From The Comics Journal #114 (February 1987)
Jay Lynch held down the Chicago end of the underground comics movement. Bijou’s Funnies, which he edited, was second only to Zap as an underground anthology. Bijou’s
, and Rory Hayes. The best-remembered issue was probably the full-color #8, which featured a cover by Harvey Kurtzman and parodies of underground comics in the manner of the early Mad.
Lynch was born in East Orange, New Jersey, in 1945 and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. A compulsive cartoonist since early childhood, his first published work appeared in Don Dohler’s fanzine Wild (as did Williamsons). While at the Art Institute his cartoons appeared in the notorious college humor magazines Aardvark and Charleton. By 1965 he had appeared in the “Public Gallery” section of Kurtzman’s Help! and had written for Cracked.
With the rise of the underground press in the late ’60s, Lynch moved on to the Chicago Seed newspaper where he introduced his most famous characters, Nard and Pat. In 1967 he and Williamson started an underground magazine called the Chicago Mirror. Crumb’s Zap inspired them to abandon the Mirror and start an underground comic book, which they named Bijou, after the movie theatre.
In order to confound crank phone callers angered by his cartoons, he began signing himself “Jayzey” Lynch. This seemingly transparent subterfuge was enough to baffle lower primates such as Chicago Tribune readers, who didn’t associate “Jayzey” with “Jay” in the phone book. Lynch’s cartoons mix an attractive crosshatch style reminiscent of the ’30s “bigfoot” cartoonists with contemporary themes. His most famous cartoons feature the conflicts between the conservative wallflower Nard and his bohemian ne’er-do-well cat, Pat. Two Nard ‘n’ Pat collections have been published by Kitchen Sink (the first was originally published by Cartoonists’ Co-Op Press). With Gary Whitney he did the syndicated alternate-paper strip Phoebe and the Pigeon People, three collections of which were also published by Kitchen Sink. This interview was conducted en masse by Lynch’s pals and associates Richard “Grass” Green, Craig Yoe, and Jackie Lait. It was transcribed by Tom Heintjes, former managing editor of the Journal.
GRASS GREEN: You were born in January 1945, right?
JAY LYNCH: Yep. With a Rapidograph in my hand, screaming and crying for 3-ply Strathmore.
CRAIG YOE: And your father was a cartoonist?
LYNCH: My father did cartoons for his army base newspaper. There are a few printed samples of his stuff that I have that have survived over the years.
YOE: So in what ways did he encourage you?
LYNCH: He didn’t really encourage me that I can recall. He was in the Army, and I was born at the end of World War II. Then he was discharged, and he and my mother and I lived in a dressing room of a burlesque theatre in Asbury Park, New Jersey, for a while. Burlesque was dying, so the theatre had a number of not-being-used dressing rooms, and they were requisitioned by the government and designated as veteran’s housing. Soon I wound up living with my grandmother, though. My parents got divorced, and I haven’t seen my father since 1947 or ’48. I have the impression, though, that maybe my mother may have encouraged my cartooning on account of the fact that my father was into it.
GREEN: Can you remember your first drawing?
LYNCH: No, but I can remember an early drawing experience. When I was 2 ... maybe 3 years old, I saw a crack in the sidewalk in front of a vacant lot. The crack kind of vaguely looked like Mickey Mouse, so I went home and got my crayon and enhanced it so that it looked more like that affable rodent in the Disney cartoons. Then I hid in the bushes and watched and listened as passersby stopped to discuss this artistically enhanced sidewalk crack among themselves. As people walked by they’d say “Aah! What a clever young child it must have been that did this, y’know?” So I enjoyed hiding in the bushes and listening to their critiques a lot more than I enjoyed the physical act of doing the drawing.
YOE: Is that the appeal of cartooning for you? The audience reaction part of it as opposed to the actual doing of it? Has that changed over the years, or does that maintain a constant?
LYNCH: Oh, I definitely like the audience reaction part a lot more than the doing of it. But the doing of it has become much more mechanical — much more automatic to me over the years. It’s not something I sweat and suffer over so much as I did when I was a youth.
JACKIE LAIT: Zen, eh?
LYNCH: Yeah. Like maybe 25 years or so ago Jackie and I — and all of our friends back then — we’d hang out at coffee houses and discuss the way of Zen all the time. By the mid-60s I was so OD’ed on Zen talk — I remember when I got married then, my wife of that era wouldn’t let Jackie, or any of my Zen pals in the house. So we stopped out constant discussions of Zen, but ...
