I think I can confidently say that I was the cartoonist Denny spent the most time with, and quite possibly the one who drew the most stories for him. Beginning in 1991, when he asked me to cartoonify his story “Death of a Junkie” for his comic book, there was always something brewing between us — projects, activities, secret plans and the occasional dispute. Ha! We started out as collaborators but eventually became more like brothers, especially after I moved to Port Orchard 15 years ago (He lived only seven miles away). He and Jane were over here a lot, and my family was over at their place a lot. My tiny little boy Jack and I were the only witnesses to their wedding, and we both signed the form for the judge at the courthouse. I signed my full name and Jack made an “X.” They watched my son grow up and we watched Knox, their grandson, grow up. Denny was practically a relative, and played that role in my life. Yes, we would occasionally butt heads, but in the same exact way I used to with my real brothers. It was a testament to how tight we were, to be close enough to argue, be ourselves, warts and all, without worry of rejection. I think Denny appreciated that I would not disown him, like others had, when he had his rare moments of hotheadedness. It was part of what made him a great writer, and what got him into so many of those incredible situations he wrote about. The real truth, the REAL STUFF, is this — Dennis Eichhorn was a warm-hearted man, as true blue as they come. Most know he was a brilliant writer, but not everyone was lucky enough to hear him actually spin a yarn in person. His verbal storytelling was awe-inspiring. He was the best kind of friend you could ever hope for. It goes way, way beyond comics with me. Very recently, in one of our last exchanges, after our very last brotherly dispute had dissipated, I told him how much I loved and appreciated him. I’m SO GLAD I did, because I never saw him again. I am heartbroken, because I lost a brother, and a partner in crime.
Denny Eichhorn was a great friend and collaborator. We always seemed to have a good rapport … maybe the fact that we were both native Northwesterners had something to do with it. Having known Denny so close up and personally, I may not be the most objective judge of the man and his work. He was an outstanding storyteller and always had plenty of interesting stories to tell, even before he began putting them into comics form. He was an unusually generous and thoughtful person; he would often go out of his way to do favors or send gifts. He really seemed to enjoy organizing parties and gatherings. He liked seeing his friends having a good time. He wasn’t the sort of person who demanded to be the center of attention, and was typically very modest in evaluating his own accomplishments. He read a lot of books and had a remarkable memory. He was curious about or interested in lots of different things. But like all of us, he could certainly be surly or critical at times.
Altogether, I think Denny was a guy who was extremely engaged in life and living — his body of work bears that notion out. Though I’m shocked and saddened by his sudden passing, I’d like to believe that Denny’s life story has a happy ending. Having once served time for dealing marijuana, he lived to see and experience the legalization of it … I know that gave him a great deal of satisfaction. I also know that the renewal of interest in his work toward the end of his life was something he was quite grateful for, and it effectively boosted his motivation and enthusiasm. When the classic Real Stuff stories began running online at Boing Boing, Denny’s work found a new medium. Suddenly his no-holds-barred stories were readily available to a much broader — and not always appreciative — audience. To be perfectly honest, Denny got a big kick out of the idea that his version of reality was shocking or outrageous to some people. But in the end, I would bet that Denny had a hell of a lot more friends than he had enemies. He had plenty of admirers and supporters, too. During his final hospitalization I’m told he received legal medical marijuana, and died peacefully and painlessly with his loved ones at his side. We should all be so lucky. It was a great privilege to know and work with Dennis Eichhorn, and I am really going to miss him.
Denny Eichhorn was an enigma. Like all my favorite artists, he was complex and didn’t conveniently fit into the standard categories. He was a stoner ex-brawler/jock who was also a voracious reader and prolific, compulsive writer; a big outgoing guy, the opposite of a typical navel-gazing comic nerd; great sense of humor. He could get a bit paranoid because he smoked a lot of pot. He seemed to have endless curiosity, and was always telling me about the latest book he was reading. He used to send me books in the mail: the last three were a beautiful author-illustrated book on voodoo (can’t find the damn thing); one on bull fighting; and a clip-art book of instant cartoons for church newsletters. The first time I met Denny was a few weeks after moving to Seattle from Oklahoma in 1987, at a Seahawks game day get-together at Peter Bagge’s house — Cartoonists Mark Zingarelli and Michael Dougan might’ve also been there. The last time I saw him was at his annual Super Bowl party in February 2015, and he was laughing when I split, even though the Seahawks had suffered a heartbreaking goal line loss — I feel privileged to have been his friend and will miss him tremendously. His autobiographical comics enriched the comics medium and the comics industry is lucky to have his contribution.
