"The underground comix of Kim Deitch were stiff in comparison to the pneumatic babes of Robert Crumb, or lubricious pirates n' dykes of S. Clay Wilson, yet somehow held their own in his long narratives...."
punk rock and trailer parks
reviewed by mike mosher
Sometimes stiff is good. Al Feldstein, later senior editor at MAD, was probably the stiffest of the EC Comics artists, yet the two staring faces of the hero's two-headed mutant child that climax's Feldstein's "Child of Tomorrow" sticks in the mind. The underground comix of Kim Deitch were stiff in comparison to the pneumatic babes of Robert Crumb, or lubricious pirates n' dykes of S. Clay Wilson, yet somehow held their own in his long narratives. Sometimes Derf's "The City" panel cartoons were drawn so stiff, they looked like Mayan glyphs that commented on 1990s politics and culture. But how will stiffness play in longer form?
A character in this graphic novel even wears a Stiff Records t-shirt, the London label that brought us Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and others. Yet it's their contemporaries Klaus Nomi, Wendy O. Williams, and the Ramones who appear in this rich narrative along with Dury; they all played The Bank, Akron, Ohio's Punk rock club, where some crucial events in Derf's story are set. The rambunctious story rolls along smoothly, and tales like the theatrical Nomi asking a kid from the school marching band to give him his band uniform spats, then wearing them onstage, are simply too good not to be true. In fact, all the anecdotes of chance encounters, sexy cougars or surprising choices in partners are observed with the kind of details that indicate they were experienced by the author/artist, or told to him by someone close and trusted.
The generally likeable central character, Otto Pizcock, aka The Baron, is a combination both dorky and savvy, nerd and hip. Like a real teenager, he's unpredictable. He struggles to get through high school, plays trombone in the marching band, pursues women-or glimpses of them-and is excited by the new Punk rock that's sweeping the industrial midwest. This is the age of Lester Bangs, who also puts in a droll appearance.
When this reviewer saw the movie "Dazed and Confused", another tale of teenage culture decades past (in the mid-1970s, while Punk Rock and Trailer Parks is set in 1980), the violence of the high school was the most striking and discordant thing. The Baron encounters bullies in the halls of his school and nighttime streets, but often doesn't bother with them, saving his own surprising fighting skills to defend smaller kids, like the pregnant, fundamentalist Christian girl Becky.
Maybe this is all fiction, but I work from the assumption here that these episodes are all rooted in the real, and true to their time and place. Punk Rock and Trailer Parks has proven that stiff and squiggly-Derf's drawing style-is an appropriate vehicle for carrying his well-written rustbelt rock memories of three decades ago. For perhaps stiff and squiggly is apt description of memory itself.