LAIT: But then years later it turned out that we’d all unconsciously internalized it, and ...
LYNCH: C’mon Jackie man. Let’s not get into a Zen discussion here. We gotta talk comics.
LAIT: Spider-Man, Schneiderman, The Blue Beetle, The Green Hornet, The Yellow Discharge ...
YOE: So what you’re saying is that Zen helped you in ...
LYNCH: In making the act of drawing a cartoon a lot more automatic. Yeah.
GREEN: But in the final analysis, you’re seeking praise and approval from others more than just the enjoyment of putting lines on paper. Right?
LYNCH: Well, I’m seeking to communicate with others, yeah. It doesn’t matter if it’s praise, approval, or anger — or total hatred of what I do on the audience’s part. As long as it gets some kind of reaction that makes it permanent.
YOE: What kind of things are you seeking to communicate?
LYNCH: Probably the same thing that everybody seeks to communicate: that everyone should be like me, and that it’d be a better world if they were.
YOE: What is Jay Lynch like?
LYNCH: Well — uh — I never killed anybody. That’s good.
GREEN: But in terms of — like — what would be the moral of your work?
LAIT: That’s a heavy “Q,” Lynchboy! What’s the “A”?
LYNCH: I dunno. Probably that I think that people should think about the consequences of their actions — be responsible for their behavior. I think that would be the moral of my stuff.
YOE: Do you think all cartooning does, or should have a message to it?
LYNCH: No, but I think that the readers should accept it for what it is. I mean — there are two kinds of stories, or comic strips. And even in non-fiction — there are two kinds of communication. First, there’s the “cautionary tale,” which is like. ... A mother will tell her kid, “If you’re going outside, wear a scarf. There was a little kid up the street who went out — and he didn’t wear a scarf, and he got pneumonia and died!” Now that might not necessarily be a true story, but it’s a pretty basic example of a yarn that has a message that gets to the kid, so that the kid will know to wear his scarf. It’s a cautionary tale. Many superstitions are just Readers’ Digest version of what once were longer cautionary tales. “Don’t walk under a ladder if there’s a can of paint resting on top of it. On account of maybe you’ll jostle the ladder, and the can of paint will fall on your head.” This original story then becomes shortened to the superstition: “Don’t walk under a ladder.” A few hundred years went by, and some iconoclast sees a ladder, and since the superstition makes no sense to him he defiantly walks under it. Then “Splat!,” a can of paint falls on his head. Now the cat knows why he shouldn’t walk under a ladder, and he can tell his descendants about it, and the cycle repeats itself.
GREEN: And what’s the other method of communication?
LYNCH: The other method is the “I’m screwed up, and I want you to be screwed up” approach. I think most, if not all, communication breaks down into these two categories. But usually the author is unconscious of it.
YOE: And your own personal cartooning, which of these two methods does it fall into?
LYNCH: Well, I’m only human. I admit some of it over the years probably falls into the latter. But originally it was my idea that all of my stuff should have a didactic purpose behind it.
YOE: When you say “originally,” how far back were you conscious in your own work that this is what you wanted it to be?
LYNCH: I guess I first started to think about it in ’63 or so. We were doing a college humor magazine called Aardvark back then. Once we had a meeting and we decided at the meeting that everything in the mag should have didactic purpose. That idea was soon abandoned by the Aardvark staff. I think we did one or two “didactic purpose” issues, and then that was that. I dunno, though. I never really abandoned that idea. Last year I wrote a comic book version of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Commando. Hilary Barta drew it. It comes with the Commando six-and-a-half-inch Action Figure toy. While I was writing it, I kept thinking, “Well, at least I don’t have to do Rambo.” At least it’s a movie where — I mean in Commando, they do kidnap some guy’s daughter, so maybe he might be justified in killing everyone in sight, but ...
LAIT: So is that hypocrisy on your part or what?
LYNCH: I hope not. I hate hypocrisy. But after the comic book came I gave $25 to The Great Peace March. I’ll still probably rot in hell, but ...
LAIT: But doing this Commando comic book was a commercial job. In terms of your own work — the stuff you have total control over. ... What are the main ideas that you want to espouse?
LYNCH: My main holy cause is that there should be a free exchange of ideas. So, getting back to the two types of communication I was talking about, I think that both categories should have the right to see print.
