Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Steve Willis at SPACE!

We are proud to announce that Minicomics legend, Steve Willis, will be appearing at SPACE 2011! Steve's appearence is courtesy of Bruce Chrislip.

Steve Willis at SPACE!

Among the most prominent of minicomix creators, Steve Willis is a great cartoonist by any measure. In 1974, he enrolled at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and was soon drawing cartoons for the school newspaper, The Cooper Point Journal, under the encouragement of his friend (and newspaper editor) Matt Groening. Evergreen was a hotbed of alternative cartooning talent at that time. Steve soon met Lynda Barry, Charles Burns and Craig Bartlett (animator on “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” among other credits).

After graduating from Evergreen and a stint at the University of Washington (where he gained a degree in Library Sciences while drawing more cartoons for the school newspaper), Steve’s production of small press comix picked up. His Morty the Dog character took the minicomix world by storm in the 1980s. Soon other small press comix publishers were vying to chronicle the dog’s exploits.

Morty, that misanthropic anthropomorphic mutt, also started appearing in comic books published by companies like Eclipse, MU Press, Onward and Starhead.
The late Jay Kennedy was even trying to get the Dog into Esquire magazine. Did fame go to the Morty’s head? Not really. This career cynic preferred to spend his time hounding his erstwhile friend and drinking partner Arnie Wormwood down at their favorite seedy dive, The Glass Crutch.

Morty’s adventures originally appeared in Steve’s line of self-published photocopy comix in titles like Cranium Frenzy, Delayed Stress Syndrome Funnies, Dogtown Zoo, Fun in Acapulco, LimbOlympia and Retreads (reprint volumes collecting various small press appearances). These titles are all highly prized collector’s items today due to initial print runs in the 25-40 copy range.

The appeal of Steve Willis’ comix lies as much in the clever writing as in the artwork. His approach to wordplay is unique. Here’s the opening captions to “The Rise and Fall of Morty the Dog”:

In my first waking borning, flaking from the darkness to morning

…I was aware of the eyes,watching …

…And as the light blighted, more eyes appeared, peering …

…This was my introduction to the world.

Morty went in for a bit of culture in 1984-1985 when Steve published a five volume retelling of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in comix form featuring Morty the Dog. It was called The Tragedy of Morty, Prince of Denmarke and also featured Fred Flinstone, Barney Rubble and Steve Lafler’s character Benb as co-stars. A character named Steve Willis also appeared in the comix (as Horatio).

Early in 1994, Steve took over publication of the City Limits Gazette. Along with ever-popular features like the “Bil Keane Watch” (where Steve and his readers delved into the deeper meanings of The Family Circus), there were also comix inserts with strange titles like How Two Ex-Presidents Went Up My Nose.

Over the years, Steve has put his library degree to good use. Not only has he made it his career, but he also cataloged and expanded upon the underground comix/minicomix collection at Washington State University. In his hometown of McCleary, Washington, Steve has been active with the McCleary Historical Society and cataloged the contents of the McCleary Museum.

Ramping up his civic involvement, Steve helped Morty the Dog run for mayor of McCleary in 1999 as a write-in candidate. A campaign pamphlet in minicomix form trumpeted Morty’s many qualifications: “Leadership! Vision! House-trained!”

In 2001, Willis wrote and illustrated a series of booklets called Bezango, WA 985 chronicling the inhabitants of a quirky small town in the Pacific Northwest. Last year, Steve moved his comix online in a big way. Many of Morty’s adventures (and other Willis comix) can now be found at http://www.mortydog.blogspot.com/. One look at the blogspot will give people an idea of just how prolific a cartoonist Willis is. There is also an interview with Steve, features on other minicomix artists, crazy cell phone photos and new things to look at every day.

Steve’s appearance at SPACE marks his first ever appearance at a comic book convention (of any type) outside of the Pacific Northwest. It will be a great weekend and I’m delighted to be a part of it.

-Bruce Chrislip

Steve form a recent interview.

1 comment:

  1. Steve - Grant Vaughn, Philmont 1971. You were right. Nixon was a crook. I've been a registered Democrat for most of my voting life. grant.vaughn@gmail.com