The Naked Interview (That Almost Was)
After being in two of Denny Eichhorn’s books, and drawing him stoned out of his mind and having group sex, I figured I knew him fairly well. One day over the phone, I offered to interview him. “Let’s get to the naked truth, Denny!” He agreed, but added, “Let’s do an interview … NAKED!” I thought that was very funny so we decided to do it the very next day. “I’ll call you at 11 a.m.” I said, “It’ll be warm then!” This was just the kind of outrageous, off-the-cuff situation we both enjoyed. We both wrote autobiographical comix about growing up in the age of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, and the wisdom we gained from it, so what two better people to do a naked interview? His comic was Real Stuff, and mine was Slutburger. The perfect match, right?
The next day I called Denny at 11 a.m., all ready and all naked. “Are you nude?” Denny asked. “Yep! Are you?” I replied. “Sure am,” said Denny, “Let’s go!” I love to interview people, in fact, I am quite good at it, but all of a sudden, I was self-conscious, and Denny’s answers were rushed and hesitant. By the fifth question, I could feel the initial fun and pizzazz burning up like a downed Ma Bell power line. I started, “Uh, Denny? This isn’t … ” Denny interrupted “working for you, either?” I agreed, “Oh man, I feel like such a square! I don’t know if it’s the weather, or what, but I have all these questions for you, but this feels kind of FORCED, wouldn’t you say?” He replied, “Yes, it does, Mary, and not just the naked part, either; or maybe it IS the naked part! I mean, interviews are OK, but maybe it’s just better to have people buy my comics to find out about me!” I laughed. “OK, let’s hang it up for now, but one day, I would really love to interview you. Maybe next time I am up in Seattle, we can get drunk and stoned and do it THAT way.” “Yeah! That’d be GREAT!!”
Seems we both, for a moment, felt we had to live up to our comix personas, but knew ourselves well enough to realize that when something is staged, it can come off as trite and phony, and that was not how either of us rolled. Denny was one of those people who knew how to keep it REAL.
Something that I have not seen emphasized is just what a good writer Dennis was. Every conversation I had with him left me thinking that he had the kind of talent, style and insight that would have made him a perfect author for the New Yorker, the Atlantic … Almost any big circulation “overground” publication you could suggest.
I never understood what held him back from reaching out to a wider audience. But then, I thought he still had time to do so.
Denny’s autobiographical stories were not just unusual. He had natural storytelling instincts that made anything he wrote captivating and intriguing. It would have been interesting to see what he would do with a third person, totally fictional narrative, but his life just kept being a great source of material.
It is astonishing to sit back now and consider how many artists Denny noticed, appreciated and included in his work. Not everyone is a good collaborator, and Denny was the best.
This is the title page of Dennis Eichhorn’s collected stories from Real Stuff. When he asked me to do it, I dug out all the old issues I could find and did my best to mimic the styles of the many fine artists who worked with Denny over the years. After I sent him a copy, he asked me if he could purchase the original. I remembered that years earlier, when I was struggling to get by, I went to the post office one day and found a letter from Denny along with a hundred-dollar bill. It was like manna from heaven at the time. I sent the original drawing to him with a note saying, “Thanks. You already paid for it.”
One thing I can say is how Denny was there for me (as a true friend) at a few crucial times in my life when my own world was being turned upside down. He was a steady, loyal friend whose company I always enjoyed. Whose counsel I listened to in those times of confusion and uncertainty when I was living in Seattle going through a divorce, losing my father and having a minor professional crisis.