YOE: You were one of the founding fathers of the underground comix movement. Which of the two categories of fiction did the work generated by the underground cartoonists fall into? Didactic or nihilistic?
LYNCH: The underground comix movement more or less started with the publication of Robert Crumb’s Zap Comix in 1967. If the underground comix did anything good, it was that they opened up the field of publishing to a non-censorship type of situation. Whereas, before you couldn’t buy Henry Miller’s work here in the U.S. James Joyce’s Ulysses was banned here until a lengthy court trial, at the publisher’s expense. There was a climate in this country where ideas could be stifled. Usually the fact that these books or publications had a sexual tone to them was an excuse to prosecute the publishers, ostensibly for pornography — but in reality for other ideas that the power structure may have found threatening.
GREEN: Such as?
LYNCH: Well, for instance, there was an issue of Playboy in 1962 or ’63 that was removed from the stands here in Chicago because it had a nude pictorial on Jayne Mansfield. Supposedly the Mansfield pictorial was considered obscene by the local authorities, and that was the reason that this particular issue of Playboy was removed from the stands in Chicago. Now up to that point, every issue of Playboy had naked women in it — and it was hard for me to imagine at the time how come this particular nude pictorial was any different in the eyes of the local law. But in fact, this same issue of Playboy also had editorial material in it which criticized the administration of Mayor Daley — which is something they’d never done up to that point — so this is the one local authorities chose to jump on. The reason given was that the magazine was pornographic because of the Mansfield pics. The real reason is that the mag was critical of the Daley administration.
YOE: So you feel that underground comix then, had a direct impact upon publishing in the United States, and upon opening up more freedom for exchange of ideas?
LYNCH: Yeah. But what I thought was that after the press was open to this, we’d have ten times as many Henry Millers and James Joyces and Nabakovs. And what happened is that after it was open, the public did not especially want that — and what we got was Larry Flynt.
YOE: So, if you had it to do over again would you do it, and if so, how would you approach it differently?
LYNCH: I would have done the same thing. Regrets, I have a few. But then again, too few to mention.
GREEN: One thing I’d like to cover here is your aversion to super-heroes, which I know about since I’ve known you for so long. You didn’t even have a thing for the super-heroes comics when you were a kid? Most kids idolize Superman. I know I did. But you didn’t.
LYNCH: It’s not only super-heroes that I didn’t care for. I didn’t care for Western stuff, and I don’t think much of barbarians.
GREEN: No Westerns? That’s un-American!
LYNCH: I remember once, this kid came over to my house. This fellow kid, this was in 1950 or so. And the Lone Ranger was on TV. I never watched the Lone Ranger. To me it was silly and boring. The Lone Ranger was on opposite a panel show hosted by Conrad Nagel called Leave It to the Girls. This is what I preferred to watch. One of the panelists was Eloise Mackelhone. I guess she was an author or something. So I would watch this show to look at Eloise Mackelhone. She was cute. I enjoyed watching her and listening to her opinions. Anyway, this kid came over — and he wanted to watch the Lone Ranger when could watch Eloise Mackelhone? I’ve never understood this.
GREEN: And super-hero comic books?
LYNCH: I just don’t have any interest in that genre. Just because they’re comic books doesn’t mean I’m interested in them. That’s the thing about the comic book business. When you say “movies” some people think of, say, Star Wars, and other people think of the Ingemar Bergman trilogy. Movies can be anything, but comic books gotta be super-heroes? No. This is wrong. It’s a medium that can’t realize it’s full potential until the public grows up and gets off this super-hero kick. The comic books I save are comic books that have to do mainly with humor. I mean, I like some super-hero type stuff by guys like Jack Cole and Will Eisner, but that stuff has a satirical edge to it. Mainly, though, the comics I save are the comics that relate to what I do.
GREEN: So when I said “aversion to super-heroes,” — Perhaps the right terminology in your case would be “apathy towards super-heroes.”
LYNCH: Well, it’s like this. ... If I were involved in the writing or drawing of the super-hero type of comics, I’d be making money off of the promotion of idolatry. I’d be helping to create false gods. I’d be defying the. ... See, it’s not that I’m religious in the usual sense of that term — in light of what it has come to mean to the sensibilities of Western culture, but ... what you’re doing with satire is that you’re destroying idols. Satirical comics in that sense are the exact opposite of the books that elevate super-heroes as idols — the books that promote false gods. So in the Judeo-Christian ethical system, super-heroes are incorrect for me to draw. Satire is correct for me to draw. I have no interest in super-heroes.
