30 years after the cartoonist's
death, which indicates that his vision remains intact, Mr. Thompson
said. He added: "Vaughn's work was very charming. There's a flower-child
quality to it. There's a real affection for this material that we believe
will carry over to the work of the son."
Vaughn Bode's characters have had a seminal influence, and it was often
a rite of passage for graffiti artists to do a Bode character, making
the artist an unwitting guru of urban street culture as his characters
were picked up and recreated into images the early New York graffiti
artists that were put on walls and train and subway cars. "My father
never even heard of graffiti," Mr. Bode said, shaking his head.
Miller, a cultural historian at DePaul University in Chicago who examined
the history of New York graffiti culture in his book "Aerosol Kingdom,"
said if there was anything that codified the world of graffiti movement
or characters used, it was Vaughn Bode's work. "Vaughn created
his own worlds, and I think lots of the writers respect that because
they're doing that too," Mr. Miller said.
a boy, the younger Bode felt that power directly. Born in Utica, N.Y.,
in 1963, Mark was raised on a cartoon diet. At 3 he began drawing, at
his father's side, nubile nymphs, bright green lizards and menacing
mutants. He remembers helping his father fill in the voluptuous signature
"Bode Broads." "He'd put a marker in my hand," Mr.
Bode said, "and say, `Color this area,' and make sure I didn't
go crazy going outside the lines. "We'd always race up this hill
by our house, knock on a manhole cover and yell for Cheech. I asked
him why he never came out, and he'd say, `Well, he's" chasing women
"and doing tricks.' He was brainwashing me into seeing his world,
so the characters I started coming up with were heavily influenced by
before he died he told me: `We'll always be Bode and son. Share my style,
but don't get too close.' I couldn't wait to work with him."
Bode was 9 when his father and mother, Barbara Falcon, divorced in 1972.
Her roller-coaster relationship, as she described it, with Vaughn Bode
began dissolving as he went from crew cut to cascading curls, increasingly
exploring his sexual identity and predilection for feminine clothing.
"We had so much love between us still, but I was not happy with
his transvestitism," Ms. Falcon said. In 1973 her former husband,
who was now coming out as a crossdresser and bisexual, had moved to
also left "The Lizard of Oz." By completing his father's unfinished
work, Mr. Bode has come full circle in a 29-year artistic and personal
journey. On July 18, 1975, 12-year-old Mark was visiting his dad in
San Francisco for the summer. Mr. Bode recalled his father's words on
that day: "Mark, I've seen God four times, and I'm going to see
him again soon. That's No. 1 to me, and you're No. 2." Then his
father, dressed in a saintly gown, went into his bedroom and closed
didn't really grasp what he was talking about," Mr. Bode said quietly,
"but I told him, `Dad, you look beautiful.' I never saw him alive
again." Mr. Bode said his father accidentally strangled himself
during autoerotic asphyxiation, something he had done on four occasions.
The last time, Mr. Bode added, "some necklaces got entangled in
was still one of the most creative forces I've ever met," Mr. Bode
said. "To this day I've never had a religion. But my father represents
a sanctuary, waiting for me."