Most everyone who really knew Denny found him to be a friendly guy. Sure, he had a volatile side left over from his crazy youthful days, but I don’t know if many got to see that side very often, and certainly not much as he grew older. Clearly, he’d lived through some mighty wild experiences in his life which comics artists have captured in his stories. And there are a few instances where his sense of right and wrong pressed him to do some interesting things to make a point.
But there was also a very soft and gentle side to Denny that was often masked by the bravado and the humor that he was generally known for.
Of course, his wife Jane and daughter Sarah were privy to this side of the man.
Along with his regular “antics” and “gonzo-ness,” he revealed this other side to me. What’s ironic is that it wasn’t until I heard of his passing that I remembered that Denny was really kind of like an older brother to me at one time. His genuineness and openness with me meant that I could talk to him about anything and he didn’t judge me. He shared private things with me that will remain private, but he also allowed me to share some very personal things with him that he kept private.
We had talked about doing some more stories together in the last year or so after I finished the graphic novel I’d been working on with Joyce Brabner. After that five-year involvement I was ready to do some crazy Eichhorn stories. But you know, you think you have all the time in the world. Even knowing about Denny’s past health issues, it hadn’t occurred to me that he would die — at least not in the foreseeable future. I always thought I’d see him again. Like I think I’ll see others that were important from that same time in my life and have continued to be good friends: all of us in Seattle at a particular time in space.
As I get older, like others, I find I’m losing a lot more friends and acquaintances. While it is always a bit sad to see them go and then be faced with your own mortality, thankfully, all of them don’t break your heart when they’re gone. However, I am truly heartbroken to know that I’ll never see Denny again, that we didn’t even get started on that Eichhorn-Zingarelli book.
Back in the mid-1990s Denny Eichhorn had this cat. I was living on the very northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula, just south of Hansville on the Hood Canal side. Denny was an editor at Loompanics in Port Townsend. He would stop by and visit all the time with this giant cat he had attained … this thing was huge … half lynx or bobcat and half house cat. This cat looked like a giant orange tabby cat … about the size of a full-grown Jack terrier. It was shocking to be in the presence of this cat because of its intimidating size. Denny had put a leash on the cat and he took it everywhere he went. The cat was friendly enough, but treated humans like they were some kind of nuisance. Denny’s purpose for the visit was always some kind of treat he had brought with him like some really good weed to smoke, or some hash, or even something good to put up your nose. He always had this with him. I will always remember getting ripped with the guy and his giant cat roaming my house in every nook and cranny … this is why Denny had the cat with him all the time. The cat could not sit still … always roaming. I think after two-three years Denny couldn’t take the high-maintenance cat any more and found another home for it.
Denny became famous for his Super Bowl parties. These parties were attended by notable Northwest cartoonists, artists, musicians and counterculture personalities — most of who had little interest in football. In contrast to the athletic bravado of his comix, conversations invariably centered on the elaborate commercials, and crowds would noticeably thin after the halftime concerts. Always a good time.
Denny was a huge presence and influence on the Seattle underground community for decades. He was always in the background watching, writing, documenting and connecting. He could walk into any bar or concert or meeting hall in town and people would shout out his name. His raw humanity was like a beacon attracting similar souls and minds. It made for some heady and fascinating hanging out, I’ll tell you.
The very first magazine layout I ever did at The Rocket was back in 1983. I was a freelancer (soon to be drafted as art director when Helene Silverman moved to NYC) and I was handed a story to paste up, written by a guy named “Ike Horn.” The guy who handed it to me was this big friendly log of a guy everybody called ‘Denny.” He was a bit older than the rest of us, but he was treated as a worldly scholar of all things arcane. Whenever there was a fact-checking question of a point of historical relevance, Denny was the guy we asked. I had no idea for months and months that “Ike Horn” was actually Denny EICHHORN. I was so glad when he dropped that pseudonym. Much less confusing for me.