YOE: But you have worked on super-hero related projects over the years.
LYNCH: I know. I could say it’s unavoidable in this business, but I could say anything I want. I know Stan Lee insists that all of the Marvel super-heroes have Achilles’ heels. They all have their weakness, and therefore, if I were to accept that rationale, the Marvel super-heroes are not true contenders for false-god status. In the late ’60s I wrote a lot of the gags used in the Topps Chewing Gum Marvel Super Heroes series of bubblegum stickers. The one that I remember — It’s a sticker of Captain America, and he says, “I think I’ll run up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes!” — which was a twist on a popular Madison Avenue advertising lingo cliché of the era. It was a gag, like all of the gags that I wrote for that series, that kind of mocks these super-hero figures just enough to make me feel I’m justified, and that I’m not promoting the idolization of these mindless might-is-right type characters. Not that I really thought that much about it in those terms while I was doing it, but ...
GREEN: So in order to write these gags about Marvel super-heroes, you must have read some of the comic books, then.
LYNCH: Yeah. In order to do that sticker series I had to read about a dozen Marvel comic books to familiarize myself with the characters. I remember reading those books was painful. It was very hard for me to follow the stories, but I had to. It was like reading F.D.A. regulations for lead content of ink used to print jar caps — or a book about upholstering or something. Those are too subjective to be good examples. What I mean to say is that to me these Marvel books were dull, and it was a major effort for me to get through them. But I know that the fans like them. That’s cool. I like to read the New England Journal of Medicine, which to most folks is plenty dull. ‘Nuff said.
GREEN: But the EC comics were drawn realistically, and ...
LYNCH: And they were well written, and the stories had points to them, and I loved ‘em. The science fiction books from EC were great! And the war comics that Kurtzman did were great. EC is in a class by itself. These were more than comics. EC was great American literature. Before the EC books, when I was a real little kid, there was this show on the radio called The Witch’s Tale. I lived in Newark, at 721 Highland Avenue with my three aunts, who were teenagers at this time. We had a ritual for listening to this show. One of my aunts would put a big kitchen knife on top of the radio, just in case anybody tried to break into our apartment during the program. There was a witch that would introduce the dramatized stories, and she would call the audience “kiddies,” like, “you’ll like this little fable, kiddies.” To me, this show was the scariest thing that there was outside of the stuff that was going on in my own head. I really dug The Witch’s Tale — and later when the EC horror books came along, I enjoyed them in the same way. I mean, when I’d read the EC books, I’d hear the radio witch’s voice as the voice of the EC horror hostesses who did the narration in the comic books.
LAIT: You were a pretty famous baby, no?
LYNCH: Well, I was in a soap ad that was printed on the back cover of a newspaper Sunday supplement in the ’40s. In the ad I was naked — so I guess that did something to my psyche. I mean, I was nude in print before I could speak, and. ... Hey! This is kind of an interesting cartoon related thing. The first picture of me in a baby parade in Asbury Park from a 1947 Pathé newsreel. The second is a World War II Dubout cartoon. The third is a early 1970s postcard by the Dutch cartoonist Evert Geradts. What does all this mean? No one knows!
LAIT: Your aunts were professional photographers?
LYNCH: Yeah — but don’t emasculate me, man. This interview goes in a mag for comic fans who are hard-pressed these days for positive role models! Anyway, then when I was about 2-and-a-half I cut off the tip of my finger playing with razor blades. They sewed it back on, but they hadda put this device on my arm to keep me from messing with my finger until it healed, and this put an end to my big-time modeling career.
LAIT: Yeah. You can see the bandages in this baby parade picture. So like, what does this mean? There are no accidents, man. At age 2-and-a-half by all rights you should have been passing from the oral to the anal stage of psychological development. But this razor blade finger shtick is indicative of some sicko acting out of a phallic stage castration-anxiety fantasy, wherein you ...
LYNCH: Jackie, you know well and good that you’re crazier than I am, even. Cool it! Sometimes a finger is just a finger.
YOE: Speaking of crazy stuff, what was this magazine you did called Fanboy? The original Fanboy was done as a gag by me, Glenn Bray, Bob Armstrong, Jay Kinney, Cathy Goodall, Denis Kitchen, Alan Dodge, Justin Green, and a bunch of other folks. This was in 1974 or ’75. We did it as a gag. Glenn Bray only printed six or eight copies. They were Xeroxed. Then there were several other Xeroxed small printings of it. We all signed fake names. We just did it for kicks, but now it’s a priceless collectible.
GREEN: What comics did you read as a kid?
LYNCH: Well, my first vivid memory of really being blown away by a comic book story is … 1947 is the year. I remember looking at the pictures (this is before I could read) of a Vince Fago story in a book called Ding Dong Comics titled “The Callico Pup.” About 20 years ago I found a copy of this book. I located Fago — this was in 1967 — and he told me he was now into Zen. In the late ’60s he was doing these Zen cartoons and humorous verse books. He still is, I think. So, when I’m 2 years old in 1947, I remember laying on the couch drinking a baby bottle full of orange juice and marveling over this Callico Pup story. You can’t deny that the funny animals that Vince drew in the ’40s are cute — but there’s also something weird about them, there’s something vaguely maniacal in their half-moon shaped eyes. They stare into space — and. ... I don’t know what it is, but there’s something that attracts me to the Fago funny animals even more than the Disney funny animals, or the Jack Bradbury funny animals. There is something about Fago’s stuff that ...
YOE: There’s definitely an edge to them. Wonderfully weird! What else?
LYNCH: Well, I only retroactively liked Carl Barks. When I was 4 or 5 years old, I guess I thought the stories in the duck books were too long or something. In the early ’60s Don and Maggie Thompson started doing a fanzine called Comic Art. It was in Don and Maggie’s zine that I first began to read critiques of Bark’s duck yarns. So I went and got the old Barks duck books — and sure enough — the guy was a master storyteller. But as a kid, Fago was my fave rave before I discovered the Kurtzman, Elder, Wood, Davis crowd. Before Bill Gaines took over EC, the old M.C. Gaines EC Comics put out a book called Dandy Comics, wherein Vince Fago did a strip called Handy Andy. Later Standard comics, in the early ’60s, reprinted these Handy Andy yarns, and the title character’s name was changed to Happy Jack. I liked the John Stanley Lulu books as a kid. I liked a book called “Dodger de Squoil” from Brooklyn. A little later I got into Jack Cole and Will Eisner. To this day, I don’t really follow many realistically drawn comics — but there’s still something I dig about Cole and Eisner. There’s some sort of subtle anxiety in the facial expressions and actions of these guys’ characters that I like. And the camera angles that Cole and Eisner used to tell their stories were great innovative stuff. Also, in The Spirit, Ebony was the only one who was drawn in a cartoony style while everyone else was drawn realistically. In Plastic Man by Cole, Woozy Winks was drawn cartoony, and the other characters were all drawn realistically. So to me, Ebony and Woozy were pretty heavy characters when I was a kid. It’s like an intrusion of a different reality system. I mean, what if you went into your kitchen late at night and saw the Pillsbury Dough Boy standing next to your oven? You’d be scared out of your wits. You’d probably try to kill the thing with a broom.
YOE: But when you first saw Kurtzman’s Mad comics in 1952, that was pretty much it for you.
LYNCH: Yeah. My uncle worked for Colliers, then later he worked for Time Life in distribution. A friend of his at one of the local warehouses would, at the end of each month, lay copies of all of the major magazines and comic books on him, copies with the covers torn off. So as a kid, I was pretty hip to the zine scene. Even before the St. Johns 3-D Mighty Mouse book came out, my uncle gave me an oversized dummy of that book, which was part of a limited press run for the distributors to use as sales samples. It was printed on good paper, and it was a little bit larger than the final product. You don’t see it in Overstreet, though. I lost mine in ’56. It’d probably be worth a fortune now. So anyway, I got all the Dell and DC stuff for free. And I’d also see a lot of the Archie stuff. I guess I’d trade coverless books that I’d read with my friends for other titles, like the Archie series. But I was more into magazines than comics as a kid. I wanted to be the editor of Colliers when I grew up. Then one day my uncle brought home a copy of the Mad with “Ping Pong,” the King Kong parody, and “Teddy and the Pirates,” the Terry and the Pirates parody in it. He and his distributor friends loved it, and he gave the mag to me when he was done with it, and it totally flipped me out. So from that point on I was a big Mad and EC. fan. I used to trace Elder’s stuff when I was a kid. I remember thinking that Mad was one of the few comic books in the early and mid-50s that didn’t talk down to its audience, and I dug it. Seeing that something like Mad comics was possible when I was a kid is what made me want to be a cartoonist.