Dennis P. Eichhorn began doing his autobiographical comics work while he still worked at The Rocket in the 1980s. He became friends with the goddess/protopunk/artist Carel Moiseiwitsch and shared with her a disturbing story from his life. She was so impressed with the story that she wanted to turn it into a comic strip. So, that became the first Real Stuff collaboration. This is the piece — titled “Fatal Fallatio.” However, I always remember this one as “The Blowjob of Death.” I think this was around 1985 or so. It’s still one of the most profoundly disturbing things I’ve ever read.
I enjoyed hanging with Denny out in the world, too. He was so physically big that he had that “fearless” thing big guys have. We were walking through Belltown (in Seattle) late, late at night when it was still a dangerous scary place to walk at night. We went passed a dark alleyway. There was a crowd of men down there in the darkness all actively “doing something” (no idea what). Denny saw them and said, ‘Hey, looks like fun. Let’s go check it out!” and started waltzing down that alley toward this group of rude scary loud men in the darkness. He sauntered up and said, “Hey, what’s up?” and they all stared at him silently for a while — and then simply began to include him in the “fun” (whatever it was). I’ve never seen anybody do that before. Scared the shit out of me, too.
Denny was at a press conference at the UW for Hunter Thompson. Some idiot reporter asked him, “Dr. Thompson, what exactly IS ‘gonzo’ journalism?” Hunter Thompson was obvious higher than the kite and he got this disgusted look on his face and started to rave, “You wanna know what gonzo is? Talk to that guy right there — Denny Eichhorn! He’s gonzo. Ask him!” With that, he left the stage. Poor Denny was suddenly swamped by amateur bad reporters asking him STUPID questions about gonzo. He had no idea what was going on.
Denny was the best-connected person I’ve ever known. Through him I met and worked with people as varied and random as Harvey Pekar, Robert & Aline Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Joe Bob Briggs, Hunter S. Thompson, Carel Moiseiwitsch, Mary Fleener, Drew Friedman, Peter Bagge, Peter Kuper, J.R. Williams, Carol Lay, Jim Hogshire, Jim Goad, Church of the SubGenius, Loompanics, Last Gasp, Fantagraphics and scores and scores of others both infamous and unknown. He opened up underground and subcultural worlds to me that I would never have known existed except for him. He was a conduit between worlds.
The last time I saw Denny was about five years ago when i ran into him in a Salvation Army store in Bremerton (where he lived). He looked ashen but fit (he told me about his heart attack at that point). He had been buying toys in the “Salvo” for his grandkids (he LOVED being a grandfather). He also mentioned that he had also become the local Santa Claus for his friends and family every year. He loved being Santa Claus. Try to imagine YOUR kid sitting on Denny’s lap asking for a list of toys? Somehow it actually makes sense …
It was a pleasure to draw Dennis’ stories. He was easy to work with. He did a lot of artists a favor by letting them illustrate his life. What a life he had and what a writer he was.
Dennis P. Eichhorn has gone off to the funny papers in the sky (those aren’t clouds, they’re marijuana smoke) and I find myself in the odd position of being asked to say something. Dennis was raising hell before I was in diapers, and while our time on Earth overlapped some 30 years, we lived on opposite coasts of the country and consequently never met, as they say, in the flesh. Despite these rather large chasms in geography and age, Dennis and I communicated often. After the sudden and shocking news of his passing I began to idly rifle through the many postcards, letters and emails I received from him over the last several years. I was surprised by their number and even more surprised by how intimate and personal many of them were. It seems I took this simple fact for granted at the time. Or perhaps in my morbid sentimental musings Denny’s missives took on a certain gravitas in death.
My favorite communiqués from Dennis were the taped and brown-papered packages containing reference material for our comic collaborations. Of the many photos of himself, friends and enemies he sent me, my favorite is the one with young Denny and his friend “Kaper.” Dennis is wearing a garish button down flower shirt but his crew cut and horn-rims betray his hippy aspirations. The picture came with a note, neatly in cursive, which read, “We’re both on acid.”
When I asked Dennis for reference of his wife, in lieu of photos he sent a VHS tape with footage of Jane at a court deposition. Fortunately I still had my VCR. I wish I still had that tape and the tripped out photo, but I sent them along to another artist in the Eichhorn stable. I like to imagine these artifacts zigzagging around the country by post, like some bizarre cartoonist chain letter.
Dennis called me in August to personally tell me that his new book from Last Gasp was back from the printer. An email would have sufficed, but he seemed in a good mood and wanted to be certain he had my correct address so I would receive my contributor copies. We spoke, perhaps for 20 minutes, and his friendly words were both vulgar and jocular. “The fucker is finally done!” he crowed. At the close of our conversation he said to me, like an old friend, “It’s good to hear your voice again.” We had never spoken before. And we never would again.
Dennis and I never saw one another or spoke in our lives, only through email. But they were some dynamic missives and a dynamic friendship, where he gave far more than he received without request. We related so well as radicals and old guys, fellow righteous suffering medical cannabis advocates — as new and interested friends, bouncing ideas and comments off one another last month. Telling new stories. It was powerful, and appreciated. Because, after our wrapping “Marijuana Memories,” building “Big Ben!,” and in creating “Pinch Me!”— we were “Looking Forward” with “Extra Good Comicality” toward “The Comic Book of The Future” in the creation of our latest tale “Prick Tease!,” a third done and working on still …
But — those story titles, and subject lines. It felt like he was hitting me and everyone with the way he lived. By Exclamation Points!!
Noah Van Sciver:
In 2005 I was printing my first minis and I came across a collection of Real Stuff comics from Swifty Morales Press by Dennis P. Eichhorn in a Borders bookstore in Golden, Colorado. At the time I really only had read the few graphic novels that you could find in big bookstores back then. The usual fare like Maus, Blankets or Black Hole. But that Real Stuff book was the most unsavory, wild comic I’d seen yet: full of drunken fights, sex, weird jobs and other adventures. I cherished that book right away. I could not believe what a life this guy had had! Were all of those stories actually true? He must be bullshitting everyone, right? And the art was like the who’s who of ’90s Grunge-era Seattle. The whole thing thrilled me! It was hard to believe that that book had made it out that far west into such a place as Golden, Colorado. A land of corporate chains and mountain sports enthusiasts. I’m not sure but maybe it wound up there just for me to find. Over time I began collecting the single issues of Dennis Eichhorn’s Real Stuff comics as well as his sex comic Real Smut. I just loved those comics so much and felt like I knew Dennis as a person through reading his stories.
In 2012 my first book from Fantagraphics was released and I found myself in Seattle at an afterparty for the second Short Run comics festival. A group of cartoonists I was with were drinking and talking about comics from the ’90s when somebody brought up Real Stuff.
Soon we were engaged in a deep (drunken) and passionate conversation about some of our favorite Eichhorn comics. Amazingly in our circle that evening was Denny’s longtime friend and cartoonist Pat Moriarity. We interrogated him about his friend; where was he, does he still write, does he have any stories left to tell? All of us younger cartoonists chomping at the bit to work with him on some fantasy comic!
By the time I had returned home to Colorado, those Seattle cartoonists had gotten in contact with Dennis and there was a new Real Stuff comics project planned. I was invited to be involved and I more than accepted. I got to work right away.
I found working with the man himself very easygoing. Simply, he sent me the story, the panel layouts and a few details about the scenery, and then it was up to me. And when I was done he wrote me with his feedback and compliments. Periodically I’d get a letter from Dennis with $10 and a note explaining that I should buy pens or paper with the money and an apology that it wasn’t more. I didn’t care about money at all. For me it was all about working with the guy. I was enthusiastic to take my place in the history of his comics work. It was a personal joy for me: a nice feather in my cap.
I worked on one more new Eichhorn story and shared a few emails back and forth with him. What else can I say? Dennis Eichhorn put his life and crazy adventures on paper for everyone to see. They’ll be there forever. I recently took a big stack of his latest collection ( Extra Good Stuff from Last Gasp ) and gave them to the students at the Center for Cartoon Studies. Maybe those comics with reach the newer generation of weirdoes the same way it has for others. I really hope so. I love weirdoes.